Popper’s Shifting Appraisal of Evolutionary Theory

Contrary to Popper’s own assessment, that he did not change his mind at all about the substance of his original claim

Mehmet Elgin; Elliott Sober


Scholarcy highlights

  • Karl Popper argued in 1974 that evolutionary theory contains no testable laws and is a metaphysical research program
  • Popper does not assert in The Poverty of Historicism that evolutionary theory contains no empirical laws, and this is the central issue in his 1974 and 1978 papers, he advances philosophical theses about ET in that earlier book that helped shape his subsequent thought
  • Of The Poverty of Historicism, Popper argues that there are no general laws governing the evolution of societies, the evolution of organisms, or the evolution of the whole universe. He claims this despite granting that many laws are used in explaining the phenomena discussed in the social sciences, in evolutionary biology, and in cosmology: The crucial point is this: we may assume that any actual succession of phenomena proceeds according to the laws of nature, it is important to realize that practically no sequence of, say, three or more causally connected concrete events proceeds according to any single law of nature
  • We have argued that Popper’s reason for holding that ET is not a testable scientific theory is that he thinks that ET lacks empirical laws
  • As Stamos points out, postulating testable empirical laws is, for Popper, a necessary condition for a theory to be scientifically testable. This is why Popper concludes that ET is a metaphysical research program
  • Popper does not conclude that ET is a pseudoscience; instead, he unsuccessfully attempts to reformulate PNS and tries to explain ET’s success in terms of his idea of situational logic

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