Reasons to Believe

Evolution as Mythology, Part 2 (of 5): Evolution is not a Scientific Theory

A previous article noted how the theory of evolution evinces characteristics of a myth. This article will consider how it measures up to the definition of “science.”

Differentiating a myth from science is not always easy. Karl Popper says, “Historically speaking all—or very nearly all—scientific theories originate from myths … a myth may contain important anticipations of scientific theories.” The atomic theory of Leucippus and Democritus (c. 400 BC) is an example—as is the Genesis 1:1 creation myth (which presaged the big bang theory). But Aristotle’s theory of motion, geocentricity, and most other early myths did not make the “cut” as twentieth-century science. What’s the difference?

Science is usually defined by a process called the scientific method. Typically, this includes an observation about a natural phenomenon, a hypothesis formulated to explain it, and a test performed via a controlled experiment. If the test results are not as expected, the hypothesis may be revised and retested (feedback).

The key to the testing process is falsifiability. A positive test result means a hypothesis is plausible, but a negative test result proves it false. Hence, the proper test of a hypothesis is to make a prediction and devise a test such that at least one outcome proves the theory false. Scientists often want to verify pet theories; but Popper says, “Every genuine test of a theory is an attempt to falsify it, or to refute it… . It is easy to obtain confirmations, or verifications, for nearly every theory—if we look for confirmations. Confirmations should count only if they are the result of risky predictions… . The criterion of the scientific status of a theory is its falsifiability, or refutability, or testability.” (emphasis original)

As an example, Einstein’s general relativity made the risky prediction that the gravity of the sun would bend light from distant stars. The theory was confirmed when observation determined the prediction was true; it would have been falsified if the prediction had failed.

In the case of a “historical science,” such as the theory of evolution, it is impossible to recreate conditions in the “beginning” and perform a controlled experiment; yet a falsifiable test is still possible. For example, the “big bang” hypothesis of cosmology made the risky prediction of cosmic radiation bombarding the earth. In 1965, this prediction was found to be true, the big bang was accepted as plausible, and the then-prevailing theory that the universe was eternal was falsified. If microwave radiation did not exist, the big bang theory would have been falsified.

The fundamental problem with evolution as a scientific theory is that it is neither predictive nor falsifiable. Embryologist and geneticist C. H. Waddington says, “The theory of evolution is unfalsifiable… If an animal evolves one way, biologists have a perfectly good explanation; but if it evolves some other way, they have an equally good explanation… . The theory is not … a predictive theory as to what must happen.”1

Information theorist Mark Ludwig elaborates, “Darwin’s hypothesis … has the character of unfalsifiable philosophy: it can explain anything and predicts practically nothing… . Darwinism … requires belief… . It has become the scientist’s paradigm, and he is rarely able to admit that it is fragile and charged with philosophy.”2

The neo-Darwinian theory of evolution is unfalsifiable because it relies on random, unpredictable mutations. Only predictable randomness, like radioactive decay, is a valid scientific phenomenon. Murray Eden of Massachusetts Institute of Technology illustrates the difference using physical chemistry: “It is accepted that the law of mass action is derivable from the assumption of random collisions between reactive molecules, but the explanation of a chemical reaction in which molecules A and B become C is to be sought … and not in a random rearrangement of the atoms of A and B.”3

Yet this is the argument of neo-Darwinianism—an argument no different from the “god of the gaps” argument. As evolutionary zoologist Pierre-P. Grassé says, “Chance becomes a sort of providence, which … is secretly worshipped.”4

It’s hard to dispute Henry Morris’ charge that the litany of evolutionary biologists is: “We know evolution is true, even though we don’t know how it works and have never seen it happen.”5

Science is not static; improvements in technology continually make it possible to test and falsify theories that were earlier untestable, such as the phlogiston theory of chemistry and the luminiferous aether theory of physics. So it is with the theory of evolution. It was barely possible to see cell structure under a primitive microscope in Darwin’s time, and DNA had not yet been discovered when the neo-Darwinian synthesis was developed in the 1940s. Technology and computing power have grown dramatically and, although unpredictable mutations cannot be tested, other problematic ramifications of the theory can be.

Nevertheless, it seems difficulties lead only to modifications of the theory, some of which are often speculative. This pattern led astrophysicist and Nobel laureate Sir Fred Hoyle to comment, “Be suspicious of a theory if more and more hypotheses are needed to support it as new facts become available.”6

Popper—who considers evolution a “metaphysical research program”—observes, “Reinterpreting the theory ad hoc in such a way that it escapes refutation … is always possible, but … only at the price of … lowering, its scientific status.”7

But old theories die hard. The eighteenth-century scientific giant Joseph Priestley refused to accept falsification of the phlogiston theory; he kept reinterpreting data to escape its refutation until he died. The myth-like character of the theory of evolution makes it especially hard to reject because evolution defines the naturalistic worldview. Evolution is assumed—whether justified or not—because any challenge to evolution undercuts this worldview.

Grassé says, “Paleontologists … assume that the Darwinian hypothesis is correct [and] interpret fossil data according to it.” But he believes the “duty [of biologists] is to destroy the myth of evolution … to think about the weaknesses of the interpretations and extrapolations that theoreticians put forward or lay down as established truths.”8

Hence the theory of evolution is more accurately described as myth than as science—particularly because of its unfalsifiability. The next two articles will consider some of the difficulties with the theory, revealed by modern science.


Dr. Hugh Henry, Ph.D.

Dr. Hugh Henry received his Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Virginia in 1971, retired after 26 years at Varian Medical Systems, and currently serves as Lecturer in physics at Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights, KY.


Daniel J. Dyke, M.Div., M.Th.

Mr. Daniel J. Dyke received his Master of Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary 1981 and currently serves as professor of Old Testament at Cincinnati Christian University in Cincinnati, OH.


Dr. Charles Cruze, Ph.D.

Dr. Charles Cruze received his Ph.D. in Pharmaceutical Sciences from University of Tennessee Center for Health Sciences in 1977, and currently works in research at Procter & Gamble Pharmaceuticals.


Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

 

Subjects: Atheism, Evolutionary Trees, Macro vs. Micro Evolution, Naturalism, Philosophy of Science, TCM - Speciation, Theistic Evolution, Transitional Forms, Worldviews

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  1. C. H.Waddington, “Summary Discussion,” in Mathematical Challenge to the Neo-Darwinian Interpretation of Evolution, ed. Paul S. Moorhead and Martin M. Kaplan (Philadelphia: Wistar Institute Press, 1967), 98.

  2. Mark A.Ludwig, Computer Viruses, Artificial Life, and Evolution (Tucson, AZ: American Eagle Publications, 1993), 295.

  3. Murray Eden, “Inadequacies of Neo-Darwinian Evolution as a Scientific Theory,” in Mathematical Challenge to the Neo-Darwinian Interpretation of Evolution, ed. Paul S. Moorhead and Martin M. Kaplan (Philadelphia: Wistar Institute Press, 1967), 111.

  4. Pierre-P. Grassé, Evolution of Living Organisms (New York: Academic Press, 1977), 107.

  5. Henry Morris, The Long War Against God (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), 24.

  6. Sir Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe, Evolution from Space (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1981), 135.

  7. Paul A. Schilpp, ed., The Philosophy of Karl Popper, vol. 1 (La Salle, IL: Open Court Publishers, 1974), 133–143.

  8. Pierre-P. Grassé, Evolution of Living Organisms (New York: Academic Press, 1977), 7–8.