[asa] Predictive Power: Astronomy vs. Evolution

From: David Opderbeck <dopderbeck@gmail.com>
Date: Wed Dec 06 2006 - 12:56:19 EST

In an ID forum, someone argued that evolution cannot make predictions. The
writer compared evolution to astronomy. Astronomy, he said, can predict,
based on the theory of gravity, precisely where the planets will be a
million years from now. Evolution, in contrast, has no way of predicting
what life will look like a million years from now. The conclusion to be
drawn from this is that evolution is merely speculation, not science.

This struck me as a bad argument. I responded in a couple of ways.

First, it seems to me that the argument about astronomy predicting the
location of the planets is overstated. Based on Newton's laws of motion and
gravity, one could calculate where a planet in our solar system will be in
relation to the Sun and the other planets in the future. However, any
number of reasonably possible, unanticipated, "random" events could change
that calculation -- say, a major meteor impact that changes a planet's
orbit. Further, the question of "location" is only a relative one. It's
impossible to predict a planet's precise location in the universe a million
years from now, because the universe is not, as Newton thought, a fixed
Euclidean space. So, the predictive power of Newton's laws of motion and
gravity is real, but its application is only practical at certain levels of
granularity and based on big assumptions about intervening forces. A
prediction about the location of the planets a million years from now is
possible in theory, but not really in practice.

Second, it seems to me that evolutionary theory does make some general
predictions. The basic one is that organisms will adapt to environmental
and competitive pressures. This is a very general prediction, but it has
specific application in areas like disease resistance. This kind of
prediction may not have the granularity of predictions about the locations
of the planets based on Newton's laws of motion and gravity, but that is
just a matter of degree, not of kind.

The author of the original argument didn't really address my first point.
As to my second point, he accused me of dishonesty or ignorance. ID, he
said, recognizes the type of microevolution I described, so that doesn't
count as a prediction based on evolutionary theory. After some further
exchanges about this accusation of dishonesty, I was banned from the forum
(!).

So here is my question for this group: was my instinct about this
comparison of the predictive power of astronomy and evolution right? Are
there better ways to frame / address this argument?

-- 
David W. Opderbeck
Web:  http://www.davidopderbeck.com
Blog:  http://www.davidopderbeck.com/throughaglass.html
MySpace (Music):  http://www.myspace.com/davidbecke
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Received on Wed Dec 6 12:56:51 2006

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