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May 4, 2007

Personal Infallibility Syndrome (PIS ) is a term I have coined for a mental disorder in which the sufferer is so possessed by delusions of grandeur that he is never willing to admit publicly to having been wrong about any subject matter. When someone else points out that a claim by the PIS patient is false, the patient will either ignore the point made against him or will go to the most absurd lengths to try to rationalize his errors to make them look right again. Here are examples of PIS in action:

Evolution should not be taught in high school science classes because it is not a scientific theory. It fails the requirement of falsifiability that is the litmus test for judging whether an investigation is scientific.

The modern scientific method is defined in terms of hypotheses, theories and laws. The difference between each is the level of acceptance in the scientific community. What they all have in common is that they must be falsifiable. This means that it must be possible to run an experiment that would prove the theory (or hypothesis or law) wrong, if it were not true.

Empiricism (a basis in experiment) is what gives science it's credibility. It means that a scientist in Poland does not have to take your word for it - they can do their own experiment and attempt to disprove it for themselves. The falsifiability part prevents people from coming up with theories that can only be proved right. Evolution fails both of these tests. There is no experiment that can test the theory. Any new evidence that comes to light cannot disprove the theory - only either back it up or call for a modification of the evolutionary tree or a modification of the theory.

Natural selection is a scientific theory. Evolution differs from natural selection by including the ideas of common ancestry and beneficial mutation. Just because a theory is not scientific does not mean that it has no merit. However, claiming that a theory is scientific lends it undeserved authority and diminishes the authority of science.

The modern scientific method arose during the scientific revolution - after the renaissance. Observation of nature and speculation do form part of the scientific method. That is how new hypotheses are formed. However, they should be immediately checked to see whether they are scientific or not.

Some people have been claiming the evolution is falsifiable. As an example of a way to attempt to disprove evolution by experiment, they give 'the dinosaur experiment.' In this experiment, researchers attempt to use genetic engineering and selection over many decades to breed dinosaurs from crocodiles. There are many reasons why this is not a valid test of the theory of evolution.

First of all, you cannot prove the evolution is false using this experiment, only that it is true. Suppose after a million years there was no clear 'rogress.' The researchers would just say you need another million years to see progress. No matter how little progress was made, there would never come a time when you could halt the experiment and say evolution had been disproved.

The researchers could also argue that the conditions were not right and that a much larger population of crocodiles was needed, as well as more time.

The current theory predicts millions of years and beneficial mutations. Not decades.

Including genetic engineering would make it impossible to make any conclusions about evolution - it would actually point towards intelligent design.

Even if an hypothesis is falsifiable, if you fail to carry out the experiment you are stuck with an untested hypothesis, not a broadly accepted theory. Continuing to make observations that concur with the original observations on which the hypothesis was made proves nothing, as far as science is concerned.

I know of no one else who would take such claims seriously. Since evolutionary theories are based on physical evidence and do not violate any known laws of physics and chemistry, the claim that they are not scientific is completely moot. Evolution is indeed falsifiable, it can be studied via experiment, and thus it is subject to scientific analysis. The objections to the “Dinosaur Experiment” are a straw man, since the purpose of such an experiment would actually be to falsify a specific dogma of Creationism, not to either prove or disprove evolution. And any attempt to make a distinction between "natural selection" and "evolution" is absurd, since without the mechanism of natural selection, evolution itself would not have a basis for being accepted as part of scientific knowledge.

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Posted: Friday May 4, 2007, 10:52 pm
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