(Double-posted from ORIGINs)

I ran across this statement on Ray Comfort's blog, said by an atheist.

"Two problems. Evolution is unfalsifiable as it can be made to conform to any hypothetical observation. If universal common descent is somehow false, it cannot be proven. Second, I remember reading about Roemer's correct prediction of how long Io would be delayed in appearing. His prediction was based on an assumption that light moved at finite speed. The consensus at the time, was that light was instantaneous. I further read that the results were dismissed as Jupiter's haze made the appearance of Io unpredictable. "Despite the force of Roemer's analysis, and the early support of both Huygens and Newton, most scientists remained skeptical of the idea of a finite speed of light. It was not until 50 years later, when the speed of light was evaluated in a completely different way, arriving at nearly the same value, that the idea became widely accepted. This occurred in 1729..." Now, he was later recognized; but I believe this was posthumous. Even scientists can be closed-minded... I am not inclined to give a free pass to those who say "prove evolution wrong and you will be rich and famous." The evidence is very much to the contrary."

He later adds:

"For example, the most common fake potential falsifier I have seen brought up is the pre-cambrian rabbit. If one had actually been observed, the conclusion would simply be that rabbits evolved earlier. There is nothing about universal common descent that dictates a relative timeline. Furthermore, this was only given after it was safe. Evolution may not predict that no pre-cambrian rabbits will be found; but statistical analysis on existing fossils certainly does....

[Do] you have an experiment in which the preliminary says "if we find X, then evolution is false"? As long as data examined prior to such an experiment didn't rule "X" out, I would accept that.

The conventional standard for a scientific theory is withstanding experiments to test specific falsifiable points. Lack of an alternative explanation does not make your explanation a theory. A useful working hypothesis, yes; but not a theory.

[...]

In fairness to DNA, it couldn't be proposed as a mechanism for evolution until it was discovered and observed to fit. It couldn't be proposed as a falsifier in advance. But if nothing can be proposed as a falsifier to an idea in advance, the idea is untestable."


Is there anything to this? I have a feeling he's misunderstood the meaning of falsifiable or making some other kind of logical error.

As I see it, evolution may have the appearence of being unfalsiable because it's built off observational evidence. For example, evolutionary theory has been greatly advanced through scientific observation of nature and the fossil record, adding to the theory's complexity. In general evolution is simply descent with modification. This is observed in the fossil record. DNA evidence also confirms the interrelatedness of species. We can see traits forming in "primitive" species that gradually become fully functional (more adapted?) in their descents as well as the genes for these traits. Certainly if the fossil record was arranged in a completely random order that would falsify evolution. The fact that we don't see this makes adds to the proof for evolution but does not constitute as unfalsifiable. True, if we found a pre-cambrian rabbit it would not be enough to falsify evolution at this point, because the evidence in favor of evolution is so overwhelming that we'd be forced to conclude that the single rabbit was merely an anomaly. Evolution as it stands is so well supported that even if we found an entire army of pre-cambrian rabbits, the most plausible explination for how they got there would have to be time travel.

Perhaps he's mistakenly concluded that because evolution is so well supported this makes the theory unfalsifiable?

Tags: evolution, falsifiable, science

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Replies to This Discussion

The problem is that evolution is not a theory, is a fact we can observed (is difficult because we usually don´t live long enough, but it can be observed). The theory explains that fact. Natural Selection, puntuacted equilibria, evo devo, etc. that are the theories that must be unfalsifiable, and they are.
The Universal Common Ancestor (LUCA) is a theory about the origen of life while evolution is the change of species to became other species (not the origen of life itself), is like saying that Abiogenesis is a theory about evolution and it´s not.
I was to tired in the morning for the evolution (theory-fact discussion), and I think I was too short (and sharp in a badly way) in my awsner and I complete forgot Dawkins example of the "mammals in the cambrian". Good you mentioned it.
The answer to your question is well beyond a few paragraphs on this forum. I suggest you read a book I have recently finished "The Power of Critical Thinking" by Vaughn Lewis, especially chapters 8,9, and 10. He gives an in depth explanation of inductive thinking and uses Darwin's theory of natural selection as a test subject. In a nutshell, natural selection passes all tests for evaluating good scientific theories. Great reading, although the book is written as a textbook for a college course.
The consenses from here and ORIGINS seems to be that there's a fundamental misunderstanding at work here. I'll try to explain it to him, if I can, given that the post is now a few days old and most of the comment threads die down pretty quickly after a couple days.

He's usually very serious about calling people out when they make false assumptions, no matter which side of the "debate" they're on, so I'm hoping if it does get to him he'll realize his mistake.

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