Darwinist Mark Chu-Carroll: All Scientific Theories Can be Reduced to Tautologies, Just Like Natural Selection!

Michael Egnor

My observation that “Natural Selection” is a tautology, and therefore useless to modern medicine, seems to have set off quite a few Darwinists. Prominent Darwinist blogger Mark Chu-Carroll took me to task here, and comes up with an approach that he believes gets “Natural Selection” off the tautological hook: he asserts that all scientific theories are reducible to tautologies! Mark writes:

And this brings us to Egnor’s idiocy. It’s a common tactic among idiots to criticize various scientific theories as tautological… [but] you can derive a tautological statement from any scientific theory.
The theory of gravity? If you let go of something, it will fall – therefore, if you let go of something, it will fall.
Relativity? Light bends when it passed through a gravitational field – therefore, if I shine a light through a gravitational field, it will bend.
Evolution? The things that survive to reproduce are the things that survive to reproduce.

Mark errs. A tautology is a statement that is true by its logical structure. ‘A is A’ is a tautology, and ‘survivors survive’ is a tautology. It’s logically true, and it cannot be false. Scientific theories generally cannot be reduced to tautologies. Newton’s law cannot be reduced to ‘If you let go of something, it will fall– therefore, if you let go of something, it will fall’. Newton’s law of gravitation, in its most ‘reduced’ form, states that the gravitational force acting between two masses is proportional to the product of the masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between the centers of the masses, and that the constant of proportionality is the gravitational constant. Newton’s law is not a tautology, and it can’t be reduced to a tautology. It is not logically true. It’s empirically true, but it could have been false. The force of gravity could have been proportional to the inverse cube, not the inverse square. Neither is Einstein’s theory of relativity a tautology. The curvature of space-time is given by Einstein’s tensor equations. They’ve been confirmed experimentally, and they’re not the least bit tautological.
A salient characteristic of a strong scientific theory is the combination of its logical improbability and its empirical verification. A strong scientific theory is not tautological but is true empirically. It is, logically speaking, highly improbable that Einstein’s tensor equations would describe space-time accurately, but, empirically, they do.
All permutations of “Natural Selection”– “survival of the fittest,” “reproductive success,” “mechanisms that contribute to the selection of individuals that reproduce,” “sexual selection,” “gametic selection,” “compatibility selection”–reduce quite readily to “successful reproducers successfully reproduce,” or colloquially, “survivors survive.” The truth of Natural Selection is its logical structure. It can’t be false. “Natural Selection” is logically true, but it’s a weak theory because it’s merely a tautology.
Later in his post, Mark inadvertently gets to the essence of “Natural Selection”:

A theory that consisted of nothing more than the fundamental statement “A=A” isn’t a theory – it’s gibberish dressed up to look like a theory.


Michael Egnor

Senior Fellow, Center for Natural & Artificial Intelligence
Michael R. Egnor, MD, is a Professor of Neurosurgery and Pediatrics at State University of New York, Stony Brook, has served as the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery, and award-winning brain surgeon. He was named one of New York’s best doctors by the New York Magazine in 2005. He received his medical education at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and completed his residency at Jackson Memorial Hospital. His research on hydrocephalus has been published in journals including Journal of Neurosurgery, Pediatrics, and Cerebrospinal Fluid Research. He is on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Hydrocephalus Association in the United States and has lectured extensively throughout the United States and Europe.