It’s common to hear evolution presented as a nearly impregnable theory. All you have to do is praise science with its undoubted merits, then slip in a quick statement about how evolution is accepted by scientists. Bingo! But science has a method, and it has limits, and those facts get elided when evolution is praised this way.
In an article at The Conversation, “What exactly is the scientific method and why do so many people get it wrong?“,Peter Ellerton, lecturer at the University of Queensland, offers a concise and informative explanation of how scientists reason.
He begins by describing inductive reasoning. Then he talks about how science can show us that we’re wrong, but can’t prove us right. Scientists often use the hypothetico-deductive method to see if their conceptions are incorrect. Ellerton concludes by discussing how settled science isn’t “proved” but can still be used as a basis for further inquiry.
He then slips in the following at the end of his article:
Another [source of confusion] is that even though some broad ideas may be settled, the details remain a source of lively debate. For example, that evolution has occurred is certainly settled by any rational account. But some details of how natural selection operates are still being fleshed out.
To confuse the details of natural selection with the fact of evolution is highly analogous to quibbles about dates and exact temperatures from modelling and researching climate change when it is very clear that the planet is warming in general. [Emphasis added.]
Now, climate change is not our issue — so I offer no comment on that. However, I disagree that evolution is “certainly settled by any rational account.” Follow our work here at Evolution News for numerous resources from scientists disputing that idea.
As an aside, there seems to be a contradiction between Ellerton’s assertion that science works inductively, and his point that “broad ideas may be settled” but “the details remain a source of lively debate.” Induction reasons from a specific instance to a broader concept. So his presentation of evolution as a broad, settled idea with details “still being fleshed out” seems at odds with this methodology. If the “details” are yet to be worked out, then the broader concept should still be in doubt.
Speaking of broad ideas and specific details, here’s a rational account of evolution as failed science: Michael Behe’s argument from irreducible complexity, going strong for twenty years. It was precisely from details, unknown to Darwin as if they had been hidden in a black box, that Behe drew his powerful argument for intelligent design.