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Falsification of evolution

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According to Karl Popper, for an idea to be considered scientific, it had to be falsifiable, i.e. capable of being shown to be wrong. The possibility of the falsification of evolution is, therefore, an important factor in determining if evolution is a scientific idea or an unscientific belief.

Evolutionists claim that evolution is falsifiable, while creationists claim that it's not. Evolutionists have made numerous predictions that could, in principle, be falsified, as well as claims made specifically as potential falsifications. Evolutionists who have made specific falsifications claims include J. B. S. Haldane, Richard Dawkins, and Jerry Coyne.[1] Notably, however, Coyne merely claimed that his list of falsifications could "if repeated and confirmed, … disprove parts of the theory of evolution" (emphasis added), not evolution itself.

Contents

Potential falsifications

Out-of-place fossils

Haldane is reported to have claimed that finding rabbits in the precambrian would destroy his belief in evolution. Similarly Coyne has claimed that finding "Fossils in the wrong place (e.g., mammals in the Devonian)" would be reason to "seriously question the occurrence of evolution". And Dawkins has claimed that "What would be evidence against evolution, and very strong evidence at that, would be the discovery of even a single fossil in the wrong geological stratum".[2]

However, it is not clear that finding such fossils would indeed falsify evolution. Several explanations could be advanced by evolutionists to accommodate the evidence, including the following:

  • The formation was wrongly thought to be Precambrian/Devonian.
  • The fossils only appear to be rabbits/mammals.
  • The fossils are an "intrusive burial", i.e. were inserted into the formation after it was formed.
  • The rabbit/mammal evolved earlier than previously thought.

In practice, fossils have often been found in places that evolution said that they would not exist, without evolution being discarded.[3][4]

Gareth Nelson:

Within the history of paleontology, I am aware of numerous apparent falsifiers of the paleontological argument; these have usually been rendered impotent as falsifiers by the ad hoc alternative that the fossil record was not as complete as previously believed....The paleontological argument seems fallacious because it is accepted in principle as non-falsifiable (it is always protected from falsification by an ad hoc alternative that is always, and obviously, true).[5]

Wheels and magnets

Haldane wrote:

It is never, however, necessary to postulate a leap which would imply prevision by a designer. That is why one finds no example of various mechanisms, such as the wheel and magnet, which would be useless till fairly perfect.[6]

However, since Haldane wrote that, magnets have been found in nature, as well as rotating parts (wheels), in the form of motors.[7] Yet evolutionists do not consider evolution as falsified.

Altruism

Coyne offers "Adaptations in one species good only for a second species" as a falsification. That is, the existence of one species helping another species without getting any sort of advantage in return.

Tom Bethell points out that the problem with this falsification test is that it's 'notoriously easy to concoct a "Just So" story explaining why X's behavior can be construed as useful to X.'[8]

Coyne also lists "true" altruistic behaviour, whereby an individual foregoes its reproduction to benefit an unrelated individual, without expecting anything in return. Coyne then admits that such cases may exist, although needing confirmation, and weasels his way out of such cases by suggesting that they do expect some sort of benefit in return. He also seemingly ignores humans, who frequently devote their lives to helping others, often foregoing reproduction or any expectation of benefits from those they help.

Lack of Genetic Variation

Coyne says that "A general lack of genetic variation in species" would mean that creatures couldn't evolve. It would not, however, mean that they haven't evolved. There are some creatures today with very little genetic variation, which are thought to have gone through a genetic bottleneck, severely limiting their variation. But no evolutionist says that they haven't evolved.

Irreducible Complexity

Coyne says that demonstrating that something couldn't have evolved via small steps, as claimed by Intelligent Design proponents such as Michael Behe, would falsify evolution. He claims that Behe's examples have been shown to plausibly arise gradually.

The problem with this claim is that there is unlikely to ever be agreement on whether a given evolutionary explanation is plausible.

Benefits species but not individual

Coyne says that a adaptations that are bad for the individual but good for the species would falsify evolution. Actually, he says that "most" adaptations being like this would falsify evolution. This falsification test is of the type that can be made because the evidence is already known and the idea (evolution) has been constructed to fit it, and which is a statistical one in that a few exceptions—which he admits could already exist—would not falsify it.

Contradictory phylogenies

Coyne's last item is "Complete discordance between phylogenies [family trees] based on morphology/fossils and on DNA". Like the test about adaptations being bad for the individual, this is a statistical prediction based on what we already know. Discordance between family trees as constructed from the physical characteristics of species and family trees constructed from DNA similarities are not rare, but could not be described as "complete", so Coyne is proposing a test on what he knows to be safe ground.

Actual falsifications

Although not necessarily claimed as potential falsifications, evolutionists have a times made claims based on evolution or incomplete evidence which have turned out to be false. These don't disprove the idea as a whole, though. They merely disprove particular claims.

Dinosaurs and grass

Fossil evidence is claimed to show that grass evolved around 55 million years ago, about ten million years after dinosaurs went extinct. However, dinosuar coprolites (fossilised dung) shows the remains of grass, proving that grass existed at the same time as dinosaurs.[9]

Biogeography

For more information, see Biogeography.

When Alfred Wegener proposed his version of continental drift,[note 1] the idea was rejected by George Gaylord Simpson on the grounds that the fossil evidence (where particular fossils were found) contradicted the idea.[10] Today, continental drift is an accepted part of mainstream science, and the fossil evidence is said to be consistent with it.

Every bit of biogeographic detective work turns out to support the fact of evolution.Jerry Coyne[11]

However, numerous contrary examples exist. One case concerns lemurs on Madagascar and their mainland (African) relatives. Evolutionary molecular dating indicates that the two varieties separated after Madagascar separated from Africa.[12]

Family trees

A and B have a common ancestor, and that common ancestor and C have a common ancestor.
B and C have a common ancestor, and that common ancestor and A have a common ancestor.

If you have three creatures existing at the same time but thought to be related, there are three different ways they could be related. The diagrams at right show two of those ways.[note 2]

Evolutionists have claimed that the family trees developed according to the physical similarities of creatures have been confirmed by DNA analysis, which shows the same family trees. However, this is often not the case. For example, a display at the Melbourne Museum has a panel which says:

Until recently, Australian birds were grouped with species from other continents, because of similarities in appearance: ... This is not correct. Look on the other side of this panel to see what DNA studies have revealed.

Richard Dawkins has also claimed that family trees derived from studies of differences in genes are consistent, regardless of which gene is studied:

Having got the family tree for FOXP2, you then do the same thing for another gene, and another, and another. You get the same family tree.[13]

However, this is not the case. Different genes often produce different family trees:

A major challenge for incorporating such large amounts of data into inference of species trees is that conflicting genealogical histories often exist in different genes throughout the genome.[14]

Vestigial organs

For more information, see Vestigial organ.

If evolution was true, we should expect to find organs that were formerly useful, but no longer have a function. In 1890 scientists had listed 180 vestigial organs in humans alone. However, by the end of the 20th century, this list had shrunk to zero, with functions being known or likely for all such organs.

'Junk' DNA

Junk DNA is not just a label that was tacked on to some DNA that seemed to have no function; it is something that is required by evolution.
—Robert Carter[15]

Like vestigial organs, evolution predicts that genomes should contain considerable evolutionary leftovers in the genetic instructions. J. B. S. Haldane and others showed that natural selection could not select for all the mutations that must have occurred in human evolution, unless most of those mutations occurred in parts of the genetic code that had no function. This was the origin of the idea of 'junk DNA'.[15]

Yet, increasingly, functions have been found for the so-called 'junk' DNA.

Note

  1. Wegener was not the first to propose something similar
  2. The third way is that A and C have a common ancestor and that common ancestor has a common ancestor with B.

References

  1. Coyne, Jerry A., What would disprove evolution?, Why Evolution Is True, Mon. 9th July, 2012Mon. July 9th, 2012. (Content warning: This link contains pro-evolutionary material.)
  2. Dawkins, Richard, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution, The Free Press, New York, 2009, p.146-7, quoted by Paul Nelson, 2010a.
  3. Nelson, Paul, Seeing Ghosts in the Bushes -- Or How to Keep the Theory of Evolution from Breaking Your Heart and Driving You Crazy, Evolution News and Views, Tue. 19th January, 2010Tue. January 19th, 2010.
  4. Nelson, Paul, Seeing Ghosts in the Bushes (Part 2): How Is Common Descent Tested?, Evolution News and Views, February 4, 2010.
  5. Nelson, Gareth. 1978. Ontogeny, Phylogeny, Paleontology, and the Biogenetic Law, Systematic Zoology 27:324-345, quoted by Paul Nelson, 2010b.
  6. Haldane J.B.S., "Haldane to Dewar," in "Is Evolution A Myth?," C.A. Watts & Co. Ltd/The Paternoster Press: London, 1949, p.90, quoted by Stephen Jones
  7. Sarfati, Jonathan, Design in living organisms (motors: ATP synthase), Journal of Creation 12(1):3–5 April 1998.
  8. Tom Bethell, A Just-So Story for Every Occasion, Evolution News and Views, Wed. 11th July, 2012Wed. July 11th, 2012.
  9. Catchpoole, David, Grass-eating dinos: A ‘time-travel’ problem for evolution, Creation 29(2):22–23, March 2007.
  10. Wells, Jonathan, George Gaylord Simpson on Continental Drift, Evolution News and Views, June 15, 2012.
  11. Coyne, Jerry, Why Evolution is True, Oxford University Press, 2009, p.98, ISBN 9780199230846
  12. Jonathan M, As Evidence of Darwinian Evolution, Biogeography Falls Well Short of Satisfying, Evolution News and Views, Thu. 6th December, 2012Thu. December 6th, 2012.
  13. Richard Dawkins answers reddit question about evolution, YouTube.
  14. James H. Degnan and Noah A. Rosenberg, Gene tree discordance, phylogenetic inference and the multispecies coalescent, Trends in Ecology and Evolution Vol. 24 No.6, 21 March 2009.
  15. 15.0 15.1 W. Carter, Robert, The slow, painful death of junk DNA, Tue. 9th June, 2009Tue. June 9th, 2009.
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