Re: Testing in historical science

Keith B Miller (
Fri, 14 Nov 1997 23:17:11 -0600 (CST)

Moorad wrote:

>The purpose of experiments in physics is to prove false the theories we hold
>dear. Therefore, theories in physics can be falsified. I ask you, can you
>ever find any data which would falsify evolutionary theory? When I look at
>myself in the mirror I am inferring something which is based on past events,
>the reflection of light from the mirror. Therefore, everything we deal with
>is indeed inferred. But that is the nature of knowing for humans. Historical
>sciences do make predictions owing to their purely deductive nature.
>However, I can assure you that whatever data is discovered, the
>evolutionists will find good verbal reasons why that new finding is
>consistent with their "theories." You may say that the same if true in
>physics, say with quantum mechanics, where we are not ready to discard the
>theory at the sight of the first discrepancy between experiment and theory.
>However, theories in physics make specific predictions. I ask you, does an
>evolutionist have a theory which predicts why I have two eyes? Or else, how
>many millions years will it take for us car drivers to develop an eye behind
>our heads to make backing a car easier?

The historical sciences (including evolutionary science) certainly do make
specific testable predictions. Many past theories have been disproven -
evolutionary science is quite different than it was 100 years ago. You
should not think of "evolution" as a single theory - it is composed of a
myriad of subsidiary theories which each rise of fall based on how their
predictions stand the test of time. Evolutionary theories have proven
extremely productive as an organizational framework for understanding the
history of life and modern genetic, morphological, and biogeographic data.
No other theory presently exists that has this explanatory power.

The general concept of common descent could be easily disproven but it has
not been. If the fossil record did not show trends through time consistent
with common descent, evolution would be convincingly disproven. But, by
contrast, continued fossil discoveries have validated expectations. One of
the more recent examples being the discovery of whales with limbs found in
the fossil record in the expected time interval and showing morphological
trends consistent with the derivation of whales from a primitive ungulate.
If the similarities of sequences of genetic code did not generate branching
patterns consistent with common descent, evolution would be convincingly
disproven. If the pattern of diversification of taxa through geologic time
were not consistent with the Earth's changing paleogeography as determined
from geologic investigation, common descent would be disproven. The
scientific community was driven toward the concept of common descent
because of accumulating evidence from diverse sources.


Keith B. Miller
Department of Geology
Kansas State University
Manhattan, KS 66506