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May 31, 2007

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Thomas

Einstein never observed any data that pointed him to General Relativity. He never saw time and space dilate, because one would have to travel at the speed of light to observe such a thing. The observations came after the theory. Of course, that is rather unique in science. But, we don't observe the radiation in the air, we don't observe the electrons orbiting the atoms, we don't observe all sorts of things and yet we have theories for them. What we have is a bunch of crazy evidence that seemingly points every which way, and out of the milieu we come up with theories that try to explain the data points and provide a mechanism to predict data points that we don't have yet. That's what science is all about, explaining data points and predicting future data points that haven't been observed yet. We have all sorts of data points that imply evolution, and hence we have a theory of evolution. But there could definitely be cases where we discover new data points that our theory does not and cannot predict, and if and when that happens, we modify our theory to accommodate those new points. We didn't observe the big bang, and yet we infer that it must have happened because of the expanding nature of the universe (and because of other various data points). There are so many things in science like that, and evolution is just one of many.

Nato

I think proto-scientists kept seeing all these commonalities in these various creatures, scales of similarity, homologous and analogous elements and wanted an explanation of how things got that way. The premise that populations of creatures changed over time seemed clear to naturalists long before Darwin.

It's like the curiosity of the detective who sees the corpse of a man shot 22 times - sure, she didn't observe the event directly, but she still feels there's a murder to explain.

Heck, if you believe Einstein, *every* sensation incident upon our awareness is mere evidence of a historical situation by the time we're contemplating it.

Nathan Smith

"That's what science is all about, explaining data points and predicting future data points that haven't been observed yet."

Uh, yeah, science in general maybe. Not evolution. I haven't heard any scientists saying, "In 100,000 humans will evolve a sixth finger." (Except on the Simpsons.)

If they did, they would have achieved something impressive: they would pass the Popperian test.

Nato

How about scientists who predict that any raptor (dinosaur) proteins we'll find will be most similar to avian proteins? That's a pretty good prediction, and as mentioned earlier, it has happened. Or one could predict that DNA from species judged to have diverged more recently would have DNA similarities representing that. This has also proven true, as mitochondrial DNA provides one of many, many examples. These discoveries are *future* events.

Nathan Smith

Needless to say, the raptor protein does not qualify as Popperian prediction, because if it had not been found, it would not be taken as a disproof of evolution.

As for divergence of species, Nato has the inference loop backwards: that species diverged later is predicted based on the taxonomic hierarchy, which predates Darwinian theory. If we found that two apparently unrelated species had similar DNA, we would conclude that they hadn't diverged as long ago as we thought; the old circularity. Faulty inference everywhere...

Nato

"Needless to say, the raptor protein does not qualify as Popperian prediction, because if it had not been found, it would not be taken as a disproof of evolution."

Needless to say that's a complete non-sequitur. The finding of the protein wasn't the prediction. The prediction was that it would be most similar to bird proteins. It could logically have been most similar to anything, but it was birds, just as predicted.

"As for divergence of species, Nato has the inference loop backwards: that species diverged later is predicted based on the taxonomic hierarchy, which predates Darwinian theory. If we found that two apparently unrelated species had similar DNA, we would conclude that they hadn't diverged as long ago as we thought; the old circularity. Faulty inference everywhere..."

It sounds like in this hostile account evolutionists are *still* having to abandon hypotheses - sounds like they were disconfirmable after all! Now, if it's the very idea that animals diverged that one wishes to refute, then it might take a couple solid examples before everyone decided the whole thing needed a rework. I doubt biologists would abandon "evolution" in some broad sense as a working hypothesis, but it would be clear that something wildly different was going on. That said, I would view it as a higher probability that evolutionary science is a veridical conspiracy theory of voluminously-manufactured evidence (as unlikely as that is) than that it's all coincidence.

Nathan Smith

Nato is in too much of a hurry here. He rushes forward without having understood my arguments. But maybe it's my fault for not explaining clearly enough.

Comparative genomics proves the following: that the degree of difference between random genetic content among different organisms is systematically related to the taxonomy of animals. Thus if wolves are closely related to foxes but not to Tasmanian devils, we might expect to find that there is a great deal of similarity between the DNA of wolves and foxes, but little similarity between that of wolves and Tasmanian devils. This degree of difference can be quantified.

What this confirms is *taxonomy.* They give a new reality to the taxonomy of animals by phyla, classes, families, genuses, etc. They give a genetic basis to the taxonomies which were around long before genomics and long before Darwin. When taxonomists used to say that whales are related to dolphins but not to sharks, it was perhaps not clear what they meant: they did so on the basis of observed similarities, but why were *those* similarities significant; why not say simply that a whale is related to a shark more than to a man simply because it swims and has the shape of a swimming creature? Comparative genomics provides confirmation that the taxonomies have a real basis.

*One explanation* of the meaning of taxonomy, which is independent of and prior to evolution, is that families of animals are literally families, that "related" creatures diverged from each other at certain points of time in the past; the more remote the time, the more distant the relationship, the more genetically different the animals. Fine. It's clever. But you have to be careful here. A crude evolutionist argument is to "date" the divergence of animals based on genetic differences, and then say that that proves they evolved, otherwise how could they have diverged? But the jaunt into natural history is a diversion: what we see, what we have evidence for *now,* is DNA similarities that confirm the taxonomic ordering of the animal world. It is taxonomy, not evolution, that is making predictions and being confirmed or disconfirmed here.

Meanwhile, we don't even know, based on scientific methods of observation and experiment, whether macro-evolution is possible.

But how do we sort it all out?! How do we figure out which inferences are valid and which are not?! How do we know what to trust?! This was the problem Karl Popper faced when he was wrestling with the pseudo-scientific juggernauts of Freudianism and Marxism. His solution was to look for falsifiable hypotheses, and make them the criterion for "demarcating" science. You can accept Popper's definition or not, and if you do it may force you to diverge a bit from the general practice in defining the sphere of science.

Anyway, I accept Popper's standard, and evolution-as-a-total-theory does not meet that standard. Of course, parts of it do meet the standard of science: taxonomy-cum-comparative-genomics meets the standard; and so does "the Darwinist theory of imperfect ecosystemic homeostasis" that I've argued for, my effort to separate the wheat from the chaff.

The notion that all life on earth originated in this fashion certainly does not meet the Popperian standard. *That* is something rather like a myth, and the intellectual dynamics of its propagation and elaboration are to be understood by analogy to the spread of pagan, Jewish, Marxist, or Freudian mythologies.

Nato

"It is taxonomy, not evolution, that is making predictions and being confirmed or disconfirmed here."

This is incorrect. Taxonomy in itself would only predict differences related to morphology and physiology, not drift in proteins that have not changed functionally, mtDNA, and so on. Taxonomy qua evolutionary hypothesis predicts the whole enchilada.

Nathan Smith

"Taxonomy in itself would only predict differences related to morphology and physiology, not drift in proteins that have not changed functionally, mtDNA, and so on."

Why? If you think that wolves are related to foxes, why wouldn't you expect this to apply to the non-functional genetic information as well as the functional?

Nathan Smith

"Taxonomy in itself would only predict differences related to morphology and physiology, not drift in proteins that have not changed functionally, mtDNA, and so on."

Why? If you think that wolves are related to foxes, why wouldn't you expect this to apply to the non-functional genetic information as well as the functional? (Of course, the term "drift" introduces an evolutionist bias: what are observed are *similarities* in the proteins/DNA. The term "drift" suggests a historical dimension, which is only very erratically observable at best.)

Nathan Smith

"Taxonomy in itself would only predict differences related to morphology and physiology, not drift in proteins that have not changed functionally, mtDNA, and so on."

Why? If you think that wolves are related to foxes, why wouldn't you expect this to apply to the non-functional genetic information as well as the functional? (Of course, the term "drift" introduces an evolutionist bias: what are observed are *similarities* in the proteins/DNA. The term "drift" suggests a historical dimension, which is only very erratically observable at best.)

Nato

"If you think that wolves are related to foxes, why wouldn't you expect this to apply to the non-functional genetic information as well as the functional?"

For what meaning of "related" would one expect non-functional genetic information to show similarities? Related by what, if not common history?

Note this is a question regarding hypothetical consequences, not the familiar argument regarding "what's your alternative?" For "foxes and wolves are related" to qualify as a meaningful hypothesis, then the relationship needs a base level of concreteness.

Nathan Smith

One thing I wanted to mention: Tom was right on target with his mention of relativity theory. Relativity, too, is a theory that deals with all sorts of things-- the bending of space and time, the asymptotic approach to the speed of light-- that we *don't* usually observe, rather than things that we do.

But relativity theory is an exemplary case of Popperian falsifiability; in fact, it was Einstein, who made very precise predictions and insisted that they had to be confirmed by observation or else the whole theory would have to be abandoned. Precisely because relativity is a theory about what we do *not* usually observe, the insistence that the theory stand or fall on the few experiments and observations that were available was especially essential, in order to avoid being merely another instance of human's "here there be dragons" habit of coloring in the blank parts of the map with imaginative myths.

Marx, Freud, and Darwin, too, theorized especially about what is not observed: about the evolution of animals in the distant past; about the coming revolution; about the "subconscious" part of the mind that is not readily observable. When Arthur Eddington sailed to Brazil in 1919, hoping to observe the bending of light which would confirm Einstein's theory of relativity-- see here: http://www.esa.int/esaSC/SEMDYPXO4HD_index_0.html-- he was afraid he would go mad if the observation did not confirm it, and drove them into confusion again. Evolutionists, Marxists, and Freudians don't have to lose sleep about their theories being disconfirmed tomorrow, because whatever facts come along, their theories can comfortably absorb them. (Though of course there might be considerable inconvenience in rearranging the details.)

But there's another difference between Einstein and evolution that is even more telling. Einstein's theory of relativity supplanted Newtonian mechanics, but *at the same time explained all the observations that had previously seemed to confirm Newton*. Einstein's theory contained Newton's; it explains why Newton's theory is an extremely good approximation of the truth in ordinary situations. No one who has understood Einstein's theory has a reason to regret the replacement of Newton by Einstein (except for aesthetic reasons maybe), or to feel that such-and-such a fact was easier to explain under the older theory. (Copernicus's theory was a worthy supplanter of Ptolemy's for the same reason.)

Evolution does not contain older views in the same way. Read the story of Adam and Eve and you will have an explanation, of sorts, of why we feel shame when we are naked and have to wear clothes all the time. Evolution does not offer such an account. Read Genesis and you will have an explanation, of sorts, of why man is a rational creature with a conscience, who feels ethical obligations, and at the same time feels he is always falling short of the standards to which he believes he ought to hold himself. Evolution provides no such explanation. At best there are a variety of speculative stories about it.

On the contrary, evolution suggests a lot of implausible things-- man as a merely material entity-- that make the explanation of man's basic nature as a rational, free-willed, conscience-ridden being with shame more difficult, or impossible.

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