Re: Def'n of Science

Brian D Harper (
Wed, 03 Mar 1999 08:58:00 -0800

At 03:13 PM 3/3/99 +0000, Vernon wrote:
>Brian wrote in response to Neal's
>> > You can know if something is testable or not by checking to see if
>> > *both* a verification scenario *and* and falsification scenario
>> > exist.
>> > Generally evolution education intoxicates students with verification
>> > scenarios and never even defines what the falsification scenario
>> > looks like. Consequently, no test could ever falsify evolution
>> > because falsification is undefined.
>> This is illogical. Even if one granted the intoxication bit of
>> rhetoric, it doesn't follow that evolution cannot be falsified.
>> Many attempts to falsify evolution were made in the past.
>> Refer to a history of science book for details.

>Karl Popper in 'The Logic of Scientific Discovery' drew a clear line of
>demarcation between science and metaphysical ideas. He maintained that
>all statements of empirical science must be capable of being finally
>decided with respect both to their truth and falsity. In a memorable
>quote, he says, "... it is not his possession of knowledge, of
>irrefutable truth, that makes the man of science, but his persistent and
>recklessly critical quest for truth." (p.281)

First let me say that I appreciate Gary's comments on this. In fact,
just this morning I was listening to one of Feynman's lectures
on physics (highly recomended) where he said something that is,
I believe, appropriate to the present discussion:

"Philosophers, incidentally, say a great deal about what is
_absolutely necessary_ for science, and it is always, so far
as one can see, rather naive, and probably wrong." -- Feynman.

Nevertheless, as an experimentalist, I find much sympathy with
Popper's views and, while this is certainly an interesting topic
of discussion, it really is beside the point in regard to why
I said Neal's statement was illogical. Neal claimed that there
was no test that could falsify evolution and that this was a
consequence of what students are taught. This is clearly an
illogical statement.

>As I understand the matter, it is widely acknowledged that an
>experiment to falsify the Theory of Evolution is impossible to devise.
>It is largely because of this that Popper, in his later years - bowing
>to intense pressure from the naturalist lobby - allowed 'scientific
>consensus' to overrule his earlier demand that 'falsifiability' be made
>the proper criterion of demarcation for any theory for which the claim
>'scientific' is being made.

I believe your understanding is lacking. The issue with Popper
was not evolution but natural selection. Popper wrote, for
example, in the same paper in which he discusses the falsifiability
of natural selection, the following regarding the testability
of the theory of evolution:

" The Mendelian underpinning of modern Darwinism has been well tested,
and so has the theory of evolution which says that all terrestrial
life has evolved from a few primitive unicellular organisms, possibly
even from one single organism."
--Popper, "Natural Selection and the Emergence of Mind",
_Dialectica_, vol. 32, no. 3-4, 1978, pp. 339-355

And so we find that the author of your preferred demarcation scheme
disagrees with your conclusions. Would you like to retract?

>Brian, I therefore find it hard to understand why you should label
>Neal's remarks 'illogical'.

Brian Harper
Associate Professor
Applied Mechanics
The Ohio State University

"He who establishes his arguments
by noise and command shows that
reason is weak" -- Montaigne