1. It is not clear that the Theory of Evolution has been well-defined in this discussion. Personally, I find it odd that ymelup claims to accept natural selection, yet rejects evolution. Shifting one's definitions around makes for some dicey rhetorical opportunities that can result from sliding the definitions around to suit one's thesis.

    It seems to me that evolution as a process has never had a clearly-stated general theory, but rather is the portmanteau term we tend to use to refer to the byproducts of several theories related to natural processes that are more clearly defined, which are falsifiable and are very often predictive, at least within the limits of our ability to design and execute experiments to test these theories.

    One further "twist" on the question of empirical proof: Is a theory invalid if all the experiments that might serve to prove or disprove it happen to be considered unethical in the present social climate? If we accept this as a premise, then would it follow that scientific validity is somehow contingent on the vagaries of social change?

    Experimental methods and empiricism in general were (or so I was taught) simply "unfashionable" during the era of Aristotle, Plato and Socrates. While Aristotle especially managed to intuit many principles that seem to have largely held their ground to this day, it is shaky at best to describe his approach as scientific. Yet it was perhaps, with the exception of a handful of his maverick and outsider contemporaries, the closest the Ancient Greeks came to what we now describe as Scientific Method.

    As such, "evolutionary process" is something that is actively being revised, challenged and redefined on a daily basis by those who work in the fields that tend to require constant improvement and challenges to existing theories and hypotheses. Since there is no unified evolutionary theory in the first place (at least that I am aware of) it seems to be a species of straw man argument to challenge the "theory" on the terms ymelup has done.

  2. On falsifiability: Assuming we had a clear, simple definition of the Theory of Evolution to refer to here, it should be sufficient to identify examples of organisms that could not concievably be produced by the processes that the theory posits as an explanation of how living things generate species, acquire inheritable traits and so forth. Given that this unified Theory of Evolution would be a complex affair, perhaps it is sufficient instead to look at the components that most of us would agree are parts of evolutionary thought: the various theories and notions that underpin the fields of genetics, biology, ecology and so on, and identify where there may be theories in those fields that are in need of revision or rejection. This policing of existing theories, though, is pretty much what these fields are all about, and anyone who reads Nature, Science or even Scientific American would be aware that many of these fields have undergone considerable change and revision in recent years.

  3. Similar problems with "predictiveness" here. The way ymelup's critique is framed, it would seem that nearly all science fails the predictiveness test. To reach the level asked for here would require prior knowledge of all future events, geological catastrophes, patterns of climate change, and the myriad variations that may come from random mutations, evolutionary change of all species in contact with the species one is attempting to "predict" outcomes for, etc. Again, if we move to the finer-grain components of some ultimate unified theory, we will find examples of component processes where one can find predictive value in the theory, usually of a limited sort, since in most cases, living organisms and their environments are devilishly difficult to conduct fully controlled experiments on. Too many things change, we cannot conduct experiments on parallel, identical worlds, for instance, and so there are severe limits to the practicality of many of the large-scale experiments one could imagine conducting, if one had unlimited budget, resources and authority.

    This, perhaps, is where God comes in. What is to say that the various observed processes we have managed to infer from what surrounds us are, taken collectively, not in fact something like such an experiment?

    This is not to imply that I think life as we know it is merely some deity's lab bench. While uncertain of the existence of any particular deity, I also feel it is presumtuous of humans to imagine we might be able to understand a (presumed) deity's motives for its actions.

    Still, nothing I'm aware of in the theories that get lumped into the ill-defined category of evolutionary thought claims to disallow the existence or involvement of a divine entity or entities. If evolution challenges religion in any way, it is merely challenging forms of religious understanding that presume to describe and define the intent and ways of creation that the Deity might employ, should such a Deity in fact exist. I personally have a hard time accepting any justification humans may present for engaging in such hubris as telling God how He/She/It did or does its Divine Works.

Revision notes:
Revised: 5/28/07