Re: [asa] Two questions

From: Ted Davis <>
Date: Thu Apr 16 2009 - 09:16:32 EDT

>>> "Nucacids" <> 4/15/2009 10:30 PM >>> writes:

My guess is that Darwin, like so many other great scientists, was greatly influenced by Newton's success in finding a small number of simple laws that explained just about everything. In other words, Darwin and the architects of the Modern Synthesis, sought a simple, elegant explanation for all of evolution. And in this Explanation, natural selection was supposed to be ubiquitous because then natural selection would exist almost as a Law.


Ted comments:

There can be no doubt that Darwin suffered from physics envy, the desire to make biology as lawlike as the physical sciences. This is probably why (for example) he chose for an epigram a quotation from Whewell's Bridgewater treatise, as follows: "But with regard to the material world, we can at least go so far as this;—we can perceive that events are brought about, not by insulated interpositions of divine power exerted in each particular case, but by the establishment of general laws."

Incidentally, the work from which this was taken is simply superb, and strongly recommended to everyone with a serious interest in origins and natural theology. The section from which this quotation comes might be the very best of all. I will quote a few other passages.

One thing Whewell (one of the first historians and philosophers of science) got right, was Bacon's overall attitude toward final causes--something that nearly all other commentators get wrong, by claiming that Bacon considered final causes worthless. Here is what Whewell quite accurately says: "Bacon's comparison of final causes to the vestal virgins is one of those poignant sayings, so frequent in his writings, which it is not easy to forget. " Like them," he says, " they are dedicated to God, and are barren." But to any one who reads his work it will appear in what spirit this was meant. " Not because those final causes are not true and worthy to be inquired, being kept within their own province." (Of the Advancement of Learning, b. ii. p. 142.) If he had had occasion to develope his simile, full of latent meaning as his similes so often are, he would probably have said, that to these final causes barrenness was no reproach, seeing they ought to be, not the mothers but th!
 e daughters of our natural sciences ; and that they were barren, not by imperfection of their nature, but in order that they might be kept pure and undefiled, and so fit ministers in the temple of God."

On God and nature: "We may and must, therefore, in our conceptions of the Divine purpose and agency, go beyond the analogy of human contrivances. We must conceive the Deity, not only as constructing the most refined and vast machinery, with which, as we have already seen, the universe is filled ; but we must also imagine him as establishing those properties by which such machinery is possible : as giving to the materials of his structure the qualities by which the material is fitted to its use. There is much to be found, in natural objects, of the same kind of contrivance which is common to these and to human inventions ; there are mechanical devices, operations of the atmospheric elements, chemical processes ;—many such have been pointed out, many more exist. But besides these cases of the combination of means, which we seem able to understand without much difficulty, we are led to consider the Divine Being as the author of the laws of chemical, of physical, and of mechan!
 ical action, and of such other laws as make matter what it is;—and this is a view which no analogy of human inventions, no knowledge of human powers, at all assist us to embody or understand. Science, therefore, as we have said, while it discloses to us the mode of instrumentality employed by the Deity, convinces us, more effectually than ever, of the impossibility of conceiving God's actions by assimilating them to our own."


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Received on Thu Apr 16 09:17:04 2009

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