A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z

William Paley  Colin Patterson  Nancy Pearcey  Alvin Plantinga  Karl Popper  William Provine  

Previous Page

Karl Popper  (1902 94)  Professor of Logic and Scientific Method at the London School of Economics  Web  Amazon  GBS  AV

The fact that the evolutionary hypothesis is not a universal law of nature [Even a statement such as 'All vertebrates have one common pair of ancestors' is not, in spite of the word 'all', a universal law of nature; for it refers to the vertebrates existing on earth, rather than to all organisms at any place and time which have that constitution which we consider characteristic of vertebrates.] but a particular (or, more precisely, singular) historical statement about the ancestry of a number of terrestrial plants and animals is somewhat obscured by the fact that the term 'hypothesis' is so often used to characterize the status of universal laws of nature. But we should not forget that we quite frequently use this term in a different sense. For example, it would undoubtedly be correct to describe a tentative medical diagnosis as a hypothesis even though such a hypothesis is of singular and historical character rather than of the character of a universal law. In other words, the fact that all laws of nature are hypotheses must not distract our attention from the fact that not all hypotheses are laws, and that more especially historical hypotheses are, as a rule, not universal but singular statements about one individual event, or a number of such events.    The Poverty of Historicism  (1960)  p.107

The evolution of life on earth, or of human society, is a unique historical process. Such a process, we may assume, for example, the laws of mechanics, of chemistry, of heredity and segregation, of natural selection, etc. Its description, however, is not a law but only a singular historical statement.    The Poverty of Historicism  (1960)  p.108

I found that those of my friends who were admirers of Marx, Freud, and Adler, were impressed by a number of points common to these theories, and especially by their apparent explanatory power. These theories appeared to be able to explain practically everything that happened within the fields to which they referred. The study of any of them seemed to have the effect of an intellectual conversion or revelation, opening your eyes to a new truth hidden from those not yet initiated. Once your eyes were thus opened you saw confirming instances everywhere: the world was full of verifications of the theory. Whatever happened always confirmed it. Thus its truth appeared manifest; and unbelievers were clearly people who did not want to see the manifest truth; who refused to see it, either because it was against their class interest, or because of their repressions which were still "un-analysed" and crying aloud for treatment.

The most characteristic element in this situation seemed to me the incessant stream of confirmations, of observations which "verified" the theories in question; and this point was constantly emphasized by their adherents. A Marxist could not open a newspaper without finding on every page confirming evidence for his interpretation of history; not only in the news, but also in its presentation-which revealed the class bias of the paper-and especially of course in what the paper did not say. The Freudian analysts emphasized that their theories were constantly verified by their "clinical observations." As for Adler, I was much impressed by a personal experience. Once, in 1919, I reported to him a case which to me did not seem particularly Adlerian, but which he found no difficulty in analysing in terms of his theory of inferiority feelings, although he had not even seen the child. Slightly shocked, I asked him how he could be so sure. "Because of my thousandfold experience," he replied; whereupon I could not help saying: "And with this new case, I suppose, your experience has become thousand-and-one-fold."    Science, Pseudo-Science, and Falsifiability  1962  

The spread of agnosticism through Marxism led to a situation in which no political creed aiming at popularity among the working class could bind itself to any of the traditional religious forms. This is why fascism added to its official ideology, in its early stages at least, some admixture of nineteenth-century evolutionists materialism. 

Thus the formula of the fascist brew is in all countries the same: Hegel plus a dash of nineteenth-century materialism (especially Darwinism in the somewhat crude form give to it my Haeckel). The 'scientific' element in racialism can be traced back to Haeckel, who was responsible, in 1900, for a prose competition whose subject was: 'What can we learn from the principles of Darwinism in respect of the internal and political development of a state?' The first prize was allotted to a voluminous racialist work by W. Schallmeyer.    The Open Society and Its Enemies  (1971)  p.61

Neither Darwin nor any Darwinian has so far given an actual causal explanation of the adaptive evolution of any single organism or any single organ. All that has been shown -- and this is very much -- is that such explanations might exist (that is to say, they are not logically impossible).    Objective Knowledge (1972) p.267

I now wish to give some reasons why I regard Darwinism as metaphysical, and as a research programme. It is metaphysical because it is not testable. One might think that it is. It seems to assert that, if ever on some plane we find life which satisfies conditions (a) and (b) then (c) will come into play and bring about in time a rich variety of distinct forma. Darwinism, however, does not assert as much as this. For assume that we find life on Mars consisting of exactly three species of bacteria with a genetic outfit similar to that of three terrestrial species. Is Darwinism refuted? By no means. We shall say that these three species were the only forms among the many mutants which were sufficiently well adjusted to survive. And we shall say the same if there is only one species (or none). Thus Darwinism does not really predict the evolution of variety.  It therefore can not really explain it. At best, it can predict the evolution of variety under "favourable conditions". But it is hardly possible to describe in general terms what favourable conditions are -- except that in their presence, a variety of forms will emerge. 
And yet I believe I have taken the theory almost at its best -- almost in its most testable form. One might say that it "almost predicts" a great variety of forms of life in other fields, its predictive or explanatory power is still more disappointing. Take "adaptation". At first sight natural selection appears to explain it, and in a way it does; but hardly in a scientific way.  To say that a species now living is adapted to its environment is, in fact, almost tautological, indeed we use the terms "adaptation" and "selection" in such a way that we can say that, if the species were not adapted, it would have been eliminated by natural selection. Similarly, if a species has been eliminated it must have been ill adapted to the conditions. Adaptation of fitness is defined by modern evolutionists as survival value and can be measured by actual success in survival: there is hardly any possibility of testing a theory as feeble as this.
   Unended Quest  (1992)  pp.198-199
   see also: Stephen Jones 2

The theory assumes, on the one hand, a high degree of stability of the hereditary material, and, on the other hand, a certain degree of mutability. Both assumptions are undoubtedly correct. But they allow us to explain, whenever convenient, some phenomenon as due to hereditary stability, and another as due to mutability. And this, in an explanation, is unsatisfactory, even when the assumptions are undoubtedly true. The unsatifactoriness of the explanation lies in the fact that we can explain too much with this kind of assumption: almost everything that can happen, and even things that cannot happen.    Knowledge an the body-mind Problem  (1994)  p.53

We know that some of the lower forms have survived for very long periods -- from a time long before the rise of higher forms -- and that those lower forms still survive. On the other hand, many of the higher forms that have risen long after the still surviving lower forms, and that survived for a considerable time, have disappeared. We cannot know why, but it may well be that they were killed by bacteria or viruses -- that is, by much lower forms. At any rate, these higher forms were less fit than many lower forms. These considerations show that a close connection between higher forms of life and fitness cannot be seriously upheld, and a very vague connection can hardly have much value as an explanation.    Knowledge an the body-mind Problem  (1994)  p.53

Biologists have long since felt that they cannot, as a rule, find out how fit a species is by inspecting it. They also cannot compare by inspection the fitness of two competing types. There is no other way to determine their fitness than to see which of the two competing types increased in numbers and which decreases.    Knowledge an the body-mind Problem  (1994)  p.53

A limited amount of dogmatism is necessary for progress. Without a serious struggle for survival in which the old theories are tenaciously defended, none of the competing theories can show their mettle -- that is, their explanatory power and their truth content. Intolerant dogmatism, however, is one of the main obstacles to science. Indeed, we should not only keep alternative theories alive by discussing them, but we should systematically look for new alternatives. And we should be worried whenever there are no alternatives -- whenever a dominant theory becomes too exclusive. The danger to progress in science is much increased if the theory in question obtains something like a monopoly.

But there is an even greater danger: a theory, even a scientific theory, may become an intellectual fashion, a substitute for religion, an entrenched ideology.    The Myth of Framework  (1994)  p.16

I think that this is quite a serious problem at a time when intellectuals, including scientists, are prone to fall for ideologies and intellectual fashions. This may well be due to the decline of religion, to the unsatisfied and unconscious religious needs of our fatherless society. During my lifetime I have witnessed, quite apart from the various totalitarian movements, a considerable number of intellectually highbrow and avowedly non-religious movements with aspects whose religious character is unmistakable once your eyes are open to them.    The Myth of Framework  (1994)  p.16

There is a difficulty with Darwinism. While Lamarckism appears to be not only refutable but actually refuted (because the kind of acquired adaptations which Lamarck envisaged do not appear to be hereditary), it is far from clear what we should consider a possible refutation of the theory of natural selection. If, more especially, we accept the statistical definition of fitness which defined fitness by actual survival, them the theory of the survival of the fittest becomes tautological, and irrefutable. 

Darwin's great achievement was this, I believe. He showed that what appeared to be a purposeful adaptation may be explained by some mechanism -- such as , for example, the mechanism of natural selection. This was a tremendous achievement. But once it is shown that a mechanism of this kind is possible, we ought to try to construct alternative mechanisms, and then try to find some crucial experiments to decide between them, rather than foster the belief that the Darwinian mechanism is the only possible one.    The Myth of Framework  (1994)  p.90

It is important to point out that laws and trends are radically different things. There is little doubt that the habit of confusing trends with laws, together with the intuitive observation of trends (such as technical progress), inspired the central doctrines of evolutionism and historicism - the doctrines of the inexorable laws of biological evolution and the irreversible laws of motion of society.     The Poverty of Historicism  (2002)  p.106

Next Page

William Paley  Colin Patterson  Nancy Pearcey  Alvin Plantinga  Karl Popper  William Provine  

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z


Home  Evolution  Stephen Jones