RE: Where's the Evolution?

Brian D Harper (
Tue, 06 Apr 1999 18:17:38 -0700

First let me say that I appreciated this post as it seemed
relatively clean of the abusive language that I had come to expect
from you. For this reason I will respond, though I almost
changed my mind based on your reply to Susan. I'm confident
that your zeal got the better of you temporarily and that you
will apologize to he shortly.

At 03:41 PM 4/5/99 -0500, Cummins wrote:
>> []On Behalf Of Brian D Harper
>> OK, let me make a statement that you may think is outrageous at first. :)
>> Evolution is both theory and fact.
>A theory by definition is something that is not known to be a fact. Saying
>one thing is both a fact and a theory is silly. The late Carl Sagan often
>said that Evolution is a fact, not a theory. I suspect that many
>Evolutionists think such honest expression of their beliefs sounds a little
>too religious.

What you say is simply not true. One sees all the time and
in many various fields that the same word is used to refer to
both the facts associated with a phenomena as well as the
theory that tries to explain those facts. I know it is
probably surprising at first but it shouldn't cause too
much confusion once you get the idea.

>> My favorite example is the theory of plasticity as
>> opposed to the fact of plasticity. It is a fact that metals display
>> plastic behavior. Many theories have been proposed to try to
>> explain this fact.
>In regards to Evolution, what part is the "fact"? That all modern life
>developed naturally from a common ancestor? Or, that alleles change in
>frequency with time? Most any Evolutionist asserts that both of these are
>facts. Now, what's the theory? That all modern life developed naturally
>from a common ancestor? Or, that alleles change in frequency with time?
>It's too bad you used plastic metals for your explanation of something being
>both a fact and a theory at the same time instead of Evolution.

Well, I explained the reason previously. It was to show that this
type of terminology is not unique to evolution.

>In regards to your plastic metals, you say "plasticity" is both a theory and
>a fact. In your analogy, "plasticity" is a fact, not a theory. A theory of
>why metal has plastic properties is not itself plasticity.

Yes it is, and its called the theory of plasticity. OK, another reason
for selecting this example is that I actually know something about it.:)
Our department offers a course entitled "Theory of Plasticity."

>> BTW, don't be too influenced by Cummins :).
>Thank you for the compliment.

Well, I hadn't exactly meant it as a compliment. :)

>> The "ability of things
>> to evolve naturally, step by step, from simple to complex" is not,
>> actually, a prediction of evolution. Believe it or not, it is
>> still a point of controversy as to whether evolution (the actual
>> process as opposed to a theory) results in a *general* trend
>> toward increasing complexity.
>Doesn't the fact/theory of ameba-to-man predict (this definition of
>evolution is the one that is relevant) that there is an ability of nature to
>increase complexity step by step?

That there has been an increase in complexity in some cases is,
IMHO, beyond doubt. The question is whether evolution *always*
(or even almost always) involves an increase in complexity. It
seems to me that what the facts of this matter are is still
in doubt. This was the message I intended to portray by
providing the pointer to the article by Dan McShea. Nevertheless,
I can give my own opinion, which is that there is a general
(but not quite universal) trend towards increasing complexity.
Steve Gould, BTW, disagrees with this completely. This should
be enough to cast some doubt in your mind as to whether
evolution should really be properly defined as an indefinite
increase in complexity.

>It's interesting that you can address the fact vs. the theory of evolution
>without identifying what you consider (and what the evolutionist community
>considers) the fact to be and what you consider the theory to be.

You know, it might actually be less confusing if I said "the facts
about evolution" instead of "the fact of evolution". Does this
help? Anyway, I did list some of the facts about evolution in
my response to Ami. Perhaps you missed them? As for theory,
this should be plural, there's more than one. Remember that
theories are not speculations, they try to explain facts, to put
them in a general coherent framework. The most widely accepted
theory of evolution would emphasize the mechanism of natural
selection in explaining the facts.

Brian Harper
Associate Professor
Applied Mechanics
The Ohio State University

"All kinds of private metaphysics and theology have
grown like weeds in the garden of thermodynamics"
-- E. H. Hiebert