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A Closed Challenge to Neo-Darwinists

A Closed Challenge to Neo-Darwinists February 22, 2009

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.

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