February 18, 2004


Darwin: Man and Metaphor (Robert M. Young, 1989, Science as Culture)

If we think of Darwin's concept of natural selection and follow closely its history in his own thinking and in the controversy surrounding his work, we find it deeply value-laden, deeply anthropomorphic - that is, partaking of human attributes and treating the idea of nature as if it was a person - just the way scientific concepts aren't supposed to be. Darwin wrote that nature was always 'scrutinizing', that she picked out with unerring skill, 'that she favoured ' this and rejected that.

Indeed, his colleagues were at pains to point this out to him and his reply is very interesting indeed. He says that 'natural selection' is no worse than chemists speaking of 'elective affinities' of elements or physicists speaking of 'gravity as ruling the movements of the plants'. 'Everyone knows what is meant and is implied by such metaphorical expressions.'

I am arguing that at the heart of science lies metaphor - a concept usually associated with literature, especially poetry. We think of science as literal but at its heart lie figures of speech, in this case the idea that nature selects rather like a breeder or a deity.

Darwin is not alone in this kind of thinking. On the contrary, he points out that 'affinity' and other scientific concepts are no more or less scientific than his. The same thing applies to all basic concepts in science. The other candidate for Britain's greatest scientist, Isaac Newton, derived the concept of gravity from gravitas: affinity, natural selection, gravity - all these are metaphors drawn from ideas of human nature and projected on to nature as a way of seeing things and providing a framework for a philosophy of science. Not all such projections turn out to be so fruitful, but that doesn't set facts apart from values or literal statements apart from metaphors. The history of scientific ideas, like the history of other ideas, is a moving army of metaphors - some more general than others, but literalness is the enemy of scientific progress.

This point connects to my last one. The values in science are not only 'connected' to those in the wider society. Rather, the values in the wider society throw up the issues in science which come to be revered. This is particularly true of the extension of the concept of natural selection into what has come to be known as 'Social Darwinism'. The social survival of the fittest had a great vogue in the period of the 1870s to the 1890s and has regained new respectability in Reagan America and Thatcher Britain. People often write about Darwin as if one could separate his scientific views from Social Darwinism. However, this simply won't wash for two reasons. The first is that as we have seen, Darwin was deeply indebted to the writings of Thomas Malthus about social competition as the motor of progress. Beyond this debt, however, we find his own writings shot full of so-called social Darwinist ideas. They are found in the Origin of Species and again in the book in which he spelled out the human implications of his thinking, The Descent of Man.

In The Origin of Species he sees nature quite as 'red in tooth and claw' as Tennyson ever did. The chapter on instinct speaks of slave ants and other apparent cruelties as 'small consequences of one general law, leading to the advancement of all organic beings - namely, multiply, vary, let the strongest live and the weakest die'.

In the Descent of Man he extols the inheritance of property and the replacement of the lower races by the higher.

'Man, like every other animal, has no doubt advanced to his present high condition through a struggle for existence consequent upon his rapid multiplication; and if he is to advance still higher, it is to be feared that he must remain subject to a severe struggle. Otherwise he would sink into indolence, and the more gifted men would not be more successful in the battle of life than the less gifted. Hence our natural rate of increase, though leading to many and obvious evils, must not be greatly diminished by any means. There should be open competition for all men; and the most able should not be prevented by laws or customs from succeeding the best and rearing the largest number of offspring.'

So - we find Darwin's scientific theory derived from prevailing theological and social ideas, feeding back into the competitive and imperialist social philosophy of his age, and we find the man honoured and entombed by the nation in Westminster Abbey.

Darwin is certainly Britain's greatest intellectual. Moreover, genius - especially intellectual genius - is not outside history or above it. It is the distillation of the times, its quintessence. In the same way we see that science is not separate from values or above them, it is their embodiment. This is true of theories, therapies and things just as it is of industrial processes and commercial products. And if science is inside history and is the embodiment of values, then science and politics - which is values linked to power - are ultimately one topic. Science, values and politics are part of a single set of issues about how we see ourselves and live together on the earth - which Darwin showed us is one world.

As the great Darwinist Ernst Mayr says:
"There is indeed one belief that all true original Darwinians held in common, and that was their rejection of creationism, their rejection of special creation. This was the flag around which they assembled and under which they marched. When Hull claimed that "the Darwinians did not totally agree with each other, even over essentials", he overlooked one essential on which all these Darwinians agreed. Nothing was more essential for them than to decide whether evolution is a natural phenomenon or something controlled by God. The conviction that the diversity of the natural world was the result of natural processes and not the work of God was the idea that brought all the so-called Darwinians together in spite of their disagreements on other of Darwin's theories..." (One Long Argument: Charles Darwin and the Genesis of Modern Evolutionary Thought)

Darwinism represents a shift in philosophical theory--a change in the metaphor by which we comprehend ourselves--not an actual science. That's why arguments between opponents and adherents are endless--appeals to reason are futile in the choice of faiths.


[I]n a letter to Neil Arnott, in february 1860, Darwin had manifested his respect towards Malthus in a brief sentence: "You put the Malthusian great truth of the 'Struggle for existence' very forcibly." And in 1871, in "The Descent of Man" expressed in a footnote: "See the ever memorable 'Essay on the Principle of Population', by the Rev, T. Malthus [...]"

All along these quotations the admiration and identification of Darwin towards Malthus is clear. In 1858 Darwin wrote a never- published article, in which he summarizes his theory of the evolution of species with a passage in which the paralelism with the "Essay in the Principle of Population" is much more forceful:

"De Candolle, in an eloquent passage, has declared that all nature is at war, one organism with another, or with external nature. Seeing the contented face of nature, this may at first well be doubted; but reflection will inevitably prove it to be true. The war, however, is not constant, but recurrent in a slight degree at short periods, and more severely at occasional more distant periods; and hence its effects are easily overlooked. It is the doctrine of Malthus applied in most cases with tenfold force. As in every climate there are seasons, for each of its inhabitants, of greater and less abundance, so all annually breed; and the moral restraint which in some small degree checks the increase of mankind is entirely lost. Even slow breeding mankind has dobubled in twenty-five years; and if he could increase his food with greater ease, he would doble in less time. But of animals without artificial means, the amount of food for each species must, on an average, be constant, whereas the increase of all organisms tends to be geometrical, and in a vast majority of cases at an enormous ratio. ...Where man has introduced plants and animals into a very new and favourable country, there are many accounts in how surprisingly few years the whole country has become stocked with them. This increase would necessarily stop as soon as the country was fully stocked... Malthus on man should be studied; and all such cases as those of the mice in La Plata. of the cattle and horses when first turned out in South America of the birds by our calcualtion, &c., should be well considered. Reflect on the enormous multiplying power inherent and anually in action in all animals; reflect on the countless seeds scattered by a hundred ingenious contrivances, year after year, over the whole face of the land; and yet we have every reason to suppose that the average percentage of each of the inhabitants of a country usually remains constant. Finally, let it be borne in mind that this average number of individuals...in each country is kept up by recurrent struggles against other species or against external nature..."

In this paragraphs Darwin transports to nature the hobbesian bellum omni in omnes; asserts the certitude of Malthus's theory and extrapolate and generalize it ten times stronger than in non-human population.

As can be noticed, Darwin was imbued and identified with the principles of the work of Malthus. The allusions addressed to him are constant and recurring. All this might be more easely understood if it is noticed that Darwin, as well as many other intelectuals of Victorian England, had interest in Political Economy and in Philosphy. Since he was a young man, his education was traversed by this type of studies. So he expresed in 1829, when he sent a letter in which among other things declared: "My studies consist in Adam Smith and Locke...".

Two trascendental influences that Darwin received in his youth, came from Astronomer John Herschel and from Philosopher William Whewell. The first of them made a distinction between "fundamental laws" and "empirical laws", expressing that the task of science should be to formulate the first group of laws in a coherent way, in order to understand the deepest causes or ultimate facts that are able to explain the nature of a phenomenom, namely, its vera causa,. Whewell, on his side expressed himself in terms of "formal" or "fundamental" laws, that were those in which the vera causa should be looked for; and also talked about "physical" or "causal" laws, derived from the formers. The clearest example of a formal law would be the laws of Newton.

Darwin, assimilating Herschel's and Whewell's lessons imposed himself as an objective to discover the vera causa of biological evolution and with it, of the abundance and distribution of the species. There on, the importance of Malthus becomes more relevant. Herschel had expressed that a scientific law should posssess universal aplicability and analogical capacity in order to be able to comprehend what might be happening in other areas of knowledge. Demography was one of these cases in which analogies could work in order to interpret the behaviour of non-human populations. For Darwin, Malthus was the Newton of Demography, the discoverer of the vera causa of human population dynamics. His concept of "struggle for existence" could be extended to the rest of the species, being reinforced with the concept of "selection" of the most able individuals in getting the resources for their survival. Both concepts would explain numerous problems of geographical distribution, paleontology, embriology, compared anatomy, etc. In a word, natural selection would be the vera causa of evolution. Hence, the Malthusian principle of population raises as the analogy that Darwin requires in order to build his model, and the "struggle for existence" as the moving force of the process.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 18, 2004 9:25 AM

That science advances by metaphor is an old idea.
Jonathan Miller, the comic doctor, noted that Harvey's ideas of circulation probably were inspired by recent advances by Dutch engineers in pumping.

However, the Chinese had notions of bodily circulation earlier, without the benefit of Dutch engineering.

As Cavalli-Sforza (and others) says, science is an approximation of reality. It is not reality.

That does not make it mere opinion, as you think. Because unlike mere opinion (notably theology), scientific metaphors have to be checked vs. observation.

The observations do not ever change, although the precision of measurements always gets better. Apples never are seen falling up.

The metaphors change to closer approximations.

It is of no consequence that Darwin lived in England in the 19th century. Another Darwin might -- almost certainly would have -- arisen in India or Japan or New Guinea eventually.

Most egregiously in your essayists -- but universal among critics of Darwinsism -- is the unstated belief that Darwinism is about humans and nothing else.

It is certainly about humans, but also about the rest of biology. Nobody makes imperialist complaints about botany because he would look ridiculous. But Darwinism works as well for plants as for animals.

Therefore, the argument about imperialism or 19th century notions of inheritance is not a criticism of Darwinism.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at February 18, 2004 1:32 PM

Then why hasn't a plant come up with the idea?

Posted by: oj at February 18, 2004 2:07 PM

I don't fault Harry and the other materialists around here for their skepticism, but, as Chesterton put it, "I am puzzled about why the skeptics are not more skeptical." All of our human observations, whether we construct them into the most vibrant philosophical theory or the most mundane scientific hypothesis, are at base electro-chemical impulses in our brains. There is no reason to believe that my electro-chemical impulse which I interpret as some vague but ineffably real experience of the Divine is any "less" of an electro-chemical impulse than Harry's experience of the flowers in Hawaii.

Posted by: Paul Cella at February 18, 2004 3:17 PM

That's true but a profitless speculation.

If a question cannot in principle be answered, why ask it?

You could ask, how could I ask it? but that's different.

Sce\ience is an approximation, but the approximations can be checked. That's where the skepticism cones in.

If you don't check, theen Orrin is indeed right, it's faith. But we darwinians do check.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at February 18, 2004 4:58 PM


I check my horoscope three different places, so is it true?

Posted by: oj at February 18, 2004 5:10 PM

Now Harry appears to be saying that the abundance of electro-chemical impulses of a certain kind mean that there is an objectively reality. In fact, logically, there is no reason to believe that.

Again, I am simply saying that skeptics are generally the last people to follow their skepticism to its logic terminus. There belief in objective reality is an act of faith -- an act of faith with which I am in wholehearted agreement, but an act of faith nonetheless.

Posted by: Paul Cella at February 18, 2004 5:29 PM


That's a common objection, but it is made by people who ignore the fact that there are different levels of scepticism.

If you are prosecuting in court, you are required to prove that the defendant committed the crime. You are not required to prove what 'truth' is. You are not also required to prove to the judge that he is not plugged into the Matrix and imagining you, the defendant, the courtroom and that the earth is real and not an illusion.

So while when discussing Descartes I can doubt everything except 'cogito ergo sum', when investigating whether my two year-old nephew stole that chocolate, I consider the brown marks on his lips are enough evidence to show that he did it. I do not introduce into the equation the possibility that my nephew himself is an illusion, and therefore acquit him.

Likewise, when I look at evidence from the natural world, it is reasonable to be sceptical and rigorous to ask: "what exactly can I really learn from this fossil?"

It is not required of me to doubt that the fossil exists at all, and could just be an illusion fed to me by scientists prodding my brain in a vat.

Posted by: Brit at February 19, 2004 5:25 AM


I'd be the first to defend common sense, but my point was that in allowing all that common sense in, you are making an unprincipled exception to your skepticism. For most simple believers (not intellectuals), God's existence and Presence is a matter of common sense, as obvious as the observation that two-year-olds like chocolate. But here, of course, you would abandon your unprincipled exception in a heartbeat. My point is that it is unprincipled.

Posted by: Paul Cella at February 19, 2004 7:56 AM


I would guess that most Christians, atheists, Hindus, Muslims, Zen Buddhists and pantheists would all claim to have 'common sense' on their side. Nearly everyone who believes something thinks it's obviously true.

But anyway, that's coming at it from one angle. Here's another: yes, we assume objective reality. We assume that the fossils and the genes and the evidence and the people we're discussing the evidence with are all really there, and not just my illusions in the Matrix.

From this stuff we draw conclusions. Whether or not some of the those conclusions conflict with somebody else's religious beliefs is a separate matter. It's not our fault if some people don't like our conclusions. They can reject them if they wish.

Posted by: Brit at February 19, 2004 8:10 AM


The point being that the mere assumptions come first, making the rest a faith no different than any other.

Posted by: oj at February 19, 2004 8:16 AM

no, we're much more sceptical than religionists in two ways.

First, we assume less than you.

For example, if you're a Christian, then you assume:

1)objective reality exists (ie. you are not just a brain in a vat)
2)that a book called 'The Bible' really does exist
3)that what's written in that book is true.

We only assume 1 and 2, and we're sceptical about 3.

Secondly, we can test our 'faith' and reject it if the evidence opposes it. It has a testable, relative truth value.

Posted by: Brit at February 19, 2004 8:27 AM

There's no test of (1), so all the rest is pure drivel. You just have different imagined books whose contents you assume true. This is what Paul meant by limited skepticism--your inability to apply Reason to itself.

Posted by: oj at February 19, 2004 8:34 AM

I'm perfectly capable of 'applying reason to itself' and being the ultimate sceptic.

I did exactly this way back in my university in Epistemology Lesson 1: Descartes.

You're trying to argue that if I am to apply any level of scepticism to anything, I need to apply 100% Cartesian scepticism to everything.

But if you did that then every debate on every subject, from darwinism to sports to literature to the weather forecast, would end up being the same: about whether objective reality exists. But that level of scepticism is only appropriate when we are doing level 1 epistemology. Otherwise there's no point in getting out of bed in the morning. After all, "the world outside might just be an illusion..."

So you either don't bother debating anything except whether objective reality exists, or you assume objective reality does exist and get on with it from there.

And we test our theories within an objective reality.

Posted by: Brit at February 19, 2004 8:44 AM

"assume objective" adequately proves Paul's point. One's assumptions are always subjective.

Posted by: oj at February 19, 2004 8:55 AM


"And we test our theories within an objective reality"

OK, let's be practical. Is there not a big difference between testing for results and testing merely by claiming to have found more evidence. I believe in the objective reality of germ theory because it cures a lot of disease. Ditto physics because the planes don't fall out of the sky.

There was a huge debate over whether flight faster than sound was possible. It was resolved when Yaeger did it in the late 40's. Same with whether trains would suck people into the tracks in the 19th century. You want us to accept today's version of evolution on the basis of evidence, not the results of tests. The answer comes back that there are too many gaps and unanwered questions, and you guys get cranky. Do you think we would accept germ theory if the vaccinations didn't work and the penicillin didn't stop pneumonia?

Posted by: Peter B at February 19, 2004 9:03 AM

look up 'objective' in that famous dictionary of yours.

I know that I can 'prove' (one level) to the authorities that I'm the person on my passport, yet at the same time I can never absolutely 'prove' (another level) that I'm not just a brain in a vat. But I'm cool with that...

Incidentally, if you're struggling with this 'levels of scepticism' thing, just imagine that every statement a darwinist makes has a silent "assuming objective reality exists" after it.

eg. when someone says "gentic mutations are inheritable", he's just using shorthand for "genetic mutations are inheritable...assuming objective reality exists".

That should remove the problem.

Posted by: Brit at February 19, 2004 9:09 AM


(the last post was aimed at OJ, not you)

To address your points:

First, let's be clear once again, I haven't asked you to "accept today's version of evolution" (by which I assume you mean natural selection) at all. I have tried to limit myself to explaining the theory and debating the objections to it raised on this site.

But to answer your general point about natural selection being a theory based on 'evidence' rather than 'testing' - yes, in one sense, you're right. But that doesn't make it 'unscientific' or just a 'matter of faith'.

We can't 'test' the effects of natural selection on popluations over millions of years because we haven't got millions of years to do it in.

But we do have some knowledge about the natural world (for OJ's sake, 'assuming that objective reality exists', blah blah...hereafter, 'ATORE'!).

These include:
1) that life on earth has changed during its history (evolution)...(ATORE)
2) that genes replicate, mutate and are inheritable (ATORE)

Modern 'natural selection theory' is just a minimal theory that notices a highly possible connection between these two facts. It is a scientific theory because the discovery of conflicting evidence could disprove it....


Posted by: Brit at February 19, 2004 9:26 AM


Except that there's no selection in that version of the theory, which you're right does make it scientific, but by gutting Darwinism. No one objects to that minimalist version of evolution--in fact we can prove it just by breeding cows--which is where Darwin got that much of it

Posted by: oj at February 19, 2004 9:31 AM


ob·jec·tive    ( P )  Pronunciation Key  (b-jktv)

1. Of or having to do with a material object.
2. Having actual existence or reality.
a. Uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices: an objective critic. See Synonyms at fair1.
b. Based on observable phenomena; presented factually: an objective appraisal.

Since the assertion that there is a material world is proven a faith by Reason, objectivity too tumbles. All any of us has to go on is faith.

Posted by: oj at February 19, 2004 9:45 AM


By the way, it is not good science, or good reasoning, to reject a theory just because there are gaps in it. You should only to that if the gaps are by definition unknowable, or if there is evidence that disproves the theory.

After all, we don't have a 100% complete knowledge of anything much, including germ theory.

What you have with natural selection is a theory that explains all sorts of things that no other scientific theory does: from why those finches have those beaks, to why some things go extinct, to why human DNA so closely resembles chimp DNA.

Also, I'm going to be slightly mischevious here, but this line of argument "You want us to accept today's version of evolution on the basis of evidence, not the results of tests" is one that Creationists often use against all evolutionary theory (ie. not just natural selection).

This way of setting themselves up as sober, rigourous sceptics is commendable. But I've always thougth it a little odd that they don't apply quite the same level of scientific rigour to their own theory....

"Oh yes, of course woman was created out of the chap's rib. And you wouldn't even know your reproductive organs were there, had it not been for Eve being tempted to eat an apple.

By a talking snake."

Posted by: Brit at February 19, 2004 9:56 AM

Congratulations, OJ:

"Since the assertion that there is a material world is proven a faith by Reason, objectivity too tumbles. "

I rate that as your finest ever sentence.

If only i could work out what the hell it means...

Posted by: Brit at February 19, 2004 9:59 AM


Creationism fills all those things equally well and it too can be disproved by evidence.

Posted by: oj at February 19, 2004 10:19 AM

This can be approached another way. If a question gives the same result whether it is answered yes or no, then it is not worth asking.

As for objective reality, there are (at least) two possibilities:

1. materialism. What you see is all there is.

2. Platonism. Behind what you see is something realer than real, but you can never see it.

What difference does it make which of the two is correct? What meaning does "correct" have in this question?

Answer, no meaning. Materialism works as far as it works and no further. Whether there is any "further" is irrelevant. It works where it works and doesn't work where it doesn't work.

But where it works, it works.

As a method of describing biology, creationism does not work even at that level.

An infinite recession of identical possibilities is not an objection -- or even a critique -- of any possibility noticed in the series. Only if the infinite regression has an end does it matter.

Orrin says there is an end, but since it is not discernable, it doesn't matter.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at February 19, 2004 2:37 PM


Now you're catching on--except that "God did it" works at every level.

Posted by: oj at February 19, 2004 2:46 PM

No, it doesn't work at any level.

The argument is exactly the same as the one I have advanced to prove that language is conventional and not Chomskyian: to a speaker of American English in 2004 the phrases "I couldn't care less" and "I could care less" have the same meaning.

If the negative/positive doesn't affect the outcome, then it's irrelevant.

On a similar level, global temperature never varies more than a smidgen from about 60 deg. F., no matter how you vary the inputs that are supposed to affect it, esp. greenhouse gases.

All effects have causes, but not all effects have separate causes.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at February 19, 2004 4:59 PM

God made you say that.

Posted by: oj at February 19, 2004 5:06 PM

"I'd be the first to defend common sense, but my point was that in allowing all that common sense in, you are making an unprincipled exception to your skepticism."

Skepticism is not an end in itself. Being skeptical of the existence of God isn't for the purpose of winning a prize in skepticism. Materialists don't follow a principle to be skeptical about everything, so there is no "unprincipled exception" involved.

"For most simple believers (not intellectuals), God's existence and Presence is a matter of common sense, as obvious as the observation that two-year-olds like chocolate."

And it was once common sense to believe that the world was flat. And for that time it was the logical thing to believe. It certainly appears flat to the average eye. There was no apparent evidence to suggest that it wasn't. To be skeptical of that conclusion without any reason to be, without any contradictory evidence, would have been irrational. Skepticism is only rational when there is some contradictory evidence to a previously held belief.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at February 19, 2004 10:02 PM


That's the point--materialists are skeptical exactly up to the point where materialism itself is shown dubious. Thyat's not skepticism--it's credulity.

Posted by: oj at February 19, 2004 10:11 PM

Show me the contradictory evidence to the existence of the material world.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at February 19, 2004 10:35 PM

Prove you exist.

Posted by: oj at February 19, 2004 10:40 PM

Everytime I look in the mirror, I'm there. Now if I were to look one day and not see myself there, maybe I would have a reason to be skeptical. Call me credulous, but I am pretty darn sure that I exist.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at February 19, 2004 11:02 PM


Being able to doubt that the material world exists is not the same as having evidence that it doesn't exist!

Let me assure you, the evidence very clearly points to its existence.

Posted by: Brit at February 20, 2004 4:02 AM

"Show me the contradictory evidence to the existence of the material world."

"Prove you exist."

Umm, OJ, that isn't evidence.

What some are fond of overlooking is the ability of science to measure little-t truth values between competing material explanations; that is, the degree to which an explanation contains the observed phenomena.

(ATORE, of course. Assuming the opposite is cute, but really amounts to nothing more than sophist logic chopping.)

"God did it" does not reach that standard, because it is impossible to ascertain the truth value of two competing versions of God did it (even assuming that phrase isn't a wordy version of "because.") Actually, that isn't quit true. It would be possible to distinguish between two versions of God Did It, wherever those versions make assertions that can be matched against observations.

In that sense, the Genesis version of God Did It fails rather miserably. The Darwinism version of God Did It succeeds spectacularly in comparison.

After all, yow do you know God didn't set the game up to work precisely the way Darwin explained it? Just because one doesn't happen to like the implications isn't an issue God need be particularly concerned about.

I have rattled on about plate tectonics here. There's a reason: if plate tectonics is true, and Darwinism false, then how does one account for there being any terrestrial life at all?

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at February 20, 2004 7:56 AM


"In that sense, the Genesis version of God Did It fails rather miserably. The Darwinism version of God Did It succeeds spectacularly in comparison."

And even though you have admitted a general belief in the Darwinian version may lead us to extinction while belief in the Genesis version clearly doesn't, you still hold to this. This has no relevancy to "truth", right?

Posted by: Peter B at February 20, 2004 9:01 AM


God made you think that.

Posted by: oj at February 20, 2004 9:26 AM


So does God make us do everything that we do?

Posted by: Brit at February 20, 2004 9:29 AM


No. The point is you can't disp[rove it. Nor that you're just a character in a computer program. or a figment of someone's imagination. Thus does Reason demonstrate that belief in reason is ultimately unreasonable.

Posted by: oj at February 20, 2004 9:33 AM


If you look in a funhouse mirror are you immensely fat? or thin? are there fifty of you? Sensory perceptions are inherently untrustworthy. Hard to base a claim of "truth" on them.

Posted by: oj at February 20, 2004 9:35 AM


What points to the existence of evidence?

Posted by: oj at February 20, 2004 9:37 AM

So you're a solipsist? Then there's no point in you talking to me, since I don't exist.

Let's get this straight:

What Descartes did was to show that, using reason, it is possible to doubt that anything exists except (he claimed) 'cogito ergo sum'.

In other words, he showed that it was possible to doubt that the objective material world exists, and that it is not impossible that all my sensory perceptions might be being fed to me by an evil demon.
(incidentally, he then goes on to argue that reason can actually prove that the material world does exist, but he went a bit wobbly with that stuff).

What Descartes did not show was what you're asking us to believe: that there's no reason to believe in the objective material world.

Descartes did not think it was likely that an evil demon was creating all of his sensory perceptions. He did not say: "well, i can't absolutely prove that objective reality exists, so chances are, it doesn't". That would be atrocious reasoning. He just showed that it was not logically impossible.

Scepticism does not require us to actually believe that nothing exists.

Posted by: Brit at February 20, 2004 9:48 AM


"And even though you have admitted a general belief in the Darwinian version may lead us to extinction while belief in the Genesis version clearly doesn't, you still hold to this. This has no relevancy to 'truth', right?"

Darwin posits that changes in the environment do not go unanswered. The human environment has changed drastically over the last 200 years. Darwinism says that cause will not go without effect; it says nothing about what that effect will be, or the ultimate result.

Lo and behold, there have been significant changes in human fertility that are extremely tightly correlated with those changes.

Genesis, or any other part of the Bible, by contrast is silent on the issue. Other than "be fruitful and multiply." That is fine as an exhortation, but otherwise, completely fails to coincide with observed reality.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at February 20, 2004 10:42 AM


I was talking about human behaviour in light of beliefs. Obviously belief in faith and belief in random evolution will have different consequences for behaviour, no?

Posted by: Peter B at February 20, 2004 11:31 AM


True Reason/skepticism would require precisely that. Instead we fall back on faith. But then the rationalists forget that step and insist they alone have access to objective truth.

All is faith.

Posted by: oj at February 20, 2004 12:45 PM


I don't know. People have an amazing ability to simultaneously hold mutually exclusive ideas.

If I remember correctly, the Catholic church has pretty much signed on to Darwinism, hook,line, and sinker.

Hasn't affected them much that I have noticed.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at February 20, 2004 1:03 PM

"If you look in a funhouse mirror are you immensely fat? or thin? are there fifty of you? Sensory perceptions are inherently untrustworthy. Hard to base a claim of "truth" on them."

Sensory perceptions are somewhat untrustworthy. You judge their trustworthiness over time by the consistency with which they align with your expectations and your theory about the world (or "faith", as you would call it). My faith in my own existence has lined up with the mirror test 100% of the time, so there has been no reason to be skeptical of my faith based on it. The funhouse mirror does not break that faith, because my theory of the world accomodates the distortion produced by the mirror. I understand the affect that curvature on the mirror has on the image that it reflects, and my perception aligns with that understanding. Again, 100% correlation between perception and faith.

Faiths that correlate with experience survive. Faiths that do not generally don't survive. All faiths are not equal.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at February 20, 2004 1:21 PM


Bingo! But all are faiths. Yours is new and tottering, but still hanging in there. We'll talk in a few thousand years.

Posted by: oj at February 20, 2004 3:37 PM


You are using really quite crude sophistry. And the fact that you are reduced to attacking a scientific theory by suggesting "nothing is knowable so all beliefs are as good as any other" is pretty desperate.

But anyway, the "ATORE" rule solves your problem.

Posted by: Brit at February 23, 2004 4:09 AM


Posted by: oj at February 23, 2004 8:06 AM

assuming that objective reality exists.

Posted by: Brit at February 23, 2004 9:43 AM

As long as were assuming that what shouldn't we likewise assume?

Posted by: oj at February 23, 2004 10:08 AM