What would disprove evolution?

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If evolution is a scientific theory worth its salt, then there must be some conceivable observations that could show it to be wrong.  I just wanted to put down, for the record, what some of those observations might be. First, let’s reprise what I see as the major components of the theory of evolution.

  1. Evolution occurs, that is, there is gene frequency change in populations over generations.
  2. Significant evolution takes time—that is, it usually (though not always) requires hundreds to thousands of generations to occur. It is not instantaneous, and it is the population and species rather than the individual that evolves.
  3. Lineages of organisms split, or speciate, so that the single lineage that gave rise to life 3.5 billion years ago has undergone numerous splitting events to produce the millions of species alive today (and also the even more millions that went extinct).
  4. The converse of #3: any pair of living species has a common ancestral species some time in the past.  That is, if you trace any pair of twigs on the tree of life, you will find a node where the line from the trunk bifurcates to produce them.
  5. The process producing the appearance of design in organisms is blind, purposeless natural selection. (There are, of course, evolutionary forces other than selection, including genetic drift, but they don’t produce the marvelous design that was once seen as the prime evidence for the hand of God.)
These parts of the theory don’t all stand together. For example, you could have evolution without branching: that would mean that only one long-evolved species would be alive today. Or you could have evolution, but not occurring by natural selection. (The complete absence of natural selection is hard to imagine, though, given that organisms replicate their genetic material, and some genes will replicate better than others in different environments. Lamarckism and teleologically-driven evolution, however, were once seen as the main drivers of adaptation.)  Finally, you could have evolution but not gradualism: every population could experience great saltational leaps in one generation.
 
 
In my general talk on the evidence for evolution, I give a list of seven observations that, if repeated and confirmed, would disprove parts of the theory of evolution described above. This shows that it is a scientific theory in the Popperian sense of being falsifiable.  

Written By: Jerry Coyne
continue to source article at whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com

40 COMMENTS

  1. waking up and discovering all the laws of nature i’ve come to understand were all just part of an elaborate dream along with every other conscious experience.

    failing that the discovery of a natural mechanism that stops change from happening. stops water and wind eroding rock, stops tectonics, stops even the slightest climate changes, stops organisms competing, ensuring a 1 in, 1 out policy of birthds and deaths, stops radioactive decay, stops radiation effecting matter at a molecular level.

    never mind precambrian rabbits, they’ll be faked one day if they haven’t already but what would be needed is an alternative explaination that encompasses every scientific observation of the natural world.

    i personally think a freak of precambrian nature on that level is more likely

  2. I agree about the fossil rabbits, but what if (insert deity here) wafted down from on high and, after performing some miracle (like finally letting the Yankees have a losing season), it will tell us that Darwin was wrong, it was all a bet between Jacob and the man in black, and it all came from the Island. And that the Dharma Initiative knew all along. Oh wait, I just made JJ Abrams the next god. Dang.

  3. Evolution could be proved untrue, if NONE of the present-day life forms could be shown to have branched from a common ancestor,  with NONE of the present-day species having diversity in their gene pools and could be proved not to be diversifying into varieties, subspecies, or new species.

    As the counter evidence to these claims has be well documented for thousands of species in thousands of studies, for decades, such refuting of evolutionary theory looks a VERY LONG SHOT INDEED!  Statistically negligible in fact!

  4. Does the “discontinuous mind” idea (that we classify/ pigeon-hole everything for convenience/ understanding) contribute to apparent difficulty seeing speciation as inevitable? Is it the ‘speed’ at which speciation happens (relative to Darwinian evolution) that makes finding so-called ‘intermediates’ nearly impossible? Or can I not see the branches for the twigs?

  5. What
    would disprove (biological) evolution? Finding human DNA in aliens,
    The same DNA that give rise to three meter tall bald aliens as in the
    stupid Prometheus film. Good grief how can anyone be so stupid as to
    take that seriously? Wait a minute, that is how religions start.

  6. “Evolved “true” altruistic behavior among non-relatives in non-social animals.”

    Can somebody explain the following behavior in this video. ( Hippo saves another animal? )

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v

    Evolution is there, no matter how many people deny it but sometimes it’s good to know where to post questions and get some good answers back. Is there any other place for posting evolution related questions?

  7.  

    What would disprove evolution? Finding human DNA in aliens,   The same DNA that give rise to three meter tall bald aliens as in the stupid Prometheus film (biological)

    It would only prove that space travel was possible for living organisms. 

    Evolution taking place somewhere else and life then moving from one planet to another, does not “disprove evolution”.

    as in the stupid Prometheus film

    There were parts of that where the needless intrusion of religinuttery and anti-science attitudes, spoiled a potentially good sci-fi film.

  8. “That is, if you trace any pair of twigs on the tree of life, you will find a node where the line from the trunk bifurcates to produce them.”

    Phylogenetic trees do not have trunks.

  9. I very much doubt it will be – the evidence for it is just too great now. There’ll possibly be little changes and tweaks made to the theory to accomodate some new discoveries but I think the core concept has withstood so much scrutiny it’s unlikely to fundamentally wrong. Of course, we all knew that anyway; I just wanted to say it.

    Anyway, I’m not sure what specifically would disprove evolution but I do know that, if such a thing is found, scientists will be all over it like a rash trying to work it out. Once it is figured out and if the mechanism does replace evolution then it will be adopted into the body of science and evolution will be consigned to the historical list of ‘Things we thought were so but we were wrong about.’.

    And that’s why I love science; it strives for a truth and purity that religions cannot hope to match.

  10.   Is it the ‘speed’ at which speciation happens (relative to Darwinian
    evolution) that makes finding so-called ‘intermediates’ nearly
    impossible? Or can I not see the branches for the twigs?

    The speed varies with the rate of reproduction, the number of offspring produced and the pre-existing diversity within the gene-pool.

    All living things are “intermediates”  ( there were no humans of elephants a billion years ago)  There are numerous “intermediates” between branching species alive today.  It is only preserved fossil intermediates of some species, which are missing, as there is no guarantee of any species being preserved as a fossil, or of the fossil rocks bearing not being destroyed by erosion etc.

    Ring species are an example of intermediates branching to the point where the distant ends have separated to the point where they cannot interbreed.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R

    http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/R… – The standard example of ring species is the circumpolar species “ring” of gulls of genus Larus.
    The range of these gulls forms a ring around the North Pole; there are
    seven populations and each population can breed with the previous and
    next, but the first and last cannot interbreed. 

  11.     A submission for consideration: Evidence – already known, but scarcely admitted to even exist – the New Siberia and Wrangel islands ( 75° 50′ N – 137° 32′ E )
       Said to be strewn with the remains of a great number of animal bones. The significance is in the fact that within the mixture of the frozen muck and shattered bones are known and existent animals along with other extinct species! +The total mass of all the bones on all the islands gives evidence to sudden earth cataclysms of immense proportions. Certainly far beyond the proportions allowed by any so-called Darwinist ‘evolutionary’ view of a long and uneventful earth history.

       Even in a skeptics view, as in Cremo’s argument (of a hidden agenda), the evidence of whole landscapes of bones also deteriorates any hopeful or rational explanation for the certain ‘scient-istic’* stance proposed by the title of his work.

      While standing in the midst of these observable artifacts and many many more exactly the same found all over the world, it can be seen that the evidence for sudden and otherwise, super-colossal changes in the environment, are not accounted for by science nor its religion – in spite that both are born by the existence and MEMORY of such momentous events within human history.

    Needless to say, while being evident, it remains outside all current views. Any psychological problem man has with his environment stems from the pathological denial of the memory of such horrific events embedded within the human akashic record.

    But if we might just look at it – as it is – the power of the ‘wound’ instantly vanishes.

    regards,
    JR

    PS Daniel ClearPlasma discharge – on planetary scales – can account for every aspect of radical planetary, environmental and biological change necessary to clearly define things as they are in a natural holistic science in a non-contradictory, non-fragmented way. But consider the resistance: it’s a plasma universe and a place like Ted Talks for instance, invites not a syllable about it.

  12.  I don’t see this as being even a remotely sensible question. Evolution is so absolutely established as fact that trying to dream up reasons why it may even just conceivably be false is pointless. You might as well ask what would disprove gravity or the heliocentric solar system.

    Equally pointless, if that is indeed the purpose of this, is trying to persuade creationist whackjobs that evolution is true or trying to think of arguments they might raise against it and how to counter them. Creationist whackjobs only have blind faith in their big book of lies and are forced to ignore anything that contradicts it for fear of eternal damnation. They have no interest in facts or logic.

  13. One of the standard traits that distinguishes science from pseudo-science is falsifiability. Its one of the reasons that Freudianism is pseudo-science, no matter how a patient behaves in a given circumstance the theory can always come up with some rationalization that explains it. It would be rather emberasing for evolution if we couldn’t come up with examples like this.

    Its also a common question, not just from creationists but people with a general interest. I’ve seen at least two Q&A sessions where Dawkins gets asked this question.

  14.  

      RichArtsMedia
        
    A submission for consideration: Evidence – already known, but scarcely
    admitted to even exist – the New Siberia and Wrangel islands ( 75° 50′ N
    – 137° 32′ E )    Said to be strewn with the remains of a great
    number of animal bones. The significance is in the fact that within the
    mixture of the frozen muck and shattered bones are known and existent
    animals along with other extinct species! +The total mass of all the
    bones on all the islands gives evidence to sudden earth cataclysms of
    immense proportions. Certainly far beyond the proportions allowed by any
    so-called Darwinist ‘evolutionary’ view of a long and uneventful earth
    history.
    .

    There is nothing in Darwin’s theory of evolution stating there has been a long and uneventful Earth
    history!  Evolution charts various mass extinctions caused by catastrophic global events and climatic changes. Do you have a scientific study, as a source for this claim, or is it simply made up by people who do not know what they are talking about?

    it can be seen that the evidence for sudden and otherwise,
    super-colossal changes in the environment, are not accounted for by
    science

    There are certainly some details which are unclear, but the general geological history of the Earth fairly well charted over billions of years, with the factors triggering changes well known in science.

    in spite that both are born by the existence and MEMORY of such momentous events within human history.

    The major cataclysmic events on Earth (eg the Permian extinction) occurred long before recorded human history began and before humans as such existed.

    Plasma discharge – on planetary scales – can account for every aspect of
    radical planetary, environmental and biological change necessary to
    clearly define things as they are in a natural holistic science in a
    non-contradictory, non-fragmented way.

    This sounds very confused!  Are you talking about Solar flares or Coronal mass ejections?

  15. rod, oh rod, nothing can disprove the deniers..after all, they are based on some wonderful bronze age material, and they clearly knew more than we do know, who only have 3500 years of science and evidence to back us up. They have some parchment. Case closed (note I won’t say which case is really closed).

  16. Nothing is ever going to ‘disprove’ evolution, but I’d put money on far greater emphasis ultimately being placed on ‘convergence’ and the notion that evolution might not be quite as ‘blind’ as is currently supposed. I think there is an extremely good case to be made that any intelligent civilisation on any other planet would be humanoid, for example. There may be a bewildering array of species, but certain design features are common to multiple species………legs, wings, eyes, flippers, tails etc etc…..are common to most.  Thus the precise ‘form’ may be utterly blind……but the functionality is not.

    There you have the difference between science and religion. Nobody’s going to burn me at the stake or excommunicate me for such ‘heresy’.

  17. Asyouwere….

    What I am looking for (from deniers) is not so much a fact from them, but for their use of one of the standard tools of science – here is my theory, and here is how something would prove me wrong.   “A” would have to happen in case “B”.  That would prove me wrong.  

    They claim to be scientific, but I don’t recall any of them coming up with this sort of thing.  While the real scientists can come up with holes in their theories, that is like shooting fish in a barrel.  We need THEM to come up with something THEY think would prove them wrong.  Perhaps our approach is to ask them if they are familiar with the tactic, and should they agree, jump right to asking how they would do it.  Come to think of it, that approach works with many things.  “I think what I made will work in all situations.”  If someone comes up with a situation where your idea does NOT work, then it is back to the drawing board for you, and “Call us when you think you have something that works.”

  18. …but would spotting Russell’s “china teapot” in an elliptical orbit between Mars and Earth really disprove evolution? A hardly think so, it would just show that a “china teapot” in an elliptical orbit between Mars and Earth. Then the scientists would set about the task asking how the hell that could possibly be. Good thing about science is that. }80)~

  19. We are busy doing genetic modification, for example we can enhance a species of grain solely for the benefit of another species, i.e. us. We could also build organisms that could not occur by steady drift, by changing a whole set of genes together. Given that the human race must eventually die out, some future scientist of a different species may be confounded by discovering our modifications, which he could well ascribe to intelligent design (ours). But we are a naturally evolved species, and if we can change the rules on evolutions, how can it be asserted that their violation disproves the theory of evolution. The violations described only suggest that evolved intelligence has contributed to evolutionary history.

  20. @ Amos –

    .. … ..  it would just show that a “china teapot” in an elliptical orbit between
    Mars and Earth. Then the scientists would set about the task asking how
    the hell that could possibly be.

    A best guess would probably be something like “why are there golf balls on the Moon?”!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v… – Alan Shepard uses a makeshift six iron to hit a golf ball on the moon during an EVA.

  21.  >That’s just it, they rely on faith, not evidence. They actually take
    pride in continually >believing in the face of all evidence to the
    contrary.

    Exactly. There is no point using facts or logic because it just does not matter to them.

    A colleague of mine is a very devout muslim. He often asserts that  a great strength of islam is that it has never changed in 1500 years. He is totally mystified when I say that  I regard it as a fundemental weakness.

  22.  “Well that is easy; there is nothing that disproves the biblical history; God made every thing. And God doesnt lie about that.”

    There is nothing that disproves the BenS given history. BenS made everything and BenS doesn’t lie about that.

    Now worship me.

  23.  “OK if evolution is true; then start all over again; show the world that life is no more then chemistry”

    Why is it that the religious only seem to declare that evolution has to explain where all its building blocks come from. They never seem to apply it to anything else. Chemistry doesn’t have to explain where elements come from, only how they interact. Gravity doesn’t have to explain where mass comes from, only how that mass interacts. Evolution MUST explain where life came from. Why? Why isn’t this standard applied elsewhere? Why isn’t it applied to religion itself? Why don’t religions have to explain where god came from?

    Evolution need only explain what it sets out to explain – how lifeforms alter over generations. It doesn’t need to explain everything else YOU want to lump in the subject. These are separate fields of study.

    Abiogenesis is a very, very interesting field and there’s fine work being done there – but understanding it is not necessary for the theory of evolution to be a fact. All evolution requires is that life exists – and it self-evidently does – it doesn’t need to explain where that life came from in the same way the theory of gravity doesn’t need to explain where matter came from. The fields are related but not fully understanding one does not negate the other.

    Not fully understanding the origin of life does not mean evolution doesn’t work.
    Not fully understanding the origin of matter does not mean gravity doesn’t work.

    I trust I didn’t oversimplify that…

  24. edgar kortweg
    Well that is easy; there is nothing that disproves the biblical history; God made every thing. And God doesnt lie about that.

    Well I’m sorry to disappoint you, but there is no “Biblical history”, – only Biblical mythology!  The Bible is a collection of STORIES mainly written years after supposed events.  There is a monumental lack of any independent confirmation of the NT, while much of the OT Genesis story is too fanciful to take seriously at all.

    It seems you have a particular god in mind!  Any particular reason why that one should be more credible than any of the others? – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L

    ..and after offering this as proof, you ask for scientific evidence of exactly where over millions of years and the whole planet, abiogenesis took place?????  – or suggest that experiments which only partly support it should be disregarded in favour of claims which have no supporting evidence at all!

    edgar kortweg
    OK
    if evolution is true; then start all over again; show the world that
    life is no more then chemistry: make a living cell out of the elements
    and let that one evolve into a worm. science has never done that.

    Well it can’t can it because there is not enough time!  Scientists have not had the millions of years it takes for this to happen. They can only map how it happened in the past, but they can track evolution as it is happening now!  We haven’t flown to the Andromeda galaxy either, but that does not mean it does not exist!

    Science has not proven that abiogenesis-evolution is a science fact.

    Science has proved evolution is a fact thousands of times using millions of species.  Abiogenesis it is still working on, but NO ONE has produced a credible alternative.

  25. The ironic thing is that evolution is relatively simple to disprove, one fossil out of place, one gene that appears from nowhere. the fact that neither creationist crackpot or serious scientist can find fault speaks volumes to the solidity of the theory and fact.  Evolution is not only true but beautiful in a way that no half baked creation story can begin to touch.

  26. GerardJacobs I mean if Urey-Miller came close in making amino-acids in laboratory
    scale that didn’t take millions of yrs either. And the experiments that
    Fox has done didn’t take millions or yrs either. Well what is up against
    it to finish the job that these great scientists have begun ?

    My reference to “millions of years” was the time to make a living cell out of the elements and let that one evolve into a worm. Active multicellular animal life was a looooooooonnnng time from the beginnings of single cells.

    I understand the work on abiogenesis is on-going with increasing success.

    Work on abiogenesis has been CONFIRMED in Dr. Jack Szostak’s LAB. 2009 Nobel Laurette
    in medicine for his work on telomerase. It’s been 55 years since the
    Miller-Urey Experiment..

    Here is a video which explains the comical  failures of the creationist objections, and then goes on to explain the work on abiogenesis.  – http://www.thinkatheist.com/vi

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