knowledge, wisdom, words

Toby Hemenway hemenway at
Sun Dec 16 13:58:20 EST 2001

on 12/12/01 8:30 AM, JLKAUFMANN at jlkaufmann at wrote:

>Evolution, for example, is NOT science -- it has never been observed, nor
>repeated, and so, is a belief.

On the contrary: evolution has been observed in dozens of species, for
example, rapidly evolving cichlid fishes in African lakes, in which the
descent of one species into another has been observed in the last few
decades. Many other examples exist in fungi, bacteria, and a few "higher"
organisms. The problem, of course, is that we can't easily observe evolution
over the necessary time scale, so we must also look at other evidence, such
as the fossil record, DNA, morphology, etc. All of that evidence is
perfectly consistent with evolution, and is inconsistent with other theories
such as Lamarckism and creationism.

The "repeatable" criteria is a canard; of course evolution can't repeat
unless we build a duplicate Earth. But the processes of evolution have been
repeated in thousands of species in the fossil record--all show features and
modifications consistent with evolution. Evolution has also been repeatedly
observed in computer simulations.

Evolution is considered a scientific theory (as opposed to a scientific fact
such as the rate of fall of an apple, though many scientists regard
evolution as a fact).  For a theory to be considered scientific it must be
testable (must be capable of being found false; astrology, for example, is
not testable) and it must lead to non-trivial predictions. Evolutionary
theory is testable; if, say, human fossils were found to be contemporary
with those of dinosaurs, it would falsify evolution theory. And it makes
predictions: DNA evidence should match the divergence patterns in the fossil
record, and it does, beautifully. Thus it is good science.

The argument about evolution as theory, fact, or belief has been discussed
at length in many books; Ernst Mayr's "Toward a New Philosophy of Biology,"
Michael Ghiselin's "Triumph of the Darwinian Method," and Karl Popper's
"Conjectures and Refutations," to name a few. Those who feel evolution is
not science don't understand what science is.

Sorry for the digression: evolutionary biology is part of what got me
interested in permaculture.

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