A Closed Challenge to Neo-Darwinists

Uncommon Descent is such a hilarious place, I probably ought to have visited there more often than I have lately. For instance, Thomas Cudworth has posted what he calls An Open Challenge to Neo-Darwinists: What Would It Take to Falsify Your Theory?

The funny part is that people like me, who would love to respond from an evolutionary perspective, are banned from commenting. So in what sense is this an “open challenge”?!

Here’s what I would have commented if I were allowed to:

I must confess, given that evolutionary explanations have been so helpful in making sense of data, and an evolutionary framework has led to the discovery of confirming evidence (e.g. the unearthing of Tiktaalik, where current evolutionary theory led archaeologists to look for it), I can’t see why one would expect scientists to abandon this framework at the first instance of a failure to immediately come up with an explanation.

In other words, it would seem that, on the one hand, finding an organism without the same genetic code used for instructions would immediately make it plausible to suggest that there might not be an evolutionary relationship. On the other hand, if all the signs that have accurately indicated relatedness (common genetic code, related morphology, etc.) points to the plausibility of an evolutionary explanation, the appropriate scientific response to a current absence of evolutionary explanation would seem to be to keep looking for one.

Darwin’s theory would have been falsified if the underlying mechanism for passing on traits (what we today known as genetics) had, when discovered, shown no signs that living things are interrelated. Finding fossils that show complex organisms, or types of organisms, where they ought not to be if evolution is correct. Yet the evidence consistently corroborates Darwin’s overall theory, while further discoveries have obviously required some aspects of it to be revised, rethought and improved.

But let’s look more closely at the question intelligent design generally poses, because it is problematic. What they are looking for over at Uncommon Descent is akin to asking at what point it is appropriate for detectives to stop looking for a murderer to explain the dead body that has been found, and conclude instead that no human murderer could possibly exist, God must simply have wanted this person dead. And the answer is that the appropriate course of action for the police is to leave the case open, not to close it by appeal to a supernatural murderer, and in the same way scientists should declare questions unanswered, rather than closing them by saying that a particular phenomenon is by definition inexplicable in scientific terms. And it is the job of science to keep looking for ways to reopen questions that once appeared closed, and discover new ways of explaining natural phenomena, as well as providing technologies that helps us solve crimes as well.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08353226539928605633 Tripp

    John Cobb doesn’t like the Neo-Darwinians either. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=StjakXH60po

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09468191085576922813 David B. Ellis

    At this point it would be hard to imagine falsifying evidence that could be reconcilled consistently with the mountain of evidence for evolution.But such might not have been the case. Astronomers, geologists and scientists from other disciplines might have discovered clear evidence that the universe is less than 10,000 years old. They might have discovered archaeological evidence showing life (and human life) going right back to the beginning of the universe. Had creationism been true it could have been verified and evolution falsified in a myriad of ways. But we are now at a point where this cannot plausibly happen short of finding out we’ve being living in the “matrix” or some equally over the top explanation.Something like intelligent design could conceivably still be verified. There’s nothing about the evidence that specifically rules out the idea that a deity could have stepped in and tinkered here and there. I can’t think, offhand, of anything specific that would consistute good evidence such a thing happened. Not anything that I think we could plausibly be expected to find if it actually did occur.Which puts us firmly in god of the gaps territory.

  • http://cleverbadger.net Jay

    The part that consistently gets ignored at UD and any number of other Creationism/ID sites is that even if evolution was falsified somehow, that doesn’t imply that Creationism/ID is true. I’ve seen that point made in response to UD writings, Answers in Genesis, The Discovery Institute, and Ray Comfort’s various venues, as well as in response to posts at any number of evolution-related forums. The fact that this consistently gets ignored or brushed off strongly indicates that the Creationist/ID camp isn’t at all concerned with any sort of scientific debate, but is rather concerned with perpetuating their own interpretation of the Bible. The challenge is to get people that have only ever been exposed to the Creationist strawmen of evolution to learn what the evidence behind the science really is.

  • Aaron

    I love that analogy — that sums up the ID position perfectly. :)(I try to avoid Uncommon Dissent at all costs — my blood pressure is high enough.)


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