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Is Darwinian Evolution Falsifiable?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

I have long suspected that it is not.  I was listening to another Unbelievable? podcast the other day which featured a debate between ID proponent Michael Behe and ID opponent Keith Fox – both are biochemists.  During the discussion Behe talked about the longest running lab experiment to test the effects of Darwinian evolution on E. coli.  Professor Richard Lenski has been growing trillions of E. coli over more than a decade and he has produced tens of thousands of generations.

According to Behe, the net effect of natural selection and random mutation on the E. coli has been mostly to break biological systems that were already in place.  No new complex systems have been formed by Darwinian evolution in the experiment.

Keith Fox agreed with Behe’s assessment of the experiment, but claimed that it did not prove anything about the limits of Darwinian evolution to produce complex new biological systems (which is a central claim of Darwinists).  Behe asked Fox, “If this experiment doesn’t prove anything about Darwinian evolution, then what kind of lab experiment could falsify Darwinian evolution?”  Fox’s answer: none.

According to Fox, lab experiments can never replicate the natural selection pressures that E. coli or any other organism face in the natural world.  These pressures can not be simulated in a lab.  It seems that the mechanisms of random mutation and natural selection must be assumed – they cannot be falsified by experimental biology.

What we have here is an unfalsifiable theory.  No matter what experiments are run to test Darwinian evolution, the results can never, according to Fox, disprove its ability to generate new biological systems.  Aren’t scientific theories supposed to be falsifiable?  Am I missing something?


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Comments

  • http://www.graceinthetriad.com Sterling VanDerwerker

    Certainly it is!

    Scripture says that man was created on day six: Genesis 1:26
    26Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness;

    The day age wiggling denies the objective fact of the association of morining and evening associated with the hebrew “yom” (phonetic).

    That’s why refuting darwinian materialism is so difficult for those who take a long age position. When the Scripture is a secondary authority to the “Reasoning Mind of Man” anything goes and nothing can be “true” in the ultimate sense of being true. I submit that the definition of the TRUTH is; “That which corresponds to the Mind of God”. The TRUTH of origins is clear from the Scripture when the Scripture is the authority and man submits to the revelation of the Mind of God as it is written.

    Ok, that will likely not make any friends here,,… eh?

    Sterling

  • http://randyeverist.blogspot.com Randy Everist

    Sterling, he meant scientifically unfalsifiable.

  • Todd

    Bill,

    The falsifiability argument is a staple of modern ID proponents in its attempts to make evolution appear unscientific. It is misleading and wrong. Perhaps Fox was only stating that it would not be possible to reproduce evolution in a lab environment, but that is far from saying that evolution is not falsifiable.

    The fossil record is dead on accurate and enables scientists to make accurate predictions about history and biology. The biggest falsifier would be a misplaced fossil prediction, but there have been none over thousands of discoveries. A perfect example was the quip by evolutionary biologist Jake Haldane who said it is easily falsifiable by “rabbit fossils in the Precambrian era.” Even Darwin admitted his theory could be proved false if it was proven that a complex organism could not be explained by slight modifications over the course of time.

    I’m sure there are other ways to falsify it, but this alone is sufficient to prove the point. If there was ever an unfalsifiable experiment it would be creation by a supernatural being.

  • http://noapologiesallowed.wordpress.com Joshua

    Very thought-provoking post!

    @Todd

    The falsifiability argument is a staple of modern ID proponents in its attempts to make evolution appear unscientific. It is misleading and wrong. Perhaps Fox was only stating that it would not be possible to reproduce evolution in a lab environment, but that is far from saying that evolution is not falsifiable.

    The falsifiability argument is “misleading and wrong”?!

    How so?

    Can you suggest an experiment that could prove evolution occurs and did so in the past? Can you at least suggest a potential environment that would allow evolution to occur? (Didn’t Miller’s experiment prove that it couldn’t happen in our current atmosphere?)

    I remember Laurence Tisdall confronting an evolutionist on the Michael Coren show. When the evolutionist proposed a probably atmosphere for an ancient Earth, Laurence pressed him, saying that he couldn’t reproduce that atmosphere in a lab. The response was just a nervous laugh. :)

    Joshua

  • Todd

    Joshua,

    To your questions:

    The falsifiability argument against evolution is misleading because it leads people to the conclusion that evolution is not a valid theory. It is wrong because evolution can be falsified by an error in the fossil record. An experiment to prove evolution occurs happens each time a fossil is found, dated, and placed in the proper time period, in the past.

    As for reproducing evolution in a lab, I’m not sure scientists have the capability to produce all of the necessary variables. I’m sure there are many things we can’t create in a lab environment (black holes come to mind), but because we lack the ability to falsify them in a lab does not mean they are not true based on observation or that they are not falsifiable.

  • Boz

    Joshua and Bill Pratt, you are both conflating two seperate applications of the scientific method.

    1. The experimental scientific method. This is used when repeatable experiments can be undertaken. examples of inquiry are: laws of motion, rate of radioactive decay, components of protons, neutrons.

    2. The historical scientific method. This is used when the events can’t be repeated. e.g. who killed nicole browm simpson, when did africa and south america seperate, when did australopithecus go extinct, who was Saint Nicholas, and common ancestry of all living things. This method is like a murder-mystery. Explanations are made for the data (clues) that are discovered.

    the theory evolution is falsifiable by proposing a better theory, which better explains all the data. This is possible if a lot of new data appears, which does not agree with the theory of evolution.

    The new theory would have to explain the new data plus the old data that we currently have.

    Is the theory “OJ Simpson killed nicole browm simpson” falsifiable? If so, how? This is analagous to disproving evolution.

  • http://randyeverist.blogspot.com Randy Everist

    But then the criticism against ID goes by the wayside as well. For ID attempts to explain the specified complexity, to which opponents respond it is not scientifically falsifiable.

  • Bill Pratt

    Todd,
    The fossil record only provides evidence for common descent, not the neo-Darwinian mechanisms of random mutation and natural selection. Those are two completely different scientific theories that many people mistakenly lump together. How would you falsify the claim that random mutation and natural selection are capable of generating complex new biological systems?

  • Boz

    Bill Pratt said :”How would you falsify the claim that random mutation and natural selection ARE CAPABLE OF generating complex new biological systems?” (emphasis mine)

    This only needs to be demonstrated once, then it is 100% proven. It cannot be falsified, except by showing that the original demonstration (and all subsequent demonstrations) were frauds.

    “How would you falsify the claim that random mutation and natural selection have generated ALL biological systems on earth?”

    This can be falsified with one example. Such as a non-dna based life form.

  • Dennis

    Wow? You peeps in the americas actually take ID seriously??

    *Facepalm*

  • http://randyeverist.blogspot.com Randy Everist

    Dennis, that’s not an argument. But we shouldn’t be too surprised. ;)

  • Bill Pratt

    Boz,
    Has there been a demonstration of random mutation and natural selection generating complex new biological systems?

  • Todd

    Bill,

    Random mutation has been observed with generations of MRSA whose mutations help it quickly evolve to resist certain pathogens.

    http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/news/080401_mrsa

    This could be used to falsify random mutation if over its generations there were no changes in the MRSA DNA.

  • Dennis

    Dear Randy,

    I do not need arguments against ID, they are counter- argumentative themselves.

    It’s propaganda, to make lots of money over the backs of gullible Christians.
    And I can’t care less, buy their books, give ‘em your money. People that have such lack of critical thinking deserve to be cheated.
    Plus it makes it easier to spot the idiots in a discussion (they’ll say retarded stuff like “Order cannot originate from chaos!” or use terms like ‘irreducible complexity’) And you know you can toy with them: throw some conflicting questions at them and you’d be amazed at the length of fantasy they conjure up, just to hold on to their fundamentals, -because that is what they are: fundamentalists.

  • Bill Pratt

    Todd,
    Has there been a demonstration of random mutation and natural selection generating complex new biological systems?

  • Todd

    Bill,
    The MRSA example showed random mutation creating drug resistant bacteria through changes in the MRSA DNA. The bacteria that survive would be a representation of natural selection, which I would characterize as at least an evolving biological system. I’m not sure when sufficient change would take place to characterize a ‘new’ bacteria, but if a change in the MRSA DNA represents a ‘new’ MRSA classification, them perhaps that qualifies. I would not know to qualify if it is sufficiently ‘complex’ for your liking. Do you disagree with the science?

  • Bill Pratt

    No, I don’t disagree with the science, but I don’t see how this gets us anywhere remotely close to showing that natural selection and random mutation can create complex new biological systems. Again, the largest study ever conducted on the Darwinian process by Lenski only showed that the process broke already existing biological systems. By breaking these already existing systems, there were changes in the E. coli, but nothing new was built. There was no adding on to create new systems, no building of new systems, only dis-assembly of pre-existing systems. It’s like a tornado hitting a 10-year old house and busting out a few windows, and someone saying, “Wow! Look at the ability of the tornado to change the function of the house.” This kind of destruction seems trivial. It seems we are a long, long way from showing the Darwinian process creating or assembling complex new biological systems.

  • Andrew Ryan

    “…disprove its ability to generate new biological systems”

    Bill, can you define what you mean by ‘new biological systems’? You’re talking about what constitutes a ‘scientific theory’, but I don’t see that ‘new biological system’ is a scientific term. What qualifies by that definition? What would someone have to demonstrate to you to change your mind?

    The evidence for the evolution of many animals such as the horse is very strong. The animal we can see it started off as compared to the animal it is today are very different. Presumably you don’t see this as being a ‘new biological system’.

    Darwinian evolution presumably refers to his theory of natural selection. That this takes place is as strongly supported by evidence as any other theory in science. And yes it is falsifiable. What you are claiming is NOT falsifiable is that the process of evolution won’t just stop at some point. If you are positing some ‘block’ on the process, which prevents evolution happening beyond a certain point, then I would say the burden of proof is on you.

    Your claim is akin to admitting that an object dropped from a hundred feet may fall to earth, but insisting that there is a limit to how far something will fall and no-one can prove you are wrong. It’s like you admitting that soil erosion can take place, but insisting that it couldn’t create the grand canyon no matter how much time is allowed, although you fail to explain why there should be a ‘stopping point’ beyond which erosion cannot take place.

  • Andrew Ryan

    “This kind of destruction seems trivial.”

    Look up ‘Nylon-eating bacteria’ in wiki (or from the original papers if you’d prefer.)

    “In 1975 a team of Japanese scientists discovered a strain of Flavobacterium, living in ponds containing waste water from a nylon factory, that was capable of digesting certain byproducts of nylon 6 manufacture, such as the linear dimer of 6-aminohexanoate, even though those substances are not known to have existed before the invention of nylon in 1935. Further study revealed that the three enzymes the bacteria were using to digest the byproducts were significantly different from any other enzymes produced by other Flavobacterium strains (or any other bacteria for that matter), and not effective on any material other than the manmade nylon byproducts”

    Evolving the ability to digest a substance that didn’t exist before 1935 is most certainly NOT a case simple of ‘breaking existing systems’. In what respect is this analogous to a hurricane blowing out windows in a house?

  • Bill Pratt

    Andrew,
    Here is the lab experiment that would start to convince me: demonstrate that a biochemical system that consists of 50 or so proteins can evolve, through the process of random mutation and natural selection, into a system that has an additional 50 or so proteins that are integrated with the original 50 proteins, and functioning in a new way that promotes the survival of the lifeform.

    That would be an interesting experiment.

  • Andrew Ryan

    So what do you reject Bill, that evolution happens at all, or just that it can it could have happened several billions of years ago in the period after life first began? If you have an alternative theory, what evidence do you have that better fits the observed facts?

  • Bill Pratt

    Andrew,
    I think that evidence from the fossil record indicates that new species of animals have periodically appeared, especially over the last 600 million years. I don’t know what the mechanisms are for the appearance of these new species. I think that the proposed mechanisms of random mutation and natural selection are seriously constrained in what kinds of biological changes they can produce, so that they cannot possibly be the only or even the primary mechanisms for the appearance of new species. Other causes were in operation, but I don’t think any of us know, from science, what they are yet.

  • Andrew Ryan

    “. I think that the proposed mechanisms of random mutation and natural selection are seriously constrained in what kinds of biological changes they can produce”

    What are you basing that on?

  • Bill Pratt

    The E. coli lab experiments and other similar experiments to test the capability of these mechanisms to generate biological change.

  • Andrew Ryan

    How do they show constraints? How many generations in are we? You can’t claim it’s unfalsifiable, and then claim that experiments have demonstrated constraints. Which one is it? If you’ve got this evidence, go ahead and become the next Einstein/Eddington.

  • Bill Pratt

    Andrew,
    Read the original post. The point was that Keith Fox was claiming that lab experiments could not, in principle, falsify the Darwinian mechanisms. I, obviously, think that they can.

  • Andrew Ryan

    You think they can? Ok, I was confused by you claiming: “What we have here is an unfalsifiable theory.”

    You need to make your position a little clearer. That aside, I am excited by the evidence you claim to have, as when you release it in the scientific community it will clearly be a paradigm shifter.

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  • Jamie

    The mistake you’re making is to assume that scientific testing of evolution would be generally limited to the lab. There’s probably no way science can test the kind of evo your talking about in one experiment in one instance (and you won’t accept the observed instances on “micro” and “macro” evolution).
    Evolution happens with populations so the lab is basically nature itself. You can test the nested hierarchy or the genetics or the geographical evidence and so on. If any of it or any new evidence doesn’t fit then evolution has got a problem. If you can go on to show there’s likely no way it CAN fit and that it IS terrestrial life then you falsified Darwinism.

    Actually if you prove an irreducibly complex organism exists then you falsified it. So ID proponents need to stop claiming Darwinian evolution isn’t falsifiable.

  • Jamie

    “I think that evidence from the fossil record indicates that new species of animals have periodically appeared”

    How does it indicate that? What do you mean by “appeared”?

  • Bill Pratt

    Jamie,
    Can random mutation and natural selection ever be disproven as the originators of irreducibly complex biological systems in lab experiments with huge populations of organisms that reproduce tens of thousand of times?

  • Bill Pratt

    Jamie,
    The fossil record contains bones of different kinds of animals appearing in different geological strata which represents hundreds of millions of years. That’s all I mean.

  • http://www.facebook.com/panait.ciprian.35 Panait Ciprian

    actually this has been proven. A cell has to have at least 300 genes and all the other mechanism in it working for it to survive. But of course most evolutionists ignore facts.

  • http://www.facebook.com/panait.ciprian.35 Panait Ciprian

    They did falsified it. The problem is evolutionists ignore any experiment that falsifies their theory. There are dozens of them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/panait.ciprian.35 Panait Ciprian

    Andrew it is interesting that all so called evolutionist proof is on bacteria and virus whom one is not even considered a living organism (a virus) and the second has (unlike all other organism) the ability to interchange DNA with other bacteria or with it’s hoast. Also just because nylon was not known that does not mean the bacteria evolved. It is like saying that just because I never ate a type of food I have as a result of eating that food. Also there already existed bacteria that consumed the basic substance from which nylon is made, so it is not evolution. It is weird how evolutionist never ever talk about the giant gaps (from single cell organisms to multi cell organism; from invertebrates to vertabrates and so on)

  • http://www.facebook.com/panait.ciprian.35 Panait Ciprian

    Actually the fossil record does not provide evidence for common descend. Homology was disproved a long time ago and still it is used. Just because a wing and an arm look the same does not mean they have similar DNA coding. Infact the coding is entierely different. So fossil record demonstrates jack.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andrew-Ryan/511764596 Andrew Ryan

    Cite please.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andrew-Ryan/511764596 Andrew Ryan

    “Homology was disproved a long time ago”

    Cite please.

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