Tagged: philosophy of science

Problems With “Neo-Aristotelian Perspectives On Contemporary Science: Dodging the Fundamentalist Threat”

By R.N. Carmona

Before starting my discussion of the first chapter of Neo-Aristotelian Perspectives On Contemporary Science, some prefatory remarks are in order. In the past, I might have committed to reading an entire book for purposes of writing a chapter by chapter review. With other projects in my periphery, I cannot commit to writing an exhaustive review of this book. That remains undecided for now. What I will say is that a sample size might be enough to confirm my suspicions that the Neo-Aristotelian system is rife with problems or even worse, is a failed system of metaphysics. I am skeptical of the system because it appears to have been recruited to bolster patently religious arguments, in particular those of modern Thomists looking to usher in yet another age of apologetics disguised as philosophy. I maintain that apologetics still needs to be thoroughly demarcated from philosophy of religion; moreover, philosophy of religion should be more than one iteration after another of predominantly Christian literature. With respect to apologetics, I am in agreement with Kai Nielsen who stated:

It is a waste of time to rehearse arguments about the proofs or evidences for God or immortality. There are no grounds — or at least no such grounds — for belief in God or belief that God exists and/or that we are immortal. Hume and Kant (perhaps with a little rational reconstruction from philosophers like J.L. Mackie and Wallace Matson) pretty much settled that. Such matters have been thoroughly thrashed out and there is no point of raking over the dead coals. Philosophers who return to them are being thoroughly retrograde.

Nielsen, Kai. Naturalism and Religion. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus, 2001. 399-400. Print.

The issue is that sometimes one’s hand is forced because the number of people qualified to rake dead coals is far fewer than the people rehashing these arguments. Furthermore, the history of Christianity, aside from exposing a violent tendency to impose the Gospel by force, also exposes a tendency to prey on individuals who are not qualified to address philosophical and theological arguments. Recently, this was made egregiously obvious by Catholic writer Pat Flynn:

So what we as religious advocates must be ready for is to offer the rational, logical basis—the metaphysical realism, and the reality of God—that so many of these frustrated, young people are searching for who are patently fed up with the absurd direction the secular world seems to be going. They’re looking for solid ground. And we’ve got it.

Flynn, Pat. “A Hole in The Intellectual Dark Web”. World On Fire Blog. 26 Jun 2019. Web.

Unfortunately, against all sound advice and blood pressure readings, people like myself must rake dead coals or risk allowing Christians to masquerade as the apex predators in this intellectual jungle. I therefore have to say to the Pat Flynns of the world, no you don’t got it. More importantly, let young people lead their lives free of the draconian prohibitions so often imposed on people by religions like yours. If you care to offer the rational, logical basis for your beliefs, then perhaps you should not be approaching young people who likely have not had an adequate exposure to the scholarship necessary to understand apologetics. This is not to speak highly of the apologist, who typically distorts facts and evidence to fit his predilections, making it necessary to acquire sufficient knowledge of various fields of inquiry so that one is more capable of identifying distortions or omission of evidence and thus, refuting his arguments. If rational, logical discourse were his aim, then he would approach people capable of handling his arguments and contentions. That is when it becomes abundantly clear that the aim is to target people who are more susceptible to his schemes by virtue of lacking exposure to the pertinent scholarship and who may already be gullible due to existing sympathy for religious belief, like Flynn himself, a self-proclaimed re-converted Catholic.

Lanao and Teh’s Anti-Fundamentalist Argument and Problems Within The Neo-Aristotelian System

With these prefatory remarks out of the way, I can now turn to Xavi Lanao and Nicholas J. Teh’s “Dodging The Fundamentalist Threat.” Though I can admire how divorced Lanao and Teh’s argument is from whatever theological views they might subscribe to, it should be obvious to anyone, especially the Christian Thomist, that their argument is at variance with Theism. Lanao and Teh write: “The success of science (especially fundamental physics) at providing a unifying explanation for phenomena in disparate domains is good evidence for fundamentalism” (16). They then add: “The goal of this essay is to recommend a particular set of resources to Neo- Aristotelians for resisting Fundamentalist Unification and thus for resisting fundamentalism” (Ibid.). In defining Christian Theism, Timothy Chappell, citing Paul Veyne, offers the following:

“The originality of Christianity lies… in the gigantic nature of its god, the creator of both heaven and earth: it is a gigantism that is alien to the pagan gods and is inherited from the god of the Bible. This biblical god was so huge that, despite his anthropomorphism (humankind was created in his image), it was possible for him to become a metaphysical god: even while retaining his human, passionate and protective character, the gigantic scale of the Judaic god allowed him eventually to take on the role of the founder and creator of the cosmic order.” 

Chappell, Timothy. “Theism, History and Experience”. Philosophy Now. 2013. Web.

Thomists appear more interested in proving that Neo-Aristotelianism is a sound approach to metaphysics and the philosophy of science than they do in ensuring that the system is not at odds with Theism. The notion that God is the founder and creator of the cosmic order is uncontroversial among Christians and Theists more generally. Inherent in this notion is that God maintains the cosmic order and created a universe that bears his fingerprints, and as such, physical laws are capable of unification because the universe exhibits God’s perfection; the universe is therefore, at least at its start, perfectly symmetric, already containing within it intelligible forces, including finely tuned parameters that result in human beings, creatures made in God’s image. Therefore, in the main, Christians who accept Lanao and Teh’s anti-fundamentalism have, inadvertently or deliberately, done away with a standard Theistic view.

So already one finds that Neo-Aristotelianism, at least from the perspective of the Theist, is not systematic in that the would-be system is internally inconsistent. Specifically, when a system imposes cognitive dissonance of this sort, it is usually good indication that some assumption within the system needs to be radically amended or entirely abandoned. In any case, there are of course specifics that need to be addressed because I am not entirely sure Lanao and Teh fully understand Nancy Cartwright’s argument. I think Cartwright is saying quite a bit more and that her reasoning is mostly correct, even if her conclusion is off the mark.

While I strongly disagree with the Theistic belief that God essentially created a perfect universe, I do maintain that Big Bang cosmology imposes on us the early symmetry of the universe via the unification of the four fundamental forces. Cartwright is therefore correct in her observation that science gives us a dappled portrait, a patchwork stemming from domains operating very much independently of one another; like Lanao and Teh observe: “point particle mechanics and fluid dynamics are physical theories that apply to relatively disjoint sets of classical phenomena” (18). The problem is that I do not think Lanao and Teh understand why this is the case, or at least, they do not make clear that they know why we are left with this dappled picture. I will therefore attempt to argue in favor of Fundamentalism without begging the question although, like Cartwright, I am committed to a position that more accurately describes hers: Non-Fundamentalism. It may be that the gradual freezing of the universe, over the course of about 14 billion years, leaves us entirely incapable of reconstructing the early symmetry of the universe; I will elaborate on this later, but this makes for a different claim altogether, and one that I take Cartwright to be saying, namely that Fundamentalists are not necessarily wrong to think that fundamental unification (FU) is possible but given the state of our present universe, it cannot be obtained. Cartwright provides us with a roadmap of what it would take to arrive at FU, thereby satisfying Fundamentalism, but the blanks need to be filled, so that we get from the shattered glass that is our current universe to the perfectly symmetric mirror it once was.

Lanao and Teh claim that Fundamentalism usually results from the following reasoning:

We also have good reason to believe that everything in the physical world is made up of these same basic kinds of particles. So, from the fact that everything is made up of the same basic particles and that we have reliable knowledge of the behavior of these particles under some experimental conditions, it is plausible to infer that the mathematical laws governing these basic kinds of particles within the restricted experimental settings also govern the particles everywhere else, thereby governing everything everywhere. (Ibid.)

They go on to explain that Sklar holds that biology and chemistry do not characterize things as they really are. This is what they mean when they say Fundamentalists typically beg the question, in that they take Fundamentalism as a given. However, given Lanao and Teh’s construction of Cartwright’s argument, they can also be accused of fallacious reasoning, namely arguing from ignorance. They formulate Cartwright’s Anti-Fundamentalist Argument as follows:

(F1) Theories only apply to a domain insofar as there is a principled way of generating a set of models that are jointly able to describe all the phenomena in that domain.

(AF2) Classical mechanics has a limited set principled models, so it only applies to a limited number of sub-domains.

(AF3) The limited sub-domains of AF2 do not exhaust the entire classical domain.

(AF4) From (F1), (AF2), and (AF3), the domain of classical mechanics is not universal, but dappled. (25-26)

On AF2, how can we expect classical mechanics to acquire more principled models than it presently has? How do we know that, if given enough time, scientists working on classical mechanics will not have come up with a sufficient number of principled models to satisfy even the anti-fundamentalist? That results in quite the conundrum for the anti-fundamentalist. Can the anti-fundamentalist provide the fundamentalist with a satisfactory number of principled models that exhaust an entire domain? This is to ask whether anyone can know how many principled models are necessary to contradict AF3. On any reasonable account, science has not had sufficient time to come up with enough principled models in all of its domains and thus, this argument cannot be used to bolster the case for anti-fundamentalism.

While Lanao and Teh are dismissive of Cartwright’s particularism, it is necessary for the correct degree of tentativeness she exhibits. Lanao and Teh, eager to disprove fundamentalism, are not as tentative, but given the very limited amount of time scientists have had to build principled models, we cannot expect for them to have come up with enough models to exhaust the classical or any other scientific domain. Cartwright’s tentativeness is best exemplified in the following:

And what kinds of interpretative models do we have? In answering this, I urge, we must adopt the scientific attitude: we must look to see what kinds of models our theories have and how they function, particularly how they function when our theories are most successful and we have most reason to believe in them. In this book I look at a number of cases which are exemplary of what I see when I study this question. It is primarily on the basis of studies like these that I conclude that even our best theories are severely limited in their scope.

Cartwright, Nancy. The Dappled World: A Study of The Boundaries of Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. 9. Print.

The fact that our best theories are limited in their scope reduces to the fact that our fragmented, present universe is too complex to generalize via one law per domain or one law that encompasses all domains. For purposes of adequately capturing what I am attempting to say, it is worth revisiting what Cartwright says about a $1,000 bill falling in St. Stephen’s Square:

Mechanics provides no model for this situation. We have only a partial model, which describes the 1000 dollar bill as an unsupported object in the vicinity of the earth, and thereby introduces the force exerted on it due to gravity. Is that the total force? The fundamentalist will say no: there is in principle (in God’s completed theory?) a model in mechanics for the action of the wind, albeit probably a very complicated one that we may never succeed in constructing. This belief is essential for the fundamentalist. If there is no model for the 1000 dollar bill in mechanics, then what happens to the note is not determined by its laws. Some falling objects, indeed a very great number, will be outside the domain of mechanics, or only partially affected by it. But what justifies this fundamentalist belief? The successes of mechanics in situations that it can model accurately do not support it, no matter how precise or surprising they are. They show only that the theory is true in its domain, not that its domain is universal. The alternative to fundamentalism that I want to propose supposes just that: mechanics is true, literally true we may grant, for all those motions whose causes can be adequately represented by the familiar models that get assigned force functions in mechanics. For these motions, mechanics is a powerful and precise tool for prediction. But for other motions, it is a tool of limited serviceability.

Cartwright, Nancy. “Fundamentalism vs. the Patchwork of Laws.” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, vol. 94, 1994, pp. 279–292. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/4545199.

Notice how even Cartwright alludes to the Theistic notion of FU being attributable to a supremely intelligent creator who people call God. In any case, what she is saying here does not speak to the notion that only the opposite of Fundamentalism can be the case. Even philosophers slip into thinking in binaries, but we are not limited to Fundamentalism or Anti-Fundamentalism; Lanao and Teh admit that much. There can be a number of Non-Fundamentalist positions that prove more convincing. In the early universe, the medium of water, and therefore, motions in water, were not available. Because of this, there was no real way to derive physical laws within that medium. Moreover, complex organisms like jellyfish did not exist then either and so, the dynamics of their movements were not known and could not feature in any data concerning organisms moving about in water. This is where I think Cartwright, and Lanao and Teh taking her lead, go astray.

Cartwright, for example, strangely calls for a scientific law of wind. She states: “When we have a good-fitting molecular model for the wind, and we have in our theory (either by composition from old principles or by the admission of new principles) systematic rules that assign force functions to the models, and the force functions assigned predict exactly the right motions, then we will have good scientific reason to maintain that the wind operates via a force” (Ibid). Wind, unlike inertia or gravity, is an inter-body phenomenon in that the heat from the Sun is distributed unevenly across the Earth’s surface. Warmer air from the equator tends toward the atmosphere and moves to the poles while cooler air tends toward the equator. Wind moves between areas of high pressure to areas of low pressure and the boundary between these areas is called a front. This is why we cannot have a law of wind because aside from the complex systems on Earth, this law would have to apply to the alien systems on gas giants like Jupiter and Saturn. This point is best exemplified by the fact that scientists cannot even begin to comprehend why Neptune’s Dark Spot did a complete about-face. A law of wind would have to apply universally, not just on Earth, and would thus, have to explain the behavior of wind on other planets. That is an impossible ask because the composition of other planets and their stars would make for different conditions that are best analyzed in complex models, accounting for as much data as possible, rather than a law attempting to generalize what wind should do assuming simple conditions.

Despite Cartwright’s lofty demand, her actual argument does not preclude Fundamentalism despite what Lanao and Teh might have thought. Cartwright introduces a view that I think is in keeping with the present universe: “Metaphysical nomological pluralism is the doctrine that nature is governed in different domains by different systems of laws not necessarily related to each other in any systematic or uniform way: by a patchwork of laws” (Ibid.). I think it is entirely possible to get from metaphysical nomological pluralism (MNP) to FU if one fills in the blanks by way of symmetry breaking. Prior to seeing how symmetry breaking bridges the gap between MNP and FU, it is necessary to outline an argument from Cartwright’s MNP to FU:

F1 Theories only apply to a domain insofar as there is a principled way of generating a set of models that are jointly able to describe all the phenomena in that domain.

MNP1 Nature is governed in different domains by different systems of laws not necessarily related to each other in any systematic or uniform way: by a patchwork of laws.

MNP2 It is possible that the initial properties in the universe allow these laws to be true together.

MNP3 From F1, MNP1, and MNP2, the emergence of different systems of laws from the initial properties in the universe imply that FU is the probable.

Lanao and Teh agree that F1 is a shared premise between Fundamentalists and Anti-Fundamentalists. As a Non-Fundamentalist, I see it as straightforwardly obvious as well. With respect to our present laws, I think that FU may be out of our reach. As has been famously repeated, humans did not evolve to do quantum mechanics, let alone piece together a shattered mirror. This is why I’m a Non– as opposed to Anti-Fundamentalist; the subtle distinction is that I am neither opposed to FU being the case nor do I think it is false, but rather that it is extremely difficult to come by. Michio Kaku describes the universe as follows: “Think of the way a beautiful mirror shatters into a thousand pieces. The original mirror possessed great symmetry. You can rotate a mirror at any angle and it still reflects light in the same way. But after it is shattered, the original symmetry is broken. Determining precisely how the symmetry is broken determines how the mirror shatters” (Kaku, Michio. Parallel Worlds: A Journey Through Creation, Higher Dimensions, and The Future of The Cosmos. New York: Doubleday, 2005. 97. Print.).

If Kaku’s thinking is correct, then there is no way to postulate that God had St. Peter arrange the initial properties of the universe so that all of God’s desired laws are true simultaneously without realizing that FU is not only probable but true, however unobtainable it may be. The shards would have to pertain to the mirror. Kaku explains that Grand Unified Theory (GUT) Symmetry breaks down to SU(3) x SU(2) x U(1), which yields 19 free parameters required to describe our present universe. There are other ways for the mirror to have broken, to break down GUT Symmetry. This implies that other universes would have residual symmetry different from that of our universe and therefore, would have entirely different systems of laws. These universes, at minimum, would have different values for these free parameters, like a weaker nuclear force that would prevent star formation and make the emergence of life impossible. In other scenarios, the symmetry group can have an entirely different Standard Model in where protons quickly decay into anti-electrons, which would also prevent life as we know it (Ibid., 100).

Modern scientists are then tasked with working backwards. The alternative to that is to undertake the gargantuan task, as Cartwright puts it, of deriving the initial properties, which would no doubt be tantamount to a Theory of Everything from which all of the systems of laws extend, i.e., hypothesize that initial conditions q, r, and s yield the different systems of laws we know. This honors the concretism Lanao and Teh call for in scientific models while also giving abstractionism its due. Like Paul Davies offered, the laws of physics may be frozen accidents. In other words, the effective laws of physics, which is to say the laws of physics we observe, might differ from the fundamental laws of physics, which would be, so to speak, the original state of the laws of physics. In a chaotic early universe, physical constants may not have existed. Hawking also spoke of physical laws that tell us how the universe will evolve if we know its state at some point in time. He added that God could have chosen an “initial configuration” or fundamental laws for reasons we cannot comprehend. He asks, however, “if he had started it off in such an incomprehensible way, why did he choose to let it evolve according to laws that we could understand? (Hawking, Stephen. A Brief History of Time, New York: Bantam Books. 1988. 127. Print.)” He then goes on to discuss possible reasons for this, e.g. chaotic boundary conditions; anthropic principles.

Implicit in Hawking’s reasoning is that we can figure out what physical laws will result in our universe in its present state. The obvious drawback is that the observable universe is ~13.8 billion years old and 93 billion lightyears in diameter. The universe may be much larger, making the task of deriving this initial configuration monumentally difficult. This would require a greater deal of abstraction than Lanao and Teh, and apparently Neo-Aristotelians, desire, but it is the only way to discover how past iterations of physical laws or earlier systems of laws led to our present laws of physics. The issue with modern science is that it does not often concern itself with states in the distant past and so, a lot of equations and models deal in the present, and even the future, but not enough of them confront the past. Cosmological models, for purposes of understanding star formation, the formation of solar systems, and the formation of large galaxies have to use computer models to test their theories against the past, since there is no way to observe the distant past directly. In this way, I think technology will prove useful in arriving at earlier conditions until we arrive at the mirror before it shattered. The following model, detailing how an early collision explains the shape of our galaxy, is a fine example of what computer models can do to help illuminate the distant past:

Credit: Quanta Magazine

Further Issues With The Neo-Aristotelian System

A recent rebuttal to Alexander Pruss’ Grim Reaper Paradox can be generalized to refute Aristotelianism overall. The blogger over at Boxing Pythagoras states:

Though Alexander Pruss discusses this Grim Reaper Paradox in a few of his other blog posts, I have not seen him discuss any other assumptions which might underly the problem. He seems to have focused upon these as being the prime constituents. However, it occurs to me that the problem includes another assumption, which is a bit more subtle. The Grim Reaper Paradox, as formulated, seems to presume the Tensed Theory of Time. I have discussed, elsewhere, the reasons that I believe the Tensed Theory of Time does not hold, so I’ll simply focus here on how Tenseless Time resolves the Grim Reaper Paradox.

To see the difference between old and new tenseless theories, it is necessary to first contrast an old tenseless theory against a tensed theory that holds that properties of the pastness, presentness, and futurity of events are ascribed by tensed sentences. The debate regarding which theory is true centered around whether tensed sentences could be translated by tenseless sentences that instead ascribe relations of earlier than, later than, or simultaneous. For example, “the sun will soon rise” seems to entail the sun’s rising in the future, as an event that will become present, whereas the “sun is rising now” seems to entail the event being present and “the sun has risen” as having receded into the past. If these sentences are true, the first sentence ascribes futurity whilst the second ascribes presentness and the last ascribes pastness. Even if true, however, that is not evidence to suggest that events have such properties. Tensed sentences may have tenseless counterparts having the same meaning.

This is where Quine’s notion of de-tensing natural language comes in. Rather than saying “the sun is rising” as uttered on some date, we would instead say that “the sun is rising” on that date. The present in the first sentence does not ascribe presentness to the sun’s rising, but instead refers to the date the sentence is spoken. In like manner, if “the sun has risen” as uttered on some date is translated into “the sun has risen” on a given date, then the former sentence does not ascribe pastness to the sun’s rising but only refers to the sun’s rising as having occurred earlier than the date when the sentence is spoken. If these translations are true, temporal becoming is unreal and reality is comprised of earlier than, later than, and simultaneous. Time then consists of these relations rather the properties of pastness, presentness, and futurity (Oaklander, Nathan. Adrian Bardon ed. “A-, B- and R-Theories of Time: A Debate”. The Future of the Philosophy of Time. New York: Routledge, 2012. 23. Print.).

The writer at Boxing Pythagoras continues:

On Tensed Time, the future is not yet actual, and actions in the present are what give shape and form to the reality of the future. As such, the actions of each individual future Grim Reaper, in our paradox, can be contingent upon the actions of the Reapers which precede them. However, this is not the case on Tenseless Time. If we look at the problem from the notion of Tenseless Time, then it is not possible that a future Reaper’s action is only potential and contingent upon Fred’s state at the moment of activation. Whatever action is performed by any individual Reaper is already actual and cannot be altered by the previous moments of time. At 8:00 am, before any Reapers activate, Fred’s state at any given time between 8:00 am and 9:00 am is set. It is not dependent upon some potential, but not yet actual, future action as no such thing can exist.

I think this rebuttal threatens the entire Aristotelian enterprise. Aristotelians will have to deny time while maintaining that changes happen in order to escape the fact that de-tensed theories of time, which are more than likely the correct way of thinking about time, impose a principle: any change at a later point in time is not dependent on a previous state. That’s ignoring that God, being timeless, could not have created the universe at some time prior to T = 0, the first instance of time on the universal clock. This is to say nothing of backward causation, which is entirely plausible given quantum mechanics. Causation calls for a deeper analysis, which neo-Humeans pursue despite not being entirely correct. The notion of dispositions is crucial. It is overly simplistic to say the hot oil caused the burns on my hand or the knife caused the cut on my hand. The deeper analysis in each case is that the boiling point of cooking oil, almost two times that of water, has something to do with why the burn feels distinct from a knife cutting into my hand. Likewise, the dispositions of the blade have a different effect on the skin than oil does. Causal relationships are simplistic and, as Nietzsche suggested, do not account for the continuum within the universe and the flux that permeates it. Especially in light of quantum mechanics, we are admittedly ignorant about most of the intricacies within so-called causal relationships. Neo-Humeans are right to think that dispositions are important. This will disabuse of us of appealing to teleology in the following manner:

‘The function of X is Z’ [e.g., the function of oxygen in the blood is… the function of the human heart is… etc.] means

(a) X is there because it does Z,
(b) Z is a consequence (or result) of X’s being there.

Larry Wright, ‘Function’, Philosophical Review 82(2) (April 1973):139–68, see 161.

It is more accurate to say that a disposition of X is instantiated in Z rather than that X exists for purposes of Z because in real world examples, a given X can give rise to A, B, C, and so on. This is to say that one so-called cause can have different effects. A knife can slice, puncture, saw, etc. Hot oil can burn human skin, melt ice but not mix with it, combust when near other mediums or when left to increase to temperatures beyond its boiling point, etc. One would have to ask why cooking oil does not combust when a cube of ice is thrown into the pan; what about the canola oil, for a more specific example, causes it to auto-ignite at 435 degrees Fahrenheit and why does this not happen when water is heated beyond its boiling point?

As it turns out then, Neo-Aristotelians are not as committed to concretism as Lanao and Teh would hope. They are striving for generalizations despite refusing to investigate the details of how models are employed in normal science, as was made obvious by Lanao and Teh’s dismissal of Cartwright’s particularism and further, in their argument against Fundamentalism, which does not flow neatly from Cartwright’s argument. For science to arrive at anything concrete, abstraction needs to be allowed, specifically in cases venturing further and further into the past. Furthermore, a more detailed analysis of changes needs to be incorporated into our data. Briefly, when thinking of the $1,000 bill descending into St. Stephen’s Square, it is a simple fact that we must ask whether there is precipitation or not and if so, how much; we are also required to ask whether bird droppings may have altered its trajectory on the way down?; what effect does smog or dust particles have on the $1,000 bill’s trajectory; as Cartwright asked, what about wind gusts? What is concrete is consistent with the logical atomist’s view that propositions speak precisely to simple particulars or many of them bearing some relation to one another.

Ultimately, I think that Lanao and Teh fail to establish a Neo-Aristotelian approach to principled scientific models. They also fail to show that FU and therefore, Fundamentalism is false. What is also clear is that they did not adequately engage Cartwright’s argument, which is thoroughly Non-Fundamentalist, even if that conclusion escaped her. This is why I hold that Cartwright’s conclusions are off the mark because she is demanding that generalized laws be derived from extremely complex conditions. It is not incumbent on dappled laws within a given domain of science to be unified in order for FU to ultimately be the case. It could be that due to symmetry breaking, one domain appears distinct from another and because of our failure, at least until now, to realize how the two cohere, unifying principles between the two domains currently elude us. Lanao and Teh’s argument against FU therefore appeals to the ignorance of science not unlike apologetic arguments of much lesser quality. The ignorance of today’s science does not suggest that current problems will continue to confront us while their solutions perpetually elude us. What is needed is time. Like Lanao and Teh, I agree that Cartwright has a lot of great ideas concerning principled scientific models, but that her ideas lend support to FU. A unified metaphysical account of reality would likely end up in a more dappled state than modern science finds itself in and despite Lanao and Teh’s attempts, a hypothetical account of that sort would rely too heavily on science to be considered purely metaphysical. My hope is that my argument, one that employs symmetry breaking to bolster the probability of FU being the case, is more provocative, if even, persuasive.

The Evidence For Evolution: A Succinct Introduction For Denialists

By R.N. Carmona

In the U.S., there are a few striking examples of science denialism. Perhaps the most troubling among these instances is the rejection of evolution. Fundamentalist Christians have fought to keep evolution out of schools and have fought equally as hard to push creationism and/or Intelligent Design (ID) into the classroom. According to a 2014 Gallup poll, 42% of Americans deny evolution and accept creationism. Given this, it is imperative to be capable of explaining evolution and the evidence in support of it. Having this capacity does not ensure that denialists will come to accept it. There’s still the issue of comprehension; there is, in other words, a pervasive problem arising from two distinct and yet related facts: science denialists are not familiar with the relevant jargon and thus, cannot comprehend, for instance, an informal argument for evolution; science denialists usually have a disdain for both alternative opinions and reading and therefore, would forego reading a piece defending an alternative opinion. On that last issue, they would much rather accuse an “evolutionist” of lacking substance or not being an expert–despite the fact that said individual is citing experts and reputable sources. Given this, it is necessary to be brief and effective when presenting the evidence for evolution. This is what I’ll endeavor to do here.

There are a number of lines of evidence for evolution: biogeographic distribution, homologies, atavisms, vestigial organs and traits, and perhaps the most compelling stemming from genetics: GLO (short for gulono-y-lactone oxidase) and ERVs (endogenous retroviruses), which will be discussed at length. Since I am not an expert and I am sans pretenses to the contrary, I will cite reputable sources and experts in order to make a brief case. Since the evidence for evolution is vast and requires a grasp of multiple sciences–e.g., paleontology, anthropology, genetics, evolutionary biology, environmental science–I will narrow my focus and speak only of the evidence that is arguably most compelling. I will begin with GLO, which is a pseudogene or a non-functional gene. Jerry A. Coyne, Professor of Biology at the University of Chicago, provides one of the better evidences of evolution:

The most famous human pseudogene is GLO, so called because in other species it produces an enzyme called L-gulono-y-lactone oxidase.  This enzyme is used in making vitamin C (ascorbic acid) from the simple sugar glucose.  Vitamin C is essential for proper metabolism, and virtually all mammals have the pathway to make it — all, that is, except for primates, fruit bats, and guinea pigs.  In these species, Vitamin C is obtained directly from their food, and normal diets usually have enough.  If we don’t ingest enough vitamin C, we get sick: scurvy was common among fruit-deprived seamen of the nineteenth century.  The reason why primates and these few other mammals don’t make their own vitamin C is because they don’t need to.  Yet DNA sequencing tells us that primates still carry most of the genetic information needed to make the vitamin.

It turns out that the pathway for making vitamin C from glucose involves a sequence of four steps, each promoted by the product of a different gene.  Primates and guinea pigs still have active genes for the first three steps, but the last step, which requires the GLO enzyme, doesn’t take place:  GLO has been inactivated by a mutation.  It has become a pseudogene, called ΨGLO (Ψ is the Greek letter psi, standing for “pseudo”).  ΨGLO doesn’t work because a single nucleotide in the gene’s DNA sequence is missing.  And it’s exactly the same nucleotide missing in other primates.  This shows that the mutation that destroyed our ability to make vitamin C was present in the ancestor of all primates, and was passed on to its descendants.  The inactivation of GLO in guinea pigs happened independently, since it involves different mutations.  It’s highly likely that since fruit bats, guinea pigs, and primates got plenty of vitamin C in their diet, there was no penalty for inactivating the pathway that made it.  This could even have been beneficial since it eliminated a protein that might have been costly to produce.

A dead gene in one species that is active in its relatives is evidence for evolution, but there’s more.  When you look at ΨGLO in living primates, you find out that its sequence is more similar between close relatives than between more distant ones.  The sequence of human and chimp ΨGLO, for example, resemble each other closely, but differ more from the ΨGLO of orangutans which are more distant relatives.  What’s more, the sequence of guinea pig ΨGLO is very different from that of all primates.

Only evolution and common ancestry can explain these facts.  All mammals inherited a functional copy of the GLO gene.  About 40 million years ago, in the common ancestor of all primates, a gene that was no longer needed was inactivated by mutation.  All primates inherited that same mutation.  After GLO was silenced, other mutations continued to occur in the gene that was no longer expressed.  These mutations accumulated over time — they are harmless if they occur in genes that are already dead — and were passed on to descendant species.  Since closer relatives share a common ancestor more recently, genes that change in a time-dependent way follow the pattern of common ancestry, leading to DNA sequences more similar in close than in distant relatives.  This occurs whether or not a gene is dead.  The sequence of ΨGLO in guinea pigs is so different because it was inactivated independently, in a lineage that had already diverged from that of primates.  And ΨGLO is not unique in showing such patterns: there are many other such pseudogenes.1

The above is a compelling example demonstrating that we share a common ancestor with apes and monkeys. However, it arguably isn’t the most compelling example serving as evidence for evolution. Another example of such a gene demonstrates that we descend from egg-laying ancestors. Dennis Venema, Biologist at Trinity Western University, stated the following:

Common ancestry also predicts that, beyond human-chimpanzee common ancestry, the common primate ancestor also shares ancestry with other vertebrates in the more distant past. For example, evolutionary theory predicts that humans, like all vertebrates, are descended from egg-laying ancestors. As with all placental mammals, humans do not use egg yolk as a source of nutrition for their embryos. Other vertebrates such as fish and birds do employ egg yolk, as do a small number of extant mammals such as the platypus.

They found that these genes were present side-by-side and functional in the human genome; then they performed an examination of human sequence between them. As expected, the heavily mutated, pseudogenized sequence of the vitellogenin gene was present in the human genome at this precise location. The human genome thus contains the mutated remains of a gene devoted to egg yolk formation in egg-laying vertebrates at the precise location predicted by shared synteny derived from common ancestry.2

Another line of evidence for evolution comes from molecular biology, namely endogenous retroviruses. In humans, “endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) represent footprints of previous retroviral infection and have been termed “fossil viruses.”3 Also, ” it has been shown that the human genome contains numerous ERVs (HERVs) distributed in several multigenic families comprising a few to several hundreds elements (264548). These elements are hallmarks of ancient infections of the germ line by retroviruses which have thereafter been “endogenized” and can be used as molecular markers of evolution.”4

Someone who doesn’t believe in evolution needs to offer alternative explanations for these facts. Their probable next move is predictable: indulge their confirmation bias by consulting creationist and intelligent design websites. Those sites will certainly have “refutations” of these facts, but keep in mind, having a Ph.D. doesn’t imply that one has expertise even on matters unrelated to what one studied. In other words, a Ph.D. in law doesn’t mean one can speak with authority on biology; a Ph.D. in biochemistry doesn’t mean one can speak with authority on physics. This is a common mistake made by creationists: anyone with a Ph.D. is an authority on absolutely anything they purport to be an expert in. Donald Prothero, who was a Professor geology and paleontology for 35 years, states the following:

One of the principal symbols of authority in scholarship and science is the Ph.D. degree. But you don’t need a Ph.D. to do good science, and not all people who have Ph.D.s are good scientists either. As those of us who have gone through the ordeal know, a Ph.D. only proves that you can survive a grueling test of endurance in doing research and writing a dissertation on a very narrow topic. It doesn’t prove that you are smarter than anyone else or more qualified to render an opinion than anyone else. Because earning a Ph.D. requires enormous focus on a specific area, many people with that degree have actually lost a lot of their scholarly breadth and knowledge of other fields in the process of focusing on their theses.

In particular, it is common for people making extraordinary claims (like creationism or alien abductions or psychic powers) to wear Ph.D. (if they have one) like a badge, advertise it prominently on their book covers, and feature it in their biographies. They know that it will impress and awe the listener or reader into thinking they are smarter than anyone else or more qualified to pronounce on a topic. Nonsense! Unless the claimant has earned a Ph.D. in the subject being discussed, the degree is entirely irrelevant to the controversy. For example, leading creationists include Duane Gish, who has a doctorate in biochemistry, and the late Henry Morris, who had a Ph.D. in hydraulic engineering. However, they both earned their degrees almost 50 years ago, so they are not likely to be up-to-date on these rapidly changing fields that they have not practiced in decades. If they stuck to discussing just those topics, they might be halfway believable, but all their criticisms focus on the fossil record, geology, thermodynamics, and so on—topics in which they have absolutely no first-hand experience, published research, or training. Their entire knowledge of these fields (vividly demonstrated by reading their books) consists of skimming and misquoting popular books by real experts in those fields who did the actual work, not going out and doing the research themselves or publishing in peer-reviewed journals. They are no more qualified to comment on paleontology, geology, or thermodynamics than they are qualified to critique music theory! Yet they always flaunt their Ph.D.s to awe the masses and try to intimidate their opponents. The same goes for creationists like Jonathan Sarfati (physical chemistry), Michael Behe (biochemistry), and Jonathan Wells (cell biology)—none of those subjects gives them ANY background in fossils or paleontology, and none has published in any peer-reviewed paleontological journals, so they are complete amateurs when it comes to fossils.5

Given this, one can’t trust any purported authority. One must consult actual experts. Going back to what was mentioned earlier, the issue all creationists and ID advocates have, is that they have a misunderstanding of science. The Christian persecution complex is palpable among such people. They honestly and generally believe that their ideas are being suppressed by the scientific community, a sentiment overtly present in Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. That sentiment is, however, wrong since it has no place in science. Carl Sagan said it best: “The suppression of uncomfortable ideas may be common in religion or in politics, but it is not the path to knowledge, and there’s no place for it in the endeavor of science.”6

Therefore, it is something about creationism and ID that exempt them from science. The reason they’re exempt is not simply because they’re religiously motivated views, but because they’re akin to astrology, homeopathy, and alchemy—i.e. they are pseudoscience. Jack Ritchie puts it succinctly:

Science is a self-critical enterprise. It provides resources for criticizing itself and other disciplines. We have good and obvious reasons to exclude topics such as astrology or creation science. These disciplines are not successful by their own lights. Astrologers do not accurately predict people’s future on the basis of planetary motions. Advocates of intelligent design, whatever the merits of the problems they raise for various parts of the theory of evolution, have no alternative scientific story to put in its place; they have no suggestion as to how to undertake research into the nature of the “intelligent designer.” Science is different. The sciences have made progress—at least by their own lights. Physicists know more about the subatomic realm than before. No doubt the Large Hadron Collider will enhance that process. Evolutionary biologists know more about the evolutionary process than Darwin. Good science is, furthermore, rich in unsolved problems that this deeper knowledge throws up. We don’t need any general definitions or criteria of what science is to make these points.7

The lack of success of these views is literally the tip of the iceberg. That they’re not successful isn’t what determines that they’re pseudoscience. Pick any of the demarcation theories put forth by philosophers of science and you’ll find that creationism and ID don’t meet the requirements to pass as science. Take, for example, Popper’s falsification. Can we falsify the intelligent designer who, according to many ID advocates, is the Judeo-Christian god? What matters here is not whether a naturalist or an atheist can falsify him. What matters is whether ID advocates are willing to attempt falsification of the intelligent designer. Since their view is rooted in religion, we can be reasonably certain that they’re not going to attempt to falsify the intelligent designer.

Let’s assume, however, that Popper’s falsification isn’t a good marker of demarcation. Let’s instead go with Kuhn’s paradigm shifts. Let’s assume that creationist and ID advocates try for centuries to locate this intelligent designer or creator. Will they put a new theory in place and allow their enterprise to go through a paradigm shift? In other words, will they, like early chemists who discarded Phlogiston theory and introduced theories that better describe the phenomena in question, introduce a new theory that perhaps eliminates an intelligent designer or creator altogether? Again, we can reasonably expect that no matter the evidence, no matter how stacked the odds are, creationists and ID advocates will not discard their current theory in favor of more tenable ones.

Let’s set Kuhn aside. Perhaps his demarcation marker is wrong. Let’s instead look at creationism and ID from the point of view of Lakatos’ research programmes. Lakatos posited that within normal science there are research programmes. The aim of science isn’t hypotheses in isolation or trial and error or conjectures followed by refutations. According to Lakatos, the reason Copernicanism succeeded where Ptolemy’s astronomy failed is because Ptolemy’s astronomy lagged behind as a research programme. The facts, especially after Galileo, supported heliocentrism rather than Ptolemy’s geocentrism, which featured epicycles. Are creationism or ID viable research programmes? No because their so called scientists are not doing normal science. Furthermore, they have no heuristic that serves as a problem-solving mechanism. Therefore, on Lakatos’ view, creationism and ID don’t qualify as science.

With this brief survey of demarcation theories in the philosophy of science, one can see that creationism and ID don’t qualify as science under any of these theories. That’s a problem. It follows that creationism and ID are not suppressed. Rather, it’s that they don’t qualify as scientific theories. Their proponents don’t participate in normal science. They have no research programme in place. They have no interest in falsifying their theory. ID and creationism do not belong in the science classroom and definitely not in a scientific discussion.

Given the case above, creationism and ID should be rejected. They are pseudoscientific theories. Even if they could be falsified, proponents of ID or creationism have no interest in falsifying them. This is due to the fact that advocates of these theories are not practicing normal science. As we can gather from what Prothero said, creationist and ID advocates mislead people with Ph.D.s in normal sciences. However, some of these fields progress rapidly and they are thus required to stay up to date on the changes in their field. This is usually not the case given that some of these people received their Ph.D.s literal decades ago. Therefore, their authority is dubious and upon closer examination, entirely lacking. These purported experts cannot be trusted. Yet this isn’t the reason evolution should be accepted. The reasons outlined above are great starting points. The experts cited are also trustworthy scholars who have done far more work in their respective fields than I was able to showcase here. My hope is that readers who are currently evolution denialists make the choice of doing honest research and coming away with a level of understanding they currently lack.

Works Cited

1 Coyne, Jerry A. Why Evolution Is True. New York: Viking, 2009. 67-69. Print.

2 Dennis Veneme as quoted in Farrell, John. “The Fossils in Our Genes”Forbes. 21 Oct 2011. Web. 22 Dec 2014.

3 Nelson PN, Carnegie PR, Martin J, et al. Demystified. Human endogenous retroviruses. Mol Pathol. 2003; 56:11–8.

4 Benit L., Dessen P., Heidmann T. Identification, phylogeny, and evolution of retroviral elements based on their envelope genes. J. Virol. 2001; 75:11709–11719. doi: 10.1128/JVI.75.23.11709-11719.2001.

5 Prothero, Donald R., and Carl Dennis Buell. Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007. 16. Print. 

6 Sagan, Carl. Cosmos, Ep 4: Heaven and Hell. 1980. Web. 22 Dec 2014.

7 Ritchie, Jack. Understanding Naturalism. Stocksfield, England: Acumen, 2008. 108. Print.