Home » Culture, Darwinism, Science » Karl Popper never really retracted his skeptical view of Darwinism

Karl Popper never really retracted his skeptical view of Darwinism

According to John Horgan, who hates ID types:

In A Dubitable Darwin? Why Some Smart, Nonreligious People Doubt the Theory of Evolution, John Horgan writes (Jul 6, 2010),

The philosopher Daniel Dennett once called the theory of evolution by natural selection “the single best idea anyone has ever had.” I’m inclined to agree. But Darwinism sticks in the craw of some really smart people I don’t mean intelligent-designers (aka IDiots) and other religious ignorami but knowledgeable scientists and scholars.

Horgan goes on to trash knowledgeable scientists and scholars, then notes

Early in his career, the philosopher Karl Popper (yes, cited by F and P-P) called evolution via natural selection “almost a tautology” and “not a testable scientific theory but a metaphysical research program.” Attacked for these criticisms, Popper took them back. But when I interviewed him in 1992, he blurted out that he still found Darwin’s theory dissatisfying”One ought to look for alternatives!” Popper exclaimed, banging his kitchen table.

Time to say it: Popper was a great thinker who lacked the courage of his convictions. He needed reverence more than he needed fact.

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14 Responses to Karl Popper never really retracted his skeptical view of Darwinism

  1. I doubt Horgan cares what he says as long as it sells books.

  2. Mung, hi, are you saying that you doubt Horgan’s story? Well, he could be fibbing, but do we have any reason to think so? He has taken a lot of criticism in the past for what he honestly believes.

  3. OT: NP-hard control algorithms on top of already NP hard protein folding;

    Now not only is protein folding found to be a NP-hard problem, which means that the most powerful computers in the world couldn’t provide an answer to what a protein will look like, or do, in its final folded state in any reasonable amount of time, but now also, control algorithms, which would allow one to find optimal responses, for say any particular type of protein to various varying environmental inputs, is also found to be a NP-hard problem. i.e. Not only is finding optimal folded proteins found to be a extremely tedious process, which is very antagonistic to any proposed gradual Darwinian scenario, but control algorithms themselves, which would allow one to design proteins on the fly in response to varying environmental stress is also found to be NP hard.

    After almost 20 years, math problem falls – July 2011
    Excerpt: Mathematicians and engineers are often concerned with finding the minimum value of a particular mathematical function. That minimum could represent the optimal trade-off between competing criteria — between the surface area, weight and wind resistance of a car’s body design, for instance. In control theory, a minimum might represent a stable state of an electromechanical system, like an airplane in flight or a bipedal robot trying to keep itself balanced. There, the goal of a control algorithm might be to continuously steer the system back toward the minimum.,,, For complex functions, finding global minima can be very hard. But it’s a lot easier if you know in advance that the function is convex, meaning that the graph of the function slopes everywhere toward the minimum. Convexity is such a useful property that, in 1992, when a major conference on optimization selected the seven most important outstanding problems in the field, one of them was whether the convexity of an arbitrary polynomial function could be efficiently determined. ,, Almost 20 years later, researchers in MIT’s Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems have finally answered that question. Unfortunately, the answer, which they reported in May with one paper at the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) Conference on Optimization, is no.
    http://www.physorg.com/news/20.....falls.html

  4. Since making this claim, Popper himself has modified his position somewhat; but, disclaimers aside, I suspect that even now he does not really believe that Darwinism in its modern form is genuinely falsifiable. If one relies heavily on natural selection and sexual selection, simultaneously downplaying drift, which of course is what the neo-Darwinian does do, then Popper feels that one has a nonfalsifiable theory. And, certainly, many followers agree that there is something conceptually flawed with Darwinism. ~ Michael Ruse

  5. Horgan: “Attacked for these criticisms, Popper took them back.”
    I am not convinced he took back his criticisms. I think he still maintained that falsification issues have to be addressed when advancing natural selection as a causal mechanism; I think he still recognised the metaphysical research programme. What he did do was acknowledge that the hypothesis of natural selection could be formulated in a way that avoids tautology. At the same time, he argued that “not all phenomena of evolution are explained by natural selection alone”. The only people who will argue with that appear to me to be the Neodarwinians.
    We need to keep challenging the assumption that all change is adaptive change – we are in good company with plenty of evolutionary biologists who are prepared to voice their doubts about the ability of natural selection acting on mutations to explain the origin of species.

  6. Mung, hi, are you saying that you doubt Horgan’s story?

    No. In fact I think I confused Horgan for someone else. He’s written some interesting books.

  7. Let’s not forget that the ultimate reason natural selection is so fundamental to neo-darwinian theory is that it’s the only way to reduce the astounding probabilities involved.

    Without natural selection it’s back to monkeys typing on keyboards and a tornado in a junkyard.

  8. 8
    Elizabeth Liddle

    Mung:

    Let’s not forget that the ultimate reason natural selection is so fundamental to neo-darwinian theory is that it’s the only way to reduce the astounding probabilities involved.

    Without natural selection it’s back to monkeys typing on keyboards and a tornado in a junkyard.

    Exactly, couldn’t have said it better myself.

  9. 9
    Elizabeth Liddle

    Theories are usually fairly unfalsifiable.

    What matters is being able to derive from them specific falsifiable hypotheses. These put flesh on the bones of the theory.

    Even then, most science doesn’t proceed by falsification tests but by comparing model fits, which isn’t the same thing.

  10. Elizabeth Liddle

    Theories are usually fairly unfalsifiable… most science doesn’t proceed by falsification tests but by comparing model fits, which isn’t the same thing.

    Though Watson and Crick were relatively unknown and certainly undercredentialed, they had solved one of the great scientific mysteries of the ages. Moreover, the achieved this feat not by working their way up through the establishment, which typically involves publishing a series of narrowly focused technical papers based on their own experimental research, but by explaining an array of preexisting evidence in a new more coherent way…Watson and Crick performed many experiments during their long careers. But the work for which they are best known came as the result of building models based on data they acquired almost exclusively from other sources — from scientific journals, other scientists, and other labs.

    Many of the great discoveries in science were achieved not just by experimentalists who produced new factual knowledge, but by theoreticians who taught us to think differently about what we already know. Examples of this kind of scientific work leaped to mind: Copernicus’s De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, Netwon’s Principia, and the papers Einstein produce in his annus mirabilis, his miracle year of 1905. While working as a patent clerk without access to any experimental apparatus, Einstein rethought the whole framework of modern physics and, in the process, explained many previously confounding factual anomalies… Darwin’s method of investigation typified that of many other historical scientists who functioned more like detectives solving a mystery by collecting clues and developing a case than like stereotypical experimental scientists who test hypotheses under carefully controlled laboratory conditions. ~ Signature of the Cell 2009 p. 137,138,139

    Scientists committed to philosophical naturalism do not claim to have found the precise answer to every problem, but they characteristically insist that they have the important problems sufficiently well in hand that they can narrow the field of possibilities to a set of naturalistic alternatives. Absent that insistence, they would have to concede that their commitment to naturalism is based upon faith rather than proof. Such a concession could be exploited by promoters of rival sources of knowledge, such as philosophy and religion, who would be quick to point out that faith in naturalism is no more “scientific” (i.e. empirically based) than any other kind of faith. ~ Philip Johnson

  11. 11
    Elizabeth Liddle

    Brevets:

    I don’t quite understand the relation between my post, the link you added to it, and your response below.

    I think my statement is true – most theories are not readily falsifiable because they are very general explanatory accounts. It is the specific hypotheses they generate that are in principle falsifiable (at least probabilistically), but my secondary point is that in fact, most science does not proceed by a process of falsification (except of the null).

    Instead, model fits are compared.

    Well, I already said all that, I guess :)

    Are you disagreeing, or what?

  12. Let’s not forget that the ultimate reason natural selection is so fundamental to neo-darwinian theory is that it’s the only way to reduce the astounding probabilities involved.

    Without natural selection it’s back to monkeys typing on keyboards and a tornado in a junkyard.

    And with natural selection it is the same monkeys, but occasionally you execute a bunch of them, and it is the same junkyard, but occasionally you blow it up.

    All of which–obviously!–can only help.

    Death (aka Natural Selection), is there anything it can’t do?

  13. In fact I think I confused Horgan for someone else.

    Hurlk Horgan?

  14. Elizabeth Liddle @ 11

    Agreeing on the ‘comparing model fits’. Also agreeing that evolutionism is ‘unfalsifiable’ (but pointing out that, (especially) in this case, the commitment is metaphysical).

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