What false predictions tell us about evolution

Ever since Darwin evolutionists have been certain of their theory. They hold that evolution is a fact beyond all reasonable doubt. Evolutionists arrive at this conclusion from a wide range of powerful arguments based on contrastive reasoning where evolutionary theory is compared to alternative hypotheses derived from the concept of independent creation. (Hunter 2014) Evolutionists have found these alternative hypotheses to be false, leaving evolutionary ideas as the only remaining possibility. This process of elimination, which traces back to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, is based on comparing scientific evidence with expectations derived from independent creation. Therefore the motivation, justification and truth claims for evolutionary theory entail metaphysical beliefs about independent creation.
 
This raises the question of how evolution fares without the metaphysics. That is, how does evolution compare with the scientific evidence? Evolutionary theory holds that the biological world (and more generally the cosmos as well), arose from the interplay of chance and natural law. In other words, evolution holds that the species arose spontaneously. From a strictly scientific perspective, this is a high claim. It is perhaps not surprising that, setting the contrasting reasoning aside and focusing exclusively on the science, evolution’s fundamental predictions fail badly. The above sections reviewed several fundamental predictions of evolutionary theory, once held with great conviction, that have all been found to be false, much to the surprise of practitioners.
 
Philosophers have debated the role and importance of predictions in the historical sciences, and how they are related to explanatory capacity. (Cleland 2011; Cleland 2013; Turner) The predictions described above do have strong implications for evolution’s capacity to explain phenomena. For most of these predictions, the falsification has been followed by one or more proposed theory modifications to accommodate the new data. These modifications are often vague and they cause the theory to lose its parsimony. Perhaps most importantly they refute evolution’s common cause argument and remove its so-called “smoking gun.” The evolutionist’s claim has been that in biology we find a wide range of observations that seem unlikely or bewildering, but that in a stroke evolution parsimoniously explains and makes sense of them. Evolution brings a consilience to the data.
 
The above predictions illustrate that there is no such consilience. Evolution’s predictions, and associated explanations, do not make sense of the observations. Consider, for example, the pentadactyl structure prediction discussed above. In Darwin’s day the five-digit pentadactyl structure was observed in a wide variety of species. Why should the same type of structure be used for such a wide variety of tasks? Evolution’s common descent provided a single, simple explanation. The pentadactyl structure arose from a single common ancestor. The associated prediction is that the pentadactyl structure should continue to appear in species according to a common descent pattern. The failure of the pentadactyl structure to form this pattern does not merely represent a false prediction. This common cause argument had been celebrated for more than a century as a compelling proof text. It appears consistently in the literature and is one of evolution’s “smoking guns.” The falsification of this prediction means the loss of this compelling argument. And it means the introduction of non parsimonious explanations, calling for the pentadactyl structure to repeatedly evolve and disappear in various lineages, as the data require.
 
Yet contrastive reasoning, evolutionists argue, prove that evolution is a fact. This illustrates the tremendous importance of the role of contrastive reasoning. If all we had was the science there would be no basis for believing the species have spontaneously arisen, much less that such an idea is a fact. But evolution is not a typical scientific theory. In spite of the consistent failure of fundamental scientific predictions, there remains no doubt amongst evolutionists that evolution is a fact. Its high standing is underwritten by extremely powerful contrastive proofs which render its scientific puzzles less crucial. Those puzzles are interpreted as research questions, not challenges to the fact of evolution. That fact, for evolutionists, has already been established by the philosophy and theology that support evolution’s contrastive reasoning. From a strictly scientific perspective, evolution is not a good theory.
 
References
 
Cleland, Carol. 2011. “Prediction and Explanation in Historical Natural Science.” Brit. J. Phil. Sci. 62:551–582.
 
Cleland, Carol. 2013. “Common cause explanation and the search for a smoking gun.” Geological Society of America Special Papers 502:1-9.
 
Hunter, C. 2014. “Darwin’s Principle: The Use of Contrastive Reasoning in the Confirmation of Evolution.” J International Society History of Philosophy of Science 4:106-149.

Turner, Derek. 2013. “Historical geology: Methodology and metaphysics.” Geological Society of America Special Papers 502:11-18.