I was watching this video which compares Freud's and Einstein's theories, in reference to Karl Popper.

Instead of looking backward and using past data to predict the present (like Freud), he (Einstein) was looking ahead and predicting future state of affairs.

He goes on to say that science disconfirms while pseudoscience confirms.

My doubt is, how do you fit the theory of evolution into this? Because we can't practically wait to see the results of the future (for say macroevolution).

My understanding is that here future does not necessarily mean an event in the future, but also future evidence, evidence that might've been formed in the past, like a fossil. Correct me if I'm wrong.

P.S. I know that some speciation experiments have been done and antibiotic resistance evolves. I'm not a creationist, I'm a med student.

  • Can you tell us who 'he' is? Link to the video? Any other context? – Mitch Feb 23 '18 at 21:06
  • This alludes to Popper's falsification, the thesis that theories can not be verified, only falsified, and therefore must produce claims that are conceivably falsifiable by future evidence. He originally did have doubts about evolution, but eventually admitted that missing link predictions, etc., qualify as falsifiable. Moreover, in some situations evolution takes place fast enough to be observed in the lab, e.g. with fruit flies. – Conifold Feb 23 '18 at 21:25
  • We can predict that things will evolve and this seems a good and testable prediction. We don't have to specify the details. No? – PeterJ Feb 24 '18 at 12:10
  • 'Pseudoscience' is a bit of a loaded term. It sounds like 'bad science'. At worst verificationism is just descriptive. For 'good' 'scientific' 'universal' theories, sure, it is clever for Popper to have suggested that you have to have falsifi able parts. But more elementary is that it needs to be verifi able first. – Mitch Apr 16 '18 at 13:48

Your understanding is right. But that was not obvious even to Popper.

He initially did not see how he could consider evolution to meet his demarcation criterion either. He initially described it as not qualifying as a theory

"Darwinism is not a testable scientific theory, but a metaphysical research program—a possible framework for testable scientific theories."

But then he got a better grasp on fossils and genetics.

The genetic theory solidifies a mechanism for evolution, and things like the sequencing of mutations, could easily turn out to be inconsistent with one another, which would contradict evolution severely.

So Popper later argued that together genetics and Darwinism constitute a single falsifiable theory.

"When speaking here of Darwinism, I shall speak always of today's theory—that is Darwin's own theory of natural selection supported by the Mendelian theory of heredity"...

But in reality, evolution is falsifiable on the basis on which Darwin put it forward. It would be controverted by a large enough contradiction in the fossil record. This would be new data, not in the sense of actually coming from a later period of history, but of being discovered later. Since new fossil finds keep turning up new species, whenever one does, evolution has been presented with an opportunity for falsification.

Popper eventually understood that, and decided evolution could in fact stand on its own as an independent real theory.

"I have changed my mind about the testability and logical status of the theory of natural selection; and I am glad to have an opportunity to make a recantation."

But shortly after Popper, with Kuhn and Lakatos, it became obvious that historically, science also chooses to confirm, even in the presence of annoying anomalies. So this framing turns out to be an unfortunate way of looking at this distinction.

Popper's notion that this is the way science actually works -- that a single contradiction should dispose of a theory, and that any theory must therefore be disposable at any point in time -- is just not realistic, and contradicts history.

Popper himself notes that this internal inconsistency is normal, having once written:

... There seem to be exceptions, as with so many biological theories; and considering the random character of the variations on which natural selection operates, the occurrence of exceptions is not surprising. ...

So it seems odd that he would place so much weight on direct falsification.

From an historical POV, every science spends much of its time in what Kuhn calls 'normal progress' (or just 'normal science') where it tries to fill gaps and minimize contradictions. That means that the theory abides contradictions as a normal state. It works toward both consistency and completeness, instead of working toward completeness and constantly discarding chunks due to contradictions.

Theoretical falsifiability remains an important principle, determining when we have a real theory, as opposed to an overgrown observation that does not have real theoretical value. But the actual event of falsification is just not something that happens.

The important distinction between Freudianism and Evolution is that the anomalies we see in Evolution look like anomalies, and not like solutions. An anomaly in a theory that is not rigid enough to be theoretically falsifiable looks like an extension of the theory. It always grows and never admits its weak points. The fact that not all of the evidence in biology is completely consistent is not a weakness. Instead it proves that biology is taking the job of explanation seriously.

  • 2
    What inconsistencies are you talking about? – Veedrac Feb 24 '18 at 12:27
  • @Veedrac Every science has its internal contradictions. The most famous one at the moment is the Black Hold Information Paradox. We call it a paradox, but only because we don't like to label anomalies as contradicions. It is an outright contradiction that will require changing things we think we already know. Yet we don't discard the underlying theory, we just tinker with it. – jobermark Apr 16 '18 at 15:21
  • There is nothing obviously inconsistent about saying "we don't know how this thing works yet". That is not what falsifiability is about. – Veedrac Apr 16 '18 at 16:24
  • @Veedrac That is simply not what is going on here. The formula predicts one thing and we observe another. That is a contradiction. Period. And we will figure out how to purge the inconsistency, but, at least temporarily, it is an absolute inconsistency. By Popper's standard that just means throw out the formula. But we don't, so Popper is at least partially wrong. Paint it however you like, the logic is not that forgiving. – jobermark Apr 16 '18 at 17:36
  • @Veedrac Popper is right that science does better to the degree it risks falsification. He is wrong that science ever actually uses the standard of falsification to get rid of old theories. They die when no one is willing to fight to keep trying to work them into the mix. You may just say this is 'about' the first part, but the second part is still also part of his theory. – jobermark Apr 16 '18 at 17:45

P.A. Thagard's (1978) "Why Astrology is a Pseudoscience" might be helpful. It is both a reasonable length and very accessible. It is a breakdown of the discussion around the necessary and sufficient conditions for science, and thereby what constitutes a pseudoscience. Interestingly, the distinction proves notoriously hard to determine.

  • Now that gravity waves are detectable on earth, and since people theorize that quantum effects are what's actually going on with free will, is it so crazy that astrologers thought it was a big deal if a planet (or two or three) passed right over your head, considering that physical scientists just don't know how gravity interacts with quantum mechanics? – elliot svensson Apr 16 '18 at 14:15
  • If by crazy you mean "at odds with societal norms", then of course not, people believe all sorts of things that are rationally entailed by elements of their belief system. But regarding pseudoscience, there is a tremendous difference between that, and theorising about gravitational waves. Thagard's work is revealing in this sense. For example, the process, for example, is entirely different, both in terms of dialectic and epistemic practice. – BeingOfNothingness Apr 16 '18 at 14:32
  • From Wikipedia, Thagard defines pseudoscience according to how much work people are putting into it. Definitely a progressive concept of demarcation! – elliot svensson Apr 16 '18 at 14:41
  • Yeah, I don't actually extend my agreement with Thagard that far - I feel like that makes something fade in and out of science-hood based on the activities of the members undertaking it. I'm inclined to opt for a more stable definition, where the necessary and sufficient conditions are properties of the process or the act, rather than properties of the community. – BeingOfNothingness Apr 16 '18 at 14:45
  • I think it's classic Philosopher-speak: perfectly true in at least one sense, but it makes you nuts to think about. True because "science" and "pseudoscience" are words we assign things based on, hmmm, fuzzy lines. (If I used the expression "multiverse", would you think I was practicing science or pseudoscience?) But we need a working definition of pseudoscience to do things like set funding targets for national science budgets and establishing school curriculum without wasting our money or youth-brain resources. – elliot svensson Apr 16 '18 at 14:55

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