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Evolution can't be falsified (Talk.Origins)

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This article (Evolution can't be falsified (Talk.Origins)) is a response to a rebuttal of a creationist claim published by Talk.Origins Archive under the title Index to Creationist Claims.

Claim CA211:

Any fact can be fit into the theory of evolution. Therefore, evolution is not falsifiable and is not a proper scientific theory.

Source: Morris, Henry M. 1985. Scientific Creationism. Green Forest, AR: Master Books, pp. 6-7.

CreationWiki response:

An idea is "falsifiable" if it is "Capable of being tested (verified or falsified) by experiment or observation" (from wordweb dictionary).

So when a person says that creationism or evolutionism is not falsifiable, they are saying there are no experiments that can show that the related theories are false or wrong.

It was science philosopher Karl Popper who argued that falsifiability should be a criterion of what is scientific and what is not.

Let's briefly take a look at the theory of evolution and see why anyone would call it unfalsifiable or untestable.

The modern Darwinian theory covers a huge span of history, mostly without any human presence, humans only appearing in the last possible fraction of the theory. A lot of events happened that couldn't be observed or recorded. Nobody saw if there was any "common ancestor" of all living creatures. Nobody saw the hypothetical creature reproduce so many times that it became a fish, or the time when a fish became a non-fish (an amphibian). Nobody saw if natural selection caused this grand-scale change by using the accumulated mutations. Nobody saw the multitude of special events that is supposed to have happened in the theoretical time frame. But the theory stands on the premise that all these things happened. You cannot test the distant past because no eyewitnesses were there to make observations. All you can do is make predictions about what would have happened if such a theory were true.

"Investigators can test some sub-theory predictions of a general theory, but this does not automatically establish the general theory as a completely testable concept. This can be readily understood by considering the general historical theory that first life came to earth in a rocket ship. The sub-theory that a living organism could crawl out of a rocket ship can be tested, but this does not test whether or not a rocket ship actually brought life from outer space. Similarly, the evolution sub-theory that populations change slightly can be tested, but this does not prove that the general theory of common ancestry evolution is true." (Darwin's Enigma, chapter 2, Luther Sunderland, 1988)

So the theory just becomes a paradigm, a naturalistic worldview in which predictions can be performed. Because the theory itself cannot be tested, and thus is not science, it becomes more of a "metaphysical research program" as the evolutionist Karl Popper himself called it.

It's not only because the past is untestable that evolution is referred to as unfalsifiable and therefore not science. It is because when evolution does make predictions and those predictions, when tested, fail, the evolutionist doesn't consider his theory falsified but makes an excuse or gives an ad hoc hypothesis (explanations not dependant on scientific evidence, just a story to fill the gaps). This attitude shows the unfalsifiable nature of the theory, since the predictions can be tested here and there, but the main parts of the theory itself remains untouchable. There are numerous examples of this occurring.

Darwin himself, about 150 years ago in his book, predicted that if his theory were true, there should be innumerable fossil creatures in the ground showing the change from one form of organism to another.

"Firstly, why, if species have descended from other species by insensibly fine gradations, do we not everywhere see innumerable transitional forms?" (The Origin of Species: The Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life, first edition reprint (and in further editions) Avenel Books, p. 205)

To him, the fossil record should be full of smooth transitions and transitional forms. But even in his time no such smooth transitions were found. Instead, even up until now, the fossil record is known to show abrupt appearance of animals, which stay generally the same before disappearing the same way they appeared. That is known as stasis.

"The gaps in the record are real, however. The absence of any record of any important branching is quite phenomenal. Species are usually static, or nearly so, for long periods, species seldom and genera never show evolution into new species or genera but replacement of one by another, and change is more or less abrupt." (Robert G. Wesson, 'Beyond Natural Selection', 1991, p. 45)

The problem of sudden appearance is the worst problem because according to the theory, there needs to be simpler ancestors. But right smack at the foundation of the hypothetical geologic column, there are two layers. The lower one has no fossils, except for maybe a few signs of bacteria, algae, and pollen. But the one on top bursts with all the living phyla (body shapes), and no new ones are added further up in the hypothetical record. And these organisms show no sign of ancestry.

"It is as though they [fossils] were just planted there, without any evolutionary history. Needless to say this appearance of sudden planting has delighted creationists. Both schools of thought (Punctuationists and Gradualists) despise so-called scientific creationists equally, and both agree that the major gaps are real, that they are true imperfections in the fossil record. The only alternative explanation of the sudden appearance of so many complex animal types in the Cambrian era is divine creation and both reject this alternative." (Richard Dawkins, 'The Blind Watchmaker', W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1996, pp. 229-230)

It should be clear that the fossil record falsifies that prediction of Charles Darwin, even in his own day. It is said that opposition for his theory didn't initially come from theologians and theists, but from paleontologists. But what was Charles Darwin's and many other evolutionists story to cover this? Darwin used the story that the fossil record is incomplete or imperfect. In his book, The Origin of Species, Darwin has a whole chapter on the imperfection of the geological record (Chapter 10 in the 6th edition, but chapter 9 in the first). Evolutionists still use that, but it is difficult in the face of millions of fossils that have been found (and that isn't simply elephant hurling, but fact).

"Now, after over 120 years of the most extensive and painstaking geological exploration of every continent and ocean bottom, the picture is infinitely more vivid and complete than it was in 1859. Formations have been discovered containing hundreds of billions of fossils and our museums now are filled with over 100 million fossils of 250,000 different species. The availability of this profusion of hard scientific data should permit objective investigators to determine if Darwin was on the right track." —Luther D. Sunderland, Darwin's Enigma (1988), p. 9.
"We are now about 120 years after Darwin and the knowledge of the fossil record has been greatly expanded. We now have a quarter of a million fossil species but the situation hasn't changed much. The record of evolution is still surprisingly jerky and ironically, we have even fewer examples of evolutionary transition than we had in Darwin's time. By this I mean that some of the classic cases of Darwinian change in the fossil record, such as the evolution of the horse in North America have had to be discarded or modified as a result of more detailed information." —*David Raup, Conflicts between Darwin and Paleontology, Field Museum of Natural History Bulletin, Vol. 50, No. 1, 1979, pp. 22-29.

"There are a hundred million fossils, all catalogued and identified, in museums around the world." —*Porter Kier, quoted in New Scientist, January 15, 1981, p. 129.

Others use Gould's and Eldridge's punctuated equilibrium, which essentially is just another way of saying that all the evolution happened somewhere else, and when it was done, then the more fully formed creatures started to fossilize, which gives the appearance of sudden appearance. The strongest proof for this is the absence of ancestry for a huge number of animals, plants, and insects, i.e., the evidence is the absence of evidence. Some evolutionists say that there are multitudes and multitudes of transitional fossils that have been found. But for some reason, they simply forget to make these fossils open to the public. Talk Origins has a whole website about them, but when it is investigated, the claims are found to be erroneous. Most of what they have is small scraps, a good imagination, and a strong adherence to the naturalistic "metaphysical research program". The rest are just fully formed animals (see Transitional forms).

But this doesn't stop the evolutionist from believing. This doesn't falsify his theory, even though it falsifies the prediction it makes. And even if it appears to, there is an explanation just ready, whether faith in science's future discoveries, or excuses and ad hoc hypotheses. So to summarize:

  • Prediction: gradualism and change (Darwin), fossil record is supposed to show this as a family tree.
  • Actual/Observed: Abrupt appearance and stasis, gaps between kinds of creatures.
  • Ad hoc hypothesis/excuse: punctuated equilibrium (Gould, Eldridge), imperfect fossil record (Charles Darwin, ibid chapter 14), the claim that there are multitudes.

A brief, but far from exhaustive, summary of some other attempts at falsification that get bounced away by ad hoc hypotheses and excuses:

  • Prediction: natural selection and mutation must be able to add new or novel genetic information enough to change one kind (family or genera) of organism into another.
  • Actual/Observed: natural selection is a conservative force that is more likely to keep animals the same (a possible reason for stasis in the fossil record, if it is taken as a record of time, and not a record of sudden catastrophe), and mutations, due to their random nature, cannot add new genetic information. The vast majority of mutations are harmful, some are neutral, and the rest, though beneficial, do not add new genetic information, but may even leave the animal weaker.
  • Ad hoc hypothesis/excuse: still claim that mutation and natural selection are sufficient for evolution, or doubt the power of either while still holding on the "fact" that evolution happened.

  • Prediction: every organ or organism can be shown to have evolutionary development (Charles Darwin, Chapter 6 The Origin of Species)
  • Actual: evidence of specified and irreducible complexity (Michael Behe)
  • Ad hoc hypothesis/excuse: imaginative drawings (from the mind of men, not any direct evidence) of how such irreducibly complex organism may have evolved, "explanations of gene duplication and co-optation to build these complex structures." [1]

So there have been many attempts the falsify the theory, but it remains intact even in the face of the insufficiency of its predictions and promises. This just enforces the reason why creationists and others see the theory of evolution as unfalsifiable.

(Talk.Origins quotes in blue)

There are many conceivable lines of evidence that could falsify evolution. For example:

Talk Origins makes out that there are many conceivable lines, but apparently "conceivable" does not mean "realistic". Many remarkable things can be conceived by the human mind and imagination, but such things are not necessarily the product of real life. This is made obvious by some of the disproofs Talk Origins along with other evolutionists demand. I say other evolutionists, because I personally had a debate with one who asked for such "imaginative", almost ridiculous evidences. If evidence against evolution has to come from mythical, unrealistic characters, "such as mermaids and centaurs", then it shows one of two things:

  1. Either evolution is a myth itself
  2. Or there are no realistic ways to falsify the theory, which proves its unfalsifiability

  • a static fossil record;

Talk Origins is presumably referring to animals, both complex and simple, appearing everywhere, e.g., human bones or artifacts could be found in the deepest Precambrian layer and all the way up to the top of the hypothetical geologic column. Although this desired piece of data is quite unrealistic for two reasons—the hypothetical nature of the column and the fact that a difference in the sorts of organisms in the layers are part of both the creationist and evolutionist model—there is a way to at least add some discomforting facts about the fossil record that goes against the evolution hypothesis.

  • The fossil record starts complex. Even if bacteria is small, it is not a simple organism and has a complexity that still cannot be explained simply by natural processes or by the fossil record. Supposed traces of bacteria, algae, and pollen (signs of flowers, complex plants) are found at the bottom of the hypothetical column with even more amazing creatures above, such as the trilobite which has one of the most complex optical system in nature, which leads us to our second problem.
  • the Cambrian explosion is a big problem for the evolution theory which predicts gradual change from one kind of animal to another. At the very base of the geologic column, there is a huge gap between the types of creature in the Precambrian, and the types of creature in the Cambrian, the next layer up. The creatures in the Cambrian layer appear to have no ancestry. The pattern of sudden appearance and staticity is a common feature in the fossil record.

But this shouldn't worry evolutionists, because, as explained, they'll have an "explanation" for it.

  • true chimeras, that is, organisms that combined parts from several different and diverse lineages (such as mermaids and centaurs);

The desire for chimeras such as mermaids and centaurs is also quite unrealistic, but surprisingly enough there is a close contender in nature. By the way, a chimera is a creature that has different parts from different creatures, like the mermaid that has the top half of a human and the bottom half as a fish. The platypus is a creature that has a bill like a duck, fur like a mammal, webbed feet, a venom spur like a echidna, lays eggs like reptiles and birds, and has a tail like a beaver (see The echidna enigma ... and the platypus problem). Also it doesn't appear to have any strong fossil lineage. Evidence of its chimerical form is seen by the reaction of those who first saw it.

"In fact, when the first platypus specimen reached England in 1799 (it was long dead), it was regarded as a hoax, a ‘high frolic practised on the scientific community by some colonial prankster’.1 Experts of the day could not reconcile the fact that a duck-billed mammal with webbed feet and claws and a beaver-like tail could really exist. One zoologist, sure it was fraudulent, tried to remove the ‘duck’s bill’ from the pelt; his scissor-marks can still be seen on the original, in London’s British Museum of Natural History." (The platypus)

But this shouldn't worry evolutionists, because, as you've read above, they'll have an "explanation" for it. The Talk Origins page devoted to this animal notes a "scanty fossil record", i.e., not much hard evidence at all [2], but says In summary, the features of the living platypus, and the evidence available from its scanty fossil record, are both consistent with the idea that it has evolved from primitive mammals which still had many reptilian characteristics." Translation: no matter what, even in the face of little real evidence, but with a lot of imagination evolution must be true. It just must be! Mustn't it?

  • a mechanism that would prevent mutations from accumulating;

When it comes to mutations, this claim springs from an evolutionary belief (not a factual statement) that if "beneficial" mutations accumulate in an organism and enough change occurs towards a different type, then natural selection can make sure that new organism can survive, since it will be more able to produce more offspring with the improved genes. Firstly, it has been observed that mutations don't have enough power to make such a thing happen because it is random, and observed mutation decrease genetic information. So it seems that in the theory of evolution, you lose and lose until you become better, right?

So the problem is not mutations accumulating but the power of mutations. But there is evidence that they don't have the power to accumulate to the extent that evolutionists would like. DNA has the ability to check and heal itself.

"Cells have several mechanisms and methods for DNA repair—fixing various types of damage to DNA before it causes irreparable damage. While DNA repair mechanisms could be considered irreducibly complex, it can still be argued that natural selection would favor an organism with better DNA repair. This means that, however unlikely, evolutionists can still argue that natural selection could provide for DNA repair to evolve. Cells with mutations that improved DNA repair would be favored." (Startling plant discovery presents problems for evolution)

But this shouldn't worry evolutionists, because, as you've read above, they'll have an "explanation" for it.

  • observations of organisms being created.

Talk Origins' last example wouldn't disprove anything and it wouldn't falsify the theory of evolution. Why? Because, as should be clear by now, evolutionists will find an argument to still believe in evolution even in the face of something living being created.

  • It could be argued that that the created organism is being created in the present, so it doesn't prove it happened in the past.
  • They could find a way to incorporate this into the theory and find a natural cause for it even if it was done supernaturally.
  • They could wait a couple of days or years until the commotion about such an incredible thing dies down, and then created doubts about its veracity.

Evolutionism and the theory of evolution isn't so much about scientific falsification, but about a person's adherence to what they believe in. However, that is not to say that creationism is so different and that it is purely scientific. Both systems require faith. Both models have aspects that are falsifiable and aspects that are not. The main body of both stories/models are not falsifiable, but they can make predictions that are. But should these predictions fail the test, the model will not necessarily come tumbling down in the mind of the person that holds it. It takes a great many factors that will cause a person to change their worldview, but that is not within the scope of this article.

The conclusion is that the main aspects of evolution are unfalsifiable, and thus, not scientific.

This claim, coming from creationists, is absurd, since almost all creationism is nothing more than (unsubstantiated) claims that evolution has been falsified.

Again, Talk Origins has it wrong. You have to ask, what does a creationist mean when they say "evolution has been falsified"? It would be good to ask the individual creationist you are talking to. But in general, the predictions it has made have been tested and shown to be false, and thus the theory itself has little to no truth value. This is not to say there is no evidence that can be understood in the light of naturalism and the evolution hypothesis, but it is to say that

  • if evolution is science (which its main aspects are not), it can only be held tentatively (retaining one's doubt about it) and not as absolute truth
  • and if there is so much evidence against the theory, it doesn't need to be held at all
  • with the naturalistic religion evolution is a part of, there is no need to contradict or compromise one's own faith with such a thing in light of its failure in the cold light of reason, logic and evidence, all of which can be a part of one's religio-philosophical worldview.

But evolutionists, especially the ardent ones, don't hold to the first point by their very actions to impose it on others and ridicule those who disagree with it.

There are many other websites and scientific articles that show that such claims by creationists are not unsubstantiated concerning the falsification of the theory's predictions, and this article helps to show that. Creation science is more than just an opponent of evolution. It is a way of looking at the world in light of its creation and Creator having nothing to do with naturalism, unless the two clash. It is because creation science is more than just a claim of evolution's falsification that creation scientists can do research into possible ways the flood impacted the world, and study rock formations like Grand Canyon, and the aftermath of disasters, like Mount St. Helens, using science to help them understand more about themselves and the history of the world in light of the Almighty Creator. Before the theory of evolution had an organized beginning, creationism existed in the minds, actions, experiences and investigations of those who accepted the literal word of the books of Moses, especially Genesis 1 and 2. For these reasons and more, creation science is more than evolution's opponent.

So to conclude, the claim that the main aspects of the evolution theory are unfalsifiable are true and there is a lot of evidence for such a view.

Related References

  1. Design vs. Descent: A Contest of Predictions
  2. Creationism and the Platypus

See Also