Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Disproving Evolution

A couple of evenings ago I overheard the remark in a video phone-in interview that a Fundamentalist Christian creationist with something of a reputation on YouTube was considering becoming a scientist, apparently so that he could disprove evolutionary theory, as it were, from the inside. I won't embarrass him by naming him here, but such an aspiration demonstrates only a lack of any grasp of the way in which scientific method actually functions. To explain:

In science, there is no plan; you simply go wherever the evidence takes you. True enough, parameters can be set up, and based upon sound reasoning and experience, an extrapolated subatomic particle is discovered, or an expected fossil actually turns up in a specific locality. But science does not deal in negatives. So setting out actually to scientifically 'disprove' something is a non sequitur.

Still, let's for the sake of this point assume that it's possible (and allowable within the scientific community). You 'disprove' a theory - and a well-established and long-accepted one at that. What are you left with? A mere vacuum. You have done nothing actually to replace the quashed theory with anything new, with a viable alternative of your own that steps in to replace what you have trounced. To do that, you'd have to marshall your evidence and send a hypothesis of your own down the long and well-worn road that any scientific hypothesis has to tread in order to gain acceptance. In short: you'd actually have to practice science. Real science. And in science, things are neither *'proven' nor 'disproven', just accepted.

It's possible, of course, that some line of scientific reasoning might disprove something else, but it does so simply as a by-product of 'doing what it does', not as an intent. Like the way in which the mechanisms of evolution incidentally disprove creationism... :)

*While proof in the understood sense of the term is not part of the definition of what constitutes a scientific theory, it is true enough that some theories have shown themselves to be so robust that they are to all intents and purposes accepted as fact - evolutionary theory being one of them. And a 'theory' in science has a different meaning to the word in everyday use, which is why the creationist claim that 'evolution is just a theory' is yet another non sequitur.

And this clears up another widely-held misunderstanding by creationists: disproving something in science does not automatically 'prove' something else. So 'disproving' evolutionary theory would not by default establish that supernatural creation had occurred instead. The situation on the ground is that a supernatural means of creation would then have to be accepted and established as a scientific theory in it own right. Good luck with that one, creationists...