iSoul In the beginning is reality

Category Archives: Evolution

Evolution in the related senses of transformism, Darwinism, Neo-Darwinism, and evolutionism

Christianity and science

A good summary of the myth of a long-running conflict between Christianity and science is in Timothy Larsen’s “War is Over, If You Want It” (September 2008). This warfare myth was invented in the 19th century by people such as TH Huxley who either should have known better or were purposely stirring up animosity. It is composed of individual myths that “support” it, such as the myth that Christians thought the earth was flat in the Middle Ages or the myth that Christians opposed the use of anesthesia during childbirth in the 19th century.

Larsen references Frank M. Turner’s “Contesting Cultural Authority” (Cambridge, 1993), as someone who “persuasively argued that the notion of a conflict between theology and science was generated as part of a campaign of professionalization by would-be scientists.” (p.150) It’s almost forgotten today, but the profession of a scientist didn’t exist until the late 19th century. Before that, science was developed by amateurs (including clerics) who had the leisure and interest. TH Huxley and others fought against such people because they stood in the way of a new class of professional scientists.

Although the warfare meme is vastly exaggerated, there are enough misunderstandings that the opposite idea of integration isn’t realistic. For example, it is said that many Christians quickly accepted Darwin’s theory of evolution in the 19th century and later. But what is overlooked is the fact that Christians misunderstood Darwin and substituted their own ideas of evolution by law or miracle.  Theistic evolution is common among Christians who either insert a law-bound version for Darwin’s undirected version or else invent undetectable miracles that make it God-directed.

Many have noted that modern science developed in a Christian matrix. If science jettisons its Christian roots, it loses a reason to expect an ordered universe that can be understood by human beings. It may either adopt a multiverse that just happens to have order in one universe or drift toward non-causal explanations in a chaotic universe.

Some scientists want to deepen the Christian roots of science rather than cut them off. They are mostly creationists or intelligent design proponents. Those who follow TH Huxley will have nothing of it. But some are willing to entertain new proposals. As the modern era comes to a close, we can expect that modern science will change into something else.

Darwin’s theory and Huxley’s science

It is common to read statements like this: “For the vast majority of biologists, the debate over whether evolution occurs took place in the 19th century and has long been settled — evolution won.” (1) The problem with this statement is that it was not a scientific position that won but a philosophical and political agenda that won.

Charles Darwin in his 1859 Origin of Species presented his “theory of descent with modification through natural selection” (later called evolution) in which he argued that universal common descent by natural selection was possible. He contrasted his theory with an alternative he called “the theory of independent acts of creation”. He was careful not to press his case too far, and basically argued that a theory of evolution was an alternative to one version of a theory of creation. Since he avoided controversy, he left it to others to defend his theory in public.

Thomas Henry Huxley is universally acknowledged as the leading defender of Darwin’s theory in the years after the publication of the Origin of Species. But he did much more. His main defense consisted in asserting that Darwin’s theory of evolution was science and the alternative theory of creation was not. He even claimed that evolution was the only possible scientific theory that explained the diversity of life.

Huxley framed his defense of the theory of evolution and put-down of any theory of creation in terms that avoided the appearance of redefining science, but that was what he was doing. He argued that science must be agnostic about non-empirical forms of knowledge, especially claims for God and the supernatural. This was an argument for what today is known as naturalism. Such a philosophy was already on the rise, with positivism, materialism, and secularism.

Not only were the alternatives to naturalism deprecated, they were considered pseudo-science. But if any theory of creation was not science, then Carl Linnaeus was not doing science when he developed his taxonomy, in which he endeavored to discover all of the created kinds of organisms. Somehow mathematics would still be available to Huxley’s science despite it being a non-empirical form of knowledge.

Another aspect of the controversy was the change in the status of the clergy. One of Huxley’s goals was to remove the clergy from influence over education. As the sciences became professionalized, Huxley was successful in keeping the clergy out. The result was that a thoroughly naturalistic science became ascendant in the universities.

Thus began the strategy of promoting naturalism under the guise of science. It was so successful that people to this day don’t know science was ever otherwise. Such is the historical ignorance of our time that such ideas reign virtually unchallenged.

Guidelines for addressing controversial issues

Controversies are a staple of today’s world, whether on the news media or the minds of people dealing with changes and counter-changes, or charges and counter-charges. In most cases reporting of controversies is very poor. Partisans have a difficult time even understanding their opponents and make points that are often irrelevant. What follows are some guidelines for handling controversial issues that draw from my experience with issues such as abortion, homosexuality, intelligent design, and the creation-evolution controversy.

Informal fallacies to avoid

Arguing against a position that your opponents don’t hold. This is surprisingly common. It may make points with your side but is irrelevant to genuine argument and confuses those on the sidelines. Check out your opponents before arguing against them.

Arguing against a position held only by fringe elements of your opponents. This is also very common. There are always those on the fringe who have foolish ideas and are easily criticized, but so what? Arguing against fringe elements may make your opponents look bad but doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. And they can make you look bad in the same way, so it accomplishes nothing.

Arguing against a position that is a poor way of expressing your opponents’ position. This is very common. People usually express their opponents’ position in their own words, which can be a way of showing that you understand the matter. But what if you’re wrong? Your opponents can simply say you’re arguing against someone else.

Insulting your opponents. Insults are so common they almost need not be mentioned. After all, what’s a controversial issue without insults? You may not even be aware of some insults, either by insensitivity or casual use of negative language. But your opponents can use the same tactic on you, and may be better at it. Trading insults accomplishes nothing good.

A good response

It is good to assume good intentions of your opponents. Much heat and little light characterize much writing and speaking about controversial issues. You may not like your opponents, you may even be suspicious of your opponents, but unless you have specific evidence of ill intent by leading advocates you oppose, don’t go there.

It is good to quote your opponents on their position, rather than only using your own words. You will need to put things in your own words but first quote your opponents so everyone can see you are not making this up. You should at least try to get their position right. This may be the most difficult part because you and your opponents see things so differently. But at least show you are trying.

It is good to focus on the most common argument that your opponents use. This is where the crossfire is focused. Whether it’s a strong or weak argument, your opponents have a favorite argument that is repeated over and over. It’s your task to take it apart and show how it is false or weak or non-persuasive.

The best response

It is best to assume the best of your opponents. You will garner good-will by assuming the best in others. For one thing it makes you look good. For another it is the right thing to do. Opportunities to speak will open up because of your gentlemanly or ladylike behavior.

It is best to quote your opponents liberally, being careful of their context. Go over something they have written and show in detail where it breaks down. Use their own words against them, without ignoring their context. That is a powerful and focused argument.

It is best to focus on the most persuasive argument your opponents have. Go after the best argument your opponents can muster and, if you can knock it down, your opponents will be permanently weakened if not defeated. Let there be a battle of your best against their best. That is the best way to settle an issue.

Seminar presentation

I’ll be a speaker this weekend at the Genesis Seminar in Bridgeville, Pa (near Pittsburgh). The keynote speaker is Dr. Andrew Steinmann of Concordia University, Chicago. The title of my presentation is History and Philosophy of the Science of Origins, in which I will try to organize a diversity of material in history, philosophy, science, and biblical studies.

I see a dialogue/dialectic between two opposites/extremes, represented by these two lists:

(a) Genealogy, generations, chronicle, narrative, diachrony, history, process, society, time

(b) Logic, principles, philosophy, theory, exact science, synchrony, structure, universe, space

Where does theology fit in this? Exegetical and historical theology fit with (a) and systematic theology fits with (b).

Where does biology fit in this? Platonic, Scholastic, scala naturae, fixed-species biology fits with (a) and Aristotle (not Aristotelian), developmental, adaptive, evolutionary biology with (b).

There is also a both-and (c) to go with this either-or of extremes:

(c) mean, moderate, combination, synthesis, duality, complementarity, space-time

In science (c) is the convergence of increasing precision, the duality of particle and wave, the synthesis of space and time.

Theologically (c) is the Old and New Testaments, Law and Gospel, direct and indirect creation, Word and Spirit, and the Trinity as a unity-of-duality.

Biologically (c) is a combination of process and structure, variation and permanence, bottom-up and top-down classifications.

The Bible is remarkably balanced version of (c).

Utility and evolution

Evolution is the ultimate theory of modern science because it’s all about utility.

Early modern scientists and philosophers of science dismissed formal and final causes in favor of material and efficient (i.e., mechanistic) causes. Galileo Galilei rejected final causes and endeavored to answer how things happened, not why. Francis Bacon spurned formal and final causes because they were “not beneficial.” René Descartes rejected formal and final cause explanations as barren and pointless. They were after utility, finding out how things worked, providing practical applications. Whatever didn’t contribute to that was discarded.

Modern science follows utility so much that is it not uncommon for scientists to deny that anything else exists. Formal and final causes are not merely useless, they are nonexistent precisely because modern science rejects them. A curious combination of forgetting the origins of modern science and becoming arrogant about the successes of modern science leads more people to dismiss anything outside modern science.

If modern science looks for utility and is only concerned about utility, then utility must be the engine of the universe. Evolution says essentially that. What works continues and what doesn’t work doesn’t continue. Fitness determines everything.

The circularity of the argument is so obvious it is amazing that anyone could fall for it but many have and continue to do so. “Nothing succeeds like success” and apologists for modern science have an abundance of examples to show its success. The fact that there are many failures gets lost in the fine print and publications that don’t happen. Who wants to read about failure? Yet failure is the key to modern science. The irony is great.

From history to nature

Over the centuries the various sciences have developed from a focus on history to a focus on nature, that is from a temporal or diachronic focus to a spatial or synchronic one. Saussure saw this in linguistics and reoriented it from a focus on historical language change to language as a system. Both have their place but historic study finds few natures, i.e., invariants, whereas the study of natures discovers many invariants.

For example, astronomy and physics in ancient times focused on cycles and the “harmony of the spheres” but in modern times focuses on a four dimensional continuum. Chemistry has developed from an alchemical focus on transmutation to a modern focus on the periodic table and compounds. Biology still focuses on temporality with its concentration on origins and history; to further develop it will need to focus on the nature of biological kinds. Geology has a similar focus on temporality so it will need to focus more on the nature of geological features.

Both History and Nature have been used by atheists as substitutes for God — in the 18th century Newton’s system was seen as Nature in control, then in the 19th & 20th centuries Darwin’s evolution was seen as History in control. So both approaches can be carried to extremes and will be by some.

Biology — whether evolutionary or creationary — needs to move from defining species or created kinds in terms of descent from original organisms to defining them in terms of their nature, e.g., as either having something in common (an essence) or a some type of interconnectivity (a topological definition).

Secular science

The word “secular” can mean simply non-religious but really means more than that; according to the Online Etymological Dictionary, secular means

“worldly, pertaining to a generation or age,” from Latin saecularis “of an age, occurring once in an age,” from saeculum “age, span of time, generation.”

The basic distinction is between matters that pertain to the age and world in which we live and those matters which are beyond it — life after death, unseen spiritual reality, etc.

Modern science has always focused on the secular in this sense, and abstained from investigating metaphysical and spiritual matters — but that should include “deep time,” too. By definition “deep time” refers to ages of time before this present age, this age of human life. No human being ever lived in deep time. Human experience does not include deep time. A scientific organization (or a government) cannot promote belief in deep time and remain secular.

Secular science should exclude everything that is not part of the age and world in which humanity lives. That means secular science must remain within recorded history, the period of time covered by written sources. This may be extended slightly by the study of artifacts for societies without writing.

Since scientific creationism stays within recorded history, it is more secular than any deep time theory.

 

A dual biology

Evolutionists argue that, in general, homologous (similar) structures or genes are evidence of common (joint) ancestry between the species. They also argue that vestigial (useless) features show common ancestry between the species and a similar species in which they are functional.

Critics of evolution can equally well argue that, in general, heterologous (dissimilar) structures or genes are evidence of disjoint ancestry between the species. They can also argue either that alleged vestigial features are in fact useful or that our lack of knowledge about their utility does not make them useless.

These two groups could go back and forth ad nauseum, or they could call an armistice and accept that in some cases one of them is right and in other cases the other is right. What would biology look like in that case? Biology would admit a dual explanatory regime.

What would this dual biology look like? It would look like a common classification problem to determine for each pair of objects whether they are in the same class or in different classes. The answer is not: all objects are in the same class. Nor is it: each object is in a different class. The correct classification is somewhere in between.

Why is this so difficult for biologists? Perhaps because there are so many organic species that a simplistic answer to their relationship is better than no answer. But in that case it would be best to have both groups compete for the best answer. Don’t give a monopoly to one group (i.e., the evolutionists) but encourage their critics to give a better answer. Ironically, that’s close to where biology was before evolutionists took over.

Unfortunately, the academic world doesn’t do well with competition. So academic science tends toward monopolistic science. The competition takes place outside the academy, in independent research institutes. That’s where the cutting edge of biology is.

 

Occam’s razor

Occam’s Razor (also called Ockham’s Razor) refers to a principle of parsimony or simplicity in modern science associated with the medieval monk William of Ockham. His principle states: “Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily.”

The word “entities” is ambiguous here: what should be minimized, the total number of entities of any kind or the number of kinds of entity? The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP) article on “Simplicity” notes:

The default reading of Occam’s Razor in the bulk of the philosophical literature is as a principle of qualitative parsimony.

The distinction between qualitative and quantitative here is between the number of types (or kinds) of entities postulated and the number of individual entities postulated. So Occam’s Razor has no problem with a zillion atoms all alike but it does have a problem with two or more different kinds of atoms.

The SEP article notes:

It should be noted that interpreting Occam’s Razor in terms of kinds of entity brings with it some extra philosophical baggage of its own. In particular, judgments of parsimony become dependent on how the world is sliced up into kinds.

So Occam’s Razor prefers one kind of parsimony: qualitative parsimony. For science this means theories that posit fewer kinds of entity are preferred. This is as arbitrary as preferring theories positing fewer entities but more kinds of entity.

It is basically the standard classification problem: which is better, lumping or splitting? Occam’s Razor prefers lumping into fewer classes. But there is no necessary reason for this preference. It is arbitrary and biased.

This preference has direct implications for what kind of theories are selected in science. For example, an explanation in geology in terms of uniform processes is preferred over one that also includes global catastrophes. And an evolutionary theory which considers all life to be one kind of entity over a long time is preferred over any theory that posits multiple kinds of life over a shorter time.

This principle is biased and should be rejected or changed.

Falsification or limitation?

Karl Popper made falsification the key to scientific legitimacy. But as others have pointed out, scientists do not spend much time trying to falsify theories. Instead, they work to confirm and extend theories. Moreover, an observation that goes against a theory doesn’t falsify the whole theory; it creates an anomaly that can be dealt with in various ways–for example, search for hidden factors, modify the theory slightly, or discount the observation.

It is only when a superior theory arises that explains anomalies and everything else an older theory explained that scientists take note. So there can be a period of instability as some people question the theory and others try to defend it. This has happened many times in the history of science, from the geocentric-heliocentric debate, to the origins debate of today.

What I’d like to suggest is that falsification shouldn’t be the motivation regarding a theory which has some evidence for it. The question should be: What are the limits to the theory? The fact is that all theories have their validity limits (as Fritz Rohrlich calls them). Why? Because theories assume simplifications of reality, construct isolated systems, and are based on limited data.

While scientists posit theories that are nominally universal, that scope is merely a default in place of the unknown limits that will be discovered later. Science is both optimistic that its theories cover a wide number of cases and open to findings of the limits of theories. Promoters of science seize on the optimistic part and downplay or ignore the limitation part.

In the 18th century enthusiastic Newtonians were very influential in making a clockwork universe the common mindset. Their mistake was taking the word “universal” in universal gravity literally as if Newton’s theory had no problems. In recent years promoters of universal common descent have been very influential in taking the word “universal” literally in evolution, even as the limits of natural selection (and other mechanisms of change) are becoming more known.

Science should search for the limits of every theory. That can be done by finding out the conditions under which it is false, or it breaks down, or works poorly. This sets the stage for a superior theory, that is, one with a larger extension. It also puts all theories on the same level: they all can have their uses but they are always limited.

Scientific theories are not falsified; they are limited, and their limits become known over time.