Evolution Part 2

Posted on July 28, 2011 by


EVOLUTION PART 2

This is the second of of a series of posts on evolution. The last post introduced evolutionary theory and some common terms. This post will address some misconceptions that came up after the first post was placed. If science isn’t conducted appropriately, one gets bad science. And if the public doesn’t understand both the methodology and epistemological limitations of science not only are they more likely to be taken in by charlatans but they are likely to have bad or uneducated reactions to what science tells them. Evolution, dealing as it does with the propagation and change of life forms on Earth, often concerns many people for emotional and philosophical reasons often due to misconceptions.

NATURALISM AND SCIENCE

Evolutionary biology, as part of science, must play by the rules of science and the Scientific Method. While this method is a very powerful means toward finding patterns of behavior, at least toward objects and phenomena in the natural world, it does have its limitations. The Scientific Method proceeds on the basis of a philosophy of materialism. That is causes are sought in processes in nature and the method itself only tests for processes and effects of that type. The Supernatural, by its very definition, cannot be tested for using the methods of science. In addition there are at least two assumptions that must be made to play the science game.

1. Physical laws are, for the most part, inviolate and unchanging depending on time and place. This does not have to be absolutely true to conduct science – it is possible that some laws, for whatever cause have changed over time for instance – but as a general rule it must hold. If gravity, electromagnetism, the strong and weak nuclear forces as an example , were to change willy-nilly, not only would human life be impossible but it would be impossible to discern any patterns. If we survived, we might as well be in the realm of magic. It is also assumed that if such a change was ever discovered, there would be an ultimate cause and effect reason for it that could be discovered by science.
2. God does not lie. Scientists , esp those dealing with historical data, must take it on faith that the objects of their observations were not “planted” or otherwise messed with. Even if there is no God, scientists take as a starting point, that their observations are of real phenomena.

Thus science , when properly performed, uses a form of methodological materialism. Ultimate Causes and such things are not its purview.

NATURAL SELECTION

Natural Selection is defined in my first post:
Evolution Part 1

There are some misconceptions about natural selection.
1. Natural selection is equivalent to survival of the fittest and thus is a tautology .

Two things: the philosopher of science, Karl Popper, is often quoted as saying:

“Darwinism is not a testable scientific theory but a metaphysical research programme.”

In fact, natural selection can be observed in species of bacterial colonies that have developed resistance to various antibiotics, so its effects can be observed in the laboratory. Secondly, later in his life Karl Popper changed his mind.
Link: Popper
2. Natural selection is the same as evolution. Natural selection is merely a mechanism of evolution.
We probably don’t know all the mechanisms of evolution even today. Evolution itself could be falsified in several ways such as an actual violation of the Hardy- Weinberg Principle, so even if one equates Darwinism to modern evolutionary theory, Darwinism can be falsified. In fact, Darwin wrote Origin of the Species long before Mendalian genetics was rediscovered, so needless to say modern evolutionary theory is different in quite a few ways from Darwin’s.

ABIOGENESIS

Abiogenesis, or the scientific study of the origin of life from non-living constituents is often confused with evolution. This is perfectly understandable as most people who accept that evolution occurs in living things tend to think that a similar process might have occurred in the distant past resulting in the formation of the first protocell and involving a process of some type of chemical evolution . No one has definitively proved abiogenesis yet, nor has anyone disproved it. But evolutionary biology does not require it: after all, the Earth could have been “seeded” with life and from that moment on , this life started to react to the environment and change. Indeed, some religious people feel this is what likely happened. More information can be found at the link below:
More Biogenesis

CONCLUSION

This is the end of the second part of my evolution series. There will be a few more , mostly focusing on popular attacks on the theory. Regardless of one’s feelings in the matter it is important to understand the real arguments of your opponents in order to contest them, and this is arguably of much more importance when the matter is of a scientific nature.