Re: Explanatory Power

Jonathan Clarke (
Tue, 16 Mar 1999 16:51:21 +1100

Neal K. Roys wrote:

> Jonathan Clarke wrote:
> >We must be very careful with falsification. Explanatory power is of equal or
> >greater importance. Omnipotent explanatory theories are to be avoided,
> >however. They explain everything and thereby nothing. It is very easy to use
> >Popper naively, and its utility declines as the scope of the theory increases.
> >For example:
> >
> The Biblical account of creation has a lot of explanatory power also.

The Biblical doctrine of creation indeed has great explanatory power. But I think
you are missing the point Theological doctrines operate at the level of
metaphysics. evolutionary theory operates at the level of physical cause. Of course
the universe is God's creation. It is all very well to say that I move my arm, but
that statement is not helpful to someone seeking to explore how nerve impulses are
transmitted, how muscles operate, or how energy is transferred within the cell.
The "I" explanation works at a different level to that physiological or biochemical
ones, and is not help to understanding physiology or biochemistry. In the same way
biochemical and physiological theories to not address the issue of why I move my
arm, whether to help an old lady across a road or to kill my brother. The
explanations are complementary, not contradictory.

> If God can form Adam from the dust of the ground, then God may have done
> something similar on other creation "days." This claim has great
> explanatory power regarding a possible cause of what I acknowledge to be
> the scientifically certain sudden appearance of virtually the whole of the
> animal kingdom 453 million years ago at the cambrian explosion. (See Time
> Magazine 12.4.95)

This position is no longer tenable with the discover of 1 Ga trace fossils. Even
the strictest definition of Cambrian explosion shows that it occurred stepwise
over several 10's of My. "Cambrian explosion" is a metaphor, so don't don't be
seduced by the imagery into thinking it was an instantaneous event. It wasn't.

> The second half of the above-mentioned Time article contains a lot of
> speculation regarding naturalistic explanations for the sudden appearance
> of the Cambrian body plans.
> But when we ask, "Can any of these speculations be written as testable
> mechanisms?" the fog clears and we see that the speculations are not
> testable mechanism proposals, but instead they are guesses as to what the
> conditions were at the time of the explosion.
> But the conditions present at an explosion do not necessarily cause the
> explosion.
> JC>Easy! "The cambrian explosion was caused by mass extinction of the
> JC>proceeding vendobionts, leaving vacant niches".
> Mass extinction is not necessarily a mechanism of speciation, much less a
> testable mechanism. It is merely a condition that might have preceeded the
> explosion. Even if the condition of extinction is verified, it did not
> necessarily cause the explosion.

Mass extinctions are always followed by diversification from the survivors. It
may not have been the sole cause of the "Cambrian explosion" but it may have been a
factor and it is certainly testable You asked for a testable hypothesis, I provided
one, and then you move the goal posts!

> I challenge anyone on this list to provide a testable causal mechanism that
> caused the cambrian explosion.
> I'm looking for something that has a falsifiability scenario that parallels
> the "no-red-shift-is-discovered" scenario that Einstein described for
> falsifying general relativity (i.e. if light from distant galaxies is
> blue-shifted, then general relativity is falsified)
> *I'm not looking for an environmental condition that merely corresponds
> with the Cambrian explosion.
> *I'm looking for a testable causal mechanism that actually causes the
> effects we see in the Cambrian explosion.

Others have dealt with this, so I will let this pass.

> Here are a few excepts from the Time Magazine article of 12/4/95.

I have already read the Time article, thank you. But popular journalistic accounts
do not deal with the nit gritty issues, only attempt to communicate the
journalist's perceptions of them. So I decline to comment.

What is your position? God could have created by evolutionary means, but you
believe he did not because you feel the scientific evidence does not support it, or
does your basic theology preclude you from accepting that God could create by
evolution? Until we address the real issues (underpinning metaphysics and
theology) we can end up discussing in circles.

God Bless