The Subtleties of Science
In this example of the discovery of Neptune, the initially false prediction of Uranus’ orbit eventually led to a greater understanding of the solar system. We discovered a planet. But sometimes false predictions reveal a problem with the theory. About fifty years later scientists began to doubt Newtonian physics not at long distances, but at short distances. The result was quantum mechanics and the understanding that Newtonian physics is incomplete. Quantum mechanics, which is important at the atomic level, was needed to complete the picture.
So false predictions can advance science in different ways. They can teach us about the world or they can teach us about the theory. Either way they lead to a greater understanding of nature.
This greater understanding might also be that a theory is false. This is where science becomes more art than science. For what is the difference between a theory needing adjustment and a theory being false? In principle a theory can always be adjusted to accommodate false predictions? With geocentrism—the idea that the Earth is at the center of the universe—we would expect the planets to follow simple orbits around the Earth. But sometimes they go in reverse. The great astronomer Ptolemy had to introduce dozens of epicycles into the theory where the planets followed strange, contorted trajectories rather than circles. It worked, Ptolemy’s theory described planetary motion very accurately. But was it true?
The theory of evolution has generated a long list of false predictions. Consequently the theory is constantly being revised. Is this good scientific progress or is the idea that the world arose on its own wrong?
One way to evaluate what these false predictions are telling us is to consider the reaction. Just how is the theory of evolution being revised? Is it more like quantum mechanics or geocentrism’s epicycles?
Recently we reported on a false prediction of evolution and gave some of the details. Evolution predicts that different kinds of genes, each found within a group of species, should tell the same story about evolution. They should produce similar evolutionary trees. Evolutionists have touted this fact of nature, and how it confirms a key prediction of evolution, for years. They call it a consilience of independent evidences. But increasingly, as we look under the hood and examine the details, we find there is more contradiction than consilience. The new study provided yet another, systematic and more in-depth, confirmation of these contradictions, or what are called incongruence. Evolutionists were a bit shocked.
What is interesting is how this false prediction was accommodated. The evolutionists tried to fix the problem with all kinds of strategies. They removed parts of genes from the analysis, they removed a few genes that might have been outliers, they removed a few of the yeast species, they restricted the analysis to certain genes that agreed on parts of the evolutionary tree, they restricted the analysis to only those genes thought to be slowly evolving, and they tried restricting the gene comparisons to only certain parts of the gene.
These various strategies each have their own rationale. That rationale may be dubious, but at least there is some underlying reasoning. Yet none of these strategies worked. In fact they sometimes exacerbated the incongruence problem. What the evolutionists finally had to do, simply put, was to select the subset of the genes or of the problem that gave the right evolutionary answer. They described those genes as having “strong phylogenetic signal.”
And how do we know that these genes have strong phylogenetic signal. Because they give the right answer.
This is an example of a classic tendency in science known as confirmation bias. You search for the evidence that confirms your hypothesis, and ignore or explain away the rest. This is what happens when the theory is in control. The theory determines the right answer. One way or another, the study will arrive at the right answer, no matter what is required.
Methods will be attempted, data will be filtered, results will be selected and in the end you will have the right answer. Of course if evolution is true then all of this is warranted. If the world spontaneously arose as a consequence of random events and natural law—chance and necessity—then we need to search for how that could have happened. This is, of course, what evolutionists do. But do their studies reveal evolution to be a fact, as evolutionists claim they do?