Re: Popper

Stephen Jones (
Sat, 11 Apr 98 10:00:54 +0800


On Fri, 03 Apr 1998 15:59:55 -0500, Brian D Harper wrote:


>SJ>In particular, if Popper really recanted, how come he left his
>>claim that Darwinism was an untestable metaphysical research
>>program in his autobiography through *three* editions over *eight*

BH>maybe he was joking. what a wit! ;-)

Whether Popper was "joking" or not when he wrote that he had
"recanted", it is clear from the fact that he allowed the above to
stand unchanged in his autobiography through 3 editions, from 1974
to 1982, that his "recantation" was a sham.

Here is the full text of Popper's reply in New Scientist to Darwinists'
criticism of his claim that "Darwinism is not a testable scientific
theory, but a metaphysical research programme". Note how carefully
Popper avoids mentioning Darwinism, but just talks vaguely about
the scientific character of "the theory of evolution" and "the historical
sciences" comparing them with "the history of the evolution of life on
Earth" and to "the history of literature (!), or of technology, or
of science":

New Scientist 21 August 1980


In the 17 July issue of New Scientist (p 215) you published an article
under the title "Karl Popper: good philosophy, bad science?" by Dr
Beverly Halstead. This article. it appears had two purposes:

1. to defend the scientific character of the theory of evolution, and of
paleontology. I fully support this purpose, and this letter will be
almost exclusively devoted to the defence of the theory of evolution.

2. to attack me.

As to (2), I find this uninteresting and I shall not waste your space
and my time in defending myself against what are in my opinion
hardly excusable misunderstandings, and wild speculations about my
motives and their alleged history.

Returning to (1), it does appear from your article (provided its
quotation from Colin Patterson's book-which I do not know-is not as
misleading as your quotations from my book) that some people think
that I have denied scientific character to the historical sciences, such
as palaeontology, or the history of the evolution of life on Earth; or
to say, the history of literature, or of technology, or of science.

This is a mistake, and I here wish to affirm that these and other
historical sciences have in my opinion scientific character: their
hypotheses can in many cases be tested.

It appears as if some people would think that the historical sciences
are untestable because they describe unique events. However the
description of unique events can very often be tested by deriving from
them testable predictions or retrodictions.

Karl Popper Penn

(Popper K., "Evolution," Letters, New Scientist 21 August 1980,

Even Michael Ruse admits that Popper did not really recant but
still believed that Neo-Darwinism was unfalsifiable:

"Turning to science, or, more precisely, to claims that are made in the
name of science, Popper and his sympathizers make short shrift of
many areas of the social sciences. Freudian psychoanalytic theory is
dismissed as incontrovertibly and irreparably unfalsifiable. But then
moving on to biology, coming up against Darwinism, they feel
compelled to make the same judgment:

`Darwinian evolutionary theory is unfalsifiable. Hence, the critical
evaluation given at the beginning of this section: "I have come to the
conclusion that Darwinism is not a testable scientific theory but a
*metaphysical research programme*-a possible framework for testable
scientific theories' (Popper, 1974, p. 134, his italics).

Since making this claim, Popper himself has modified his position
somewhat; but, disclaimers aside, I suspect that even now he does not
really believe that Darwinism in its modern form is genuinely
falsifiable. If one relies heavily on natural selection and sexual
selection, simultaneously downplaying drift, which of course is what
the neo-Darwinian does do, then Popper feels that one has a
nonfalsifiable theory. And, certainly, many followers agree that there
is something conceptually flawed with Darwinism. (See Bethell,
1976; Cracraft, 1978; Nelson, 1978; Patterson, 1978; Platnick and
Gaffney, 1978; Popper, 1978, 1980; and Wiley, 1975.)"

(Ruse M., "Darwinism Defended: A Guide to the Evolution
Controversies," 1982, p133)


Stephen E (Steve) Jones ,--_|\
3 Hawker Avenue / Oz \
Warwick 6024 ->*_,--\_/ Phone +61 8 9448 7439
Perth, West Australia v "Test everything." (1Thess 5:21)