Monday, June 02, 2008

A good predictive theory

It is my observation, nothing more, that Darwinian evolution has proven a poor source of predictions about the actual world. The obvious predictions: that we would in time find a wide range of transitional fossils, that the processes of life could be developed in iterative steps, these need not be addressed. I have a more interesting case of the theory's poor predictive behavior, in two different examples.

I have a friend who suffers from horrible back problems. She has been subjected to innumerable surgeries (I'm sure she knows how many, but it's a lot). Many of her early surgeries were intended to remove some of the curvature from her back; as it was reasoned 3 decades ago that the amount of curvature in our spine is an evolutionary holdover, and in her case, reducing it would be advantageous. Of course, we now understand that the curvature of our spines is not a "holdover," but the very way they need to be shaped to support our bodies during upright locomotion, and her most recent surgeries have been to re-introduce the curvature. Oops.

Second, there is an article in National Geographic from several months ago (I am way behind) about the push to develop man-made analogues to some of the more remarkable naturally-occurring materials like spider silk. The article observes that scientists work from the assumption that the systems that produce these remarkable materials are constructed "accidentally," or piece-wise, and so try to find those parts that are "essential" for manufacturing. The problem is this is not working out so well. They are having little luck in simplifying the manufacturing processes, for the natural processes themselves exceed in every way our modern design capabilities. The article even admits that it appears that many of these processes may in fact be entirely essential, a counter-intuitive result when step-wise evolution is assumed to be the design force (their point, not mine).

I would like to see what would happen if a group of scientists and engineers started with the assumption that these systems were designed - would they have any greater luck in understanding and reproducing them? Maybe not, but we couldn't do any worse that the evolutionists have done so far.


Andy said...

"Although an organ may not have been originally formed for some special purpose, if it now serves for this end we are justified in saying that it is specially contrived for it."

Charles Darwin, 1874.

Your resistance to a theory that 99.85% of American scientists hold to, in a profession whose single most rewarded action is that of overturning or refining theories by the evidence, is still mind-boggling to me.

Dr. Don said...

Darwin's quote says nothing. Evolution of function is no more capable of being explained by scientists today than is evolution of form.

Dr. Don said...

At various times, 99.85% of scientists have held any variety of incorrect views. In 100 years, I would expect that the vast majority of our current cosmologic views are no longer seen as valid.

I am resistant only to the application of a theory beyond its usefulness. I accept the reality of many different types of evolution, even the possibility of common descent. However, Darwinian evolution (and neodarwinism, and any other stepchild of Darwin) has proven to be ineffective as a predictive model. That is all I am saying.

Dr. Don said...

Unlike you, I have spent a good deal of time in an academic environment, and I can assure you that scientists are as human as the rest of us. While they may pay lip service to the notion of "overturning or refining theories by the evidence," the vast majority of them spend most of their time simply trying to keep their grants and positions. This is not to say anything against them - we must do what we can in this life - it is just that I know better than to romanticize the scientist.

Further, only the tiniest percentage of scientists have the intellectual capacity to make anything even a significant refinement in their field, let alone overturning established theories. Most of us end up publishing research that advances our fields in small ways as compensation for the education that the system provided us. This was the nature of my dissertation, as well as every dissertation published in the United States in the year I graduated (the last time I checked, not a single dissertation from 1993 had received any significant award from any scientific group, other than those devoted to awarding dissertations).

Such is the nature of science. Scientists are men and women who believe what they are told, just like the rest of us.

Andy said...

Common, Don. You know good and well that while scientific theories are constantly being overturned, it is more accurate to say that they are being refined. Newton was only WRONG in the sense that he was not as accurate as Einstein.

The history of our evolution is hotly debated and undoubtedly will be refined. Whether or not our history IS evolution is a matter that has been quite settled. Deciding that evolution didn't happen would be like deciding gravity doesn't exist.

Won't you admit that at least one of your main reasons for rejecting evolution is that it seems to contradict your holy book?

andy said...

To correct a typo... that was supposed to say "Come on, Don."

I wrote it at 5:50am; you'll have to forgive me.