Darwin and disproof:
I am not the first to say this.  There is a fundamental problem to the “theory of evolution.”  Strictly speaking it is not a theory at all.  A scientific theory makes predictions about the world.  If the predictions are born out, then the theory is acceptable.  If the predictions are not born out completely, then the theory remains acceptable until a better one can be found that does account for the evidence.

For instance there is the theory of relativity.  It makes very specific predictions about certain physical measurements.  There is another theory called quantum mechanics that also makes very specific predictions about certain physical measurements.  They are by and large not the same measurements, although it is possible to make them both at the same time.  For instance light propagates through space at a specific speed unless it is altered by the medium that transmits it or by the properties of space as distorted by the presence and distribution of mass.  That is relativity.  No serious challenge exists at this time.  But light propagates as a probability distribution, a photon not actually existing in a specific place until the light is absorbed.  Then the probability distribution collapses and all of the photon arrives in a single location.  (Not a point; its location is still distributed over an area limited by its energy, but a very tiny place compared with the distribution of the photon while it was traveling in space.)  The collapse is instantaneous.  So the two theories cannot both be true as now understood.  This has been the case for most of a century.  But both theories are valuable.  Both will continue to be “true” until some theory comes along that subsumes both of them.  Needless to say, a lot of work has been done looking for such a theory. 

Any theory is accepted with the reservation that it may have to be discarded when new evidence and a new theory are found.  For a theory to be a real theory it must then be “disprovable” by evidence that does not yet exist and may never exist or by a theory that does not yet exist and may never exist.

So how is the theory of evolution disprovable?  The sad fact that it is not.  Take for instance the phenomenon of hiccups.  William A. Whitelaw of the University of Calgary recently wrote in SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN.  He suggests that hiccups are a triggering of an atavistic mechanism that amphibians use to breathe.  You make a vigorous inspiratory muscle effort against a closed airway.  Apparently tadpoles use this mechanism to get water to their gills.  At the same time your heart slows slightly.  The fact that we seem to share something with tadpoles, something useless to us, suggests we have descended from tadpole like creatures.

Bingo.  There is evidence for evolution.  But wait.  Suppose I challenge the idea.  I say, in defiance of Whitelaw’s evidence, that the hiccup is just a twitch of a nerve cell that stimulates the phrenic nerve, that controls the diaphragm, and other inspiratory muscles.  The effort is vigorous because breathing is very important.  Then all we have to do is explain the sudden closure of the airway.  We take as a clue the slowing of the heart.  That is part of our diving reflex. 

There is little question that humans quite recently spent a lot of time in the water.  He have little body hair.  We enjoy water.  We swim pretty well.  The feet of “Lucy” the Australopithecus humanoid ape were disproportionately large.  Imitate and exaggerate that with swim fins and you become a very strong swimmer indeed.  I can seal up my nostrils with my upper lip.  When young I spent a lot of time in the warm water of Florida lakes.  There is an ameba in those waters that can get into your brain if you get water up your nose; it destroys your brain.  I think I lost two friends that way.  I may owe my life to my upper lip.  Children have been rescued after having been trapped below ice for up to half an hour and made a complete recovery; their reflexes somehow protected them.  It looks like we were semi-aquatic at some time in our past. 

Closing the airway during an unintended sudden inspiration would be a very good plan for a semi-aquatic animal. 

I say just suppose.  I really have no quarrel with Dr. Whitelaw.  But suppose I said it was part of the diving mechanism and then could find very good evidence indeed that I was right.  In that case I would have disproved his theory.  Since his theory can be used to support the “theory of evolution,” then I would have produced evidence against evolution, right?  Wrong.  I used evolution as much as he did.  And when someone comes along and demolishes my theory he will not have produced evidence against evolution either.  The theory is not disprovable. 

You can look in the fossil record to see how things evolved, the order and timing of many innovations.  But you will not find there evidence for or against evolution.  In fact, as I mentioned on September 30, 2008, there are gaps in the fossil record.  In fact it is almost all gaps.  You don’t ever find one species morphing seamlessly into the next as evolution predicts.  But this is not entertained for a moment as evidence that evolution is wrong.  Even I don’t do that.  I just say that our understanding of evolution is very poor.  And I don’t care if you don’t believe evolution at all.  The phenomenon of infertility of large populations does not depend on evolution.  It only depends on organisms that have been optimized by whatever means.  If we ever learn to design living animals and make them from scratch, we will have to abide by the same rules. 

So evolution cannot actually be tested.  The “evidence” the people describe as being brought to bear on evolution by Darwin is, to my eye, simply evidence that one species at least potentially blends seamlessly into another.  That is not evidence for evolution either.  If there cannot be evidence against it, there cannot be evidence for it, can there?

“E” or “ex” means out as in “exit,” and “volve” means “turn” as in “revolve.”  “Evolve” just means “turn out.”  “Evolution” just means “change.”  Things do change.  Theologians sometimes wish to embed the world into a matrix consisting of the changeless mind of God or the equivalent.  Cosmologists sometimes wish to imbed the world into a matrix of numberless universes that is changeless on the largest scale.  Nobody denies that the world changes.  Things evolve for sure.  But that just means things change.  Somehow I don’t think Darwin’s contribution was sufficient to credit him with having invented change.

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