The Theory… I Mean Hypothesis of Evolution

If you are a scientist, or someone who considers himself rational, and would like to become an outcast, all you need to do is question evolutionary theory. Not only will you be shunned for rejecting such a permeating theory that has become accepted as a fact of science, you will also be viewed as one of those irrational religious crazies that believe the Earth is 6000 years old, or if not, you will still be viewed as one of those pseudoscientists that want to bring up Intelligent Design as an explanation for why life is as we know it.

It is a strange matter indeed. Having problems with the Theory of Evolution from a rational, philosophical, and scientific basis does not seem to sit well with many people. Rejecting this theory is even more problematic when those who were indoctrinated to accept it have been told that it is precisely this understanding that has given rise to advances in modern medicine and biology research.

I will admit it. Evolutionary theory is very attractive. On the surface, it seems to be capable of explaining so much. All the observations and collected fossils indicate, as we are told by the holy men in white lab coats, that all life started with a single ancestor, from which all forms of life evolved over a timescale that in spite of our knowledge of it, we find difficult to imagine. Moreover, multiple genetic mechanisms are proposed that show how new species can arise quickly through various mutations and gene duplications. The way one is presented with this theory during their education, unchallenged, makes it almost impossible to question its validity.

I believe that everyone needs a crash course in the philosophy of science and basic logic. In addition, another crash course in the history of science is also in order. Only through an understanding of these subjects can it be possible to realize why evolutionary theory is more a philosophy than it is science. I have already addressed 3 issues that I have in “Some Problems with Evolution”. But I have apparently ruffled some feathers. On the one hand are secular materialists who insist that evolutionary theory is the foundation of our modern biological sciences and it explains with an uncanny veracity much of how life seems to function. On the other hand are religious individuals who are taken aback so much with evolutionary theory that they seek to reconcile their faith with Evolution in any way possible. The perplexing issue that troubles religious ones about Evolution is its very logical conclusion that man is actually no more special than his pet dog, in that he also evolved from a common ancestor and through sheer coincidence happened to gain a higher level of intelligence that allowed him to get to where he is now. What evolutionary theory has done was take man from viewing himself as the center of Creation, and made him as just a freak accident in the cosmos. This is why people like Richard Dawkins point out that the Theory of Evolution is evidence against the existence of God.

Contrary to popular discourse, my contentions with evolutionary theory are not stemming from my religious belief per se. This may be a problem for some to get a grasp on, which I think is a result of not establishing how we each might approach not only evolutionary theory, but science in general. There are two opposing schools of thought in the philosophy of science: realism and instrumentalism. In short, realism maintains that the aim of science is to provide a true description of the world in its totality. The realists will say that the facts are all out there waiting for us to discover them. Instrumentalism on the other hand takes a nuanced approach. An instrumentalist will tell you that the aim of science is to describe a certain part of the world – the “observable” part. As far as the “unobservable” part, it really makes no difference what science has to say to the instrumentalist. In other words, if we were to put the two up against each other in a skepticism contest, the instrumentalist will always come out as the winner.

If you were to look at a basic philosophy of science textbook, the way the distinction between realism and instrumentalism is typically presented has to do with capacity for direct observation. To give an example, when it comes to palaeontology, realists and instrumentalists will agree with each other because their approaches about describing the world will coincide. After all, fossils are part of the world that the realist is trying to describe, and they are readily observable for the instrumentalist to accept as a true description. Where they will disagree is when it comes to something like String Theory. Neither the realist nor the instrumentalist can see these strings of energy. But the realist will point to how all the math works out and if the experiments from the Large Hadron Collider confirm predictions, String Theory will be the accepted description of the world. The instrumentalist on the other hand will object by pointing to the not so small number of theories that gave empirically-successful predictions, but were later discarded for being completely false, and in some cases describing things that do not even exist. The phlogiston theory of combustion is just one example.

Other objections the instrumentalist will bring up against realism have to do with the underdetermination argument, theory-laden data, as well as others. Of course the realists have provided plausibility arguments to defend their positions. However, if one reflects on how scientists choose their words when they describe their explanations of phenomena, even those who have a realist approach to science use the commonplace phrases such as: “this suggests that such and such”, “that indicates that so and so”, and “this points to a possible explanation for this and that”. These carefully worded phrases by the realists are a recognition of the conjectural nature of science and their implicit slight concession to the very real and appropriate concerns of the instrumentalists.

So why do I heretically and sacrilegiously call evolutionary theory a philosophy rather than actual science, and in doing so risk being excommunicated from the holy alter at the lab bench?

Well, the first problem is one of definition. There seems to be a conflation of concepts that have been masquerading around in discussions under the common term “Evolution”. If you look at the possible definitions from a biological perspective, you will find that the term “Evolution” refers to a process of formation or growth and development; a change in the gene pool of a population from generation to the next by natural selection and genetic mechanisms; the process by which different kinds of living organisms are thought to have developed and diversified into different species from a single ancestor; and the gradual development from a simple organism to a more complex form. After reflection about what each definition indicates, it becomes obvious how easily people can wonder why they disagree, given that they they may not necessarily be talking about the same thing.

If we take the definition that refers to the change in the gene pool of a population, it would be unreasonable for one to deny Evolution. Genetic changes are processes that we can easily observe and can even readily induce through various treatments and environmental pressures. It is these changes that result in antibiotic resistant bacteria, virus mutations that force us to get a new flu shot every year, cancer, and having a subset of the human population that is naturally immune to HIV. Denying Evolution that is restricted to this definition is akin to denying the existence of the sun. This type of Evolution is what has been referred to as “micro-evolution”, and it primarily refers to the adaptational changes that cells, or whole organisms for that matter, undergo in response to environmental pressures. It is a phenomenon that is directly observable and can be tested and confirmed. It is also why we have a whole field in biology called Genetics that you can obtain degrees in, which are most certainly not built on some fantasy.

Where Evolution becomes a hypothesis rather than an actual theory, and philosophy rather than science, is at the point of induction into the unobservable realm of history, where dots are connected not because of directly testable evidence, but because of subjectively and unjustifiably imposed end goal of proving Evolution as a theory. This is the point where logical positivists insist that the observable “evidence” strongly proves Evolution as defined to be the gradual development from simple to complex, and as the process of speciation and diversification of organisms, to be the accurate description of how everything came to be, including our accidental gain of higher intelligence.

The positivist view of science that is adopted by laypersons, as well as many scientists and science-worshipping atheists nowadays, has been rightfully described by Thomas Kuhn as both inaccurate and naïve. Such a view results from insufficient attention to both the underlying philosophical basis of the thought process guiding the activity we call science, and the history of science itself. Throughout history, new theories have consistently replaced older ones, which were incompatible with their predecessors. Case in point is the Ptolemaic claim that the planets revolved around the Earth, which was replaced with the Copernican one that the planets, including the Earth revolved around the sun. This is not some refinements of older theories that are becoming improved. These are theories that are as Kuhn describes them “incommensurable”. In other words, one is thrown out and replaced by another, each of which uses such distinct language to state its worldview that it becomes impossible to make a direct comparison between the two in order for one to speak of any refinements.

Given that no theory is sacred since all theories have their own shortcomings, including their inabilities to describe or predict certain phenomena, it makes it a reality that any theory, including the Theory of Evolution, can be subject to a paradigm shift where it will be discarded for one that is incommensurable with it. However, one does not necessarily have to wait until a new theory emerges before an older one is thrown out. If a current model is deeply flawed, it is not necessary to maintain it in place, simply for the sake of needing a filler. In fact, it will be counterproductive for it will skew how one attempts to explain natural phenomena.

A crucial distinction should be made between the observation of a phenomenon, and the explanation of it. Logical positivists that advocate evolutionary theory as an accurate description of the world seem to work with the fallacious assumptions that the phenomenon is dependent upon the explanation given by a theory, or that observation can provide an accurate description, upon which a correct explanation and theory can be made. For example, let us look at the cerebellum, the brain region that plays an important function in motor control and coordination precision. This area has been noted to be larger in professional athletes. Given the functions attributed to the cerebellum, and its larger size in professional athletes, does not necessarily mean that the reason they are professional athletes is having a larger cerebellum. Inversely, having a larger cerebellum does not necessarily mean that one is a professional athlete. What makes one a professional athlete has more to do with the countless hours of practice than it does with how big their cerebellum is. In fact, the size of any brain region seems to be correlated with how often one engages in activities that require its activation. Therefore, in this case, both the size of the cerebellum and being a professional athlete were influenced by a third factor outside of their immediate noted observation – namely, hours of practice.

Observations of the phenomena of genetic changes and mutations happening at the cellular or organismal level that are seen in a timeline that is equivalent to part of an instant in a geological timescale, do not necessarily mean a plausible induction to explain the unobservable events that took place in the history of life on this planet. Moreover, evolutionary theory posits a progression from simple to complex, that is said to be supported by genetic evidence. However, direct genetic studies have merely shown adaptational changes in response to environmental pressures, which were lost once the pressures were removed, and while in some situations reducing the fitness of the better adapted cells (for an example refer to Some Problems with Evolution).

It is a fact that Evolution, as defined to be a progression from simple to complex, and speciation and diversification from a single ancestor, has never been directly observed by anyone. It is simply a fallaciously inducted proposition that is based on observations of reversible adaptational changes in organisms that do not change in their essence to become something else. We speak of these organisms using the same species names and simply give an additional designation to indicate what genetic alteration took place.

Modern biology and advances in medicine are not based on a direct assumption of relatedness between organisms as much as they are based on a real similarity that is readily observed. This similarity is not necessarily indicative of a historical evolutionary progression. How science is conducted is based on a direct cause and effect and immediately observable phenomenology type of work that, when combined with modern advances in technology, has resulted in our current scientific progression. When used in the fallaciously induced fashion, Evolution is added to elaborate the findings to give a proposed historical context rather than give a real scientific explanation of what is taking place that is of any immediate relevance. In the macro scale, it is a proposition that is made by a few individuals who sought to connect the dots in a particular pattern that suited their purpose. Hence, it should be called the Hypothesis of Evolution because it is a supposition made on very little direct evidence that is not testable. The more one looks into it, the more it seems to rely more on faith than actual science. The only difference between a properly proposed hypothesis and this one, is that a sound hypothesis is not presupposed to be true.

Mohamed Ghilan, PhD Candidate

UVic Neurocience

21 thoughts on “The Theory… I Mean Hypothesis of Evolution

  1. Hey Mohamed,

    I liked this article, and I think writing it was a good form of response. You fleshed out some of the thoughts from the previous post, and responded to some of my critiques. I feel I have a bit of a better understanding where you’re coming from, so thanks for that, and thanks for provoking thought.

    Here’s a couple questions that come to mind.

    Say you convinced me that the theory of evolution is worth throwing out, even in lieu of no other unified theory of life, and say I am an agnostic (not science-worshipping, maybe, but science-minded). Where would you direct a person to go from there in satisfying questions about life and the universe and everything? Would you suggest an agnosticism about biology and the history of life? Perhaps give consideration to explanations of things from religious traditions?

    And lastly, would there be any particular form of evidence that would convince you that macroevolutionary processes shaped life on earth? Say some (necessarily long-running) experiment in which significant phenotypic changes occurred over a period of time in response to sustained environmental pressure?

    • Hey Cam,

      Glad you enjoyed it. The human interest in the big questions is fascinating. I think that being completely science-minded about it is limiting oneself to an extent that will restrict their capacity to even begin to address the big questions, let alone answer them. I’m not sure if you read my other article INTELLIGENCE: IS IT IN THE BRAIN OR THE HEART?. Not everything in this world can be calculated and processed using the cerebral mass.

      Before you tackle the big questions, I think it’s important to first narrow them down and take each one on its own. This is another problem area I’m finding many people falling into. For example, asking whether God exists or not, and asking questions about God Himself are two different topics. To reject the explanation of the existence of the universe as a result of a God creating it by asking who created God is to conflate two different issues. On the one hand one is addressing the matter of the existence of the universe, while the other is addressing the essence of God. Inshallah I’ll be dealing with this issue in a different article.

      I can speak with more authority from my tradition than others. We are told that we had our senses in order for us to observe and reflect on the existence around us. In fact, we are commanded to investigate the mechanisms that function in order to sustain the universe in the way that it is, and this goes from as small as subatomic particles all the way up to galaxies. This is precisely why the Muslims were at the height of intellectualism when they were actually applying their teachings as a community. Nowadays, it’s unfortunate that only a scattered few that are trying to revive the Muslim legacy. If you investigate what Islam says about life and the world, it always deals with the big questions and answers ultimate purposes. This is another topic I’ll just have to deal with in a different article to explain it in a bit more detail.

      Regarding macroevolution, the evidence that I need given the shaky philosophical grounds it rests on would be seeing it actually happen without our interference over a period of time long enough (millions of years probably) where the simple becomes complex and the complex diversifies into thriving forms. Anything other than that would be accepting it based on faith and if it comes down to that I’d have to treat it like all other faith-based systems and test the coherence of each position as part of my assessment.

    • I forgot to mention something about the agnostic attitude towards biology and history of life. I have no problem working with theories that deal with mechanisms that matter in the here and now. But once an induction at the magnitude done in the case of Evolution, where it’s more about providing a non-testable hypothesis about the history of life, it becomes more about having a worldview that competes with religion than it is about real science. My personal conclusion is that religion, and Islam in particular has the most coherent basis that deal with humanity and the big questions. When science is being asked to answer the big questions, it’s so inept at it that people like Dawkins will protest that these questions shouldn’t even be asked. I’ve got another article cooking about this issue as well!

      • haha plenty to write, plenty to say. when i have a little more time in the summer I’ll engage my own cerebral mass in this capacity a little more, and maybe we can continue the dialogue started here and in previous posts.

  2. One thing I have a problem with is when some atheists state, rather matter-of-factly, that evolution is *the most* well documented and supported theory of all time, a statement I find rather strange. I also find it hard to go against the grain for the sake of intellectual discussion without being judged for my religiousness. Moreover, I’m pretty bad at articulating complex thoughts of which I haven’t sufficient knowledge, so I usually just stay quiet. So thanks for this post, allahy barek feek.

  3. Thanks a lot for this article. Sometimes we need to bring ourselves to the level of people we are debating in order to convey an idea. I think this article is written in terms most science-worshipers can comprehend, however I am confident they do not want to comprehend. However, the article did solidify some ideas I had on the theory’s validity and I appreciate that.

    Jazaak Allah khair

  4. Thank you for you post. It was very intriguing. I realized that the same problem that atheists (mostly) describe muslims having in relation to the existence of God is that muslims do not have some empirical evidence for His existence. Similarly, atheists (mostly) believe in the theory of evolution on the basis of deductive reasoning even though they have not directly observed the phenomenon. When asked why criticize muslims for using the same logical process as atheists in proving the existence of God, one answered: how do you arrive at a supernatural conclusion based on evidence which is not supernatural. It appears to me that that person is has put up some logical barrier upon themselves. But how would you answer that question? I personally do not care much for the Theory of Evolution, it has become irrelevant for me. But the question is quite bothersome.

    • Well, for one thing how the hypothesis of evolution is arrived at is not based on deductive reasoning for that would actually make it very sound from a logical point of view. It’s all inductive fallacious reasoning that gets them to this hypothesis.

      Regarding the question about concluding a supernatural being from natural evidence, it assumes that the Being that is indicated by the evidence must have similar properties as the evidence pointing at it. There is nothing that says this must be the case. Therefore the question is a fallacious one to ask.

      Inshallah that was helpful.

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  6. You apparently don’t know much about evolutionary biology. You insists that the whole of evolutionary biology is based on conjecture and hypotheses, when in fact, there has decades of research that proves that we all come from a common ancestor. Genetic drift is one principle of biology that proves we all come from a common ancestor.

    You just ignored decades of research to fit your own biased and ignorant opinion of how evolution works. What about allopatric speciation, or sympatric speciation? What about all the different species of beetles? Are you going to insist that they’re all the same species anyway, just to fit your narrow worldview?

    And yes, science sometimes supplants theories that are incompatible with new ones, but the Ptolemaic theory of the universe is your example?! That’s not even science! The whole thing was based on religion and politics of that time (meaning, if you didn’t agree with the Ptolemaic Theory, you would have your head cut off) and not based on observation or mathematics. But I understand. You couldn’t use actual scientific theories that were supplanted, because it’s not exactly that cut and dry. For example, you couldn’t use Newton’s Laws of Gravity, because they weren’t completely supplanted by Einstein’s special relativity: Newton’s kinematics work very well as an approximation for slow moving objects and projectiles. You also couldn’t use Maxwell’s Laws of Electromagnetics or Blackbody Radiation which were, again, supplanted by Einstein’s general relativity. But Maxwell’s laws are good approximations for energies below a certain level and we use them everyday.

    Evolution is the same way, the mechanisms are based on sound science, and if anything were to replace or supplant evolution, it will be a more refined model but will still essentially say the same thing. You can’t just toss out all that data. The truth is in there. You may not agree with it, but that’s how the truth works. It is what it is.

    • Well, your lack of class and insults are indicative of your poor educational background and lack of understanding of what you were indoctrinated with. This is further supported by your inability to understand what was written above, your ignorance of science history, and your “pop-culture” science books education, rather than actual science practice.

      You obviously didn’t really read this article or the others I’ve written on this subject. Unlike you and others who blindly accept whatever the man in a white lab coat says, I evaluate claims and examine the interpretations. I understand why you might find it difficult to comprehend how someone can have a nuanced approach to evolutionary theory. It’s not a black or white matter. On one level I have no problem accepting it. But on another I find it extremely problematic.

      You attack Ptolemaic theory as non-science and then make claims about religion and politics. What a superficial, uneducated and historically-ignroant claim that I can almost guarantee you got from one of your high priests (Dawkins or Harris may be) without actually investigating the matter in a scholarly way.

      Finally, throwing around a bunch of theories and making claims about their influences on previous ones is not an argument. For one, you’re conflating them and assuming they deal with the same thing, which if anything is further indicative of your superficial treatment of this matter. The message I got from your comment is simply how ignorant you are not just of evolutionary theory, but of science as a whole, and how naive and childish you are in your approach. If that’s your state, I’ve got nothing to offer you here.

      • Lack of class? Insults? The man calls out your bias and sophistry regarding evolution and you get all offended? Yeah, I can see you’re ready for the real world. Here’s a lesson for you: When someone challenges your assertions using examples, you had best be able to explain why those examples are incorrect to defend your position. Crying that someone isn’t using your examples the way you meant them to is NOT a credible defense.

        And by the way, your little rant was nothing but a great deal of projection, again a weak response to a strong argument against a weak article. Good luck with that PhD.

      • And here ladies and gentlemen we have a clear example of how these science-worshipping militant new atheists function. As you can see, they don’t actually address any of the content of what they read, they know how to dish it out but don’t know how to take it, condescending, patronizing, and the stench of hubris is all over their remarks.

        You read the article, missed the audience it was intended for, called it weak without actually addressing anything within it, and made boisterous claims about how you make strong challenges using examples. All this is indicative of you having had difficulty comprehending the material you read. But felt you still needed to say something. Anything. You have to defend your atheism somehow. So this comment of yours came out. You guys have the same style of thinking as those young earth creationist fundamentalist Christians. Just the opposite end of the spectrum. Pedestrian understandings in theology, philosophy, and science is your hallmark. What you know about science is probably what you saw on National Geographic, or on YouTube, or read in some of those simplified popular science books. Your belief in atheism is more out of dogma than out actual thought and consideration. You have faith in what the man in the white lab coat tells you about things he doesn’t even know anything about. Then you troll the internet and spew off this nonsense of yours feeling so certain about yourself. If that’s how you feel good about yourself, kudos to you good sir!

        Thanks for stopping by!

    • Aaron,

      What exactly is your “proof” that we all came from a common ancestor? Obviously, no one witnessed this directly, not in the past, nor in the present. All one could ever do is point out that living organisms share varying amounts of their genomes in a way that supposedly matches their proposed “relatedness” based on their phenotypic morphology and their appearance in the fossil record. The most this could represent is circumstantial evidence for common ancestry; in fact, had such genetic homogeneity between some organisms not been demonstrated, you’d have to reject modern evolutionary theory right off the bat.

      The bigger problem, I believe, is not any lack of genetic (or even paleontologic) evidence, but the lack of a mechanism that could believably explain the increasing diversity and complexity of species that supposedly came about through this process. Since natural selection can only “select” for more favorable genes that are already present in the population (and genetic drift likewise can only skew gene frequencies in populations toward already existent genes), there is a tremendous amount staked in the ability of mutations (through replication errors, environmental mutagens, vectors, etc) to generate NEW genes (and gene fragments and DNA sequences that will one day become a useful gene). A NEW trait or function (rather than one that is tweaked or modified or merely selected for) requires not only entirely new genes to code for them (i.e. unique sequences of nucleotides that are usually thousands of base pairs long), but these genes also require specific instructions that would have them expressed appropriately. They also require that the organism is able to make use of this new trait or function with adaptations that would permit such traits to be supported, all of which requires new genes. One must not forget that many (if not most) mutations are harmful or lethal. What is necessary is a beneficial one–or more likely, a neutral one that will one day serendipitously become useful, but in the meanwhile has no reason to be “selected” for! If you actually think about all the circumstances that would be necessary for a particular organism to become something that is substantially different (even if minimally), you would think that it is so improbable that either it would never happen, OR that if it somehow actually happened it must have been made to happen by some guiding force that is defying the odds (which goes against the claim that evolution is a purely blind, unguided naturalistic process, and which raises the possibility of divine providence).

      There are many other problems with modern evolutionary theory, such as the problem of the first living organism forming without guidance, or the inextricable conundrum of DNA being required for proteins and proteins being required to replicate DNA. What happens among many scientists is that such problems are either overlooked or minimized, or they are acknowledged grudgingly while insisting that the solution will one day be forthcoming.

      My approach is that, rather than have FAITH that such seemingly insurmountable obstacles will be removed one day, I take the position that no good explanations are likely to become available. If that changes one day, perhaps future generations will have to rework their conclusions about the world (theological or otherwise), but I choose to live in the present and the probable.

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