Re: Def'n of Science

Brian D Harper (
Wed, 03 Mar 1999 14:20:27 -0800

At 03:14 PM 3/2/99 -0600, Neal wrote:
>On Tue, 02 Mar 1999 at 11:12:50 -0800 Brian D Harper wrote:
>>>[NR] Marxism and Freudianism, which came out about the same time as
>>>>>Darwinism,were originally thought to be sciences. But when it was
>>>realized that they weren't testable, they were relegated to the realm of
>>[BH] But Darwinism was not. Really, what's your point?
>My point is that since the discovery of
>1)the pattern of punctuated equilibrium
>2)several biological examples of irreducible complexity, including that of
>the bacteria's flagellum, which requires 50 proteins to form it's rotary
>motor--any fewer and you have a broken flagellum, not a reduced function
>the conditions of Darwin's falsification scenario have been met. Therefore
>*gradual* Darwinian macro-evolution should also be taught only in
>philosophy classes along with Marxism.

Thanks for this clarification. Several points:

1) It seems to me that you accept that the pattern of punctuated
equilibrium (PE) is real. But this pattern is a pattern of evolution.
Further, the pattern contains examples of macroscopic change.
Thus the pattern of punctuated equilibrium is a pattern which
contains examples of macroevolution. I take it then that you
agree that macroevolution is a fact but you are not happy with
the gradualist Darwinian explanation?

2) PE is not universal. I recall Nile's Eldredge complaining
about quotes being taken from his work which cull out examples
of PE yet fail to mention his examples of gradualistic evolution
which often appear adjacent to the quoted material. Anyway, as
someone else already pointed out, there are examples of both
punctuated and gradualistic evolution. The issue of contention,
as I understand it, is really the relative importance of natural
selection as opposed to other evolutionary mechanisms.

3) How is it that irreducible complexity (IC) rules out Darwinian
evolution? For one thing, IC is hardly new. For example, I can
show a passage from <The Guide to the Perplexed> by the Jewish
theologian Maimonides (1135-1204) which gives the argument from
design based upon irreducible complexity. If you are interested,
I can also give you a more recent example where James Clerk Maxwell (!)
gives the argument from design based on, get this :), irreducible


>>[BH] I'm curious why the switch to PE? Is this an anticipated "naturalistic
>>mechanism of choice" to fill in the blank? If so, then this may be
>>a source of confusion. PE itself is not a mechanism but a pattern.
>>Mechanisms would be proposed in an attempt to explain this pattern.
>>The way to test PE is just to go and look for the pattern. If its
>>not there then PE has been falsified.
>Punctuated Equilibrium *is* a pattern. But to date there is not even one
>proposal for a testable mechanism that could have caused the PE pattern.

I'm curious where you got this idea. If you are really interested
in learning what some of the mechanisms are that may account for
PE, I highly recommend <Reinventing Darwin> by Niles Eldredge.

>So without a testable mechanism, PE, and the macro-evolution it implies,
>does not qualify as science.

Oops, I'm getting confused here. Above you wrote about the discovery
of the pattern of PE as if you believed that such a pattern exists.
Can you clarify? Are you saying that the discovery of this pattern
is not scientific if the mechanism is not known? If so, then what
I consider to be the greatest discovery in the history of science,
Newton's universal law of gravity, is also not science. Newton did
not have a mechanism for it, nor would he even speculate (publicly)
what that mechanism might be.

>Give me a testable mechanism by which the PE
>pattern occurred (please include the falsification scenario) and then we
>can agree that macro-evolution is part of science.

Read Eldredge if you are really interested.

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