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Tag Archives: History Of Science

Semi-transformism

In the late 18th and early 19th century several proposals were made such as Lamarck’s that species were transformed into new species.  This culminated in Darwin’s theory that all species were transformed from other species (hence there is common descent).  In the 19th century creationists continued to hold to a non-transformist view that all species were specially created by God and were fixed and unchangeable.  A new creationist position arose in the 20th century that might be called “semi-tranformism” because it allows for speciation and extinction but affirms the creation of a limited number of fixed kinds of organisms.

This simple narrative is not being communicated very well.  Creationists today are still considered non-transformists because they have not clearly articulated the difference between the new creationism and the old creationism.

July 2013

Truth and utility

Ancient science was focused on truth, not utility.  It was elitist and unconcerned with helping improve the life of ordinary people.  Pure mathematics retains this attitude with its unconcern for applications, leaving that to others.

Modern science grew out of the Renaissance and original humanist movement (not to be confused with the contemporary humanist movement).  They were concerned with improving the life of ordinary people.  Bacon is clear about this and so focused on material and efficient causes and left the rest to others.  This attitude is retained today in methodological naturalism.  Science has gained an enormous reputation based on its utilitarian focus.

Creationists want to put truth back on the top, with utility second.  It should not be surprising that modern scientists reject this approach.  It is too ancient for the moderns.

May 2013

On Galileo’s Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina

Reference: Discoveries and Opinions of Galileotr. by Stillman Drake, Anchor Books, 1957

Galileo wrote a letter in 1615 “to the most serene Grand Duchess Christina.”  In his second sentence Galileo notes his opponents were “academic philosophers” who held “physical notions” he contradicted.  They were not ecclesiastical authorities as is so often claimed today.  He asserts “they made the grave mistake of sprinkling” their “numerous writings” “with passages taken from places in the Bible which they had failed to understand properly, and which were ill suited to their purposes.”  This sets up the focus of the letter on the proper relationship between what he later calls “mathematics” (which would be called physical science today).

He goes on to quote St. Augustine to the effect that “dubious points” should not be used to “conceive a prejudice” against something that may later be shown to be true of the Bible.  He goes on to affirm he holds the Bible, theologians, and Church Councils “to be of supreme authority” as any good Catholic would but this is hedged by saying “when employed according to the usage of the holy Church.”

He holds “the sun to be situated motionless in the center of the revolution of the celestial orbs while the earth rotates on its axis and revolves about the sun.”  Note the key issue is motion, not centricity, as Galileo accurately states it.  The Ptolemaic position is that the earth is still and the sun in motion around it.  He goes on to assert his opponents “have resolved to fabricate a shield for their fallacies out of the mantle of pretended religion and the authority of the Bible.”

Galileo states he is not asserting novel opinions but is the “restorer and confirmer” of the opinions of Copernicus who was a Catholic in good standing with the Church.  Then he makes this statement about his opponents:

Contrary to the sense of the Bible and the intention of the holy Fathers, if I am not mistaken, they would extend such authorities until even in purely physical matters – where faith is not involved – they would have us altogether abandon reason and the evidence of our senses in favor of some biblical passage, though under the surface meaning of its words this passage may contain a different sense.

He notes about Copernicus —

For Copernicus never discusses matters of religion or faith, nor does he use arguments that depend in any way upon the authority of sacred writings which he might have interpreted erroneously. He stands always upon physical conclusions pertaining to the celestial motions, and deals with them by astronomical and geometrical demonstrations, founded primarily upon sense experiences and very exact observations.  He did not ignore the Bible, but he knew very well that if his doctrine were proved, then it could not contradict the Scriptures when they were rightly understood.

So Galileo is confident that arguments that do not depend in any way upon the authority of sacred writings are not subject to questions about misinterpretation, and further, could not contradict the Scriptures when rightly understood.  So these empirical arguments are more assured than the sacred writings because they bypass hermeneutical questions – first by being independent of sacred writings and then by reaching conclusions which will be reached from the sacred writings when they are properly interpreted.  One might react, “who needs interpretation if you can know the right answer without the text?”

2013

Three kinds of science

Aristotle laid much of the foundation for modern science but failed to take the final steps.  He articulated the logic, the four causes, sensory realism, and the importance of observation.  But he didn’t have the Bible when he tried to start with final causes and used philosophical speculation instead.

Bacon and the early modern scientists partly corrected this by focusing on material and efficient causes and leaving the others to the philosophers.  This has worked well for inanimate nature but is deficient for animate and historical nature.  Late modern scientists keep trying to force a mechanistic approach onto all sciences and trying to ignore the need for formal and final causes.

The intelligent design movement is incorporating formal causes into the science of animate nature.  They need to go further and bring final causes into historical nature, too.  They will be unable to understand human nature or the origin of nature without knowledge of final causes.

Creationists begin with the Bible, which provides knowledge of final and some formal causes in God’s purpose and design.  They also incorporate knowledge of other causes from mechanistic science.  They are working on a complete science, one that properly considers all four causes.  In a sense this is an integration of the Bible and Aristotle.

January 2013

Introduction to creationism

There are different sources of knowledge: historical, scientific, engineering, business, philosophical, theological, etc. They work best when they work together. For example, even the best business could not construct a very good bridge if they ignored engineering knowledge. This also applies to the sciences. The natural sciences need to consider knowledge from history and engineering for example. The odd thing is that this is not normally done. In fact, some would say that science is the only source of knowledge and so should ignore everything else. This is called “scientism” or “positivism” and it is a form of willful ignorance.

In the 19th century. People such as Auguste Compte openly called for excluding other sources of knowledge from all sciences. He called this ideology “positivism” and surprisingly it caught on so that many people in the sciences think they cannot consider knowledge from any other source at all.

Some scientists and others dispute this ideology and are open to all relevant sources of knowledge when investigating the natural world. One group of these scientists are commonly called “creationists’ because they include knowledge from ancient history in their understanding of natural history. In particular, they include sources of knowledge that indicate an original creation, degeneration, and catastrophe should be included when studying astronomy, biology, and geology.

July 2011

Rise and fall of science

In broad Aristotelian terms, this is how it happened:

Aristotle articulated four types of causes — material, efficient (mechanism), formal (design), and final (purpose) — with the final cause as the most important.  His biology tried to find these causes but he had to speculate about final causes and his biology failed.

Fast-forward to Francil Bacon who separated material and efficient causes, which science would investigate, vs. formal and final causes, which were left to philosophy and religion.  From the Enlightenment on the material and efficient causes were deemed sufficient to explain phenomena.  Occam’s razor was a tool in this reductionistic and scientistic move.  The formal and final causes were left as superfluous, something for poets and stripped-down theologians.

This happened before Darwin.  With Darwin this scientistic understanding was incorporated into mainstream science.  Those who wanted to include formal and final causes were banished from the scientific community.  The Prussian model of the university consolidated this move in Europe and later elsewhere.

Even if evolution were superseded, something just as reductionistic would replace it without a broader cultural and intellectual shift.

June 2011