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Laszlo Bencze: Karl Popper never really retracted his doubt of Darwin

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He just had to make it seem that way, to avoid an early version of Cancel Culture. But we will let philosopher and photographer Laszlo Bencze tell it:

Most of us know that at one point Karl Popper turned his attention to evolution and made the following statement:

“…Darwinism is not a testable scientific theory, but a metaphysical research programme—a possible framework for testable scientific theories.”
Unended Quest An Intellectual Autobiography, Karl Popper, p. 168

The statement aroused so much controversy and animosity amongst his academic colleagues that he was forced to “recant” in the following statement:

“I have in the past described the theory as ‘almost tautological’, and I have tried to explain how the theory of natural selection could be untestable (as a tautology) and yet of great scientific interest. My solution was that the doctrine of natural selection is a most successful metaphysical research programme. It raises detailed problems in many fields, and it tells us what we would expect of an acceptable solution of these problems.

“I still believe that natural selection works in this way as a research programme. Nevertheless, I have changed my mind about the testability and the logical status of the theory of natural selection; and I am glad to have an opportunity to make a recantation. My recantation may, I hope, contribute a little to the understanding of the status of natural selection.”
Popper Selections, Karl Popper (edited by David Miller), p. 242

Note that his choice of the word “recantation” is significant. He might well have used “reevaluation” or “disavowal” or “repudiation.” I believe he chose recantation deliberately to ally himself with Galileo and to make clear that he was being persecuted by misguided and dimwitted authorities just as Galileo was. Furthermore, he writes that natural selection is “a most successful metaphysical research program.” Wait a minute. Wasn’t that what he was to apologize for? So within his recantation he is reaffirming his original point of view, the very one that got him in trouble.

He goes on to say that he is glad to have an opportunity to make a recantation. Sure he is. He would much prefer to have a root canal without anesthesia than to recant a statement integral to his life’s work as philosopher. Finally, in his summary sentence he is “glad to contribute a little to the understanding of the status of natural selection.” So what did he contribute? He contributed the understanding of natural selection as a metaphysical research program.

I never noticed these points until a friend pointed them out to me. Now they jump forth as obvious.

It’s the price Popper had to pay for being a boffin. Sad.


From Mehmet Elgin and Elliott Sober at History of the Philosophy of Science:

Abstract: Karl Popper argued in 1974 that evolutionary theory contains no testable laws and is therefore a metaphysical research program. Four years later, he said that he had changed his mind. Here we seek to understand Popper’s initial position and his subsequent retraction. We argue, contrary to Popper’s own assessment, that he did not change his mind at all about the substance of his original claim. We also explore how Popper’s views have ramifications for contemporary discussion of the nature of laws and the structure of evolutionary theory.

Popper’s Shifting Appraisal of Evolutionary Theory, Mehmet Elgin and Elliott Sober HOPOS: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science 2017 7:1, 31-5 (April 15, 2017)

Another friend reminds us of a passage in a book by a journalist who interviewed Popper:

In his autobiography, Karl Popper said he had come to the conclusion that “Darwinism is not a testable scientific theory, but a metaphysical research program.”8 To say that a species now living is adapted to its environment “is almost tautological,” he wrote. “Adaptation or fitness is defined by modern evolutionists as survival value, and can be measured by actual success in survival. There is hardly any possibility of testing a theory as feeble as this.”

Further controversy ensued, for Popper—apparently under pressure in England—partially recanted in 1978. Later, in 1988, I had a chance to interview Popper myself, when he spent a week at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. I immediately brought up the issue of natural selection. He told me that his opinion had not changed. He also said he thought that natural selection had in fact been falsified “by Darwin’s own theory.” Distortions introduced by sexual selection sometimes meant that offspring were not better adapted than their parents, he said.

When I mentioned that Darwinism had evidently benefited from the idea of Progress, widely accepted in the mid-nineteenth century but widely rejected in the late twentieth, Popper said that “I have been one of the people who have destroyed it.” He said he had “preached” along those lines in his book The Poverty of Historicisms.

Tom Bethell, Darwin’s House of Cards (2016) (pp. 14–15)

2 Replies to “Laszlo Bencze: Karl Popper never really retracted his doubt of Darwin

  1. 1
    polistra says:

    Interesting comparison. It’s clear that the pressure for conformity is plenty strong everywhere, but has been ESPECIALLY strong in Britain for a long time. Popper had to recant in Britain but was able to speak more freely at Stanford. We’re approaching the British standard, but I don’t think we’re there yet.

  2. 2
    bornagain77 says:

    How clever of Popper! So Popper’s ‘recantation’ to Darwinists turns out to be, in reality, something like this

    Darwinian gestapo: “Say you’re sorry!”

    Popper: “You’re sorry!”

    Darwinian Gestapo: “Good. Now we will not do everything in our power to destroy you.”

    Of further note, although there are arguments among philosophers of science as to what actually constitutes a rigid demarcation criteria to determine whether something is truly a science or not,,,,

    Demarcation problem
    Excerpt: In the philosophy of science and epistemology, the demarcation problem is the question of how to distinguish between science, and non-science.[1] It examines the lines between science, pseudoscience,,,,

    ,,,, although there are arguments among philosophers of science, it is generally agreed that Popper’s falsification criteria is the strongest criteria for determining whether something is truly a science or not,,,

    “In so far as a scientific statement speaks about reality, it must be falsifiable; and in so far as it is not falsifiable, it does not speak about reality.”
    Karl Popper – The Two Fundamental Problems of the Theory of Knowledge (2014 edition), Routledge

    A simple way to sum up the idea behind falsification is like this, “one can never prove that a theory is true,,, But just a single counterexample can prove a theory false.”

    And in regards to Popper’s criteria of falsification, Darwin’s theory fails to qualify as a science.

    Here are a few falsifications of Darwinian evolution that Darwinists simply refuse to ever accept as falsifications of their theory:

    Darwin’s theory holds mutations to the genome to be random. The vast majority of mutations to the genome are not random but are found to be ‘directed’.

    Darwin’s theory holds that Natural Selection is the ‘designer substitute’ that produces the ‘appearance’ and/or illusion of design. Natural Selection, especially for multicellular organisms, is found to grossly inadequate as the ‘designer substitute.

    Darwin’s theory holds that mutations to DNA will eventually change the basic biological form of any given species into a new form of a brand new species. Yet, biological form is found to be irreducible to mutations to DNA, nor is biological form reducible to any other material particulars in biology one may wish to invoke.

    Darwin’s theory holds there to be an extremely beneficial and flexible mutation rate for DNA which was ultimately responsible for all the diversity and complexity of life we see on earth. The mutation rate to DNA is overwhelmingly detrimental. Detrimental to such a point that it is seriously questioned whether there are any truly beneficial, information building, mutations whatsoever.

    Charles Darwin himself held that the gradual unfolding of life would (someday) be self-evident in the fossil record. Yet, from the Cambrian Explosion onward, the fossil record is consistently characterized by sudden appearance of a group/kind in the fossil record(disparity), then rapid diversity within that group/kind, and then long term stability and even deterioration of variety within the overall group/kind, and within the specific species of the kind, over long periods of time. Of the few dozen or so fossils claimed as transitional, not one is uncontested as a true example of transition between major animal forms out of millions of collected fossils. Moreover, Fossils are found in the “wrong place” all the time (either too early, or too late).

    Darwin’s theory, due to the randomness postulate, holds that patterns will not repeat themselves in supposedly widely divergent species. Yet thousands of instances of what is ironically called ‘convergent evolution’, on both the morphological and genetic level, falsifies the Darwinian belief that patterns will not repeat themselves in widely divergent species.

    Charles Darwin himself stated that “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.” Yet as Doug Axe pointed out, “Basically every gene and every new protein fold, there is nothing of significance that we can show that can be had in that gradualistic way. It’s all a mirage. None of it happens that way.”

    Charles Darwin himself stated that “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.” Yet as Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig pointed out, “in thousands of plant species often entirely new organs have been formed for the exclusive good of more than 132,930 other species, these ‘ugly facts’ have annihilated Darwin’s theory as well as the modern versions of it.”

    Charles Darwin himself stated that, ““The impossibility of conceiving that this grand and wondrous universe, with our conscious selves, arose through chance, seems to me the chief argument for the existence of God.”. Yet ‘our conscious selves’ are certainly not explainable by ‘chance’ (nor is consciousness explainable by any possible reductive materialistic explanation in general), i.e. ‘the hard problem of consciousness’.

    Besides the mathematics of probability consistently showing that Darwinian evolution is impossible, the mathematics of population genetics itself has now shown Darwinian evolution to be impossible. Moreover, ‘immaterial’ mathematics itself, which undergirds all of science, engineering and technology, is held by most mathematicians to exist in some timeless, unchanging, immaterial, Platonic realm. Yet, the reductive materialism that Darwinian theory is based upon denies the existence of the immaterial realm that mathematics exists in. i.e. Darwinian evolution actually denies the objective reality of the one thing, i.e. mathematics, that it most needs in order to be considered scientific in the first place!

    Donald Hoffman has, via population genetics, shown that if Darwin’s materialistic theory were true then all our observations of reality would be illusory. Yet the scientific method itself is based on reliable observation. Moreover, Quantum Mechanics itself has now shown that conscious observation must come before material reality, i.e. falsification of ‘realism’ proves that our conscious observations are reliable!.

    The reductive materialism that undergirds Darwinian thought holds that immaterial information is merely ’emergent’ from a material basis. Yet immaterial Information, via experimental realization of the “Maxwell’s Demon” thought experiment, is now found to be its own distinctive physical entity that, although it can interact in a ‘top down’ manner with matter and energy, is separate from matter and energy.

    Darwinists hold that Darwin’s theory is true. Yet ‘Truth’ itself is an abstract property of an immaterial mind that is irreducible to the reductive materialistic explanations of Darwinian evolution. i.e. Assuming reductive materialism and/or Naturalism as the starting philosophical position of science actually precludes ‘the truth’ from ever being reached by science!

    Darwinist’s, due to their underlying naturalistic philosophy, insist that teleology (i.e. goal directed purpose) does not exist. Yet it is impossible for Biologists to do biological research without constantly invoking words that directly imply teleology. i.e. The very words that Biologists themselves use when they are doing their research falsifies Darwinian evolution.


    1 Thessalonians 5:21
    Test all things; hold fast what is good.

    In regards to the criteria of falsification, there is simply nothing that Darwinists can point to and say, ‘and this is what makes Darwinian evolution a hard science’.

    As Berlinski noted, “Quantum electrodynamics is accurate to thirteen or so decimal places; so, too, general relativity. A leaf trembling in the wrong way would suffice to shatter either theory. What can Darwinian theory offer in comparison?”

    “On the other hand, I disagree that Darwin’s theory is as `solid as any explanation in science.; Disagree? I regard the claim as preposterous. Quantum electrodynamics is accurate to thirteen or so decimal places; so, too, general relativity. A leaf trembling in the wrong way would suffice to shatter either theory. What can Darwinian theory offer in comparison?”
    – David Berlinski, “A Scientific Scandal?: David Berlinski & Critics,” Commentary, July 8, 2003

    Besides Darwinists refusing to adhere to the criteria of falsification for their supposedly scientific theory, by any other reasonable measure that one may wish to judge whether Darwinian evolution even qualifies as a science or not, and as is shown in the following video, Darwinian evolution fails to meet those criteria as well:

    “There are five standard tests for a scientific hypothesis. Has anyone observed the phenomenon — in this case, Evolution — as it occurred and recorded it? Could other scientists replicate it? Could any of them come up with a set of facts that, if true, would contradict the theory (Karl Popper’s “falsifiability” tests)? Could scientists make predictions based on it? Did it illuminate hitherto unknown or baffling areas of science? In the case of Evolution… well… no… no… no… no… and no.”
    – Tom Wolfe – The Kingdom of Speech – page 17
    Darwinian Evolution Fails the Five Standard Tests of a Scientific Hypothesis – video

    There is simply nothing within Darwin’s theory that Darwinists can point to and say, “and this is what makes Darwin’s theory a rigid science rather than a pseudoscience.”

    Simply put, Darwinian evolution is more properly classified as a pseudoscience, even as a religion for atheists, rather than ever being classified as a real and testable science.

    Moreover, directly contrary to the claims of Darwinists, all of science, every nook and cranny of it, is based on the presupposition of intelligent design and is certainly not based on presumption of methodological naturalism as is presupposed by Darwinian atheists.

    From the essential Christian presuppositions that undergird the founding of modern science itself, (i.e. namely, that the universe is rational and that the minds of men, being made in the ‘image of God’, can dare understand that rationality), to the intelligent design of the scientific instruments and experiments themselves, to the logical and mathematical analysis of experimental results, from top to bottom science itself is certainly not ‘natural’.
    Not one scientific instrument would ever exist if men did not first intelligently design that scientific instrument. Not one test tube, microscope, telescope, spectroscope, or etc.. etc.., was ever found just laying around on a beach somewhere which was ‘naturally’ constructed by nature. Not one experimental result would ever be rationally analysed since there would be no immaterial minds to rationally analyze the immaterial mathematics that lay behind the intelligently designed experiments in the first place.

    In fact, (as I have pointed out several times now), assuming Naturalism instead of Theism as the worldview on which all of science is based leads to the catastrophic epistemological failure of science itself.

    Basically, because of reductive materialism (and/or methodological naturalism), the atheistic materialist is forced to claim that he is merely a ‘neuronal illusion’ (Coyne, Dennett, etc..), who has the illusion of free will (Harris), who has unreliable, (i.e. illusory), beliefs about reality (Plantinga), who has illusory perceptions of reality (Hoffman), who, since he has no real time empirical evidence substantiating his grandiose claims, must make up illusory “just so stories” with the illusory, and impotent, ‘designer substitute’ of natural selection (Behe, Gould, Sternberg), so as to ‘explain away’ the appearance (i.e. illusion) of design (Crick, Dawkins), and who must make up illusory meanings and purposes for his life since the reality of the nihilism inherent in his atheistic worldview is too much for him to bear (Weikart), and who must also hold morality to be subjective and illusory since he has rejected God (Craig, Kreeft). Who, since beauty cannot be grounded within his materialistic worldview, must hold beauty itself to be illusory (Darwin).
    Bottom line, nothing is truly real in the atheist’s worldview, least of all, beauty, morality, meaning and purposes for life.,,,
    Darwinian Materialism and/or Methodological Naturalism vs. Reality – video

    Thus, although the Darwinist may firmly believes he is on the terra firma of science (in his appeal, even demand, for methodological naturalism), the fact of the matter is that, when examining the details of his materialistic/naturalistic worldview, it is found that Darwinists/Atheists are adrift in an ocean of fantasy and imagination with no discernible anchor for reality to grab on to.

    It would be hard to fathom a worldview more antagonistic to modern science, indeed more antagonistic to reality itself, than Atheistic materialism and/or methodological naturalism have turned out to be.

    2 Corinthians 10:5
    Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;

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