Does The Theory Of Evolution By Natural Selection Make Testable Predictions And How Should Evolutionary Theories Be Tested?

851 words - 4 pages

A prevalent issue in the philosophy of science concerns the extent and nature of testability of natural selection in theories of evolution. Karl Popper (1978) famously claimed that evolution (by which he meant natural selection) was a “metaphysical research programme” and therefore not scientific. By Popper’s falsifiability criterion, in order to be demarcated as scientific a theory must make testable predictions. A further criticism lies in the description of natural selection as ‘survival of the fittest’. It has been argued that this statement is tautologous leading to a charge of untestability. In this paper I will argue that natural selection does make testable predictions when viewed on a retrospective adaptionist model and furthermore that evolutionary theories in general should be tested by means of reverse engineering FIX
Natural selection is an important part of Darwin’s larger theory of evolution and has received much attention largely due to ‘survival of the fittest’ and resulting testability. Understood simply, natural selection is the view that evolutionary change arises through a gradual, non- random process which produces variation in each generation. Organisms possessing characteristics which increase the likelihood of survival will have greater opportunity to reproduce and consequently their offspring will benefit through inheritance of these favourable traits. In general, organisms that are best equipped to survive will pass these genes to offspring meaning that over time the trait will become more common in the population. In addition deleterious genes which harm survival chances will become less common as a result of this differential reproduction. In this way we can understand survival of the fittest. EXPAND AND LINK TO NEXT
However, critics of evolutionary theory have claimed that this is tautologous and therefore expresses nothing of explanatory value. In this way they attempt to undermine evolutionary theory as a whole by disproval of one of its principal tenets. If we understand survival of the fittest to be survival of those most likely to survive then we cannot offer this as a scientific claim. This makes it difficult to comprehend how it could be used to explain anything in the natural world or generate scientifically testable predictions. Williams (1985) suggests that confusion arises from a mistaken notion of what sort of prediction is needed to form the basis of a test of a theory. She opines that we cannot treat evolutionary theory in the same way as others, such as Newton’s theory of gravity, as we cannot make predictions about the future states of taxons in this way. So how should natural selection be tested? Gould (_)...

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