The Scientific Incentive to Disprove Evolution

charles-darwinHere is a good rebuttal to the idea that scientists have “faith” in evolution and don’t want to rock the boat, lest they risk their careers:

Science has always reserved its greatest accolades for those who prove what came before to be wrong, and every scientist in the world knows the best way to become famous is to prove everyone else wrong. Nevertheless, pseudo-scientists always argue that scientists have some vested interest in preserving the current order (and thus dooming their careers into obscurity when they could have become famous Nobel prize winners).

This argument has never made any sense, but that doesn’t stop them from making it. So, one more example won’t make any difference to them — people who advocate a bad argument that runs counter to evidence are not dissuaded by more evidence.

The point is, if a scientist found evidence against evolution, he would have every incentive to publish it and argue against evolution. If they could make their case, then they would earn their place in the history books, along with Kepler, Copernicus, Darwin, and Einstein.

If evolution isn’t true, we don’t want to believe it. We don’t have unreasonable faith in evolution — we accept it because of the massive amounts of evidence for it, and how it allows us to predict future findings (which often come true). If new evidence comes up that shows we were wrong, then we’ll happily believe the new theory.

  • FFJ
  • JonJon

    I’m not real sure about this…

    Part of the scientific method as I understand it is an inbuilt preference for “established” ideas; that is, that those ideas which are most in accord with the prevailing scientific consensus are the ideas which are considered, all other things being equal, to be sounder.


    Given the growing institutionalization of science, thanks to our lovely standardized collegiate academic system, this tendency has become more and more important to the pursuit of science around the world. In other words, innovation is less and less encouraged by science.

    While in theory, yes, a perfect pure scientist might really long for the overthrow of the evolutionary paradigm (how’s that for a five dollar word, eh?) the scientific establishment as such certainly does not.

    Have fun and be safe!

    • Sunny Day

      “While in theory, yes, a perfect pure scientist might really long for the overthrow of the evolutionary paradigm (how’s that for a five dollar word, eh?) the scientific establishment as such certainly does not.”

      Bzzzzzt! Wrong answer.

      Yah, that must be the reason why the “Scientific Establishment” wastes time testing crackpot theories.

    • TheWrathOfOliverKhan

      No, this isn’t quite right.

      It may seem that established ideas are somewhat privileged in the world of science. If that is in fact the case, there’s a reason for that – those are the ideas that have the most supporting evidence. The existence of that evidence is where the scientific consensus comes from.

      So when you have this scientific consensus built on evidence, what should you do with that when you begin your own experiments? Well, you use it as the premise for your own hypothesis. And if your hypothesis turns out to be wrong, it’s possible that something was wrong with your premise, which might lead to a re-examination of certain aspects of the scientific consensus.

      But you have to understand that a *lot* of work and argument goes into the development of that consensus, and it takes a lot of convincing to change it. That, I think, is a good thing overall.

    • mikespeir

      Sometimes I wonder about that, too. Can anybody name a mainstream scientist actively engaged in trying to disprove evolution? I can hardly blame them for not doing it. Evolution is so well established that it qualifies as a fact by all but the most absolutist standards. Still, this kind of argument loses a little air when EVERYONE engaged in the relevant research accepts evolution unquestioningly.

      • siveambrai

        The work isn’t overturned through solid attempts to disprove science.

        Established scientific theory is disproven through work that attempts to answer questions that are not yet explained by the dominate theory. Many people are working on a problem and can take it to a certain point with the current theory and they begin expanding or elaborating the theory to explain what they’re seeing. At some point a person or team puts together a new way of looking at this and publishes it as an advance of theory that can is revolutionary and changes everyone’s understanding of what the dominate theory means.

        Einstein set out to disprove Newton. He set out to explain why things in Newton’s theory worked the way they did. Newtonian physics had a wonderful thing called the aether which was made up to explain why heavenly bodies orbited the way they did. Einstein simply attempted to find a explanation that didn’t involve that aether stuff. If he had set out to disprove Newton we wouldn’t have terms like mass, velocity, etc. We still have those terms but they mean something slightly different than they did under Newtonian physics.

        I would like to point out two things though: 1) Scientists never work alone (yea the image is nice but it just doesn’t happen. Even the big important researchers of today have labs full of post-docs, assistant professors, and grad students who also help) 2) Everyone should read Thomas Kuhn’s Scientific Revolutions.

        • Francesc

          “Newtonian physics had a wonderful thing called the aether which was made up to explain why heavenly bodies orbited the way they did”
          Are you sure? I thought aether was used to explain electromagnetic waves, as his material support

          • JonJon

            I believe that’s correct.

    • Larian LeQuella


      At this point, we know more about evolution than we do about gravity! To find a real scientist doing work to disprove evolution would be like finding people who insist the world is flat. Evolution (despite the ignorant and deluded) is a FACT. To deny evolution is as futile as to deny that gravity gives us up and down on earth.

      What we DO find though are numerous scientists debating the specific mechanisms of evolution. That’s the real science going on.


      You’re wrong on so many levels that it has already been addressed. The thing that people forget is that in order to have a radical proposition, you need to have EVIDENCE to back it up. Hunches and gut feelings do not make science. Finding new evidence is where new ideas come from, not arbitrarily challenging current ideas because a bronze age fable doesn’t agree with it.

      • JonJon

        I’m wrong that science has become more institutionalized? Or that the scientific method has an in-built preference for established ideas?

        Maybe you mean that paradigms don’t protect the ideas that they are invested in? (As originally proposed by Kuhn, I’m reasonably certain they do.)

        Is there a glaring error that I’m missing?

  • Steve Jeffers

    Hmmmm … yes and no.

    The Dawkins point – that if, say, you could prove homeopathy worked or demonstrate that creationism was a better model than evolution you’d be considered a new Darwin or Einstein is true … but you’d only reach that stage by years of research and effort and funding – and it’s the ‘establishment’ that control access to that.

    That said, of course, there’s a very good reason you wouldn’t get a university to fund a factfinding trip to Narnia.

    The thing about creationists and science departments … it’s like the quote mining they do. Scientific evidence *for* what they believe, however scant and inconclusive, is jumped on. It’s never evidence *for* what they believe, of course, it’s usually just some nitpick or unresolved issue or gap in our understanding of evolution. But the moment you use scientific evidence (or, indeed, basic logic) *against* creationism, suddenly there are two magisteria and science isn’t meant to answer religious questions.

    If creationists want religion to be brought into the ‘scientific magisterium’, subject to no special pleading, treated like any other scientific hypothesis … well, I say let’s go for it.

    Let’s start with this one: the Bible says the winds live in big sheds when they’re not blowing. Is it a constructive use of a university’s time and resources to locate those sheds?

    • rodneyAnonymous

      I think it’s funny how religion disdains science and evidence… only because there is little or no evidence that supports their position. If evidence were found that Jesus was born of a virgin, would clergymen say, “Oh, well, that doesn’t matter, non-overlapping magisteria and all”? No, they’d be all over it.

      • brgulker

        Agreed. We tend to have an awfully obvious double-standard when it comes to science and its discoveries.

    • ThisGodlessEndeavor

      ******but you’d only reach that stage by years of research and effort and funding – and it’s the ‘establishment’ that control access to that.******

      Thats true in terms of government funding and university funding…but there are plenty of religous foundations that would gladly hand dump-trunks full of money over to researchers with any insight into something that could bring down evolution.

      So while the money isn’t as readily available for someone who wants to go down that road as it is for someone who just accepts evolution uncontested…it is available and probably has a lot less red-tape than government grants.

    • JonJon

      I wouldn’t want to argue that creationists practice good science.

      I would, however, be curious to see how much credence creationists would be given if indeed they produced solid research, especially after years of flubbing.

      Or, is it more likely that a hypothetical upset to evolutionary theory would be so incompatible with the scientific paradigm that it would be rejected out of hand for decades? Such cases are certainly not uncommon in the history of science.

      I obviously don’t know which is more likely to occur, but I would be very surprised if science as a whole is as eager to discard evolution as the original post implies.

      • Aor

        In these discussions, you have to distinguish between Evolution and the Theory of Evolution. Evolution occurs. The evidence is impossible for an honest person to ignore. The process by which evolution occurs is investigated regularly all over the world. At this point it is impossible to discard evolution, because it simply HAS happened and that would be discarding the facts. The Theory of Evolution on the other hand is malleable and changeable and open to interpretation and further investigation.

        • JonJon

          I get worried when people say that things HAVE to happen. That’s all. It indicates that there is a possibility that they are no longer looking at each new situation as it arises, but are instead operating as if things are foregone conclusions.

  • Olaf

    What do they mean with found “evidence of evolution”?

    The evidence is all around is, many fields many sciences, we do not need one special evidence we even do not need Ida to proof that evolution is right. All 99.999% of the other evidences point to evolution!

    Only those that are genetically programmed to follow quaks blindly keeps on believing that scientists do not know anything.

  • Uncle Roger

    I always thought that the way science works is you come up with a hypothesis and then do your level best to disprove it. If you can’t, then you get others to try and disprove it. If they can’t, then you tentatively accept it as true — at least until someone is able to disprove it. What greater joy could there be than to disprove the hypothesis of a rival scientist, especially one you don’t like?

    • LRA

      Aw, hellz yeah… scooping, ftw.

      • siveambrai


        That’s not quite what scooping is. Scooping is when someone beats you to publication on the same research topic/finding.

        What greater joy could there be than to disprove the hypothesis of a rival scientist, especially one you don’t like?

        You would be surprised at how often this happens… Freaking politics are worse in academia than in the government I think. However, being able to argue something like a theory does make for a pretty prestigious career.

        I would like to point out that there is almost always multiple theories going against each other at any given time. It’s easy to view them as dichotomous but often there can be several or more theories attempting to explain the same thing. It’s never just comparing two to see which is magically better. When talking about things like evolution its easy to forget this but as you get into the “softer” sciences theory choice rapidly increases so that while there may still be rival theories the process of theory development and conflict is more interesting to follow and clearer to understand.

        • LRA

          Yes- I know what scooping is– I figured we could use it in this negative instance as well. Perhaps not. The point is that scientists are competitive (whether to beat someone to a positive or negative conclusion); hence we are not part of some big conspiracy to keep fundamentalist, young earth, global flood conspiracists down.

    • Olaf

      Yes that is what science is about, other scientists will try to recreate your experiment and try to find flaws in you hypothesises or improve it.

    • JonJon

      but this is part of the problem. a scientist working on theory X, which is brand new, is opening himself up to immense ridicule from other scientists who think theory Q is perfectly adequate. Just as it is fun to prove the other guy wrong, it is terribly un-fun to be scorned by your peers.

      • Jabster

        No way is saying science is perfect but that doesn’t mean that leaving your brain at the door and just making stuff up as you go along is a valid alternative.

        • JonJon

          I agree. Leaving your brain at the door is never a good plan. This is partially what I worry about. The backlash of evolution being so widely accepted as the most stable, successful, and overwhelming theory yet produced by science makes me concerned that it will be harder than ever for this paradigm to be overturned.

          I know the idea of evolution being overturned is hard to grasp, but quite literally every other major scientific theory that i can think of has been reworked, overhauled, or overthrown at one time or another, and to assume that in the case of evolutionary biology we’ve finally found a theory which is so ironclad it will never be shaken… it strikes me as short sighted.

          Science advances. That’s sort of the point, we arrive ever closer to a complete understanding of the universe. Science has, throughout its history, advanced both gradually and abruptly; and I fear that the fierceness with which people cling to evolutionary theory might impede its typical course.

          • LRA

            Yes- evolution is a successful paradigm. So is Newtonian physics. Just because Einstein came along and gave us relativity doesn’t mean we have no use for Newtonian physics anymore. If there is some kind of revolution involving evolution, it will likely look like that.

            An instance of this perhaps could be Mendelian genetics versus non-Mendelian genetics. Mendelian genetics is still useful, even though it isn’t the hard and fast rule every time– thus you have instances of non-Mendelian genetics explaining certain inheritance patterns that Mendelian genetics can’t explain.

            • JonJon

              The harsh fact of the matter is that Newtonian physics is WRONG. It is a very accurate model over a small spectrum of useful instances, but the model is deeply flawed outside of those narrow boundaries.

              Everyone still uses Newtonian physics, yes. That is, I think, a point in my favor. Newtonian physics is so convenient, and was so widely held to be the premiere scientific theory of all time, that we use it today *even though we know that it has glaring innaccuracies.* What this means is that even Einstein’s utterly brilliant and far more accurate model was a) not accepted fully for many many years after its birth, and b) was relegated to only one spectrum of physics, forced to share a stage with Newtonian physics even after Newtonian physics was, for lack of a better word, debunked.

              So, if Evolution is regarded in the same way that Newtonian physics is, it seems possible to me that Evolution will continue to exist as a theory long after it is overturned by a crackpot/revolutionary new theory, partly due to its widely heralded position as the most surely known theory in science, *even after it is established that Evolution is not the most accurate model available.*

          • Yoav

            But evolution has been and is being reworked and re-examined continueusly by many scientists and while there is a great debate and shifting of the consensus over the details the major concept holds because it fits the data. As for the problem of a new idea having a hard time that’s true but if you have the evidence to support it it will be accepted even if it will take a while. The example that come to mind is prions, the infectious agents in diseases such as mad-cow. When it was first suggested that these diseases are spread by an agent that can multiply but lack any nucleic acid (DNA or RNA) it was considered as impossible since every one know that you must have nucleic acid to replicate. But as the evidence kept accumulating the scientific community was forced to rethink its pre-cnceptions and prions are now recognized by everyone. So while its true that an idea that defay what is the current common knowledge will have a hard time if its a good idea backed by good evidence it will be accepted at the end.

      • Aor

        If it is truly science, he won’t be likely be ridiculed. If it is religion or pseudoscience, he may be ridiculed. Scientists may poke and prod at each other if they disagree with a conclusion or the methods used to reach that conclusion, but open ridicule is usually reserved for things that are openly ridiculous.

        • JonJon

          Open ridicule is appropriate to many situations. I openly ridicule people I don’t like or approve of. Kids with Scene hair and Emo clothes irritate me, and I openly ridicule them. I have Wiccan friends, and I have to try very hard not to openly ridicule them. Although this is by no means justified, it is often a social fact.

          We can agree to disagree on this one, if you’d like. I just have a very low opinion of human nature.

  • anti-supernaturalist

    natura naturans

    ** the universe evinces neither affect, nor morality, nor intellect **

    • freeing culture from the dead hand of near eastern mythological speculation

    A mishmash of near eastern magical texts makes spurious claims of being god-given. Their nihilistic dualism and androcentric understanding of human nature are too damaging to contribute to a humane planet-wide ethos.

    Neither physical nature nor human nature *say* anything about a superordinate, supernatural realm populated by creators or law givers. Nature is silent. There is no concept of truth in nature. (Indeed, there are no concepts whatsoever in nature.) Nature *knows* nothing.

    Nature is neither meaningful nor meaningless. Neither a source of comfort (natural theology) nor a source of despair (existentialism). Both are rooted in the same mistaken presupposition that supernatural *meaning* can be found by searching “the starry heavens” for gods or by quarrying human inwardness for moral laws.

    • religion is a cultural artifact

    Instead, religions belong to cultures embedded in nature. And *cultures* are our distinctive human-all-too-human handiwork. Religions are obsolete, replaceable cultural artifacts.

    Any specific religion reenacts and institutionalizes cultic myth. It gets spread through recruitment and custom, financially supported by mores and law, and enforced by intimidation and violence.

    Xian mythology, like related big-4 monotheisms zoroastrianism, post-exilic judaism, and islam, posits a moralized universal order which never existed. No more can be found in “the starry heavens” than the ancestors put into it.

    • god-given morality is (rooted in) imperial propaganda

    Some of that pseudo-meaning derives ultimately from Sargon I’s (2334-2279 BCE) imperial propaganda when the very first violent yoking together of disparate Sumerian city-state cultures occurred in what is now Iraq.

    Sargon I appears on a low relief sculpture as a god receiving a legal and moral code directly from a greater god enthroned above him. A myth of divine origin of royalty and morality turns out to be ancient *political spin*. (Still works today, doesn’t it?)

    Adjust your understanding, adjust your expectations, and you will have a right relationship with the only total reality there is, natura naturans. (Nature “naturing” — without any gods’ assistance.)

    The de-deification of western culture (including the sciences) is our task for the next 100 years.


    • John C

      You seek to oppose a system, thinking to eradicate an oppressive and burdensome “religion” to emancipate a whole society/man(kind) from centuries of long held manipulation, control which ironically is Father’s same desire, the liberation of us all from these man made “systems”. This One who would free you whom you dis-believe or despise and have hated w/o a cause, it is He who is your very hope, even your very life though you know it not.

      While the external buildings, “churches” and “religion” may disappear from the landscape, those external things are not “Him” for He is Spirit and lives within His very people, InChristed men and women who have counted all things lost, followed Him unto death (of Self) and now He IS their life, their only life.

      The irony is the unenewed mind of man turns on itself, seeks its own destruction all the while thinking itself a great liberator of humanity. Pride is the root of it all and that is the man (the man of pride, Adam) that He nailed to the Cross and now the risen One would be birthed within your very innermost being re-making you a new made in the very image and likeness of the Father. You only think you understand about this “mythology” called Christianity but you are (currently) blind to the Truth-Himself.

    • JonJon

      i don’t see where exactly that came from…

      • JonJon

        @ anti-supernaturalist

  • Michael Gray

    We have concrete indisputable 1st hand evidence of evolution.
    Why is any sane person claiming that it does not exist?

    (Vis: Viruses, or if you want speciation, those Croation Lizards:
    to give but two indisputable examples of reality.)