Acta Biotheoretica

, Volume 33, Issue 1, pp 35–50

Can the theory of evolution be falsified?

  • Paul A. M. van Dongen
  • Jo M. H. Vossen

DOI: 10.1007/BF00045845

Cite this article as:
van Dongen, P.A.M. & Vossen, J.M.H. Acta Biotheor (1984) 33: 35. doi:10.1007/BF00045845


In this paper we discuss the epistemological positions of evolution theories. A sharp distinction is made between the theory that species evolved from common ancestors along specified lines of descent (here called “the theory of common descent”), and the theories intended as causal explanations of evolution (e.g. Lamarck's and Darwin's theory). The theory of common descent permits a large number of predictions of new results that would be improbable without evolution. For instance, (a) phylogenetic trees have been validated now; (b) the observed order in fossils of new species discovered since Darwin's time could be predicted from the theory of common descent; (c) owing to the theory of common descent, the degrees of similarity and difference in newly discovered properties of more or less related species could be predicted. Such observations can be regarded as attempts to falsify the theory of common descent. We conclude that the theory of common descent is an easily-falsifiable & often-tested & still-not-falsified theory, which is the strongest predicate a theory in an empirical science can obtain. Theories intended as causal explanations of evolution can be falsified essentially, and Lamarck's theory has been falsified actually. Several elements of Darwin's theory have been modified or falsified: new versions of a theory of evolution by natural selection are now the leading scientific theories on evolution. We have argued that the theory of common descent and Darwinism are ordinary, falsifiable scientific theories.

Key words

Evolution falsification Darwinism philosophy of science 

Copyright information

© Martinus Nijhoff/Dr W. Junk Publishers 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul A. M. van Dongen
    • 1
  • Jo M. H. Vossen
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Comparative and Physiological PsychologyCatholic University of NijmegenNijmegenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Department of HistologyKarolinska InstituteStockholmSweden

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