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No. 49: Jan-Feb 1987

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Philosophical confusion?

In the past, creationists have claimed Sir Karl Popper as their own because he seemed to believe that evolution was not a science because it could not be falsified. More lately, the evolutionists have pronounced that Popper now supports Darwinism. Still more recently, Popper gave the first Medawar Lecture at the Royal Society; and he had something for both sides. How can this be?

First, for those who do not know of Sir Karl Popper, we should state that his philosophical views carry considerable weight in scientific circles. He has described how science should work and how its hypotheses should be tested. In this sense, he has defined what is scientific and what isn't.

Now, back to the Medawar Lecture, as recounted by M. Perutz. Popper declared his detestation of determinism in all its guises. "Popper disputes the existence of historical laws and holds that our future is in our own hands." Zeroing in on evolution, Popper accepts Darwinism in the sense that "organisms better adapted than others are more likely to leave offspring." He then splits Darwinism into passive and active forms. His passive variety of evolution is that which is currently in vogue -- the deterministic view that random mutation combined with natural selection invariably leads to higher forms of life. But, as already stated, Popper hates determinism and believes that deterministic mechanisms are noncreative. They lead only to deadends. Instead, he prefers "active" Darwinism in which the "idiocyncracies of the individual have a greater influence on evolution than natural selection" and that "the only creative activity in evolution is the activity of the organism."

There you have it! Whose side is Popper on? Does it really matter?

(Perutz, Max; "A New View of Darwinism," New Scientist, p. 36, October 2, 1986.)

Comment. It is unclear how the acts of individuals can modify organisms. Sounds like Lamarckism.

From Science Frontiers #49, JAN-FEB 1987. 1987-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987