Re: Evolution's Imperative (was Def'n of Science)

Jonathan Clarke (
Mon, 08 Mar 1999 19:40:50 +1100

Greetings Vernon

Is your hobby waving red rags in front of male bovines? You wrote in part:

> .... A number of people seem to have missed the point here. For example,
> (2) Jonathan wrote, "We must be very careful with falsification." Then,
> citing three examples, he overlooks the fact that Newton's theory of
> gravitation is clearly 'scientific' because it is manifestly
> falsifiable; on the other hand, his geological scenario is not, for it -
> like evolution itself - involves conjectures about distant historical
> events.

I think you have missed the point, or at least mine. It could be that I did
not explain myself well enough. I will let the others discuss your comments
to their points themselves.

a) Newton's theory was falsified quite early (I believe that the aberrations
in Mercury's orbit was recognised in the 19th century, but would be glad for
someone to correct me on this with more specific info). Despite this
Newton's theory was still accepted, taught, and used - why? Because of its
explanatory power. It was only superseded when Einstein was able to provide
a theory with greater explanatory power.

b) How is my geological scenario not falsifiable? I gave two examples. A
simple case of a rock being a limestone, and a more complex example
involving the lacustrine origin of the XYZ formation. The first was easily
falsifiable with dripping acid on the rock, the second by compiling
collecting a mass of data inconsistent with lacustrine origin.

c) You say my "...geological scenario is not [falsifiable], for it - like
evolution itself - involves conjectures about distant historical events".
What has the distant past got to do with it? The near past is just as
inaccessible as the distant past. Are you saying that we can't saying
anything about the near past? The past is no more inaccessible to science
than deep space (which is also in the past), or the subatomic world. All
are studied indirectly. In many cases geological "conjectures" are far
more easily verified than astronomical or subatomic ones.

More generally you still do not acknowledge the following:

i) falsification, while useful for sifting the simple end of scientific
ideas, is of decreasing value in testing increasingly complex ideas. That is
why explanatory power is of increasing importance the more complex and
general the theory is.

ii) Despite the difficulty of testing evolutionary theory as a whole there
are a whole range of observations which would falsify it. These have been
discussed before by others - things like mammals in Cambrian strata for
example, or a human skeleton within a Tyrannosaurus. In detail specific
evolutionary scenarios (providing properly framed) can also be tested by the
Popperian method.

iii) The danger of relying too heavily on Popper. He was a great
philosopher, but not the last word on the philosophy of science either.
Part of his greatness lay in his ability to admit mistakes, as he did with
Darwinian evolution.

In the end I suspect it is a sign of desperation to try and disprove a
theory because of philosophical argument. Our energies would be better
spent by exploring the theological implications of an evolving creation.

God Bless