Predictions - Is Evolution Science?
Original at - http://www.don-lindsay-archive.org/creation/evo_science.html
Philosophers of science such as
Kitcher say that it is. Scientists such as
Ridley agree. Many
organizations have passed resolutions to this effect. However,
the important question is whether these
authorities can back up what they say with evidence.
The following list gives a few of the
predictions that have been made from the Theory of Evolution:
The point is not that these prove evolution right. The point is that
these were predictions that could have turned out to be wrong
predictions. So, the people who made the predictions were doing
science. The Theory of Evolution was also useful, in the
sense that it suggested what evidence to look for, and where.
- Darwin predicted that precursors to the trilobite would be
found in pre-Silurian rocks. He was correct: they were
- Similarly, Darwin predicted that Precambrian fossils would
be found. He
wrote in 1859 that the total absence of fossils in
Precambrian rock was "inexplicable" and that the lack might "be
truly urged as a valid argument" against his theory. When such
fossils were found, starting in 1953, it turned out that
they had been abundant all along. They were just so small that
it took a microscope to see them.
- There are two kinds of whales: those with teeth, and those
that strain microscopic food out of seawater with baleen. It was
predicted that a transitional whale must have once existed,
which had both teeth and baleen. Such a fossil has since been
- Evolution predicts that we will find
- Evolution predicts that the fossil record will show
different populations of creatures at different times. For
example, it predicts we will never find fossils of trilobites
with fossils of dinosaurs, since their geological time-lines
don't overlap. The "Cretaceous seaway" deposits in Colorado and
Wyoming contain almost 90 different kinds of ammonites, but no
one has ever found two different kinds of ammonite together in
the same rockbed.
- Evolution predicts that animals on distant islands will
appear closely related to animals on the closest mainland, and
that the older and more distant the island, the more distant the
- Evolution predicts that features of living things will fit a
hierarchical arrangement of relatedness. For example, arthropods
all have chitinous exoskeleton, hemocoel, and jointed legs.
Insects have all these plus head-thorax-abdomen body plan and 6
legs. Flies have all that plus two wings and halteres.
Calypterate flies have all that plus a certain style of
antennae, wing veins, and sutures on the face and back. You will
never find the distinguishing features of calypterate flies on a
non-fly, much less on a non-insect or non-arthropod.
- Evolution predicts that simple, valuable features will
evolve independently, and that when they do, they will most
likely have differences not relevant to function. For example,
the eyes of molluscs, arthropods, and vertebrates are extremely
different, and ears can appear on any of at least ten different
locations on different insects.
- In 1837, a Creationist reported that during a pig's fetal
development, part of the incipient jawbone detaches and becomes
the little bones of the middle ear. After Evolution was
invented, it was predicted that there would be a transitional
fossil, of a reptile with a spare jaw joint right near its ear.
A whole series of such fossils has since been found - the
- It was predicted that humans must have an intermaxillary
bone, since other mammals do. The adult human skull consists of
bones that have fused together, so you can't tell one way or the
other in an adult. An examination of human embryonic development
showed that an intermaxillary bone is one of the things that
fuses to become your upper jaw.
- From my
junk DNA example I predict that three specific DNA patterns
will be found at 9 specific places in the
genome of white-tailed deer, but none of the three patterns
will be found anywhere in the spider monkey genome.
- In 1861, the first
Archaeopteryx fossil was found. It was clearly a primitive
bird with reptilian features. But, the fossil's head was very
badly preserved. In 1872 Ichthyornis and Hesperornis
were found. Both were clearly seabirds, but to everyone's
astonishment, both had teeth. It was predicted that if we found
a better-preserved Archaeopteryx, it too would have
teeth. In 1877, a second Archaeopteryx was found, and the
prediction turned out to be correct.
- Almost all animals make Vitamin C inside their bodies. It
was predicted that humans are descended from creatures that
could do this, and that we had lost this ability. (There was a
loss-of-function mutation, which didn't matter because our
high-fruit diet was rich in Vitamin C.) When human DNA was
studied, scientists found a gene which is just like the Vitamin
C gene in dogs and cats. However, our copy has been turned off.
- In "The Origin Of Species" (1859), Darwin said:
"If it could be proved that any part of the structure of any
one species had been formed for the exclusive good of
another species, it would annihilate my theory, for such
could not have been produced through natural selection."
This challenge has not been met. In the ensuing 140 years, no
such thing has been found. Plants give away nectar and fruit,
but they get something in return. Taking care of other members
of one's own species (kin selection) doesn't count, so
ants and bees (and mammalian milk) don't count.
Chapter VI, Difficulties Of The Theory
- Darwin pointed out that the Madagascar Star orchid has a
spur 30 centimeters (about a foot) long, with a puddle of nectar
at the bottom. Now, evolution says that nectar isn't free.
Creatures that drink it pay for it, by carrying pollen away to
another orchid. For that to happen, the creature must rub
against the top of the spur. So, Darwin concluded that the spur
had evolved its length as an
arms race. Some creature had a way to reach deeply without
shoving itself hard against the pollen-producing parts. Orchids
with longer spurs would be more likely to spread their pollen,
gradualistic scenario applied. The spur would evolve to be
longer and longer. From the huge size, the creature must have
evolved in return, reaching deeper and deeper. So, he predicted
in 1862 that Madagascar has a species of hawkmoth with a tongue
just slightly shorter than 30 cm.
The creature that pollinated that orchid was not learned
until 1902, forty years later. It was indeed a moth, and it had
a 25 cm tongue. And in 1988 it was proven that moth-pollinated
short-spurred orchids did set less seed than long ones.
- A thousand years ago, just about every remote island on the
planet had a species of flightless bird. Evolution explains this
by saying that flying creatures are particularly able to
establish themselves on remote islands. Some birds, living in a
safe place where there is no need to make sudden escapes, will
take the opportunity to give up on flying. Hence, Evolution
predicts that each flightless bird species arose on the island
that it was found on. So, Evolution predicts that no two islands
would have the same species of flightless bird. Now that all the
world's islands have been visited, we know that this was a
- The "same" protein in two related species is usually
slightly different. A protein is made from a sequence of amino
acids, and the two species have slightly different sequences. We
can measure the sequences of many species, and cladistics
has a mathematical procedure which tells us if these many
sequences imply one common ancestral sequence. Evolution
predicts that these species are all descended from a common
ancestral species, and that the ancestral species used the
This has been done for pancreatic ribonuclease in ruminants.
(Cows, sheep, goats, deer and giraffes are ruminants.)
Measurements were made on various ruminants. An ancestral
sequence was computed, and protein molecules with that sequence
were manufactured. When sequences are chosen at random, we
usually wind up with a useless goo. However, the manufactured
molecules were biologically active substances. Furthermore, they
did exactly what a pancreatic ribonuclease is supposed to do -
namely, digest ribonucleic acids.
- An animal's bones contain oxygen atoms from the water it
drank while growing. And, fresh water and salt water can be told
apart by their slightly different mixture of oxygen
isotopes. (This is because fresh water comes from water that
evaporated out of the ocean. Lighter atoms evaporate more easily
than heavy ones do, so fresh water has fewer of the heavy
Therefore, it should be possible to analyze an aquatic
creature's bones, and tell whether it grew up in fresh water or
in the ocean. This has been done, and it worked. We can
distinguish the bones of river dolphins from the bones of killer
Now for the prediction. We have fossils of various early
whales. Since whales are mammals, evolution predicts that they
evolved from land animals. And, the very earliest of those
whales would have lived in fresh water, while they were evolving
their aquatic skills. Therefore, the oxygen isotope ratios in
their fossils should be like the isotope ratios in modern river
It's been measured, and the prediction was correct. The two
oldest species in the fossil record - Pakicetus and
Ambulocetus - lived in fresh water. Rodhocetus,
Basilosaurus and the others all lived in salt water.
Last modified: 5 August