Evolution is not a scientific theory

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Evolution is not a sicentific theory Evolution is not a scientific theory. It fails the requirement of falsifiability that is the litmus test for judging whether an investigation is scientific.

The modern scientific method is defined in terms of hypotheses, theories and laws. The difference between each is the level of acceptance in the scientific community. What they all have in common is that they must be falsifiable. This means that it must be possible to run an experiment that would prove the theory (or hypothesis or law) wrong, if it were not true.

Empiricism (a basis in experiment) is what gives science it's credibility. It means that a scientist in Poland does not have to take your word for it - they can do their own experiment and attempt to disprove it for themselves. The falsifiability part prevents people from coming up with theories that can only be proved right. Evolution fails both of these tests. There is no experiment that can test the theory. Any new evidence that comes to light cannot disprove the theory - only either back it up or call for a modification of the evolutionary tree or a modification of the theory.

Natural selection is a scientific theory. Evolution differs from natural selection by including the ideas of common ancestry and beneficial mutation. Just because a theory is not scientific does not mean that it has no merit. However, claiming that such a theory is scientific lends it undeserved authority and diminishes the authority of science. For example, it opens the door to the inclusion of creation theory and intelligent design as scientific theories. More significantly, it reinforces a fundamental misunderstanding of what science is and why it has proven to be such a powerful tool for unlocking nature's secrets.

The modern scientific method arose during the scientific revolution - after the renaissance. Observation of nature and speculation do form part of the scientific method. That is how new hypotheses are formed. However, they should be checked to establish whether they are scientific or not.

Addendum (9/5/15)

I originally introduced this article with the statement that evolution should not be taught in high school science classes because it is not a scientific theory. While this was a great way to capture people's attention, it was prone to misinterpretation, most often as the claim that evolution should not be taught in high school. This misinterpretation also highlights some practical issues - should we create a separate class, or teach half of evolution in ancient history? Or perhaps another purely semantic one - should we stop calling biology science? I do not think we should do either of these, as most of the actual work in biology is science. I think it is sufficient to take the opportunity to highlight to students that evolution is not falsifiable and not scientific. This would help to reinforce the more important lesson, which I think should be the first thing that is taught in high school science. Although I introduced this article as a political topic, it is essentially a philosophical debate - albeit an important philosophical debate that would do wonders to cure the excesses of the current political one, particularly in the US.

Now that I have added a purpose to this website (establishing a political party, or at the very least, communicating a political position, rather than merely promoting debate) it is time for the more practical, and more political argument - what should be taught? I do think evolution should be taught. However, the important message here is that the modern scientific method should be taught. I would also throw in a cut-down version of Kuhn's philosophy. A good place to teach this is in the first year of high school, or at a time when science is still a combined subject, before it is split into various topics like biology and chemistry. This would, in my opinion, go some way to preventing the drift of students away from pure and applied sciences, particularly if combined with the insights of Thomas Kuhn.

The key problem causing this drift, in my opinion, is that science education, or "becoming a scientist" is fundamentally different from the practice. It is a process of indoctrination. On the other hand, practicing science, or "being a scientist" is a process of exploration and discovery, and if you are really good at it, destruction and creation (that is, a creative process). Learning science is a process of memorisation and regurgitation. It is a process of learning by doing. Concepts and ways of viewing the world are taught by employing them to reach a conclusion - the correct conclusion, or the 'right answer'. The purpose of experiments in an educational setting are an extension of this process - doing with your hands what students spend most of their time doing with diagrams, equations and words. The nominal purpose of these experiments is to affirm, or verify the theory (or dominant paradigm in Kuhn's parlance). This charade is even maintained when teaching students theories that are demonstrably false, and that establish incorrect ways of understanding the world (for example, Newtonian Mechanics). In contrast, the purpose of real scientific experiments is to attempt to disprove theories. There is little value in repeating experiments done by your colleagues countless times, unless you expect to get a different answer (though by failing to do so, you do contribute to the body of knowledge). The purpose of reading your colleagues papers is to confirm and eventually establish your view of them (they are idiots and have it all wrong), or to find inspiration for your own contribution that extends or refutes their work.

I am not suggesting we change this situation. As Kuhn correctly points out, it is an absolutely necessary part of the progress of science. I am merely suggesting that we inform students of it. We should tell them (and occasionally remind them) that there is an end in sight to the endless drudgery of 'learning' science, and that it is a lot closer than it appears. Our current scientific knowlege in any field, having been completely discarded at a fairly recent point in the history of science, is only gradually being replaced by the current paradigm, which is slowly expanding. The more onerous the task of grasping the current paradigm, the more likely it is that a student may become involved in discarding it, for complexity is an indication that it is being challenged on many fronts and that scientists are having trouble maintaining it. Simplicity indicates it is a relatively new paradigm and is expanding without challenge. Students must know that the image of scientists politiely discussing and deducing from their observations in a logical manner is a false image created by the superficial inclusion of snippets of science's history in textbooks. Science is a political process, full of rivalry and backstabbing, personal glory and the destruction of reputations. Experimentation is challenging, not because you only have 45 minutes to get it correct and you are not a good chef, but because you lack the imagination to come up with a good experiment to do. Your role as a scientist is not to learn, but to contribute new knowledge by expanding the current paradigm, and ultimately to disprove it and replace it with something of your own creation.

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