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Category Archives: Science

Science particularly as related to creation and the creation-evolution controversy

Biological classes and ancestries

Taxonomy is the science of classification. Taxonomy applied to biology is a systematic approach to classifying organisms. It can be applied to all organisms at a particular time, throughout time, or within any context. Once a classification is determined, other questions arise such as whether there is an independent reason that organisms are in the same class together.

The basic question in all classifications is whether the objects to be classified fit within a class or belong to another class. The goal of a classification is to minimize the within-class differences and maximize the between-class differences. This is often done by defining a distance metric that quantifies the differences.

Carl Linnaeus is known as the father of modern taxonomy who formalized the binomial nomenclature and called the lowest classes species and genus (no doubt after Aristotle’s method of defining with species and genera). His original expectation was that these biological species were natural kinds that do not change over time. With the discovery that fossils came from dead organisms, it became clear that some of his species had changed over time.

The solution to this problem was to reclassify organisms both living and dead in a new classification system. But this was easier said than done since it took years for fossils to be examined. Meanwhile, people were anxious to know how all the diversity of species arose.

Charles Darwin’s hypothesis was soon adopted: species are temporary population groupings with universal common ancestry. If all species are temporary, there is only one fixed class: the class of all species. Others hypothesize  there are classes of species that are fixed and have separate ancestries, which supports design or special creation.

How can this dispute be resolved? Elliott Sober compares these two hypotheses in his book Evidence and Evolution. Sober argues for a likelihood approach to determining the better of two hypotheses. The law of likelihood states that evidence E favors hypothesis H1 over H2 if and only if the probability of E given H1 is greater than the probability of E given H2, or in symbols, P(E | H1) > P(E | H2). Note that this is a comparative approach; it only works when comparing two specific hypotheses.

In this case, the context is all species on the earth over all the history of life on earth. Hypothesis H1 states that there are multiple classes of species that span the history of life on earth, each class with separate ancestry. Hypothesis H2 states that there is only one class of species that span the history of life on earth, all with common ancestry.

Sober notes that Darwin routinely inferred common ancestry if there was some similarity between species. Sober calls this modus Darwin. It is better to have an overall metric of distance between species than rely on a few similarities. However, there is no generally accepted distance metric for species. In its absence, we can still make some inferences.

If there are many similarities between two species, that evidence is more likely given hypothesis H2 (common ancestry), though there is some likelihood given hypothesis H1. If there are discontinuities between two species, even if there are some similarities, that evidence is more likely given hypothesis H1 (separate ancestry).

Note that if someone proposes a possible sequence of events that explains a discontinuity given hypothesis H2, it is merely a possibility and lacks likelihood. But since hypothesis H1 includes partial common ancestry, it is likely with evidence of similarities as well as differences. The conclusion from this exercise is that separate ancestry is the superior hypothesis.

A problem arises when proponents of common ancestry insist there must first be an explanation of how these separate lines of ancestry originated. The best answer is that, just as abiogenesis is not part of the common ancestry hypothesis, so the origin of the separate classes of species is not part of the separate ancestry hypothesis.

Elemental inverse

Begin with elements. Elements are a very general concept: they may be either members of sets or distinctions of classes. As a set is defined by its members, so a class is defined by its distinctions. So, the elements of sets are members and the elements of classes are distinctions.

Sets may be divided into subsets or combined into supersets. Classes may be divided into subclasses or combined into superclasses. Distinctions may be between classes or within classes. Members may be within sets or without sets.

One might say that a class is just a set of distinctions, or one might also say that a set is just a class of members. But that would blur their differences.

Sets assume one knows members and is trying to combine them into the right sets. Classes assume one knows distinctions and is trying to divide them into the right classes. Aristotle assumed that classes could be known by defining them with the right distinctions. Empiricists assume that sets can be known by defining them with the right members.

Realists begin with classes. A tree is defined by its distinctions. Upon inductive investigation, trees may be grouped into types of tree. Upon deductive investigation, types of trees have certain properties.

Induction proceeds from classes to sets. Deduction proceeds from sets to classes. Sets and classes are like inverses of one another.

Both sets and classes are axiomatized by Boolean algebra with the axioms of identity, complementation, associativity, commutativity, and distributivity.

Cycle of science

There is a well-known alternation of induction and deduction in science (click to enlarge):

induction-deduction cycleThe induction phase consists of data collection, data analysis, and model development. The deduction phase consists of taking the model, making hypothetical inferences, and following up with experiments that lead to new data collection. Then the cycle repeats.

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Isaiah Berlin on history and science

The following (long) excerpts are from Isaiah Berlin’s article “History and Theory: The Concept of Scientific History”, published in History and Theory 1 (1):1 (1960). Republished in Concepts and Categories: Philosophical Essays. NY: Viking Press, 1979. (online here).

HISTORY, according to Aristotle, is an account of what individual human beings have done and suffered. In a still wider sense, history is what historians do. Is history then a natural science, as, let us say, physics or biology or psychology are sciences? And if not, should it seek to be one? And if it fails to be one, what prevents it? Is this due to human error or impotence, or to the nature of the subject, or does the very problem rest on a confusion between the concept of history and that of natural science? These have been questions that have occupied the minds of both philosophers and philosophically minded historians at least since the beginning of the nineteenth century, when men became self-conscious about the purpose and logic of their intellectual activities. But two centuries before that, Descartes had already denied to history any claim to be a serious study. Those who accepted the validity of the Cartesian criterion of what constitutes rational method could (and did) ask how they could find the clear and simple elements of which historical judgements were composed, and into which they could be analysed: where were the definitions, the logical transformation rules, the rules of inference, the rigorously deduced conclusions? While the accumulation of this confused amalgam of memories and travellers’ tales, fables and chroniclers’ stories, moral reflections and gossip, might be a harmless pastime, it was beneath the dignity of serious men seeking what alone is worth seeking – the discovery of the truth in accordance with principles and rules which alone guarantee scientific validity.

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History and science combined

For previous posts on history and science, see here.

History and science are different kinds of knowledge. History is based on the particulars that go into narratives. Science is based on the universals that go into theories.

History is focused on the matter and science is focused on the form, in the Aristotelian sense. The nature of something is its essence, its participation in universals, which is why there are natural sciences. Social sciences look at the form of human interaction. The term natural history is an older term for a scientific investigation into the natural world, especially biology, not a history in the modern sense.

The matter of something is its key particulars. Physical history is the investigation of the key particulars of physical objects in the past resulting in a narrative. This might be called natural history, but that term has meant science so it would be confusing. The investigation of the key particulars of documents in the past resulting in a narrative is simply called history.

History and science can be combined to explain something in the past. Yes. This is often called science but it is mainly history, with science assisting. For example, the investigation leading to the conclusion that the extinction of the dinosaurs was caused by a large asteroid or volcano is physical history that is commonly called science. Key particulars explain what happened. Science provides support. The result is a narrative, not a theory. (See here.)

The explanation of an event or series of events is history, since the particulars of events are history, even if science takes a supporting rôle. The explanation of a phenomenon or multiple phenomena is science, since their explanation depends on their nature, even if history takes a supporting rôle.

Repeating events entail universals that require science for explanation. Non-repeating events entail particulars that require history for explanation. Ancient mythology tried to explain repeating events through particulars, e.g., Zeus’ anger explains lightening, as if their nature was irrelevant. Modern mythology tried to explain unique events through universals, as if their substance was irrelevant.

“Creation science” concerns created universals. “Creation history” concerns created particulars.

Lorentz from light clocks

Space and time are inverse perspectives on motion. In space length is measured by a rigid rod at rest, whereas duration is measured by a clock that is always in motion. In time duration is measured by a clock at rest relative to the time frame, whereas length is measured by a rigid rod in motion that counteracts time as it were.

This is illustrated by deriving the Lorentz factor for time dilation and length contraction from light clocks. The first derivation is in space with scalar time and the second is in time with scalar space.

light clock with height hlight clock in motion

The first figure above shows a light clock in space as a beam of light reflected back and forth between two mirrored surfaces. The height that the light beam travels between the surfaces is h. Let one time cycle Δt = 2h/c = 2 or h = cΔt/2 = Δt/(2¢), with mean speed of light c and mean pace of light ¢.

The second figure shows the light clock as observed by someone moving with velocity v and pace u relative to the light clock; the length of each leg is d; and the length of the base of one triangle-shaped cycle is b.

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Intellectual hierarchies

Societies have an intellectual hierarchy reflected in their academic hierarchy that exhibit their scale of concepts and values. There are basically three groups of intellectual disciplines: the study of divinity (theology), the humanities, and the sciences. There are six possible ways of ordering these three, which shows the intellectual state of a society.

(1) Theology, humanities, sciences: This is the medieval and Renaissance order.

(2) Theology, sciences, humanities: This is the early modern order, which is deistic with scientific realism.

(3) Humanities, theology, sciences: This is the conservative Catholic order, which is humanistic and traditionalist.

(4) Humanities, sciences, theology: This is the liberal Catholic order, which is humanistic with scientific realism.

(5) Sciences, theology, humanities: This is the conservative Protestant order, which is scientistic with theological realism.

(6) Sciences, humanities, theology: This is the late modern order, which is scientistic and humanistic.

Order number (1) is the proper one because it places the highest truth (God) first, then humanity second, then the world after these are properly understood.

Deep time postulate

This subject was previously mentioned, e.g., here.

James Hutton proposed introducing deep time into modern science in 1788. In the early 19th century it was accepted for the geologic time scale. Biologists followed with Darwinism in the late 19th century. Astronomers accepted it to explain cosmology.

What’s wrong with the deep time postulate (DTP)?

The DTP is a large expansion of explanatory resources. It may be compared with explaining crimes by assuming that everyone has access to a large amount of cash. That may make it easier to explain crimes, but such an assumption leads to poor quality explanations.

Similarly, the DTP makes scientific explanations easier, but not better. The more time there is, the more time that one has to fit all the events that might have happened to bring about some state of affairs. But easier does not make better.

This is most egregious in evolutionary biology, in which the possibility of the extremely unlikely happening becomes seemingly more likely the more time there is. It leads to the evolutionary imagination running riot with possibilities. Such a science turns away from what actually occurred.

The DTP invents a whole history that is discontinuous with history based on documents and testimonies. Such a time is not the time of memory but of calculation. It obscures the difference between science and history. History seeks key particulars, whereas science looks for universals. It will not do to replace history with science, as the 19th century ideologues tried to do (Auguste Comte, Herbert Spencer, Karl Marx).

Science is based on induction, not explanation. The slow accumulation of evidence, the incremental formation of hypotheses and laws, and experimental testing are the hallmarks of science. Grandiose postulates are contrary to this careful effort. The DTP should be rejected.

Balancing contraries

Other posts on contraries include this.

Contrary opposites entail one another. There is no north without south or tall without short, for example. Some things such as sex are contraries in some respects but not in all respects.

Contrary opposites are symmetric. Contraries can be reversed or inverted, and they are still there. Since mirror opposites do not necessarily exist, mirror images are not contraries, though they exhibit a symmetry.

Because contraries entail one another and are symmetric, it is arbitrary to always prefer one to the other. One could just as well prefer the opposite contrary.

Contrary opposites can be unified into a higher perspective that contains them both. Unification is an expanded position that incorporates contraries.

Contrary opposites can be balanced in a duality that resists unification. A static equilibrium or dynamic harmony favors contrary opposites equally.

Ancient science prefers static contraries in balanced duality. Modern science prefers dynamic contraries in progressive unification.

All theories are limited

This post continues previous posts on this topic, such as here.

Once a theory becomes established, it is always valid. It is never falsified. What happens is that its limits are discovered. Any pretense to being universal breaks down.

All theories are limited. Theories are analogies, and all analogies have limits. It is the scientific fashion to initially present a theory as universal, but this is a manner of speaking, not to be taken literally. No theory is universal because all theories have their limits.

When the limits of a theory are known, it is what Werner Heisenberg called a closed theory. An open theory is one whose limits are not known. It may be considered universal, even though it is not. But until its limits are known, no one knows its limits so it’s as if there are none. Eventually, limits will be found.

This means for example, there are three valid theories of the figure of the earth: the flat earth, the spherical earth, and the ellipsoidal earth. Each is valid within a certain domain of accuracy and precision.

There are several valid theories of the celestial bodies: simple geocentrism, Ptolemaic geocentrism, Copernican heliocentrism, Tychonic geoheliocentrism, Keplerian heliocentrism, Newtonian barycentrism, and Einsteinian cosmology. They are all valid within their domain of applicability.

Several theories of biological diversity are valid: fixed species, fixed kinds with limited change, and change over time (evolution). None of these are universal. They all have their limits.