Re: self-evident

Massimo Pigliucci (
Sat, 04 Apr 1998 12:37:44 -0500

Dear Moorad,

I'm sorry about not being either too active or too prompt, but I
honestly am overwhelmed with other - not necessarily more interesting -
things, and will be able to enter this discussion only according to a
"punctuated" pattern... As per your latest to Scott:

> I mean self-evident in the sense that a mathematician makes
> assumptions
> which are obvious to him/her.

Oh no, mathematical assumptions are self-evident to *everyone* who takes
the time to study them. Not so for god. BTW, your non-euclidean example
doesn't fit: there is nothing wrong with euclidean geometry as long as
you stay on a 2D plane. Non-euclidean geometry does not contradict the
assumptions of the first one, it simply applies to a different type of

> I did not raise
> the issue of imperfection. That was done by Pigliucci.

Yes, and it is easy to deal with, mathematically I dare say. There is a
whole branch of theoretical ecology called "optimality theory" which
predicts in exact terms what a perfectly adapted organism should do
given a certain set of environmental circumstances. Here, perfection is
defined as maximum fitness (something all organisms seem to strive for).
Well, experimental biology is full of examples of sub-optimal
(imperfect) organisms...

> You may find Christians explanations of an
> imperfect nature wanting. My question to you is, what is your
> explanation?

Rather obvious, I'd say. Since the world is the result of historical,
mindless processes, why would anybody expect anything even close to

> We all believe. You believe. I believe. The difference is that we
> believe
> in
> different things. You cannot use your belief system to knock any other
> belief system. All such belief systems are on equal footing.

I don't think so. Science is *not* a set of beliefs. It is a method to
uncover reality. Furthermore, it's a method that *works*, which is the
only reason we continue to adopt it. Theology, au contraire, has never
been able to predict a single minute thing about the universe.
Furthermore, from time to time theologians have to "reinterpret" the
alleged word of god in light of scientific evidence. Doesn't this make
you feel at least a tiny bit shaky??As per your previous email, you

> I was just wondering how much of the research you do and the knowledge you
> have accumulated helps you in dealing with the multitude of questions raised
> by all your personal and scientific experiences. Do you believe that one day
> science will have a true answer to all of them?
The best answer comes from my lovely companion, Melissa Brenneman. She
says (I am quoting with her permission):

> I'm not on a personal or scientific quest for "true answers." I'm on a quest for better understanding, which I think is all that can
> be hoped for in one person's life, and for which science does provide the best path. I leave "true answers" for philosophers and
> theologians to claim, while I'm happy on the more practical, useful, and (for me) much more deeply satisfying scientific road to
> ever more refined explanations of (what some philosophers would deny has any meaning--) reality.
I couldn't have said it better!


Massimo Pigliucci, Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolution
Society for the Study of Evolution "Dobzhansky" Awardee
Dept. of Botany, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996-1100
phone 423-974-6221 fax 0978

Lab page Science & Society Darwin Day Rationalists of East Tennessee

"I used to think that the brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this." -- Emo Phillips ******************************************************************