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

Brian D Harper (
Mon, 08 Mar 1999 16:03:25 -0800

At 06:21 PM 3/7/99 +0000, Vernon wrote:
>Greetings Brian:
>Thanks for your response to my posting of 3/3/99.

Your welcome, and thanks for the follow up.

>Concerning falsifiability, let me first say that the nub of the matter
>is not that evolution hasn't yet been falsified, but rather that it is
>incapable of ever being falsified. A number of people seem to have
>missed the point here. For example,
>(1) In your initial response to Neal you stated "Many attempts to
>falsify evolution were made in the past."

OK, let me concentrate on this one and leave others to comment
on their items. Could you elaborate on why my response is
missing the point? In the mean time let me try to guess :).

Now, it seems to me that an attempt to falsify evolution shows
that evolution is falsifiable. Unless, of course, you can provide
some argument as to why such attempts were illegitimate.

So, I'm trying to figure out what the point is. Let me ask you
this. Suppose many attempts have been made to falsify a particular
theory and that all have failed. Do you count this as evidence
that the theory is "...incapable of ever being falsified"?
I suppose one could reasonably say something like this: "Many
attempts have been made to falsify this theory and all have failed.
Based on our current evidence then, this theory is not falsifiable."
But one would not be using falsifiabilty in the way Popper meant.
If one took this approach, then one would have only two types of
theories, unscientific theories and refuted theories.

You quote Ian Stewert later as saying "The more a theory fails to be
falsified when confronted by experiment, the more likely it is to be true..."
Do you agree? This is what I had in mind by pointing out the attempts
to falsify evolution in the past.

OK, let me try another idea. From what you say later I get the
impression that you think that enough evidence has been accumulated
to falsify evolution but that people are ignoring this evidence
because of some bias or whatever. Evolution then is unfalsifiable
for these people, they will believe it no matter what? OK, once
again this would be a reasonable use of the word unfalsifiable but
once again would not be what Popper meant by the word.


>Concerning Neal's original statement, "Generally evolution education
>...never even defines what the falsification scenario looks like.": this
>is not because it has no wish to rock the Darwinian boat, but because
>such a requirement makes an impossible demand of a metaphysical concept.

Why do you keep dropping back to evolution education? What matters
is the debate that has occurred over the last hundred and something
years in which falsification scenarios have been discussed in
great detail. I seriously doubt that any theory has been subjected
to as many attempts at falsification as has evolution.

>Thank you for the quotation from Popper's "Natural Selection and the
>Emergence of Mind". However, in agreeing evolution to be a valid
>scientific theory, Popper signally failed to apply the principles that
>he himself had formulated in 'The Logic of Scientific Discovery'. Why
>was this?

Really? Let's look at the quote again:

" 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

Popper says the theory has been well tested. How is this a failure
to apply his principles?

>After all, the world of science had already espoused the ideas
>expressed in this book - as witnessed, for example, by Professor Ian
>Stewart in 'Does God Play Dice? The Mathematics of Chaos' (Blackwell,
>1989). He writes: "To count as scientific, a theory in principle must be
>falsifiable...The more a theory fails to be falsified when confronted by
>experiment, the more likely it is to be true..." (p.174). When I wrote
>to him some years ago suggesting that the Theory of Evolution was
>unfalsifiable and therefore, in his own words, unscientific, our
>correspondence abruply ceased.

I would caution you against the argument from silence. It is
very weak.

>Clearly, once the penny drops, an
>alternative criterion for categorizing theories is urgently sought by
>evolutionists. This, of course, has now been found in the notion of
>'scientific consensus' - strict objectivity being rejected in favour of
>corporate subjectivity! I suggest that both Popper and Kuhn have
>betrayed their principles in going along with this charade. They are
>complicit in allowing a manifestly reasonable and objective criterion to
>be sacrificed on the altar of the god evolution!

Again, I invite you to re-read the quote from Popper. No where
does he suggest that evolution be accepted because of consensus.
He says instead that it is well tested. Thus he did not, as
matter of fact, seek an alternative criteria for evolution.

Brian Harper
Associate Professor
Applied Mechanics
The Ohio State University