Re: [asa] New fruit fly threat in Southern California

From: Michael Roberts <michael.andrea.r@ukonline.co.uk>
Date: Sat Aug 01 2009 - 17:41:17 EDT

Cameron

The interesting thing is that both George and Moorad are physicists. However
Moorad seems only to recognise experimental science as science as if there
were only one scientific method, whereas George , correctly, recognises that
science is far broader and that one cannot say one scientific method eg
experimental or historical, is better than another.

Moorad simply cannot see this, though I reckon if he did he would have to
change some of his theological beliefs.

What Moorad is giving is a variant on the YEC separation of science into
Origins Science and Operational Science which is an appallingly wrong
division.

This problem here cant be resolved but it sums up the problems that YEC has
caused as it must reject historical science for its own survival.

Michael

PS I will ask George to be an honorary historical scientist:)
----- Original Message -----
From: "Cameron Wybrow" <wybrowc@sympatico.ca>
To: "asa" <asa@calvin.edu>
Sent: Saturday, August 01, 2009 9:55 PM
Subject: Re: [asa] New fruit fly threat in Southern California

George:

I am not quite sure what the friction is about between yourself and Moorad,
but I'm willing to offer my own interpretation of the subject you two are
discussing, in hopes that it may reduce some of the friction, even if it
does not bring the two of you entirely together.

As I understand it, "historical" sciences are different in key respects from
observational/experimental sciences, but make legitimate use of their
results. So, for example, a forensic scientist, in trying to determine
whether or not Suspect A could have fired the bullet that killed the victim,
will use the knowledge gained from the experimental science of ballistics to
reconstruct the historical path of the bullet, and thus determine whether or
not Suspect A could have been in a position to fire the fatal shot.
Similarly, sedimentation rates may be known observationally, and a geologist
may calculate how many years it would have taken to lay down sediments X
feet thick, and therefore may know roughly how long a period of the history
of life is recorded in a given sedimentary bed. I don't think that the
general principle of extending the processes of the present back into the
past, to infer something of the detailed events of the past, is what is
controversial about the historical sciences. (At least, not for most
people; some YEC people seem to differ, but most of the leading ID
supporters, and of course OEC people, are not YECs.)

I think the controversial part of the historical sciences lies in those
assertions of past unique events, which are not only irrecoverable in
themselves, but are of such a contingent nature that they cannot even be
directly inferred from present laws and processes. We can infer (within a
margin of error) how old a sedimentary bed is, or roughly where on a balcony
a bullet was discharged from a gun, but in the case of the evolutionary
process, an essential part of the theory (at least of the neo-Darwinian
version of evolutionary theory) is that it is based on unique, contingent
events, which could have been other than they were. (Cf. Gould for the most
pointed statement, but it's really implied in NDE throughout.) A given
mutation might not have occurred; or it might have occurred in an
environment where it was favourable rather than unfavourable. And given the
vast number of possible individual mutations, and the still vaster number of
possible *sequences* of mutations, and given the number of factual unknowns
about past environments, and given the number of unknowns about ecological
interaction even in present systems which we can observe, let alone past
systems about which we have very incomplete information, we are not in the
position, in looking at the lengthening of the beak of a Galapagos finch or
the acquisition of antibiotic resistance by a one-celled creature, of being
able to simply extrapolate back, via some mathematical equation (like those
use in ballistics or in calculating sedimentation rates) to the particular
unique events that actually happened 50 million or 350 million years ago.
We have no general laws of a necessitarian, quasi-deterministic kind
regarding macroevolutionary processes that entitle us to the confidence of
judgment that a ballistics expert is entitled to.

I think that Moorad's point (though I don't understand everything he says,
because he tends to write in short, clipped, semi-aphorisms, rather than in
expository form) is that historical events are unique and contingent, and
that science, while it may from time to time be employed to reconstruct
ancient events with a fair degree of accuracy, does not deal with ancient
events as such, but with universal natural laws. And universal natural laws
are, generally speaking, not suited to the recovery of particular past
events that have a strong contingent element. Science is of the universal
or general, not the particular or contingent.

I think in your own field of physics/cosmology, the case is intermediate
between that of ballistics and that of the theory of organic evolution. I
think that you physics people have done such a good job uncovering the laws
of nature that a lot of back-projection is possible, and I think that in the
case of, say, the Big Bang, one can very plausibly say: Look, if the
galaxies are flying apart because of some initial hypothetical explosion,
the laws of physics should enable us to trace that explosion back in time
and place, to arrive at a single unique event. But that's possible because,
in large part, physics deals with homogeneity. Biological evolution deals
with heterogeneity. Inferring that reptiles separated from mammals when
mutation X and Y took place on supercontinent Z roughly W million years ago
when environmental conditions Q and P were such that X and Y were
advantageous and likely to be preserved, is a bit like trying to argue that
an unrecorded war with an unknown foe was responsible for the extinction of
a civilization, a civilization which for which we have no decipherable
language and only some ruins lying in the Cambodian jungle. In both cases
there are strings of factual unknowns, and all kinds of hypothetical
scenarios, each dependent upon several contingent past events. Archaeology
may be able to accurately date the ruins (thanks to the results of
experimental science), but it cannot (barring the discovery of further
information) provide an enemy or a motive for the hypothetical war.
Therefore, though archaeology can be said to be a historical "science", it
cannot in many cases reliably reconstruct the past. It is too dependent
upon knowledge of unique particulars. It does not have general "laws of
human development" available to it, as cosmologists have laws of gravity and
nuclear physics and reliable equations for relativity theory and quantum
theory and so on.

So, while I appreciate that someone in your field can argue strongly for the
validity of moving from experimental sciences to certain particular past
events (Big Bangs and supernovae and so on), I wonder if your sympathy for
that sort of reasoning isn't making you a bit too generous regarding the
soundness of the reconstructions offered by neo-Darwinian evolution. While
there are plenty of ifs, ands and buts even in cosmological reconstructions
(and yes, I take your point that the proper term should be "cosmogonical",
but I'm following common usage), there are many more in macroevolutionary
theory, a theory which, since the time of Darwin, has always had to be
written (when written honestly) largely in the subjunctive mood.

Now maybe I'm putting words in Moorad's mouth here, and he can correct me if
I'm wrong, but I'm imagining that he some some of my thoughts in mind in the
sorts of distinction he is making. As to his private thoughts on the actual
occurrence of microevolution, of macroevolution, and of the truth or
falsehood of young earth creationism, etc., I am not privy to them and do
not understand the personal "big picture" that might be motivating his
discussion. I am just trying to make sense of what he has written. And
what he has written makes sense to me.

(This does not mean that I endorse everything that Moorad has said about
science. Some of his statements about data versus interpretation,
philosophy versus science, and other matters, insofar as I understand them,
sound too modern and even specifically too Kantian for my Greek taste. But
I am talking here only about his remarks regarding experimental versus
historical science.)

Cameron.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Alexanian, Moorad" <alexanian@uncw.edu>
To: "George Murphy" <GMURPHY10@neo.rr.com>; "AmericanScientificAffiliation"
<asa@calvin.edu>
Sent: Saturday, August 01, 2009 1:22 PM
Subject: RE: [asa] New fruit fly threat in Southern California

> George,
>
> I would like you to tell me what experimental physicist would call
> himself/herself a historical scientist when he is acting as an
> experimental scientist qua experimental scientist. Just one! I am afraid
> it is you that refuses to see what to me is self-evident. Experimental
> science is based on experiments that go beyond the time that they are done
> as attested by the fact they are framed in terms of Laws of Nature. No
> experimental scientist would invoke anything that happened in the past,
> other that previously done experiments. Did Newton care a bit about how
> the solar system came about when he created theoretical/ mathematical
> physics on the basis of experimental results? If the history of the
> Universe were to be played backward in time like a film, what happened in
> the past would be obvious, no science would be required, but nowhere in
> that film you would see the Laws of Nature that we discovered through
> experimentation.
>
> Moorad
> ________________________________________
> From: George Murphy [GMURPHY10@neo.rr.com]
> Sent: Saturday, August 01, 2009 12:31 PM
> To: Alexanian, Moorad; AmericanScientificAffiliation
> Subject: Re: [asa] New fruit fly threat in Southern California
>
> The species Homo sapiens has evolved to the point of having trans-oceanic
> transportation. White fruit flies hitchhiked a ride on some fruit from SE
> Asia to California.
> Experts in evolutionary biology may have some other response but my guess
> is that the situation was something like that.
>
> Having said that, I have to point out that your "challenge" seems rather
> silly. I pointed out before that your tendency to make little snipes at
> evolution & "historical sciences" rather than be willing to engage in
> anything like sustained discussion on these matters is unhelpful. I will
> make so bold as to say that I & others on the list have pretty well
> demolished your attempts to show that there is a hard and fast distinction
> between historical sciences (& evolutionary biology in particular) &
> experimental sciences. Do you simply not understand the arguments? Or
> are you just going to bull ahead in spite of them? There's no disgrace in
> occasionally admitting that you're wrong.
>
>
> Shalom
> George
> http://home.roadrunner.com/~scitheologyglm
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Alexanian, Moorad" <alexanian@uncw.edu<mailto:alexanian@uncw.edu>>
> To: "AmericanScientificAffiliation"
> <asa@calvin.edu<mailto:asa@calvin.edu>>
> Sent: Saturday, August 01, 2009 8:48 AM
> Subject: [asa] New fruit fly threat in Southern California
>
>>I just read the following news item. Would you kindly get all the experts
>>in evolutionary biology to solve this pending problem? However, they must
>>solve the problem as evolutionary biologists not experimental biologists.
>>Moorad
>>
>>
>>
>>
>> New fruit fly threat in Southern California
>>
>> (AP) 17 hours ago
>>
>> LOS ANGELES California agriculture officials say an infestation of the
>> white striped fruit fly has been found in Los Angeles County, the first
>> detection of the pest in the Western Hemisphere.
>>
>> The fly is from tropical Southeast Asia and damages the fruit of many
>> trees, especially guava and mango.
>>
>> The state Department of Food and Agriculture said Friday that seven white
>> striped fruit flies were found recently in traps in the La Verne area
>> east of Los Angeles.
>>
>> The state is beginning a mass trapping effort in a 15-square-mile area.
>>
>> Traps placed in trees will contain an attractant to lure male flies and a
>> small amount of pesticide to kill them. The strategy is intended to
>> eliminate breeding.
>>
>> Authorities will also treat the ground in the areas where the seven flies
>> were found.
>>
>> Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
>>
>>
>>
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>
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Received on Sat Aug 1 17:42:14 2009

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