1. Religion & Spirituality
Send to a Friend via Email
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Discuss in my forum

Austin Cline

Karl Popper and Evolution: Is Evolutionary Theory Based on a Tautology?

By June 20, 2006

Follow me on:

Quite a few creationists try to rely upon comments by Karl Popper in their attacks on evolutionary theory. In a sense they have a point because Popper did criticize evolutionary theory; but they ignore the fact that Popper later retracted his criticism after he learned that he was mistaken. He demonstrated what being a scientist is all about.

In the September/October issue of Skeptical Inquirer, Massimo Pigliucci writes:

Perhaps the best-known philosophical criticism of evolution was put forth by Karl Popper, who once claimed that “Darwinism is not a testable scientific theory, but a metaphysical research program” (Unended Quest, 1976). ... Popper proposed his famous criterion of falsification to solve the demarcation problem: good science is done when hypotheses can be shown to be false (if they indeed are). That’s where the philosopher’s criticism of evolutionary theory originated from. Popper understood evolutionary biologists to say that their theory predicts that natural selection allows only the fittest organisms to survive; but, he countered, the “fittest” organisms are defined as those who survive, which makes the statement tautological.

Some creationists make similar criticisms today, but they fail to appreciate the fact that Popper retracted his criticism:

“I have changed my mind about the testability and logical status of the theory of natural selection; and I am glad to have an opportunity to make a recantation” (Dialectica 32:344-346).

Why the change? Because there are independent means for determining which members of species are “fittest.”

[B]iologists employ optimization analyses to predict which combinations of morphological, behavioral, or physiological traits are more likely to be advantageous (i.e., to increase “fitness”) in the range of environments actually encountered by a given living form. They then sample natural populations of organisms, determine in which environments they actually live, measure those traits they hypothesize are more likely to make a difference, and obtain statistical predictions on where natural selection should push the population next. Finally, biologists wait until the next generation of organisms comes out and measure their characteristics again.

Karl Popper was a philosopher rather than a scientist, but he demonstrated the scientific mindset: he changed his mind about a conclusion he reached once he was show new information which contradicted his beliefs. This often isn't easy to do because no one likes to be wrong; with some conscious work, though, a person can make it a bit easier and learn to accept their own fallibility.

We can contrast this with the creationists who so love to cite Popper or at least make the same arguments he did without acknowledging their debt to him. When confronted with information that contradicts their beliefs, they refuse to change their minds. Instead, they deny the evidence or rationalize ways to ignore anything they don't like. Creationists want to benefit from the thinking of Karl Popper without committing themselves the consequences of his skeptical, philosophical, and critical mindset. Even worse, it's seems unlikely that they have any idea what this means.

 

Read More:

Comments
May 10, 2006 at 1:40 pm
(1) stevedoetsch says:

You quote out of context. Popper recanted that natural selection is “almost a tautology”, thus affirming that it’s not “almost”, but completely, a tautology. Popper calls evolution “a metaphysical research programme” which means he believes it is philosophy not science and is not empirically testable:
“…I have tried to explain how the theory of natural selection could be untestable (as is a tautology) and yet of great scientific interest. My solution was that the doctrine of natural selection is a most successful metaphysical research programme.”
Popper never said evolution isn’t a taut, he restated that it is a taut, and his “recantation” is a tongue and cheek response to the attacks by evolutionists. Thus Popper’s claimed “recantation” is a philosopher’s sardonic response to criticism: with the pretense of apology Popper reaffirms his past statements, that evolution is “metaphysical” and hence not empirically testable.

May 10, 2006 at 3:16 pm
(2) atheism says:

Given the fact that he said he changed his mind, it’s clear that his recantation was genuine. That is as it should be, since natural selection and evolution are not only testable, but have been tested and have survived testing.

Ultimately, your argument is with Pigliucci and your allegation of quoting out of context is with him as well. I find his argument far more credible than your brief comment.

May 11, 2006 at 1:37 pm
(3) stevedoetsch says:

It’s impossible that I have a problem with Pigliucci and not you as well. Quoting someone who misquotes without acknowledging the misquote, IS misquoting. Now if Pigliucci is quoting out of context then so are you, since you neglect to acknowledge his quote is out of context. On the other hand, if he is accurate, then you are accurate as well. You can’t pretend you have no responsibility concerning the information you report just because you report what some one else said.

Has Popper recanted that NS is “almost tautological”, thus he means NS is a tautology, or does he mean he no longer thinks it is a tautology at all? We may interpret his words in different ways, but one thing is for sure, Popper still believes NS is metaphysical and hence not testable.

When I first read Popper’s recantation I took it literally. But there’s a part of what he says that doesn’t make sense when taken literally. If he truly recanted, and changed his mind, so that now he is saying NS is testable, why does he still call NS a metaphysical research program? Metaphysics may be based on empirical sense data, but its conclusions are not empirically testable in the same way as science.

When Popper says “I have changed my mind” we must make an inference about what Popper changed his mind about since he does not state this directly; hence that statement is open to interpretation. When Popper says “the doctrine of natural selection is a most successful metaphysical research programme”, no inference is required, since Popper directly tells us NS is a metaphysical doctrine.

Is Popper telling us that NS is both metaphysical and testable? This is a contradiction that either makes Popper into a moron, or suggests that Popper is sharing a ground breaking philosophical concept whereby metaphysics can be tested via the scientific method. Since Popper does not directly state what he has changed his mind about, to infer that Popper’s “I have changed my mind” means he believes NS is testable requires one of these two conclusions. Any interpretation of Popper is incomplete that claims he believes NS is testable while not addressing these conclusions.

However, there is a theory that makes sense of all the data in the simplest way. Popper is being sarcastic. Popper may no longer call NS a tautology, but he certainly claims it is not testable. At best he has replaced his original claim, that NS is a tautology, with the claim that it is metaphysical. He states directly, and multiple times, that NS is metaphysical. He says he has changed his mind, but he is ambiguous about what he has changed his mind about. Since he does not directly state his new opinion, but he directly states that NS is metaphysical (and Popper well knows metaphysics is not empirically testable), whatever we infer, it cannot be that Popper now thinks NS is testable.

To put it simply, we are witnessing the sarcasm of a philosopher. His “recantation” is sardonic because he seems to withdraw the claim that NS is a taut and hence not testable, and replace it with the claim that it is metaphysical and hence not testable. Sarcasm on paper is easily misinterpreted and can only be understood in context. That’s why the single quote “I have changed my mind…” is not enough to determine the meaning of his words. Only in isolation does this sentence mean that Popper thinks NS is testable. If Popper has recanted his statement that NS is a tautology, he has undoubtedly stated that NS is metaphysical and hence not testable. Either way Popper says NS cannot be scientifically tested.

“The claim that it [natural selection] completely explains evolution is of course a bold claim, and very far from being established.”

“The Mendelian underpinning of modern Darwinism has been well tested…”
“However, Darwin’s own most important contribution to the theory of evolution, his theory of natural selection, is difficult to test.”

“The fact that the theory of natural selection is difficult to test has led some people, anti-Darwinists and even some great Darwinists, to claim that it is a tautology.”
“I mention this problem because I too belong among the culprits”

“I have in the past described the theory as “almost tautological”, and I have tried to explain how the theory of natural selection could be untestable (as is a tautology) and yet of great scientific interest. My solution was that the doctrine of natural selection is a most successful metaphysical research programme.”

“I still believe that natural selection works this way as a research programme. Nevertheless, I have changed my mind about the testability and logical status of the theory of natural selection; and I am glad to have an opportunity to make a recantation.”

Popper may be recanting his belief that NS is a tautology, but he directly states, multiple times, that NS is metaphysical, which is also not empirically testable.

As to the claim that NS is a tautology; that is true or false regardless of what Popper has to say about it. The claim will stand or fall on philosophical grounds alone, not on what any alleged authority has said on the matter.

May 11, 2006 at 2:00 pm
(4) atheism says:

Quoting someone who misquotes without acknowledging the misquote, IS misquoting.

Only if I know it is a misquote. Thus far, you haven’t demonstrated that it is.

why does he still call NS a metaphysical research program

Does he? I haven’t seen that he does. You quote him continuing to describe it as a “research programme,” but not “metaphysical.” That adjective was dropped. Furthermore, you quote him as acknowledging that he changed his mind about its testability and logical status. He didn’t think it was testable before. Ergo, he must think it’s testable now. According to you:

Metaphysics may be based on empirical sense data, but its conclusions are not empirically testable in the same way as science.

So, if Popper now acknowledges that it’s testable, then he must not also think that it’s metaphysical.

To put it simply, we are witnessing the sarcasm of a philosopher.

If that’s true, it’s poorly placed sarcasm because the testability of natural selection is simply beyond question.

May 12, 2006 at 12:56 pm
(5) stevedoetsch says:

“Thus far, you haven’t demonstrated that it is [a misquote].”
I simply point out the illogic of your statement that I have a problem with Pigliucci, and not you.
Asserting that things are “simply beyond question” only hinders science, progress, and our ability to make sense of our world.
Both our interpretations of Popper are evidence based, but which interpretation better explains all the evidence?
You say: “He [Karl Popper] didn’t think it [natural selection] was testable before. Ergo, he must think it’s testable now.”
But Popper didn’t say NS isn’t testable. He repeatedly says that it’s difficult to test. Now if he changed his mind that NS is difficult to test does that mean he now thinks it’s impossible to test, or that it’s testable? Popper is ambiguous, and it’s my charge that his ambiguity facilitated sarcasm. Yet you don’t even acknowledge the ambiguity, but jump directly to your conclusion without recognizing that there are other possibilities. Your interpretation is not the only possibility as you would lead your readers to believe.
You must, then, prove that your interpretation is not only possible, but that it’s exclusive. In other words, you have to prove he is not being sarcastic as I have demonstrated. Your only remaining argument is that Popper drops the adjective “metaphysical”. Yet Popper maintains that his belief has not changed. His words “My solution was…” and “I still believe…” show that Popper continues to believe what he always believed, that NS “was” a metaphysical research program and “still…works this way”.
“My solution was that the doctrine of natural selection is a most successful metaphysical research programme…I still believe that natural selection works this way as a research programme.”
Evidence outside the text backs the evidence within the text. Popper called NS untestable in 1974 and “recanted” in 1976. Yet in 1982 he maintains “I have come to the conclusion that Darwinism is not a testable scientific theory, but a metaphysical research programme-a possible framework for testable scientific theories.” (Unended Quest p168). This quote comes from a text revised 3 times over a period of eight years on 1976, 1978, and 1982. What Popper said before his “recantation” he continues to say after.
Ultimately, the problem I see you have with interpreting Popper’s words as sarcasm is that you can’t see how someone that is as intelligent as Popper could say something so obviously untrue (from your perspective). After all, whether we call NS a tautology, or untestable, or whatever, it still explains a heck of a lot of stuff in nature so all these claims are just word games played by those who want to knock down evolution.
What you do not see is that NS can be true, it just can’t explain the origin of species or life. NS appears to explain a lot. But NS can only explain within the boundaries of its assumptions. Since the existence of life is a premise of NS, NS can’t be used as an independent explanation for the existence of life. So then, just as Popper claims, NS is a successful research program given its metaphysical assumptions. All science, all theories, all things are based on certain assumptions. An explanation can confirm only within its assumptions, it cannot confirm the assumptions upon which it is based. Materialists have faith that there is no metaphysical cause for matter hence it is a necessary conclusion that all matter organized according to the laws of nature in some way. Materialists have made the error of thinking science is its own explanation, which is a logical contradiction. Science is a mode of investigation that excludes metaphysical causes a priori; it can’t prove its own premise. All creationists want is that evolutionists admit their metaphysical assumptions and stop calling their beliefs science.

June 9, 2011 at 8:30 pm
(6) Dylan says:

If you poor fools want to believe that complex specified information can increase through simple informational reordering and informational replication then be my guest. Popper was forced to recant by the Darwinian orthodoxy. In the words of Hunter S. Thompson: “Sex without love is as hollow and ridiculous as love without sex.”

May 12, 2006 at 1:15 pm
(7) atheism says:

I simply point out the illogic of your statement that I have a problem with Pigliucci, and not you.

And I simply point out why my statement was not illogical.

But Popper didn’t say NS isn’t testable.

He implied it by saying that it was metaphysical.

He repeatedly says that it’s difficult to test.

Something that is difficult to test is, necessarily, possible to test – and by your own words, it’s a contradiction for something to be both metaphysical and testable. Since he states that it is testable, he must be denying that it is metaphysical.

Popper is ambiguous…

I don’t find him ambiguous here.

You must, then, prove that your interpretation is not only possible, but that it’s exclusive.

I believe I’ve done that.

His words “My solution was…” and “I still believe…” show that Popper continues to believe what he always believed, that NS “was” a metaphysical research program and “still…works this way”.

Or he means that he still believes that natural selection is still of great scientific interest and a great research program – but without being metaphysical. That’s most consistent with his actual words and doesn’t ad in words.

Yet in 1982 he maintains “I have come to the conclusion that Darwinism is not a testable scientific theory, but a metaphysical research programme-a possible framework for testable scientific theories.”

If that’s the case, then as I said before it’s unfortunate because it’s factually incorrect.

What you do not see is that NS can be true, it just can’t explain the origin of species or life.

Only creationists and people who really don’t know anything about evolution expect evolution to have anything to say about the origin of life. As to the origin of new species, that’s been observed in both the field and the laboratory – and natural selection explains it just fine.

May 15, 2006 at 1:05 pm
(8) stevedoetsch says:

Some claim Popper recanted in 1976 yet in 1982 Popper maintains the very thing he is said to have recanted. Evidence from the text shows Popper’s “recant” to be a tongue and cheek response to his critics. Whatever people report on this subject from now on, they will be violating the ethics of full disclosure if they report that Popper recanted his claim that NS is untestable and neglect to report that he continued to believe that evolution is a “metaphysical research programme.”

You say, “Only creationists and people who really don’t know anything about evolution expect evolution to have anything to say about the origin of life.” Daniel C. Dennett in “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea” says that evolution is an algorithm that can turn chaos into order, and order into design. He concludes that a natural process by which chaos becomes design has far reaching ramification in all spheres of study overlapping biology, like a “universal acid” that burns everything it touches. Dennett shows that evolution is relevant to the origin of life, and I wouldn’t call him a creationist, or some one who doesn’t really know anything about evolution.

The deeper one’s knowledge of evolution the better one sees its inability to explain the origin of species. Whether this is because NS is a tautology and therefore has no power to explain, or it is because NS has no power to explain and is therefore a tautology, I haven’t yet figured out. Whatever we label NS, it cannot explain a straight line in development from a single cell to you or me.

We can, of course, debate the tautological status of NS ourselves, without making calls to authority. That is, unless you think NS taboo and you think it shouldn’t be questioned (Though I find questioning my assumptions to be very enlightening.)

To start, you keep making the claim that NS is observed, which is a fact irrelevant to the tautological status of NS.

“As to the origin of new species, that’s been observed in both the field and the laboratory – and natural selection explains it just fine.”

No one says NS has not been observed. Tautologies can be observed and NS is an observed tautology. “All naked people are not wearing clothes” is a tautology that can be observed “in both the field and the laboratory”. Just because something is observed doesn’t mean it’s not a tautology. Explaining why there are naked people in the field and laboratory is distinct from observing that they are there. If one offers the definition of an occurrence as the cause for that occurrence one offers a tautological explanation. Tautologies can’t be used as explanations because they attempt to use the observation of something as the explanation for that same thing. In short, tautological explanations confuse effects for causes by stating an effect is its own cause.
(BTW- new species form via various modes of a process called “speciation” and nobody debates its occurrence. It just can’t lead from single celled organisms to the diversity and complexity of life around us today, since speciation results in a reproductively isolated genetic subset of the original species. The subset of the genetic information in a single celled organism is not a step toward the information in you or me. Speciation is empirical evidence that genetic information decreases in a population over time.)

In logic, a tautology is a statement that is always true in a truth table. No matter what is plugged into the variables on one side the result is always true on the other. Tautologies can’t be scientific explanations since they can’t be empirically tested for their validity. They are true simply by definition. Statements can be tautologies by their logical structure like, “All crows are black or not black”. The statement is logically expressed “either X or not X”, and is always true no matter what we use to replace X. Statements are also tautologies when they make recursive claims like, “All naked people are not wearing clothes”, and “If dogs could sweat they’d perspire.” The fact that NS can be stated as the tautology “survival of the fittest” is a clue that it is a tautology, though this is by no means the end of the evidence.

NS is always true since it “predicts” all levels of complexity. The increase, decrease, or stability in complexity of organisms in a population are all “predicted” by NS. For example, if beetles with wings outlive beetles without wings then the beetles with wings are more fit because their wings allow them to travel further, and search for mates and food more easily. If beetles without wings outlive those with wings because on a particular island the wind blows flying beetles into the sea, then the beetles without wings are more fit. NS is a tautology because it “predicts” that organisms will survive that have traits that help them survive.

Your confusion arises in that it seems quite obvious to you that NS can explain the change in the average beak size in a finch population on the Galapagos after a drought, for example. But NS does not explain the change in beak size; it is the observation of the change in beak size. NS is simply the label we give for the death of a portion of a population that leads to a shift in the proportion of traits in that population. NS is an empirical observation that organisms that don’t die replenish the population. NS becomes recursive when we try to use it as an explanation for the same observation. We can’t make NS into its own explanation. If we start with the assumption that beaks of various sizes exist, and then we remove most small beaks (this is natural selection), we are of course left with bigger beaks on average. The cause of the big beaks is not that we removed small beaks, but that we started with big beaks as a premise. Since big beaks exist, then if they don’t cease to exist, they will continue to exist. The observation that something that exists has not ceased to exist does not explain why it exists in the first place. NS is a tautology because it restates its premise as its conclusion.

So NS is true (after all, tautologies are always true), it does occur “in both the field and the laboratory” as you said. You attack a straw man when you say it’s observed because no one, not even creationists, say that it’s not observed. Traits in living populations have been observed to change in proportion within the population. Some animals do die while others do live. The living, of course, replenish the population with their genes, and the dead do not. This is not an explanation of the source of life sustaining genetic info, but simply the observation that there is life sustaining genetic info. All parties agree that life sustaining genetic info will spread thru a population if it is present. The debate is over whether life sustaining genetic info spontaneously occurs in nature. But really there’s no debate because this has never been observed in either the field or the laboratory. Anti-evolutionists are simply trying to convince evolutionists that something that is not observed, but is deduced from a set of beliefs, cannot be a scientific fact. As soon as the formation of new genetic information is empirically observed the attempts will end, as there is no empirical evidence anti-evolutionists (including biblical creationists) reject. Since information has thru history been confirmed to be the product of the human mind alone, the best available theory says that whatever produced genetic information has a thinking and reasoning capacity similar to, but greater than, our own.

(There is one way evolution could be the origin of species. Devolution.)

(There is one way that NS is not a tautology. Inversion. NS explains the specific reason an organism didn’t die, not the reason it’s alive in the first place. But not really, NS is the observation that it happened)

June 25, 2011 at 4:36 pm
(9) Dave Y. says:

I really want to know why you folks give this clown the satisfaction of responding to his trolling, Steve here is well known for his long wided retorts that amount to absolute bull crap, his nick name should be “capt. symantics”, because thats the only basis for every arguement he has ever brought!
Stupidity is a disease and belief is the most major symptom, theonly difference between this disease and all the others is that it is that it is aquired by the one afflicted by their own choice, which means there is no good reason to show the afflicted sympathy, for they are no better then simple junkies, addicted to their horror fantasy that all that bother to think will be damned to hell for eternity, and the reasdon there is no good reason for sympathy is that te cure is the easiest in the world, you just have to do what every parent has told their lazy child, “Stop Pretending and Pay Attention, How the Hell Do You Expect to Grow Up if You Keep Pretending Like a Little Baby!”, and thats the cure folks!

GROW THE HELL UP!!!

June 20, 2006 at 1:18 pm
(10) John says:

Actually, Popper made the comment, “I have come to the conclusion that Darwinism is not a testable scientific theory.” in his 1974 autobiography (it was reprinted in 1982). That was what he was recanting in 1978.

In the 1978 letter Popper said, “My solution was (past tense)…” and “…I have changed my mind (present tense)…”

Popper does not find the theory of evolution difficult to prove, “The Mendelian underpinning of modern Darwinism has been well tested, and so has the theory of evolution which says that all terrestrial life has evolved from a few primitive unicellular organisms, possibly even from one single organism.” He only finds natural selection, “…difficult to test…”

It was that difficulty in testability that lead Popper to mistakenly label natural selection as metaphysical. “The fact that the theory of natural selection is difficult to test has led some people…to claim that it is a tautology.” and, “I mention this problem because I too belong among the culprits.”

So, apparently, is Stevedoetsch.

Popper recanted. How about you?

June 20, 2006 at 2:03 pm
(11) Kafir says:

Since information has thru history been confirmed to be the product of the human mind alone, the best available theory says that whatever produced genetic information has a thinking and reasoning capacity similar to, but greater than, our own.

Given that “the best available theory” throughout history in the absence of satisfactory evidence was attributed to an intentional designer, is certainly a product of the human mind, I certainly wouldn’t put this little issue with natural selection out of league with such a blatant historical trend. Of all the best available theories that could exist, why be so eager to accept one with such a dubious track record whose best criteria for adoption is in the absence of knowledge of competing theories, rather than in the strength of support for its own position?

June 21, 2006 at 12:12 am
(12) John says:

Kafir,

You are braver than I, tackling that paragraph. In my dictionairy, information = “Knowledge of specific events or situations that has been gathered or received by communication; intelligence or news.”

How about the “Theory of Devolution?” How does that work? Is that the theory that the original single cell organism was the “Crown of Creation” and what has happened since then is the degeneration of that perfect form? Is that one of those L Ron Hubbard stories?

December 8, 2009 at 2:30 pm
(13) Andrew says:

Atheist,
Why don’t you stop Steve cold by recounting why Popper–in Popper’s words– changed his mind (the new thinking or evidence with which Popper explains his change) and what he changed it to (specifically, what hypothetical claims he now sees as supported both in logic and by evidence)?

January 31, 2010 at 12:26 am
(14) Al-Jahiz says:

Thanks for the article. I don’t have any problem with theory of natural selection or theory of mutation but I still don’t see any reason to believe the Darwinian evolution theory being scientific. I hope you understand my point here. I am not creationist by the way, I believe in Creator and I don’t know in details “how” and evolution or devolution or both or hundreds mechanisms near evolution and devolution are all possible. I try to say that Sir Popper did not change his opinion about the evolutionary theory, he just pointed out an opinion about natural selection, and that is it.

January 31, 2010 at 7:52 am
(15) Austin Cline says:

I still don’t see any reason to believe the Darwinian evolution theory being scientific.

You mean, except for the fact that it fulfills all the standards and defining characteristics of science?

February 5, 2010 at 5:08 pm
(16) Ann says:

There is no special requirement incumbent on evolution or natural selection to adhere to the popular notion of “survival of the fittest.”

It is certain that in any generation, most do not survive for whatever reasons. At the end of their breeding life, a pair will have raised to maturity only two of its offspring. All the rest will have died.

Selection because of unfittedness is only one of the numerous factors that eliminate upward of 99% of the lifetime offspring of any one female. Mere random chance must bump off a great many — including some who would have been an amazingly good fit for their environment if they had survived past infancy.

It is easy to see distinct cases of unfittedness being selected against — a genetic tendency to kill nest intruders that is turned against one’s own offspring, for example, is a clear case of selection against extreme unfittedness — as would be genetic blindness, for another.

But there is no claim by evolutionary theory that some kind of perfection of fittedness is achieved.

Nevertheless, it is easy to see by a perusal of the fossil record that the general trend is that the species becomes more adapted to its selection stressors. Over many generations, a slightly more “well-fitted” trait will appear in more and more members of the species.

It doesn’t require anything but “looking” to see this — to see a species becoming more fleet of foot, for example, or to see beaks better formed to crack open its food seeds.

One source of misunderstanding about this self-evident process is that Creationists unconsciously assume that evolution is directional or purposeful. They experience a failure of the imagination when it comes to visualizing how a slight difference in beak density can cause a resort to harder seeds; in their minds, the bird adapted its beak in order to become better fitted to crack open hard seeds.

Over long stretches of evolutionary time, it can be demonstrated by looking at the fossil record that species do change. It is already self-evident that most of the individuals do not survive to adulthood. The consequence is — in the very long run — that this mixture of accident, selection, and exploitation of opportunity results in a RELATIONSHIP between a species and an environment which the popular mind calls “survival of the fittest.”

And then evolutionary theory points out that there is a failure of fittedness driven by natural selection (and any other means), and the species becomes extinct.

February 7, 2010 at 1:36 pm
(17) Zack says:

Creationist tend to ask me questions such as, “If evolution is true, why don’t we have six arms?”

They say things like this with an inflection of triumph in their voice, and all the while I am standing there, slack-jawed, and thinking, “WTF? Six arms? Why six arms?

March 9, 2010 at 12:17 pm
(18) Tom says:

Hey, why not? :-)

Seriously, though, having stumbled across this site, I felt compelled to note that the creationist knowledge of Popper’s philosophy goes no further than cherry picking quotes from the internet.

Popper allowed that “metaphysical realism” (see Realism and the Aim of Science among other Popper titles) is at the heart of Tarski’s correspondence principle; i.e., that which matches true statements to facts, a program with which Popper fully agreed.

So far as the research program of evolutionary biology deals in facts, and that factual presentation corresponds to the theory of common ancestry, Evolution is a true science in Popper’s terms. It was important for him to reverse himself in this regard, for Critical Rationalism (the formal name for Popper’s philosophy) to maintain its internal logic. Biology would simply be incoherent without common ancestry.

September 17, 2010 at 4:38 pm
(19) Tara says:

Did Popper claim that science can never prove anything?

June 21, 2011 at 2:33 pm
(20) James says:

@Dylan: Hunter S. Thompson was a journalist. He was, however, entitled to his opinion. That fact that he was a drunk/druggie/nut case and ended up blowing his own brains out notwithstanding.

October 20, 2011 at 8:32 am
(21) Don says:

The most significant “proof” that natural selection is ineffective as a mechanism for evolution is the human being typing this paragraph. Human beings are by no means the “fittest” of species in a purely physical context. We, as a species, should have long ago been obliterated by our more fit predators but for the intelligence we possess. It is our ability to reason, innovate, and envisage the future that has made all the difference in our “survival” on this planet. The intelligent processing of information has defeated any and all attempts by natural selection to eliminate our species. Self conscious intelligence has prevailed over nature If I or you or any of us were, in fact, produced as a result of it. With enough firepower, we can, as a single species, eliminate all others. The weakest can select for elimination the fittest. Evolution and/or natural selection cannot explain the rational intelligence of the human species. Why? Because it is incapable of producing rational intelligence or self-awareness. It can only respond to physical forces present in the environment. Think about it!

October 20, 2011 at 1:11 pm
(22) Austin Cline says:

The most significant “proof” that natural selection is ineffective as a mechanism for evolution is the human being typing this paragraph.

Then you should be able to demonstrate that.

Human beings are by no means the “fittest” of species in a purely physical context.

Says who?

We, as a species, should have long ago been obliterated by our more fit predators but for the intelligence we possess. It is our ability to reason, innovate, and envisage the future that has made all the difference in our “survival” on this planet.

That’s a bit like saying that some predator would have been obliterated but for its speed, or strength, or claws… it’s basically a tautology: it wouldn’t have survived but for the mechanism that lets it survive.

The intelligent processing of information has defeated any and all attempts by natural selection to eliminate our species.

This seems to assume that intelligence isn’t a product of natural selection. Please, do support this premise.

Evolution and/or natural selection cannot explain the rational intelligence of the human species. Why? Because it is incapable of producing rational intelligence or self-awareness.

OK, prove it.

It can only respond to physical forces present in the environment. Think about it!

I have, and I fail to see any support for any of your assertions. You’re welcome to provide it if you have any, but I won’t hold my breath.

January 8, 2012 at 2:20 am
(23) Kaaarisss says:

All of you evos are dumb. Lol… What’s your “proof” of Evolution? Natural selection SELECTS.. Hence the “selection” in natural selection. Its not called natural creation. So where the heck DID we come from if it just selects and evo is true? Zackery, the 6 arm question WAS dumb.. Ha, but they probably shoulda asked you a question like ” if evolution was true, then what did we all come from?” A single celled organism or somthing? … Come off it. Not even testifiable. As some other idiot up there said, you need IMAGINATION. Ann, you’re a moron, there is no fossil record honey, and all you can prove with a fossil is that summem died. “Oh yeah! Let’s check the geo column!” Uh no. So you can date fossils by the strata and the strata by the fossils and that circular reason crap. … No., And Austin, you’re an idiot. You think we probably got here by chance.. Oh, my bad. NS. That’s like saying Mt Rushmore formed itself over time with wind and rain. Which would be more believable than to have organisms appear by chance. There’s at least 50 million cells In a human body and ONE is more complicated than Rushmore… Yet we all got here by NS. All of you evos are D-U-M-B. You guys will be judged some day by OUR CREATOR. Gosh, if there’s a creation [us you idiots] there’s gotta be a creator. It’s that’s simple and you guys are “so smart” you’re to blind to see it. Now ima go grab my popcorn cuz I can’t wait to see the other ridiculous non testifiable bull crap, you guys are gonna come up with about evo. Cant wait for the hate comments ima get, God bless, I’ll be praying for y’all. =]

January 8, 2012 at 8:11 am
(24) Austin Cline says:

What’s your “proof” of Evolution?

Observations of evolution occurring. Fossils. Genetics. Geology. Where would you like to start?

Natural selection SELECTS.. Hence the “selection” in natural selection. Its not called natural creation. So where the heck DID we come from if it just selects and evo is true?

We were born. Where do you think you came from?

Ann, you’re a moron, there is no fossil record honey, and all you can prove with a fossil is that summem died.

By that “logic,” all you can prove with any dead body is that “summen died”. Ergo you can’t prove that anyone in particular killed them. So, you advocate releasing convicted murderers from jail?

“Oh yeah! Let’s check the geo column!” Uh no. So you can date fossils by the strata and the strata by the fossils and that circular reason crap.

No, that’s not how it works. Someone has been lying to you.

No., And Austin, you’re an idiot. You think we probably got here by chance..

No. Maybe before you fling around the “idiot” label you should and do something intelligent – like actually ask people what they think. Or would that be expecting too much from you?

You guys will be judged some day by OUR CREATOR.

Odin?

God bless, I’ll be praying for y’all. =]

Well, while you’re so busy praying for others perhaps you’ll allow someone to do your thinking for you?

January 21, 2012 at 2:48 pm
(25) Ann says:

@Kaaarisss:

Hi, Kaaarisss. Thanks for your response. I’d like to answer a couple of your points:

What’s your “proof” of Evolution?
The evolution of organic beings is a mere observable fact, an easily-observed natural phenomenon, like gravity or rainfall. It had been observed and recognized for what it is — the evolutionary development of new species — before Darwin.

The scientific work involved EXPLAINING the MECHANISM of this observed phenomenon “evolution.” To that end, a few theories were developed — Lamark’s Theory of Evolution, Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, the God Did It By Magic Theory of Evolution ….

No one attempts to PROVE that evolution occurs. It needs no proof, since anyone and everyone can simply see it directly. Instead, it needs an account of “How It Happens” — by what mechanism does it occur.
Similarly, the concepts involved in The Water Cycle do not attempt to prove that rainfall occurs. Instead, Water Cycle Theory provides an evidence-based (and anti-Biblical) account of HOW rainfall occurs.

Darwin’s work was sensational because it was so strongly founded on demonstrable evidence. It provided a reliable explanation of HOW evolution occurs.

In addition, as an historical accident of sorts, Darwin’s work – because of its scientific fame — suddenly publicized the FACT of evolution to those who were not particularly aware of it before. Many religious people instantly saw the logical consequences of the fact of evolution — namely, the destruction of the entire premise of Christianity, AND the blatant falsification of the only source of “information” about God (ie, the Bible).
LOL! No wonder they hope the facts of nature aren’t true!

In the meantime, while they learn to live with the facts, the conflation of “evolution as a fact of nature” with “Darwin’s Theory of How Evolution Occurs” has been a stumbling block for religionists ever since, poor things.

January 21, 2012 at 3:04 pm
(26) Ann says:

@Kaaarisss:

Kaaarisss, you also said:
Natural selection SELECTS.. Hence the “selection” in natural selection. Its not called natural creation. So where the heck DID we come from if it just selects and evo is true?

This is often supposed to be a killer point by religionists: “Natural selection can do no more than SELECT among previously-created forms. So what is the ORIGIN or CREATION of those forms? Huh? Huh?? Neener neener!”

Luckily, the answer is easy to understand:
Random variation (such as genetic variation) creates new forms with every birth.

Genetic variation may be due to random mutations or even just the new shake-up of parental genetic material for each offspring. As a result, no two siblings are identical.

Selection pressure – natural causes — natural selection (as opposed to human selection of domesticated-animal traits) — then bumps off the siblings least adapted to survive.
The vast majority of all individuals are killed by natural causes before the end of their theoretical maximum life spans. Human society struggles to make this less and less true for our own species and for our commensal plants and animals.

January 21, 2012 at 5:56 pm
(27) OZAtheist says:

I think, Austin, that Kaaarisss allows someone in a pulpit to do his thinking for him and the quality of that thinking is questionable.

Writing is obviously not Kaaarisss’s strong point, so it is rather sad that he can go to this trouble to put so many words together, (even inventing some words to better express himself), and the end result is just a meaningless collection of emphatic statements with little attempt to justify what he says.

In spite of Kaaarisss’s dismissal of Ann as being a moron, I though what she wrote was very good, and shows some depth of understanding about the topic.

January 23, 2012 at 12:01 pm
(28) Ann says:

@OZAtheist — Hey! Thanks!

I got a delicious pleasure out of being called a moron for thinking that there is such a thing as the fossil record – by someone who thinks there isn’t.
Ann, you’re a moron, there is no fossil record honey,
LOL! Irony attack!

And just to respond to a few more of Kaaarisss’s points:
and all you can prove with a fossil is that summem died.
Without doubt this is all that KAAARISSS can prove, as he most assuredly lacks the education to observe that, among other things, the fossil is of a species that is now extinct, for example, or that the climate was vastly different, or that the fossil represents an ancestral species.
So when poor Kaaarasss sees the fossil of a dinosaur, he reflects only, “Well, that just proves that a dinosaur died. So?”
LOL!

I also enjoyed reading this pronouncement of Kaaarisss’s:
“Oh yeah! Let’s check the geo column!” Uh no. So you can date fossils by the strata and the strata by the fossils and that circular reason crap.
It would be valuable enough to have no more than the RELATIVE dating of the fossils in the fossil record, but naturally scientists were dying to find ABSOLUTE dates too.
Maybe Kaaarisss has heard of radiometric dating? Or maybe he hasn’t.

Because absolute dating has been established, field workers can use the utter consistency of the strata to date a specimen by glancing at it — a major demonstration of the fact of evolution. In fact, this perfect consistency is the chief retort to the claim that is sometimes made that “evolution” itself is not falsifiable. The falsification, of course, would be something that never occurs — namely, a fossil rabbit in the jaws of a fossil dinosaur.

January 23, 2012 at 12:19 pm
(29) Ann says:

And to respond to this remark of Kaaarisss’s:
Come off it. Not even testifiable. As some other idiot up there said, you need IMAGINATION.
The other things Kaaarisss posted were funny, but this one is more serious because it reflects the sloppy thinking that is allowed by the sloppy use of language.
It has been my observation that religious thinking (in common with other kinds of delusional thinking) depends on the non-definition of terms, foggy non-distinctions, the conflating of ideas, misapplied analogies, and such like impediments to rational thought.

Kaaarisss evidently thinks (or pretends to think) that “using one’s imagination” means “it is imaginary” — rather than my clear meaning of “getting your head around it.” It is an act of the imagination to consider the conditions at the surface of the sun, but that in no way implies that the sun is imaginary.

Guff like that is always a crowd pleaser when it comes from the pulpit, where the intent is not to speak or think with precision anyway — but rather to persuade and propagandize by obfuscation and rabble-rousing.

April 1, 2012 at 4:51 am
(30) Some guy says:

I might be a bit late, but:
Since information has thru history been confirmed to be the product of the human mind alone, the best available theory says that whatever produced genetic information has a thinking and reasoning capacity similar to, but greater than, our own.

Let’s just quote Popper on that, because that paragraph really doesn’t deserve putting much work into refuting it.

…no matter how many instances of white swans we may have observed, this does not justify the conclusion that all swans are white.

Yeah, badly disguised inductive fallacy. That is all.

September 20, 2012 at 4:58 pm
(31) IntelligentAnimation says:

While two opposing commenters, Dylan and Kaariss reduced themselves to name-calling, I was very impressed with Steve’s detailed and correct explanation of a tautology and an even more solid explanation of how selection can be used as a tautology. I couldn’t care less about Popper’s recanting recanted recants nor is he the first or final word on the subject of the Selection Fallacy.

A tautology is quite evident by common sense although tricky wordplay can make it harder to spot. It isn’t that a tautology can’t be tested. It is that testing is pointless because a tautology is always true because it is circular logic. As Steve said, however, a tautology has no power to explain. Selection can NOT explain evolution nor is the oft-used phrase “evolution by selection” logical.

A novel functional trait must exist in the first place before it can be selected. This fact alone should clue in even the dullest Darwinist that selection can’t cause evolution. Chronologically, each and every upgrade had to have existed BEFORE it was selected, so selection can be credited with absolutely no causal relationship to evolution.

If Darwin’s “theory” is correct (it isn’t) then literally everything we see in all biota today and in bygone eras, was the result of rank luck. Darwinists are embarrassed by this reality, so they try to steer the conversation to the obvious but useless rhetoric of selection. Thats fine, but the moment they try to credit selection as a cause of evolution, they are committing the tautological Selection Fallacy.

Survival causes survivability? We live because we didn’t die? Lack of death causes life? These are all Selection tautologies I have heard over the years

September 20, 2012 at 5:07 pm
(32) IntelligentAnimation says:

I should note that not all Darwinists commit the fallacy. A case in point is Ann, who correctly separated evolution and selection and correctly defined Darwin’s failed theory. Her mistake is that she assumes that random chaos causes functional order, and nothing could be further from the truth. Random chaos is the very definition of destruction, and if there were anything random in any life forms, especially in genetics, it would be – not just obvious – but devastating.

We observe evolution first hand, and it is decidedly NON-Darwinian.

Why do we even talk about the useless “selection” anyway? Selection and a dollar will get you a cup of coffee, but selection alone can do nothing. All the word “selection” does is confuse the weak-minded. If you can explain how any functional feature evolved, then you have answered the questions we all want to know and there is little need to move away from that to describe proliferation. Its like writing a book called “How to become a Millionaire” and the first sentence is “first get a million dollars, then…” Why bother reading further?

Just don’t claim to have explained how to become a millionaire. That would be a tautology too.

September 26, 2012 at 3:38 pm
(33) Austin Cline says:

A novel functional trait must exist in the first place before it can be selected. This fact alone should clue in even the dullest Darwinist that selection can’t cause evolution.

Evolutionary theory doesn’t say that “selection causes evolution.” The fact that you think it does demonstrates that you don’t actually understand what evolutionary theory is. This effectively invalidates every criticism you try to make of it.

Chronologically, each and every upgrade had to have existed BEFORE it was selected, so selection can be credited with absolutely no causal relationship to evolution.

Incorrect. Evolution is the change in allele frequency in a population over time. Selection obviously does not cause the existence of a new allele, but it is one mechanism by which an allele’s frequency increases or decreases.

If Darwin’s “theory” is correct (it isn’t)

That’s a pretty bold statement, especially given the fact that you have already demonstrated that you don’t really understand what Darwin’s theory is.

then literally everything we see in all biota today and in bygone eras, was the result of rank luck. Darwinists are embarrassed by this reality

In fact, many scientists have acknowledge that chance plays a role.

These are all Selection tautologies I have heard over the years

No, they are tautologies you made up in your head so you could pretend to critique science that you don’t really understand.

We observe evolution first hand, and it is decidedly NON-Darwinian.

OK, then provide some examples.

All the word “selection” does is confuse the weak-minded.

Speaking from experience?

If you can explain how any functional feature evolved, then you have answered the questions we all want to know and there is little need to move away from that to describe proliferation.

Except for the fact that “proliferation,” which is to say an increase in allele frequency, is how evolution is defined.

September 28, 2012 at 2:49 pm
(34) Lisa says:

I love how creationists call people who accept evolutionary theory “Darwinists.” It immediately makes my BS meter go “ping, ping, ping.”

September 28, 2012 at 4:52 pm
(35) Nhntc47 says:

Creationism is for fools. There are several versions of creationism like there are many gods. Most theists conveniently forget this. Popper is a philosopher. Philosophers have nothing but words.

December 1, 2012 at 10:00 am
(36) Gino Altobelli says:

I was searching the web for Popper, since I am reading Wittgensteins Poker, about Popper and Wittgenstein. I found this chain (above) helpful and I found myself attracted to the creationist side, though I am not one. I think it is rooted in emotions, after all. I want to believe that there is a higher guidance, but I cannot believe it. Another emotional uprising occurs when I read about survival of the fittest. To me, this brings on images of strong men beating down smaller men, or of genetically disabled people being eliminated or put into special havens. As I said, these are emotional reactions, but that is why I hope that Steve (above) is correct, and that Popper did indicate that the theory of evolution is a tautology. Survival of the fittest, that world, to me, would be pretty bleak. That does not mean it is not true, but just not a happy true.

December 31, 2013 at 1:07 am
(37) Ray says:

I read your last paragraph, and you know what, that paragraph applies to evolutionists as much as your claim that it applies to creationists. You have no idea where life came from, you do not have an idea where matter came from, yet you go about as if you do. You refuse to believe you are wrong, the exact indictment you heave onto creationists.

January 2, 2014 at 10:21 am
(38) Austin Cline says:

I read your last paragraph, and you know what, that paragraph applies to evolutionists as much as your claim that it applies to creationists.

Then you should be able to demonstrate that.

You have no idea where life came from, you do not have an idea where matter came from, yet you go about as if you do.

The theory of evolution isn’t about the origins of life or matter and has nothing to say on the subjects. It doesn’t appear as though you know enough about evolution to comment on it.

You refuse to believe you are wrong, the exact indictment you heave onto creationists.

That’s not what the last paragraph says. Perhaps you should read it again, but this time a bit more carefully.

Leave a Comment

Line and paragraph breaks are automatic. Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title="">, <b>, <i>, <strike>

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.