Neuropsychology and evolution
This email (moderately edited for clarity, web links etc.) from EB, a clinical psychology Masters student in South Africa, asks about a specialist’s alleged proof of evolution. Dr Carl Wieland, Managing Director of CMI–Australia, answers, pointing out both the scientific issues as well as vital meta-science ones. EB’s followup response ends the exchange.
Dear Dr Wieland
Greetings to you. My name is [EB]. I met you after your presentation at [an educational institution] in South Africa. Many thanks for an interesting talk. I thoroughly enjoyed it and got a lot out of it. I believe that the Lord really was honoured and glorified with your presentation.
I am currently completing an M.Sc. in Clinical Psychology at [a South African University] and am working towards entering the field of Clinical Neuropsychological Assessment which involves working with the behaviour of patients with cognitive deficits resulting from traumatic brain injury, strokes or Alzheimer’s disease and other abnormalities.
My reason for writing: We had a lecturer come though who is a specialist in Neuropsychological Assessment. At some point in the lecture he mentioned the evolutionary development of the male and female brain according to natural selection. Being a follower of Jesus Christ and a believer in the accurate interpretation of the Word, I was tentative in accepting what he was proposing, despite his vast knowledge in the subject of neurology and neuropsychology and my relative inexperience.
I was wondering if you knew of any papers that have been written on neurology from a Creationist perspective and in addition, if there are any couter-arguments that have been presented toward evolutionary theories of brain development?
Many thanks for reading my email. I thank God for you and your team in such an important ministry
Yours in Christ
CARL: I’m not sure of how a vast knowledge in the subjects concerned has any real relevance to evolutionary speculations. If you forward the theories concerned to me, we can have a look at them, and I’m sure that the issue will not require a vast knowledge of the field itself. This person’s expertise is in the area of operations science, i.e. how things work, not how they originated (see for example Naturalism, Origin and Operation Science for this vital distinction). As we have pointed out many times before, real science doesn’t need evolutionary speculations (see the section Evolution: real science? and the articles linked therein)
If I may say so, I think the problem is philosophical and is inappropriately formulated. That is, you may in one sense or at one level still be thinking in terms of ‘here are some facts for evolution—now where are the counter-facts for creation’? Until the whole way of thinking is grasped, i.e. the way in which the same facts make sense in the creation paradigm, one ends up with a never-ending swaying back and forth always looking for the creationist people (and they are overall thin on the ground, and poorly funded) within any particular discipline—i.e. where are the creationist experts on psychology to counter evolutionary theories of psychology, etc. Andrew Lamb of CMI–Au calls this the ‘evidentialist roller-coaster’, and it described his own view until he understood the role of presuppositions.
I’m not sure I can easily get my point across in an email, but take as a simple example specialists in infectious diseases. There are experts in that discipline I know of, some creationists, some evolutionists. Now some of those evolutionists may wax eloquent about say the following observations:
1) Bowel infection gives rise to diarrhoea—which serves to help expel the bowel contents, including the infecting organisms
2) Foreign bodies or invaders in the respiratory tract gives rise to cough, which helps to expel the things that cause the problem.
Extremely eloquent arguments could be (and have been) made about how this supports the idea of natural selection tailoring us to the environment. And they have caused concern to some Christians I know of. Now imagine if someone came to me and said that they wanted an expert in infectious diseases to counter these arguments. The real problem has nothing to do with the very specialized discipline of infectious diseases, it is quite simply philosophical—i.e. the assumption of Darwinian evolution (i.e. these things are useful, hence they must have arisen by natural selection) is used to support the idea of Darwinian evolution. Whereas in fact the observations make just as much sense in a creation paradigm—i.e. our bodies were designed that way, given that God foreknew the Fall.
Now I realize that this is simplistic compared to theories of male/female brain development, but whatever the discipline, one generally finds that the same fundamental principles are involved. If one does not start with the presupposition of evolution, there is nothing in the observations of neurology to suggest otherwise. Most researchers and thinkers today take evolution as a ‘given’, so they are then disposed to look for ways in which evolution can be applied to their particular field. And there will always be ‘great fits’—but they have to do with how our minds work, and how the whole philosophy of science operates.
To sidetrack a bit—I recall as a trainee doctor working in a psychiatric ward watching behind 1-way glass an interview with a specialist psychiatrist and a patient, and then our tutor gave a detailed Freudian explanation. I recall getting quite carried away with how well it fitted the facts—how could anyone doubt this? But then the same specialist gave an alternative explanation, using a quite different paradigm, and the facts fitted amazingly well there, too. And then once more, same again. The point was profound—i.e. we like to see complex things in neat boxes, and models help us do that, but to think that they therefore conform to reality is, though tempting, illusory. See also this explanation of the logic of prediction, showing why logically we can never prove theories but only disprove them, and even then the disproofs can be deflected to auxiliary hypotheses, and also this further feedback discussion applying this in more detail to creation v evolution.
Why not find out what the theories are, let me know what they are, and take the time first to think through for yourself in this way:
‘If one did not start with the assumption of evolution, is there anything in the data which would compel one to an evolutionary conclusion? And since the Bible is true, if one starts with the assumption of Genesis creation, is there anything in the data of neurology, etc. incompatible with this starting assumption?’
A good friend of mine is Dr Peter Line, who is an expert neuroscientist. His interview ‘Mind By Design’ in Creation mag came out in the September 2006 issue, and has been on our website as well as a sneak preview.
Afterwards, EB emailed back to say:
Thank you for your reply. It was extremely helpful and insightful.
You did get your point across in the email and upon reflection, I have indeed been caught in a trap of finding ‘counter-facts’ for creation. In our training in the field of psychology, I have heard many different descriptions of the same case study coming from different theoretical paradigms. I have found myself nodding in agreement with most of them, perhaps because of the ‘inferred logic’ in the presentations based on presuppositions that are never mentioned.
I think your advice pertaining to researching neuropsychological theories and applying the facts from a Biblical Creationist paradigm is a good start.
Thank you for referring me to the article by Dr Peter Line and Jonathan Sarfati’s book. I will read them with interest.