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I did my philosophical homework today in which I answered the question of whether evolution could be disproved.

I basically argued that one way it could be disproved was if one could prove that humans are somehow "perfect" (see below for definition) and for which the probability of evolving by natural selection was 0. This would mean that evolution could not explain the existence of humans in nature, and so natural selection would be disproved. While this is philosophical, the reason I posted it on here is because I am not a biologist, and am rather interested in what biologists would make of this idea, and whether it is just complete nonsense (which, not being a biologist, I do not deny).

My definition of "perfect" was that it would have to be mathematically proved perfection. It would be no good to just say humans can do mathematics while other animals can't, therefore humans are perfect. This is too vague. So I defined something as being "perfect" if it was proved mathematically as being perfect. I defined this as being done by a new "mathematics of consciousness" which would then be applied to different animals, and only humans would come out as being perfect according to this (as yet undiscovered) mathematical theory. And then one would have to show that the probability of this occurring via natural selection was 0.

Edit: a more precise example explaining how evolution could be disproved (to avoid ambiguity):

  1. Describe consciousness mathematically

  2. Show that, for humans, this shows up as something similar to the Riemann Hypothesis, where all the zeros lie on one line.

  3. Show that this cannot occur via natural selection, either due to the infinite amount of time needed, or because of corruptive influences in nature, etc. The point is that the probability would be 0.

  4. This would imply that natural selection is inadequate for explaining humans.

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closed as off-topic by David, kmm, canadianer, Bryan Krause, fileunderwater May 4 '18 at 18:13

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    $\begingroup$ This proposal doesn't really make any sense scientifically especially because you are starting from a premise that doesn't make any scientific sense: "mathemetically proven perfection" $\endgroup$ – Bryan Krause Apr 30 '18 at 21:04
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    $\begingroup$ @Raghib: This fails because 1) There is no universal definition of "perfect"; 2) Why should consciousness be an aspect of your ill-defined perfection. Tardigrades and cockroaches are superior to humans in many respects, and are probably not conscious; 3) The fact that humans are imperfect is practically demonstrated by the vertebrae of my lower back, among many other things. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf May 1 '18 at 4:54
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    $\begingroup$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is not a question about Biology in terms of SE. This is a clear discussion question about, as the poster admits, philosophy. That falls clearly into the sort of questions one should avoid asking. $\endgroup$ – David May 1 '18 at 12:03
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    $\begingroup$ I agree that it's off-topic. Still, I'm a bit curious to know which individual human might be considered perfect, since no two of us are identical. $\endgroup$ – S. McGrew May 1 '18 at 14:30
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    $\begingroup$ Humans are far from perfect by any definition, the human body and mind are full of recognizable flaws, everything from poorly designed eyes, anuses, and backs to minds that see faces and minds where they don't exist. $\endgroup$ – John May 2 '18 at 1:39
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What do you mean by "Darwinian evolution"?

The theory of evolution (aka. modern evolutionary synthesis) is much more than what Darwin said in his books. Calling it "Darwinian evolution" is misleading (and is very rarely used in the scientific literature).

What is the theory of evolution?

The theory of evolution represents a large set of tested hypotheses. It does not mean much to disprove the theory of evolution, as much as it would mean something to disprove specific elements of this theory.

Would "showing that humans are perfect" disprove an element of this theory?

I don't really understand the hypothesis that you are willing to be testing. It is unclear how you define "perfect" and what you mean by "mathematics of consciousness". All these concepts are very undefined. If they are clear to you, please define them and please suggest a clear experimental set up and we could talk about it. You also seem to phrase your hypothesis upon an explicitly undefined mathematical tool (according to this (as yet undiscovered) mathematical theory). That makes your hypothesis very unclear.

In any case, stating that it would be the only way to "disprove the theory of evolution" would be extremely wrong.

How to disprove specific elements of the theory of evolution?

There are millions of ways to disprove elements of the theory of evolution! There are maybe ten thousands (maybe more, maybe less, I don't know) papers published every year in the field of evolutionary biology. Many of them, to some extend, are opportunities to test falsifiable hypotheses about the modern evolution synthesis. For examples

  • show that a beneficial mutation that sweeps to high frequency does not reduce polymorphism and heterozygosity at linked sites.
  • show that new living organisms are being created spontaneously
  • show that fossil age estimates through carbon 14 and other methods do not match estimates with molecular clock.
  • show that mutations don't happen.
  • show that any functional (such as beneficial mutations) or structural (such as gene duplications) subcategory of mutations do not happen.
  • show that the probability of fixation (fixation = reaching a frequency of 1 in the population) of a mutation associated with a given selection coefficient does not depend upon the effective population size.
  • show that a lineage cannot evolve reproductive isolation
  • show that there is no genetic variance in populations
  • show that coalescence times don't differ among independently segregating sequences.
  • show that allele frequency do not change in experimental evolution experiments
  • show that population selection does not work in experimental evolution experiments
  • show that fitness heritability is zero
  • etc...

Your essay

It is funny that such question is being asked to you in a philosophy class. One can only suggest falsifiable hypotheses if (s)he understand the underlying set of claims to be challenged. I understand that the purpose of the essay is likely to get you more familiar with the concepts of falsifiability but the students might miss the science skills required to investigate the question on a given specific scientific theory. I suppose that if you were asked the same question about the theory of strings, you might realize better that it does not take a philosopher to produce such hypotheses but a physicist. At the end of the day, addressing the question in this essay would require you to learn a bit more about evolutionary biology.

About your edit

Edit: a more precise example explaining how evolution could be disproved (to avoid ambiguity):

  1. Describe consciousness mathematically

This remains to be done. One cannot ask whether a test makes sense without defining the concepts being tested. It is like asking I would like to test if schmilblik equals 3. First, we'll need to define schmilblik. Would this disprove Newton's theory of gravitation?. One cannot tell whether it would disprove Newton's theory of gravitation without knowing what the schmilblik is! Whether it disproves anything depends upon the definition of schmilblik.

  1. Show that, for humans, this shows up as something similar to the Riemann Hypothesis, where all the zeros lie on one line.

I am not really familiar with Riemann Hypothesis so I don't really understand what you mean here, sorry. Also, I am not sure what zero would mean on your scale of consciousness!

  1. Show that this cannot occur via natural selection, either due to the infinite amount of time needed, or because of corruptive influences in nature, etc. The point is that the probability would be 0.

I am not sure what "this" is in your sentence because I did not understand what you meant above.

  1. This would imply that natural selection is inadequate for explaining humans.

If A is impossible when B is true, then if you observe A, you can indeed conclude that B is false. I would happily agree with this logic. It remains to define what A and B are.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for your response. I edited the question to give an example of how "perfection" could be proved. Is it better now? Obviously, not being a biologist or even a scientist, I don't think I can give a precise experimental setup, but I don't see why the example I gave is not feasible. I have indeed read articles about "mathematics of consciousness" being at least a possibility within science. Edit: Also, I removed my claim that it would be the "only way" of disproving evolution, as well as "Darwinian". $\endgroup$ – Raghib Apr 30 '18 at 21:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Raghib See my edit in response to your edit! $\endgroup$ – Remi.b Apr 30 '18 at 21:54
  • $\begingroup$ Even if all conditions required for point 4 were met, this would not disprove evolution (which could still apply to animals... or even mathematical functions themselves ...) $\endgroup$ – tsttst May 1 '18 at 5:55
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I basically argued that the only way it could be disproved was if one could prove that humans are somehow "perfect" (see below for definition) and for which the probability of evolving by natural selection was 0. This would mean that evolution could not explain the existence of humans in nature, and so natural selection would be disproved. While this is philosophical, the reason I posted it on here is because I am not a biologist, and am rather interested in what biologists would make of this idea, and whether it is just complete nonsense (which, not being a biologist, I do not deny)... My definition of "perfect" was that it would have to be mathematically proved perfection.

What you seem to be doing is asking us if a hypothetical, objective measurement of perfection was discovered and applied to humans, and whether or not Evolution would be "disproved" (obsolete as a Theory) by proving humans to be perfect.

If that's your premise; then no, proving human beings to be perfect does not disprove Evolution. Evolution is a process, a mechanism by which nature operates. That a perfect example exists of a thing does not invalidate the process by which it was made.

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  • $\begingroup$ I also mentioned that the probability of this occuring naturally would be shown to be 0. I do not see how natural selection could still be true in that case, since it would clearly show that natural selection was inadequate for explaining humans. $\endgroup$ – Raghib Apr 30 '18 at 21:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Raghib - So your suggestion appears to be that if humans were proven to be supernatural (or unnaturally perfect), then Evolution wouldn't apply to humans. Sure, that works -- but that's because scientific theories only apply to the natural world. Philosophically speaking, you're wrong because you're asking if the rules from Group A would apply to Group B when B is Mutually Exclusive from A. Or, for an analogy, you're asking if you can pitch a perfect game in football... It just doesn't make any sense. $\endgroup$ – MCM May 1 '18 at 20:05

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