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

Vernon Jenkins (
Wed, 10 Mar 1999 20:46:41 +0000

Greetings Jonathan:

No, it was never my intention to play matador to your 'male bovine', and
to raise blood pressures thereby! But I believe we should all feel
comfortable speaking our minds with courtesy on this list.

Let me address the points you raise in order of presentation:

> 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 It was only superseded when Einstein was able to provide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.

I wouldn't dispute any of this. If a scientific theory has great
explanatory power, yet is seen to be falsified in certain situations,
then clearly it is reasonable to retain it until the necessary
refinements are in place.

> 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.

I think we can both agree that geology is not an exact science. In your
original posting you hypothesised XYZ as 'a lacustrine shale (based on
synthesising a wide range of evidence)'. Many years have passed since I
studied geology. Can you therefore specify the kind of evidence you have
in mind. Is each strand truly objective? Had the shark remains been
discovered first, could an equally-strong case have been made for a
marine environment?

> 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.

Yes, I agree that my words regarding the past were not well-chosen here.

> 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.

I have expressed a view on most of these issues in my recent reply to
Kevin. However, regarding Popper, I go along with the many scientists
who believe his 'falsifiability' criterion to be both reasonable and
useful. It is clear to me that he was subsequently 'leaned upon' to
modify his views re evolution. In the real world, such things do happen,
as you will, no doubt, know.

> 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.

Jonathan, our energies are best spent in securing our eternal future
with Him rather than distorting the Scriptures to meet the demands of
evolution - 'science falsely so-called' (1Tm.6:20).

With my regards and thanks,



> God Bless
> Jonathan