Question
Asked 23rd Feb, 2012

Theory of evolution

Is the theory of evolution scientific? According to inductive logic, if the mathematical probability about a theory is high, it is scientific. If it is little or tends to zero, it is not.

Most recent answer

19th Jan, 2016
Diego Sebastian Mahecha
Independent
In science, a theory, works as explanatory. A law, works as descriptive. Through inductive, we think about from particular to general, although we have to be aware that such sequence may induce errors. There could be interesting findings about inductive logic and the calculation of a lyapunov exponent which measures how the errors grow on each step of the analysis or each step of the system. In other words, how we walk away from truth or how we are getting closer. However, since the very question is about the theory of evolution, it works, if it explains. Although, many other mechanisms are at work throughout nature and universe. Natural selection does not explain anymore with the precision that is required. Like Classical physics, once dealing at the speed of light, or at micro levels and atom’s behaviors, quantum physics explains best.
Here I would like to share with you a recent article that is related with probability calculus, evolutionary chaos, mathematical modeling and terraforming, among others. It also demonstrates through nonlinear evolutionary processes, and the emergent properties of a system, the uniqueness of life and mankind in the universe.

Popular Answers (1)

26th Apr, 2012
Les Kaufman
Boston University
The theory of evolution is science because it is based on evidence, not faith, and generate testables hypotheses.
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All Answers (27)

23rd Feb, 2012
Fabio Andrade Machado
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
I'm not sure what kind of demarcation criteria you are referring to. Could you give me some references?
23rd Feb, 2012
Ajay Saini
Bhabha Atomic Research Centre
Hi Carmen...
In my opinion probability being more or less does not make a theory (or an event one is studying) scientific or non-scientific.....probability only defines what are the chances of the occurrnce of that event...based on the available data.......
While doing statistical analysis of data....one should always keep in mind that ...even in the begining of analysis...for example...if collecting samples is biased (not random).....you may end up problems in all the analysis.....
I feel your statement is very straight forward ....and it may not be able to apprpriately explain a theory directly...as each step of analysis is crucial.....before you finally make a conclusion...
2 Recommendations
23rd Feb, 2012
Fabio Andrade Machado
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
If you view theory=hypothesis and if you can associate a statistical formalism to that hypothesis (such as a probability density function), then in almost all realistic datasets you will have a low probability (a.i. likelihood) of that hypothesis/theory, implying that, if the premise is true, than all hypothesis are probably false.
That's why what matters is not the likelihood alone, but the ratios of likelihood between hypotesis.
2 Recommendations
23rd Feb, 2012
Carmen Méndez Trejo
Autonomous University of Baja California Sur
I understand what the evolution theory is not data, and much less I try explain the concept of theory. Just I wondered how discredit this lines.
I think it is scientific in part because belongs to a research program subject for check or reject. And it is supported for more theories and disciplines.
Excuse me the bad writing.
Thank you!. Ajai and Fabio
And, if you have papers or you know books.............Saludos!
24th Feb, 2012
Fabio Andrade Machado
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Dear Carmen,
I was not trying to diss your question. I'm pretty sure that we can evaluate the validity of a theory in a way very similar to the one that you are proposing. The problem is that we have to confront it with another scientific idea in order to actually test it. So the hole thing became circular if we think only in statistical terms ("a scientific theory can only be evaluated when confronted with another scientific theory").
That's why i think that we can evaluate theories in statistical terms, but not access their scientific status through statistics. It becomes pointless to do so.
I'm sending bellow a illustrative example of a formal test of universal common ancestry theory. It is interesting to notice that the author had to devise an alternative model, or models, to confront this theory, in order to obtain probability ratios. Namely, he proposed various hypothesis of independent origin for various taxa (including humans, a test that I found particularly funny). The results show that UCA theory is in fact the best theory to explain the (molecular) data.
Saludos,
1 Recommendation
24th Feb, 2012
Ajay Saini
Bhabha Atomic Research Centre
Hi Fabio
Thanks for sharing a nice paper...
1 Recommendation
25th Feb, 2012
Carmen Méndez Trejo
Autonomous University of Baja California Sur
I accept your comment. Study it.
Thanks Fabio.
19th Apr, 2012
Federico Calboli
Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke)
Oh jeeez. Ok, everybody take out your nearest "Logic of Scientific Discovery" and "The Open Society and its Enemies", both by Popper. Evolutionary theory is a *scientific* theory inasmuch it produces *empirically falsifiable predictions*, because that is the only criterion that defines a theory as *scientifc*. The 'mathematical probability' line confuses "true hypothesis" with "scientific hypothesis". Do read Popper, please do read Popper.
19th Apr, 2012
Fabio Andrade Machado
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Frederico,
That's not the only criterion that defines a scientific theory. That's the only *popperian* definition of scientific. There is a difference there. Not all non-popperian theories of demarcation are pre-popperian. Some would argue that evolution, as most biological theories are abductive, for example. I'm wouldn't go that far, of course.
1 Recommendation
19th Apr, 2012
Federico Calboli
Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke)
That *is* the only criterion. Please provide an example of any scientific achievement that did not arise from the following simple iteration:
1) theory
2) empirically testable prediction arising from theory
3) empirical test, which would yield falsification, provisional acceptance of theory or partial modification of theory (an we go back to 1)
20th Apr, 2012
Fabio Andrade Machado
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
The article that I provided do exactly that. In fact, any statistical modeling approach is incapable of discarding hypothesis based on empirical observation. The only thing that it can do is choose the better model. All models will wield some likelehood value. You can frame some modeling approaches in a popperian perspective, but not all.
Modeling can be easily seen as scientific in the context of Lakatos' scientific program.
I think (but I'm not sure) that Popper also said if a belief cannot be falsified by observation, it is not scientific. For that reason he rejected ideas such "chance of recovery" as scientific, because if someone dies, than he/she would fall outside the percentage that would recover, and would not falsify the "chance of recovery" hypothesis.
1 Recommendation
20th Apr, 2012
Fabio Andrade Machado
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
One illustrative example is to hypothetise a population with mean 10 and sd=1 and two observations= 10 and 5.
The likelihood of the first is 0.5 and the likelihood of the second is 2.866516e-07. Even though the second is lower, it do not falsify the population hypothesis.
I don't claim to know that this is not popperian, but this have been presented to me as an example that falsificationism do not conform to the practice of science.
I know, however, that Lakatos criticism of popperian falsificationism is broader than this.
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20th Apr, 2012
Federico Calboli
Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke)
Facepalm. We're in cargo cult land already. I despair. You are confusing statistics an modelling with scientific praxis.
The opening statement of the thread is:
"If the mathematical probability about a theory is high, is scientific. If little or tend zero, is not."
The paper you linked on the other hand is a statistical test of a number of competing hypotheses. All the competing hypotheses in the paper are *scientific*, but one of them is more supported by the analysis of the data. Ergo, the analysis of the data helps find the level of truthfulness of each hypothesis, but it does not disqualify any hypothesis as "unscientific" just because it is likely to be false.
An hypothesis can be at the same time 100% scientific and 100% false. Confusing truth, level of certainty and scientific validity is the kind of mistakes that makes creationists and nut-jobs worldwide attack science. Given that the people involved in science are confused on the matter, it is easy to see why creationists and nut-jobs are getting more and more traction.
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20th Apr, 2012
Fabio Andrade Machado
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
But I said nothing different from that. Nobody is defending the first proposition anymore.
In fact I gave the reason why the first proposition is false, and the paper illustrates it: all hypotheses have low probabilities in themselves. But one is better, nevertheless. But all can be scientific because the scientific status is not given by probability.
If you are worried about creationists, you should focus on showing that all science is indeed popperian, because one of the main points of Intelligent Design Creationism is to argue that historical sciences (such as evolution, according to them) is abductive, what implies that ID is abductive too and that both are therefore equals. So, if all science is popperian, than there goes their argument. At least for a while... they always figure something out.
24th Apr, 2012
Federico Calboli
Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke)
what concerns me is that people who make a living from, or are educated in, 'science', cannot tell the difference between a statement of truth about a theory and the validity of a theory as a scientific theory. In addition, the fact that one experiment provides results that come with p-values, rather than absolute true/false statements needs not in any way waken the Popperian view of science, because the falsification process is not a 'one bullet one target' process, but a process that requires multiple testing and peer review.
25th Apr, 2012
José Angel García Landa
University of Zaragoza
I think truth comes in all kinds of fuzzy packets - e.g. what is true for the members of a Muslim community may note be true elsewhere— and science, too, is less of a sharp-edged body than one might think at first. Even within the Popperian paradigm, while the theory of falsification is clear in principle, when you examine specific instances there are all kinds of diverging views as to whether a given theory has been falsified or not, or whether it is or not falsifiable at all. So, there are more or less central assumptions about what is scientific or not, in communities of scientists which are themselves fuzzy—and other assumptions which are more questionable if only because the evidence is less widely known in the relevant discipline. Broadly speaking, the theory of evolution is of course scientific—but the details of such and such specific theory or specific case may not be as unquestionably scientific. Not everything that Darwin said would pass muster today as solid science, which of course is only to be expected in the process of scientific developments. This doesn't make his theory the less important for the history of biology.
25th Apr, 2012
Federico Calboli
Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke)
"I think truth comes in all kinds of fuzzy packets"
This statement is utterly pointless and unhelpful. The word 'truth', as used in day to day basis is often no more than a statement of opinion than anything else ('what my ridiculous religious tenets say is true') has nothing to do with the issue of science.
Point one, as Popper pointed out, scientific theories *are not fasle*, they are never 'true', because they are always open to falsification.
Point two it confuses the process of falsification with the fact people have opinions and biases, neither of which is rooted in empirical evidence. The diverging view about any scientific theory are part and parcel of the falsification process, as long as they are rooted in the empirical falsification of a theory. Fabio might disagree on one of my theories because his data do not support my view, or he can disagree on my analysis of the data or my interpretation of my results. All these disagreements are perfectly fine (and as Popper pointed out, necessary pert of science) because they are based on *empirical data*. Data can be tested for soundness and correctness, analysis of data can also be tested for soundness and correctness, and disagreements about interpretation of results can also be resolved by empirically producing and analysing more data. The constant update of scientific theories does not invalidate a Popperian view of science, because it is part of it. The theory of evolution is a perfect example of a theory that is empirically falsifiable and has undergone multiple updates as more empirical evidence has come to the fore, and these properties make it scientific.
If you, on the other hand, disagree with my theory 'because there are different points of view", and fail to address the disagreement *empirically* your opinion is utterly pointless and irrelevant.
1 Recommendation
25th Apr, 2012
José Angel García Landa
University of Zaragoza
Oh well, don't let's be so "utterly". My opinion may be utterly pointless and irrelevant to you, other people may see in it some kind of point. It's not "pointless and irrelevant" in itself, but "for someone". Your opinion is partly pointless to me, but not wholly so. When I spoke of truth i was not speaking of science, but of all kinds of "truth effects". Science is only one provider of such truth effects. You may disagree there; however perhaps we're on more common ground if we agree that science is the only provider of scientific truth effects. Still that's a panoramic statement of the issue, and (I insist) whenever we get down to the details things get fuzzier, once again. Much scientific discussion, for instance, is on a "nowhere land" (or a somewhere land, if you prefer) between empirical backing and falsification. Why? Because not everyone whose views or experiments are potentially relevant to the issue agrees on the interpretation of the data, or even has all the available data. There's too much going on at once. Your clear-cut view of what counts as scientific presupposes a self-evidencing falsification taking place "in itself", as against "for someone", or a sole context of relevant evaluation which is an idealistic artifact. Sorry if I'm pointless again.
2 Recommendations
26th Apr, 2012
Les Kaufman
Boston University
The theory of evolution is science because it is based on evidence, not faith, and generate testables hypotheses.
9 Recommendations
26th Apr, 2012
Federico Calboli
Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke)
Josè, you are charging though a wide open door, when you state that "not everyone whose views or experiments are potentially relevant to the issue agrees on the interpretation of the data, or even has all the available data". Nobody here is saying otherwise, in fact I did say that the differences in opinion on how to generate and interpret the data is integral part of the falsification process, which is normally not a fast and clean cut process.
What is clear cut is that, scientific praxis is not just pontificating and spitting out opinions. It is a debate based on empirical data generated to falsify a prediction arising from a theory. The fact that falsification is not a clear cut process does not make it in any way similar to people debating religion, social norms or the relevance of comic strips in how architectural design evolved through time.
26th Apr, 2012
Federico Calboli
Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke)
The difference between science and other stuff:
27th Apr, 2012
José Angel García Landa
University of Zaragoza
Lots of things work, besides science - in non-scientific ways, of course. Even falsified science works in the right context (e.g. Newton's gravity). And, what's more, every scientific discipline weighs plays data and theories against each other following different protocols. Which is not to say that I completely disagree with what you say, not in the least.
27th Apr, 2012
Julie Byrd Hebert
The Miller School of Albemarle
I think part of the problem, particularly regarding evolution, is the difference between common definitions and biological/scientific definitions. A theory to a layman is an idea, perhaps based on some logic, but not a proven fact. A theory to a biologist is a testable hypothesis that has been found to be true in many cases, and therefore is as close to a law as we tend to get in biology. (The "problem" with biology as a science is that there are no laws - because of the stochasticity of the biological world, there aren't broad predictions we can make for something to happen everywhere and always, at least not unless we reduce the circumstances to something so specific that it doesn't make sense for it to exist as a "law".)
As for evolution, many of the common definitions you can find on the web or in dictionaries include "gradual change" and from "a simple to a complex form" however those do not necessarily apply to a biological definition. In its most basic definition, evolution is change through time, or changes in allele frequencies (or phenotypic frequencies) in populations from generation to generation. Using that definition, it is hard for someone to show that evolution does NOT occur. The underlying mechanisms may differ in different cases (gradual vs. rapid, drift vs. natural selection, etc.) but evolution itself allows for all of those mechanisms to exist, and they are not necessarily mutually exclusive. So, in terms of science, I think it evolution is actually one of the more straight-forward and easily testable scientific concepts.
7 Recommendations
27th Apr, 2012
José Angel García Landa
University of Zaragoza
I'm not one to disagree, Julie. A phenomenon such as genetic drift can be tested in laboratory conditions and, using statistical models, in actual populations as well. But as Stephen Jay Gould liked to say, biology is also a historical science. When it comes to case studies, the variables become too many to handle, too many disciplines have to cooperate to suggest and interpretation, and the fuzziness I mention reappears. Take a spectacular case, dinosaur extinction. Part of the evidence to be used in a theory accounting for it will be testable in terms of "hard science", take e.g. experimental ways of determining the levels of iridium in a layer of rock—but there are just too many sides to the question in the final account, and partial rock-solid evidence added to probabilistic interpretations results in a whole panoply of different kinds of evidence. And if the result is science, it is also a kind of narrative resulting from many different kinds of science, none of which alone would be able to give a scientific account of the fact under study, i.e. the disappearance of dinosaurs. Lots of things are testable on the way, but the global account as such is not testable.
29th Apr, 2012
Fabio Andrade Machado
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Jerry Coyne started a similar discussion at his blog. Maybe something in his comment section could be of some use.
I think that José's "unfalsifiable" historical narrative fits the idea of best-explanation inference, but others could argue that, since this narrative have some logical testable implications, the narrative itself is testable.
21st Dec, 2012
Buhara Yucesan
Bolu Abant Izzet Baysal University
Popper does not accept Theory of evolution is a science. Because of its arguments are not testable. For example: all living things have been evolved from an ancostor (main idea of evolution) is not testable. Although you can test genetic drift etc. Since we are not able to know all living thinngs. we know only single facts, but those might be a historical cohessiveness. There is no logical rule to accept all as a fact. Thats why he offers "falsifying" rather than "confirmation" in science. This is not only critics of evolution but also induction method of the science. Theory of evolution is a doctrine only, the testable things/methology takes place under shade of those doctrines.

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