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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Quote of the Day: Evolution as both law and fact? James Watson weighs in

DNA double helix discoverer James D> Watson on “Why Darwin’s still a scientific hotshot, writes,
Let us not beat about the bush — the common assumption that evolution through natural selection is a "theory" in the same way as string theory is a theory is wrong. Evolution is a law (with several components) that is as well substantiated as any other natural law, whether the law of gravity, the laws of motion or Avogadro's law. Evolution is a fact, disputed only by those who choose to ignore the evidence, put their common sense on hold and believe instead that unchanging knowledge and wisdom can be reached only by revelation.

Now, this sort of confusion, at high levels no less, helps explain why so many people are restless about how evolution is taught in school. Having boomed that "evolution is a law", Watson does not formulate the law.

What is the law? Can Watson, or anyone, say where evolution will take us in the next 50 million years, in the same way that Avogadro could tell us what would happen if we pumped more gas into a sealed container?

Watson then announces that evolution is a "fact." That means that it can't be a law, but rather a set of observations from which we may be able to formulate a law. But we can formulate a law only if those circumstances constantly recur. Only then can we predict specific outcomes in an accurate enough way to talk about law.

The problem is that the history of life is a history, like any other, and life forms do not constantly recur. They strut their hour upon the stage and depart.

Attempts to formulate laws of evolution are like attempts to formulate laws of any other type of history. The laws are formulated in good faith, but life does not need to follow them.

What happened to Dollo's Law? (life forms cannot regain structures they have lost) or the Central Dogma (one gene codes for one protein) or "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny" (that baby of yours was once a fish, honest!)? Well, no one told the life forms they had to follow those laws/dogmas/slogans, and it seems they didn't bother.

Take heart, both Darwinists and non-Darwinists. Historians do no better with their alleged laws of human history. You are doing well enough if you can demonstrate that your theory of evolution is a sound theory.
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