Is evolution even a good theory? Part 1: Falsifiability

RKBentley, author

I intend to write a two-part series examining evolution as a scientific theory. More specifically, I’m going to be judging the soundness of the theory based on two criteria: 1) is it falsifiable and 2) does it make good predictions. In this post, I’m going to discuss falsifiability.

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A good scientific theory should falsifiable. That’s not my rule but one agreed on by the scientific establishment. From RationalWiki, we read the following:

A central characteristic of science is that it must be falsifiable; this feature of a theory is attributed to Karl Popper, who mentioned it in a criticism of Darwinism. Scientific theories cannot be proven outright – they can only fail to be disproven, and this means pointing out what evidence could disprove the theory. If a theory cannot be disproven, such as with Russell’s Teapot, it makes no difference whether it is true either way.

Wow, there’s some bad grammar going on there. “Science” is the methodology we use to study something. Surely they don’t mean “science” must be falsifiable. What they should say is that “scientific theories” must be falsifiable. Yikes. Anyway, in their own words, a good theory must be falsifiable. It must explain the evidence well, but there should also be some, hypothetical evidence, which, if discovered, would disprove it. It sounds weird but let me give you a simple example:

I theorize that all matter in the universe is made up of atoms. Now, I can’t really examine everything in the universe so I could never truly prove my theory. However, if some object were found that wasn’t made up of atoms, my theory would be disproven. So theories can’t ever be proven, they can only be disproven. Get it?

One criticism of evolution is that it can’t be disproven. The entire theory is plastic and is reshaped every day as new discoveries overturn previously held notions. No evidence, no matter how damning it may be to our understanding of evolution, is ever sufficient to disprove the theory. Scientists can be proven wrong about how something evolved or where something evolved or when something evolved but they will still never question that it evolved! How many times will they have to redraw their precious “evolutionary tree of life” before they realize there is no tree? //RKBentley sighs in frustration//

Creationists have often asked for concrete examples ways to test the theory. What are some specific, useful predictions that it makes and what are some things that, if we found them, would falsify the theory? I’ve asked this many times of many people and I usually get one of three responses:

  • A flat dismissal of my question, sometimes accompanied with elephant hurling – something like, “Evolution is the most tested theory in science and is supported by mountains of evidence!”
  • A turn of the tables in an effort to put the creationist on the defense – that is, “Oh yeah, well how would you falsify creation?”
  • On very rare occasions, someone will suggest something that they claim – if found – would disprove evolution.

It’s that last response that I’m most interested in yet it’s the one that I almost never hear. For whatever reason, evolutionists are reluctant to enumerate concrete examples. I suspect it’s because they fear that if they commit to some hypothetical example, maybe someday such a thing might someday be found. In all my years of asking, I’ve only heard a handful of serious ways that evolution might be falsified. These are the examples I will discuss in this post. Hold on to your seat – this is going to be a longer than usual post. Evolution would be falsified if we found….

A STATIC FOSSIL RECORD

The theory of evolution holds that life began as “simple” single-celled organisms which gradually evolved over billions of years to become the complex and diverse species we observe today. They are claiming here that, if we didn’t observe a simple to complex progression in the fossil record, or some sort of progression from one species to another (like marine to land), then evolution would be shown false.

We’ve already found millions of fossils and evolutionists have built their “nested hierarchy” based on what they have found. In other words, they’ve already spelled out what they identify as a progression in the fossil record so how could the fossil record ever be used to falsify the theory? It’s a sort of prediction after the fact. If a fossil is discovered, showing a species much lower in the fossil record than they previously believed it to exist, they just push the origin of that species further back in time and draw new lines on the evolutionary tree of life.

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Having said that, I think we do see stasis in the so called “fossil record.” I’m tempted to bring up the coelacanth but that example has been used by many other creationists before me. Let’s look at crocodiles instead. According to Discover Magazine, Of all living creatures, crocodiles perhaps bear the greatest resemblance to dinosaurs; in fact, they were contemporaries. The semiaquitic reptiles first appeared about 200 million years ago, or 30 million years after the dinos. Yet despite all the time that’s passed since, there are only 24 species today, all of which look remarkably like their ancestors, and each other, except for some variation in skull shape.

Wow, after an alleged 200 million years, modern crocodiles look like their fossilized ancestors. That sure sounds like stasis to me and that’s just one example. It’s rather ordinary to find the fossilized ancestors of living species in rocks believed to be millions of years old. That’s why we coined the term “living fossils” to describe it! Jeez! Just do a Google search on the term “living fossil” and see how many results you can find.

TRUE CHIMERAS

In Greek mythology, the chimera was a creature with a goat’s head, a lion’s body, and a tail ending in a snake’s head. In this context, a chimera is any creature that is a composite of other creatures. A centaur, for example, was a composite of a human and a horse.

Bizarre creatures like centaurs or mermaids would be difficult to fit into evolution’s precious “nested hierarchy” but neither would falsify evolution. Evolution uses similarities between animals as evidence of their relatedness. Therefore, if a chimera were found, it would not be evidence against evolution but would actually be evidence of a previously unknown relationship between different groups.

Let’s be honest, evolutionists know we’re not ever going to find a centaur. But say we found a creature that shared features with… oh, I don’t know… say a reptile and a bird. Oh, wait! We’ve found that already. Have you ever heard of Archaeopteryx? Per Wikipedia, Despite their small size, broad wings, and inferred ability to fly or glide, Archaeopteryx had more in common with other small Mesozoic dinosaurs than with modern birds. In particular, they shared the following features with the dromaeosaurids and troodontids: jaws with sharp teeth, three fingers with claws, a long bony tail, hyper extensible second toes (“killing claw”), feathers,… and various features of the skeleton…. These features make Archaeopteryx a clear candidate for a transitional fossil between non-avian dinosaurs and birds.

If we ever find a fish with hair, the headline the next day would not be, “Evolution proven wrong.” It would be, “New find shows fish more closely related to mammals than previously believed.”

IMPOSSIBLY COMPLEX ORGANS

Evolution is sometimes described as “descent with modification.” A wing is a modified leg – a leg is a modified fin – and so on and so on backward. Darwin understood that if some structure were ever discovered that could not have possibly been formed by this series of successive modifications, his theory would be disproven. Darwin described it this way (Source):

If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down. But I can find no such case.

Michael Behe is a biochemist who invented the term, “irreducible complexity.” According to Behe, an irreducibly complex system is “a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning.” To illustrate this, he used the example of a mousetrap. A mousetrap has very few working parts. However, if any part is missing, the entire trap becomes useless. Since all of the parts have to be present before a mousetrap has any function, Behe believed the mousetrap was a good analogy of the type of structure Darwin meant.

In his research as a biochemist, Behe has examined the flagellum, a whip-like structure which single-celled creatures use to move themselves around. The flagellum is very complex and has several working parts. Since no single part of the flagellum would have any function at all, Behe claims it could not have evolved in gradual steps, since it would have no function until all of the parts were together. Behe claims it qualifies as the type of structure Darwin said would disprove his theory.

Proponents of evolution have attacked Behe’s arguments from a variety of angles. From NewScientist, we read the following:

The best studied flagellum, of the E. coli bacterium, contains around 40 different kinds of proteins. Only 23 of these proteins, however, are common to all the other bacterial flagella studied so far. Either a “designer” created thousands of variants on the flagellum or, contrary to creationist claims, it is possible to make considerable changes to the machinery without mucking it up. What’s more, of these 23 proteins, it turns out that just two are unique to flagella. The others all closely resemble proteins that carry out other functions in the cell. This means that the vast majority of the components needed to make a flagellum might already have been present in bacteria before this structure appeared.

Now, this may be a fair criticism of Behe’s claims. People on both sides of the debate could argue their points – which is how science is supposed to work. However, in their zeal to protect their theory, NewScientist overplays its hand and reveals the true attitude of the folks on their side. They will never accept that any structure is irreducibly complex. I direct your attention to the last few paragraphs of the article (bold added):

[T]he fact that today’s biologists cannot provide a definitive account of how every single structure or organism evolved proves nothing about design versus evolution. Biology is still in its infancy, and even when our understanding of life and its history is far more complete, our ability to reconstruct what happened billions of years ago will still be limited. Think of a stone archway: hundreds of years after the event, how do you prove how it was built? It might not be possible to prove that the builders used wooden scaffolding to support the arch when it was built, but this does not mean they levitated the stone blocks into place. In such cases Orgel’s Second Rule should be kept in mind: “Evolution is cleverer than you are.”

In other words, no structure, no matter how complex, no matter how many parts have to be present before the structure works, and no matter that none of the parts could serve in any other function that we can determine, will ever serve to satisfy this test of the theory. Even if we cannot imagine how some structure evolved, it has no bearing on whether it evolved because “evolution” found a way we can’t think of. So, while Darwin and I think this would be a way to potentially falsify his theory, it’s more of an exercise in futility because evolutionists can resort to “we just don’t know how it happened.” They always have; they always will.

FOSSIL RABBITS IN THE PRECAMBRIAN

The Cambrian Period is a geological era believed by scientists to have occurred around 540 million years ago. Cambrian strata is remarkable for its abundance of diverse fossils whereas, strata below the Cambrian – aka “Precambrian” – are largely empty of fossils. The sudden appearance of fossils representing so many diverse animal phyla is so startling, many people have used the term “Cambrian Explosion” to describe it.

According to evolutionary theory, life began as “simple,” single-celled creatures which gradually became more complex over millions of years. Rock layers are also laid down gradually, over millions of years, and so the fossils found in each rock layer create a sort of snap shot of life on earth at the time the layer was laid down. The earliest and “simplest” life forms should be lower down in the geological column. The more recent and more evolved life formed should be higher up. Precambrian rocks, therefore, should only have fossils of the earliest and simplest creatures.

When asked what might falsify evolution, a British-Indian scientist, named J.B.S. Haldane, famously quipped, “rabbits in the Precambrian.” His point was that, since rabbits are believed to have evolved relatively recently, finding rabbit fossils with the earliest life forms would be problematic for the theory.

I agree that such a discovery would be extremely damaging to the theory of evolution. However, it’s somewhat unlikely that such a discovery will be made. I believe the sequence of fossils better indicates where a creature lived/died rather than when. Think about it. If a deluge of water and mud suddenly buried everything, here’s what I think we’d find: bottom dwelling marine animals would be buried first, then swimming animals, then amphibious animals, then reptiles and birds and mammals at the top. Well, that is sort of what we find. I say “sort of” because even terrestrial fossils are always found in layers with marine animals. I would not expect to find rabbits being buried with creatures at the bottom of the ocean.

Even though it’s not probable that the Flood would bury rabbits with trilobites, it’s not entirely impossible and so, once again, I think this is a fair test of the theory. Of course, it doesn’t just apply to rabbits; any, grossly “out of order” fossils should be evidence against evolution. Richard Dawkins once said “Evolution could so easily be disproved if just a single fossil turned up in the wrong date order.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t mean it. We routinely find fossils in places we didn’t think they’d be. Just do a google search on the term, “fossil rethink evolution” and you’ll find plenty of examples. So even though there have been thousands of out-of-order fossils found over the past few decades, I haven’t seen any headline that say any one of them have disproved evolution.

Saying out of order fossils would disprove evolution, when so many have already been found, shows this isn’t a serious test but is mere posturing. RationalWiki even hedges its bet against the possibility that such a grossly could be found by disqualifying this as potential falsification immediately after they suggest it. In their own words:

The simple truth is that a single strange fossil would probably not make much difference. In practice, the evidence in the fossil record which supports evolution is so overwhelming that a single fossil would be regarded as curious certainly, but compared to the mountain of evidence in favor of evolution it would probably be regarded as an anomaly while more data was awaited… However, the existence of entire groups of anomalous fossils would be a different thing — Haldane did say rabbits after all. Again, in practice an effort would initially be made to fit the new data into the existing framework — this is not cheating but simply the way science works. But still, in principle some quite major revisions to the theory may be needed to explain them. Such a situation would not immediately and conclusively prove a special creation over a naturalistic evolution.”

So… what are you saying, RW? That not even rabbits in the Precambrian would conclusively disprove evolution? Yeah, that’s what I thought you were saying. Tsk, tsk.

If an evolutionist suggests a way his theory might be falsified, it will never be anything more than smoke and mirrors. It’s a constant game of moving the goalposts because evolution is a worthless theory and not relevant to any other field of science. Nothing, no evidence we might find, no matter how contrary it is to everything they believe about evolution, will ever disprove evolution. The entire theory is propped up only by pseudo-science and the willingness of sinful, rebellious people to believe a lie.

(original link)

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