What about the theory of evolution? Is it scientific? Some have claimed that because no one was present millions of years ago to see evolution occur, evolution is not a scientific field. Yet we can study evolution in a laboratory even if no one was present to see zebras and horses emerge from a common ancestor. A theory can be scientific even if its phenomena are not directly observable. Evolutionary theory is built in the same way that theory is built in particle physics or any other field that uses indirect testing—and some aspects of evolutionary theory can be directly tested. I will devote chapter 2 to discussing evolution in detail, but let me concentrate here on the question of whether it is testable—and especially whether evolution is falsifiable.
The big idea of biological evolution (as will be discussed more fully in the next chapter) is descent with modification. Evolution is a statement about history and refers to something that happened, to the branching of species through time from common ancestors. The pattern that this branching takes and the mechanisms that bring it about are other components of evolution. We can therefore look at the testing of evolution in three senses: Can the big idea of evolution (descent with modification, common ancestry) be tested? Can the pattern of evolution be tested? Can the mechanisms of evolution be tested?
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