Friday, August 28, 2015

Is Evolution Unfalsified?

In  a previous post (The Myth of the Merely Hypothetical) I noted that several Canadian Reformed supporters of the Reformed Academic blog claim that evolution is "as yet unfalsified." This reflects the widely held notion that evolution has all the evidence in its favour, and none against. Allegedly,  evolution gives a powerful explanation--the only valid explanation-- of biological facts, and is essential to understanding the life sciences.

Is this really the case?  

First, let's be clear that evolution here refers to large-scale biological evolution from one kind of animal to another (i.e., macro-evolution). Small changes within kinds (i.e., so-called micro-evolution) are not at issue; these can be observed to happen in the laboratory.

How well established is evolution, particularly the evolution of humans from apes?

1. Evolution versus Biblical facts
A scientific theory is falsified if it contradicts known facts. To Bible-believing Christians, facts include also those historical facts recorded in the Bible. The plain reading of Genesis teaches that creatures were all made "according to their kinds", over a span of a few days (Gen.1). In particular, Adam, the first man, was created from the dust, and Eve, the first woman, from Adam's rib (Gen.2). These Biblical facts falsify evolution in general, and human evolution in particular.

2. Evolution versus experiment

No plausible process has yet been found that could produce even the simplest cell (which is amazingly complex). Scientists are as far as ever from creating life in the laboratory. It seems impossible that life could ever get started via random physical interactions.

Moreover, macro-evolution has never been observed to happen. Biologist Richard Lenski has an ongoing experiment on the Escherichia coli (E. coli). This is a simple single-celled bacterium, with a generation time of only 17 minutes. Starting in 1988, Lenski observed over 60,000 generations of E. coli. He noted some changes in cell size, genetic makeup, and adaptations. But nothing substantially different was ever produced−E. coli cells always remained E. coli cells [J.W. Fox, R.E. Lenski, ”From Here to Eternity—The Theory and Practice of a Really Long Experiment”, PLoS Biol 13(6): e1002185 (2015)].

3. Evolution versus useful application
According to evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne, evolution has little commercial application:
"Truth be told, evolution hasn’t yielded many practical or commercial benefits. Yes, bacteria evolve drug resistance, and yes, we must take countermeasures, but beyond that there is not much to say. Evolution cannot help us predict what new vaccines to manufacture because microbes evolve unpredictably. But hasn’t evolution helped guide animal and plant breeding? Not very much. Most improvement in crop plants and animals occurred long before we knew anything about evolution, and came about by people following the genetic principle of ‘like begets like’. Even now, as its practitioners admit, the field of quantitative genetics has been of little value in helping improve varieties. Future advances will almost certainly come from transgenics, which is not based on evolution at all.”[Jerry Coyne, “Selling Darwin: Does it matter whether evolution has any commercial applications?,” Nature, Vol 442:983-984 (August 31, 2006)].
The evolution that might be applicable is merely the uncontentious micro-evolution. 


Consequently, Dr Coyne places evolution's value not in its commercial application, but in its explanatory powerIt is often claimed that evolution is the essential unifying principle in the life sciences, particularly biology.

However, this is disputed by Dr Jerry Bergman (An Evaluation of the Myth That “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution” [2012]). He finds that most university textbooks for the life sciences make little substantial mention of macro-evolution, especially not for experimental biology, or for practical applications, such as in medicine. A similar assessment was made by Dr Philip Skell (Why Do We Invoke Darwin? The Scientist, Aug. 29, 2005) who finds that most biologists do their work without referring to evolution, and that evolution provides no substantial guidance for experimental biology.

4. Evolution versus explanation
Evolution was constructed to give a naturalistic explanation of how the diversity of life came to be. However, there still remain huge gaps in evolutionary explanations. For example, Casey Luskin (What Are the Top Ten Problems with Darwinian Evolution?) lists the following shortcomings:
1. The lack of a viable mechanism for producing high levels of complex and specified information.
2. The failure of the fossil record to provide support for Darwinian evolution.
3. The failure of molecular biology to provide evidence for a grand "tree of life."
4. Natural selection is an extremely inefficient method of spreading traits in populations, unless a trait has an extremely high selection coefficient.
5. Convergent evolution appears rampant -- at both the genetic and morphological levels, even though under Darwinian theory this is highly unlikely.
6. The failure of chemistry to explain the origin of the genetic code.
7. The failure of developmental biology to explain why vertebrate embryos diverge from the beginning of development.
8. The failure of neo-Darwinian evolution to explain the biogeographical distribution of many species.
9. A long history of inaccurate predictions inspired by neo-Darwinism regarding vestigial organs or so-called "junk" DNA.
10. Humans show many behavioral and cognitive traits and abilities that offer no apparent survival advantage (e.g. music, art, religion, ability to ponder the nature of the universe).

In the ensuing comments, readers suggested also:
11. The problem of the evolution of sex
12. The problem of accounting for consciousness.

A major problem is that the presumed evolutionary past is no longer directly observable. The well-known evolutionist Ernst Mayr acknowledged:
Evolutionary biology, in contrast with physics and chemistry, is a historical science—the evolutionist attempts to explain events and processes that have already taken place. Laws and experiments are inappropriate techniques for the explication of such events and processes. Instead one constructs a historical narrative, consisting of a tentative reconstruction of the particular scenario that led to the events one is trying to explain.
Historian Gertrude Himmelfarb comments:
Darwin’s essential method was neither observing nor the more prosaic mode of scientific reasoning, but a peculiarly imaginative, inventive mode of argument. It was this that Whewell objected to in the Origin: For it is assumed that the mere possibility of imagining a series of steps of transition from one condition of organs to another, is to be accepted as a reason for believing that such transition has taken place. And next, that such a possibility being thus imagined, we may assume an unlimited number of generations for the transition to take place in, and that this indefinite time may extinguish all doubt that the transitions really have taken place.' [Himmelfarb, Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution (New York: Anchor Books, 1962, 333-335)]
Indeed, many evolutionary explanations are little more than "just-so" stories, hypothetical scenarios that can be concocted to explain almost anything.

5. Evolution versus predictions
According to philosopher Karl Popper, the essence of science is that its theories should be potentially falsifiable. A scientific theory should make clear predictions that can be tested:
“In so far as a scientific statement speaks about reality, it must be falsifiable; and in so far as it is not falsifiable, it does not speak about reality.” [Popper, The Two Fundamental Problems of the Theory of Knowledge (2014 edition)].
The theory of evolution has made numerous predictions, many of which have been falsified. A sample of these can be found at Cornelius Hunter's site Darwin's Predictions. Dr Hunter lists 22 fundamental false predictions of evolutionary theory. They cover a wide spectrum of evolutionary theory, reflecting major tenets of evolutionary thought. They were widely held by the consensus. Each prediction was a natural expectation of the theory of evolution, and constituted mainstream evolutionary science.  For example, the following predictions were all found to be false:
 The DNA code is not unique
 Mutations are random to an organism's needs, not adaptive 
 Competition is greatest between neighbours
 The molecular clock keeps evolutionary time
 Similar species share similar genes
● The species should form an evolutionary tree
● Complex structures evolve from simpler structures
● Structures don't evolve before there is a nee for them
● Functionally unconstrained DNA is not conserved
● Nature does not make leaps

6. Is Evolution falsifiable?
The false predictions did not cause mainstream scientists to reject evolution. They merely revised the theory to accommodate the new data. However, these modifications caused evolutionary theory to become much more cumbersome, so that evolution is no longer elegant nor simple.

Evolutionists brush aside evolution's false predictions because they consider evolution to be the only game in town. They are committed to naturalistic explanations of how life arose and diversified. Supernatural explanations and divine revelation are rejected from the start. Evolution is presumed to be true; it is only the precise method that is up for discussion. Hence, in practice, the basic notion of evolution is not falsifiable because it is driven by a deep metaphysical agenda. 

Evolution, the origin myth of our secularized society, is the antithesis of Biblical creation. No wonder therefore that, in the worldview war for human minds--and hearts--evolution is strongly promoted wherever possible in public media, education, and academia. Evolution, the only permissible view, is presented as a proven fact that no rational person would dispute.

Conclusion
To sum up, evolution contradicts Biblical facts, has not been experimentally observed, has few useful applications, fails to adequately explain the origin and diversity of life, and has made many false predictions. In particular, the claim "evolution is as yet unfalsified" is true only because mainstream science protects evolution from falsification. Whenever evolution is falsified the theory itself evolves, by ad hoc modifications, so as to accommodate any new facts that contradict earlier versions of evolution.
*****

2 comments:

  1. Superb. You hit several important nails on the head in one place. And you do it using great and up-to-date references. It only lacks a bit of Polanyi :-) Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Dr. Byl:

    Carrying on the quote from Mayr, he adds:

    Observation, comparison and classification, as well as the testing of competing historical narratives, became the methods of evolutionary biology, outweighing experimentation.

    "Outweighing experimentation"? Isn't that the same as saying, "beyond the reach of falsification"? At the very least it means thata
    "Observation, comparison and classification, as well as the testing of competing historical narratives" trump experimentation.

    It is interesting that evolution hasn't really explained anything, unless it is first imposed upon the observation or narrative, and everything is first fit into the scenario, always selectively; and that evolutionary biology, if not all the sciences, have moved themselves into the non-objective sphere: and yet its methodology
    trumps experimentation.

    Maybe Jelsma is right: I'm of that sect of society that is basically ignorant of science, and that's why I prefer the Bible's narrative, simplistic as that might be. But then, science is no more that discipline that I learned the basics of in high school, where the first number of months concentrated on what objectivity was and was not.

    Those lessons were already familiar to me because I had already had a couple of years of catechism training, including learning what Sola Scriptura meant: only God's truths, without man imposing his limitations upon it. Objectivity in science is much the same: only the facts, without man imposing his ideas and theories upon them.

    Again, it is interesting that those who have advocated this departure from science's moorings also advocate a departure from theology's moorings.

    Just some thoughts on Mayr's observations.

    JohnV

    ReplyDelete

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