Evolution

Is evolution a scientific theory?

The answer is no, and here’s why:

In order to be a scientific theory, a proposition must be empirically verifiable and falsifiable. Evolution is neither (this is the same reason that String Theory is not science, by the way). Evolution cannot be experimentally verified, and we have never actually observed species transformation. Moreover, it also cannot possibly be falsified, for any discovery made, any fossil dug up, would simply be incorporated into evolution, even if contrary to prior versions of the theory.

Now, it is true that science can be done within the framework of evolution, in the sense that specific versions of evolution theory can be scientifically falsified, but evolution itself, cannot be falsified, and thus is not science. Note that this is true of creationism as well, it itself is not scientifically verifiable or falsifiable, although specific versions of it are.

So now that we’ve got it clear that evolution and creationism are both philosophy, not science, the question is, which is a better philosophical position?

Well, consider the implications of evolution. According to evolution, my hundred thousandth cousin is a monkey, and my hundred billionth cousin is a bacterium. So, in other words, there’s not really any such thing as species, only wildly different races. And metaphysically, it requires that there are no distinct teleological qualities to which various creatures are directed, expect perhaps simply being alive (note here that this is radically opposed to the set of assumptions governing how biologists deal with practical questions in their field).

So, having shown that evolution is a philosophical idea, I have also shown that it is an idiotic philosophy.

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8 thoughts on “Evolution

  1. I wrote something along these lines a while back, as follows:

    [S]chools would be well served to use the debate on creationism and evolution to distinguish science from religion and philosophy, as well as to distinguish different branches of philosophy. The hardest of the hard sciences, such as physics and chemistry, proceed through experimentation. X will or won’t happen. And it will or won’t happen regularly and predictably. Saying these things with greater clarity and precision does not strictly speaking answer the bigger questions of these events’ significance. To use Aristotelian language, physics (and science generally) can explain efficient causes but not final causes. In addition, and perhaps more plausibly, the taxonomic or historical methods of biology are distinct from physics and chemistry. When the biologist finds fossils and tries to explain their significance and relationships, his methods are not so different from those of a historian or anthropologist. His activity is inductive and imaginitive. The presence of these historical and descriptive methods in what is ordinarily thought of as the experimental world of falsifiable hypothese would be a useful clarification of why such biological inquiry should not and cannot claim the same pedigree as, for example, formulae that show the effects of gravity or radiation. Competing, defensible explanations may emerge from the same facts. And those facts cannot be proven or disproven through experiments; they can merely be known as more or less supported by the evidence.

    As it stands, not science but a rationalistic and near religious faith in science–scientism, if you will–makes unsupported claims about what science can reliably tell us regarding the origins of man and the universe that alienate religous people, who would otherwise be open to its message. Far from encouraging superstition and obscurantism, a science curriculum that acknowledged its well-known limitations–limitations essential to its circumscribed methods and subject matter–would find a more receptive audience and a happier coexistence with all Americans. Instead archaic religious views confronts an equally archaic and quaint scientism, which would be more at home among the encyclopedists than it would be with any thoughtful scientist. Perhaps a starting point for this discussion would be the frank acknowledgement that the scientific method finds its cultural origins in the Christian worldview, which describes an orderly universe created and set in motion predictably for our benefit by God.

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  2. DrBill says:

    “Moreover, it also cannot possibly be falsified, for any discovery made, any fossil dug up, would simply be incorporated into evolution, even if contrary to prior versions of the theory.”

    Yeah, it’s not a theory. It’s a paradigm. Science needs these just as much as it needs theories. In economics we have what I (and only I, I think) call the optimization-equilibrium paradigm. It is a similarly non-falsifiable superstructure within which to create theories. You want paradigms to be philosophy, specifically to be metaphysical objects. I’m not so sure about this.

    Paradigms are not falsifiable for the reason you give. Since anything can be fit in them, they can flex to accommodate anything. On the other hand, if they have to flex too much, they start to look like a pretzel. Once they start looking like a pretzel, they become inconvenient to use. Their raison d’etre is the facilitation of construction, testing, and modification of theories. If they become bad at that, we throw them away. They become bad at that when you are constantly having to try to remember how to bend your theory to stay inside the pretzel.

    This character of making it hard or easy to talk about the subject of discussion is what paradigms get ranked on, ideally. So, in a sense, they are falsifiable—if they make talking about things really hard, then they get “falsified.” Not falsified in the sense that they are literally inconsistent with reality but falsified in the sense that they are rejected for making the articulation of true or potentially true statements too difficult. But that property is, itself, not metaphysical at all. The way the world is determines, in part, which paradigms are good ones and which are bad ones.

    But you don’t throw something away because it is inconvenient in an absolute sense. You throw it away because it is inconvenient relative to something else. So, if you don’t like the epicycles, you need a Copernicus.

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    • The metaphysical assertion is that it’s possible for one species to evolve into another. Technically the “theory of evolution” isn’t identical with this metaphysical assertion, but rather is the historical assertion that did in fact happen. But they go together logically so in effect they’re identical (the historical assertion logically requires the metaphysical, and if you accept the metaphysical assertion there’s no reason not to accept the historical claim).

      It’s an issue of metaphysics because the claim is one concerning the fundamental nature of living things, specifically, whether or not individual species have any telos other than “live and procreate”. It’s problematic because it’s an essentially nominalist system.

      The alternative metaphysics would be that each individual species is created by God. And that each has its own distinctive nature.

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  3. Bonald says:

    I think of natural selection as being true in the same way that statistical mechanics is true: if the conditions for its operation are met, it has to apply. It’s more akin to mathematics (pattern description) than science (the study of contingent truths). Of course, when or whether the conditions ever have applied is a contingent truth to be studied by science. However, since the subject of this post is evolution, not natural selection, this might be the right place to argue this.

    If one wants to save both realism and evolution, couldn’t we say that species boundaries are real but can be crossed between generations? The divide would be ontologically stark but genetically narrow.

    I’m nervous about writing off the possibility of evolution in an Aristotelian framework, because even if one is not impressed with the purported evidence for a historical progression from, for example, an ape to a man, the same problem is still there if we can even imagine a continuous progression from one to the other. Surely this is possible for at least some pairs of species. Yet if this isn’t an insuperable challenge to realism, evolution having historically happened wouldn’t be either.

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    • Of course, if natural selection is separated from evolution, it’s obviously true. I don’t think anyone doubts that creatures that are better at surviving and procreating will dominate ones that aren’t.

      As to evolution, I pointed out and I think you’re agreeing that the real argument is philosophical, not historical. The problem with the solution you propose is that it means that it’s possible for a member of one species to naturally give birth to a member of another, which means that the parent species must have possessed virtually the capacity to produce the daughter species. And since the same reasoning applies to the parent species with respect to its parent species, ad infinitum, this means it has the same problem I pointed out in the post, a bacteria possess the qualities of a man virtually, so again, it means that everything is everything else, there is no truly distinct species except perhaps “living things”.

      There are some “species” that there could plausibly be a continuous progression between (e.g. Dogs and wolves), but I’d dispute that these are legitimately different species, but are rather different races (I’m not aware of any argument for dogs and wolves being different species, that couldn’t be used to argue that Europeans and Africans are).

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  4. Bonald says:

    > The problem with the solution you propose is that it means that it’s possible for a member of one species to naturally give birth to a member of another, which means that the parent species must have possessed virtually the capacity to produce the daughter species.

    I wouldn’t have a big problem with that. Things produce other kinds of things all the time. However, I’m not even sure if one must grant this, at least if new species are supposed to be produced by mutations. A mutation is not an organism’s normal reproductive operation. Operation according to its form is being interfered with, perhaps by an outside effect like bombardment by radiation. If an organism perfectly followed its script, there would be no mutations, so we don’t have to worry about “virtual” capabilities.

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  5. For one species of bacterial life to have been responsible for all life that now exists, it must either have had virtually the capacity to produce each specific form of life that would ever exist (which is absurd, since there’s nothing in the nature of any bacterium which in any way is indicative of the various forms of life which would later exist), or it must have possessed virtually the capacity to produce any possible form of life that could exist. If the latter, then it really has no distinct essence. If it could just as well turn into any possible creature, then it’s not really part of any species smaller than “living things”.

    Pointing out that mutations are unnatural doesn’t fix this, because gamma rays etc don’t possess the virtual capacity to produce higher forms of life either. You still have the problem of order being created from things that don’t possess virtually the ability to do so.

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