Responses to common objections

This section examines various concerns evolutionists often have regarding their theory’s false predictions.

False predictions often have led to productive research

Productive research can come from a great variety of scientific and nonscientific motivations, including false predictions. That productive research may have arisen from some of these predictions does not detract from the fact that they are false.

Evolutionists have fixed these false predictions

A proponent of a theory, given sufficient motivation, can explain all kinds of contradictory findings. (Quine) Typically, however, there is a price to be paid as the theory becomes more complex and has less explanatory power.

Ad hominem and denial

Criticism of evolution draws heated responses, and personal attacks are common. Such attacks, however, do not change the fact that evolution has generated many false predictions. Also, evolutionists sometimes ignore or deny the unexpected findings. They attempt to discredit the facts, referring to them as “tired old arguments,” or fallacies without following up such criticisms with supporting details.

Falsificationism is flawed

It has been argued that in order to qualify as science, ideas and theories need to be falsifiable. Also, falsified predictions are sometimes used to argue a theory is false. Such naïve falsificationism is flawed (Popper) and not used here. Evolution’s many false predictions do not demonstrate that evolution is not science or that evolution is false.

False predictions are valuable in judging the quality of a theory, its explanatory power, and for improving our scientific understanding in general. Nonetheless, evolutionists sometimes reject any mention of their theory’s false predictions as mere naïve falsificationism. The failures of naïve falsificationism do not give evolutionists a license to ignore substantial and fundamental failures of their theory.

If there are so many problems evolution would have been toppled

This objection falls under the category of naïve falsificationism. Science is a reactive process. New evidence is processed, and theories are adjusted accordingly. But science can also be a conservative process, sustaining substantial problems before reevaluating a theory. Therefore the reevaluation of a theory takes time. The fact that there are problems is no guarantee a theory will have been toppled. (Lakatos; Chalmers)

Those quoted believe in evolution

Many scientists doubt evolution, but they are not cited or quoted in this paper. Only material from evolutionists is used to illustrate that even adherents to the theory agree that the predictions are false.

These falsifications will be remedied in the future

As scientists, we need to evaluate scientific theories according to the currently available data. No one knows what future data may bring, and the claim that future data will rescue evolution is ultimately circular.

There is no better alternative

One way to evaluate a theory is to compare it to alternative explanations. This approach has the advantage of circumventing the difficulties in evaluating scientific theories. But of course any such comparison will crucially depend on what alternative explanations are used in the comparison. If care is not taken good alternatives can be misrepresented or even omitted altogether. And of course there may be alternatives not yet conceived. (van Fraassen; Stanford) In any case, the success or failure of evolution’s predictions depends on the science, not on any alternative explanations.

No one believes these predictions anymore

Yes, this is the point. It is true that evolutionists have, for the most part, dropped many predictions that were once made by evolutionists or entailed by the theory. We can learn from this failed track record as it has implications for evolution’s complexity and explanatory power.

What about all the successful predictions?

Evolutionists argue that evolution is a fact, and that we ought to focus on evolution’s successful predictions rather than its false predictions. The tendency to seek confirming evidence over contrary evidence is known as confirmation bias. (Klayman, Ha) One consequence of confirmation bias can be that confirming evidence is viewed as correct and typical whereas disconfirming evidence is viewed as anomalous and rare. Not surprisingly the confirming evidence is more often retained and documented. Rarely are the many false predictions found in evolution texts. Confirmation bias can hinder scientific research as evolutionists tend to view the predictions of evolution as overwhelmingly true. False predictions, on the other hand, are usually not viewed as legitimate falsifications but rather as open research questions which are yet to be resolved. Indeed, evolutionists often make the remarkable claim that there is no evidence that is contrary to evolution.

These falsified predictions are not necessary predictions of evolutionary theory. They merely reflect isolated instances of a practitioner’s surprise over specific sets of data.

The predictions were considered to be necessary when they were held. And they represented consensus evolutionary science at the time they were held. They are well documented in both peer-reviewed research papers, popular literature authored by leading evolutionists and interviews of leading evolutionists. They were not merely held by a few, individual evolutionists. Nor were they one of several possible competing predictions. That these predictions are not now considered to be necessary predictions of evolution is a reflection of the malleability of evolutionary theory and is a reminder of why a history of evolution’s false predictions is important.

References

Chalmers, A. F. 1982. What is This Thing Called Science?. 2d ed. Indianapolis: Hackett.

Klayman, Joshua, Young-Won Ha. 1997. “Confirmation, disconfirmation, and information in hypothesis testing,” in W. M. Goldstein, R. M. Hogarth, (eds.) Research on Judgment and Decision Making: Currents, Connections, and Controversies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lakatos, Imre. 1970. “History of science and Its rational reconstructions.” Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association 1970:91-136.

Popper, Karl. 1959. The Logic of Scientific Discovery. London: Hutchinson.

Quine, W.V.O. 1951. “Two Dogmas of Empiricism,” The Philosophical Review 60:40.

Stanford, P. Kyle. 2006. Exceeding Our Grasp: Science, History, and the Problem of Unconceived Alternatives. New York: Oxford University Press.

van Fraassen. Bas C.  1989. Laws and Symmetry. Oxford: Clarendon Press.