Is evolution observable, in the sense that the Earth’s orbit of the sun is observable? This is the basis for Richard Dawkins’ most recent video, which he posted online this week in response to a question asked of him online. It’s a point that’s often raised by those who doubt evolution: Is it science if we can’t watch it happening?
In fact, in the big debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye, this was one of the Answers In Genesis president’s biggest arguments: Evolution is not observable, and it is, therefore, a different kind of science, compared to things that can be observed and tested in a lab.
Bill Nye has addressed the question, both in the debate and more elaborately in his book, Undeniable: Evolution and the Science Of Creation, explaining that science tests models and hypotheses in several ways, including observing the evidence of what has already happened.
Richard Dawkins, who celebrated Darwin Day by inviting readers to ask him questions, some of which he would pick for video answers over the coming weeks, received a similar question: Is it really correct to say that evolution is as much a fact as the Earth orbiting the sun, if the Earth’s orbit is observable and evolution is not?
Richard Dawkins responded, sharing the video you can watch below.
Dawkins compares demonstrating that evolution occurred to demonstrating who must have committed a crime, based on the evidence available. While the event might not have been observed, one can look at the clues left behind and come to a reasonable conclusion about what must have happened.
Perhaps more surprisingly to many, though, Dawkins mentions, in passing, that we absolutely can observe “very, very recent, very tiny bits” of evolution happening. Though the idea that evolution is ongoing may startle those who look around for fish turning into birds, a Popular Science article last October addressed this by sharing a segment from Bill Nye’s book, mentioned above.
“Without geographic isolation, I am not sure we can get a new species of hominid, not ever. But that is not the same thing as saying that humans are no longer evolving, because we surely are.
“We cannot step away from evolution. Our genomes are always collecting mutations, and we are always making mate selections.”
Dawkins has one more surprising point to make — at least, surprising until you listen to it and understand. He says that while we may think of the Earth’s orbit as observable, we do not actually observe it — it’s not something that you can look up and see, and recognize, “Oh, there’s the Earth, making its tidy circle around the sun.”
Instead, we come to understand the Earth’s orbit in the same way we’ve come to understand evolution: by observing the effects, drawing conclusions, creating models of these conclusions, and testing whether the outcomes are as expected.
The overarching conclusion of Richard Dawkins’ short explanation is that for the most part, evolution isn’t observable in a human life span, though small portions can be seen, but that many things are proven and demonstrated as fact through the evidence they’ve left behind — and evolution is among these.
[Photo by Don Arnold/Getty Images]