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

From: George Murphy <GMURPHY10@neo.rr.com>
Date: Sun Aug 02 2009 - 09:01:37 EDT

Cameron -

As it happens, I was just thinking yesterday a.m. that there needs to be
more emphasis on contingency in this discussion. But the implications of
that are more nuanced than a sharp historical-experimental split.

Start with astronomy. There are 2 things to note about this science. 1st,
we can't do experiments on stars or galaxies - it would be completely beyond
the physical ability of any foreseeable technological civilization to
manipulate the conditions of even our closest star. & 2d, this science is
historical - all the stars & galaxies we observe are in the past, & in most
cases the distant past. It's an historical science. However, there are
billions of stars & of galaxies. We can observe stars of varying masses,
chemical compositions & ages, in different environments. (Of course all
those things are inferred but so are all our observational data.) In a
quite real sense, the experiments on stars have been done for us. It's as
if we walked into a huge lab & found billions of experiments on the same
type of system set up under different conditions.

The behavior & development of any given star is to a great extent contingent
upon different factors. But we can observe enough stars to be able to
establish some general laws in astrophysics, such as the mass-luminosity
relation for main sequence stars. & given these general laws (or relations,
or whatever you want to call them) we can say things about individual stars
& to a certain extent take their contingency into account. It seems to me
clear that while this is an "historical" science, it would be quite wrong to
say that it differs qualitatively from an "experimental" science like
chemistry.

When we move to astrophysics on the largest scale, however, physical
cosmology, things are different because there is only one observable
universe. Here the experimental character of the science is considerably
smaller. Not only do we not have the capability of changing the physical
conditions of the "system" significantly, there's only one experiment set up
in the "lab." This still does not mean a sharp & qualitative separation of
physical cosmology from experimental science. OTOH, what we know of the
MWB, nucleosynthesis in the first minutes of expansion &c depends on
terrestrial experiments. & OTOH, as I noted in an earlier post, the early
stages of the big bang provide us with a place where high energy physics can
be (indirectly) studied, thus giving insight into an experimental area of
science. But physical cosmology is certainly weighted more heavily toward
the historical end of the spectrum.

Then biology. The historical development of species is again (a) something
over which we can exert very little control & (b) something that happened
primarily in the past, & often the distant past. The career of any given
species, of which there have been many millions, is even more highly
contingent than that of a star. But there have been lots of species on
earth over the past few billion years. Again, there is a real sense in
which the experiments in evolution have been done for us. Of course - &
Moorad might emphasize this, & I would agree with him - evolutiuonary
biology is not as quantitative as astrophysics. But that doesn't mean (a)
that evolutionary biology is a completely different kind of science or (b)
that we can have no reasonable degree of certainty about anything that has
happened in the history of the biosphere.

There is, however, another level of contingency - namely, that we know of
only one place in the universe where life has come into being & evolved. In
this larger sense evolutionary biology is akin to physical cosmology. (But
of course there's some prospect of finding ET life & little of observing
other universes.) Thus any attempt to formulate any kind of universal laws
of evolution has to be highly speculative.

As far as I'm concerned, any perceived friction between Moorad & myself must
be due to the fact that I think his arguments are wrong & have been fairly
blunt in saying so.

Shalom
George
http://home.roadrunner.com/~scitheologyglm

----- Original Message -----
From: "Cameron Wybrow" <wybrowc@sympatico.ca>
To: "asa" <asa@calvin.edu>
Sent: Saturday, August 01, 2009 4:55 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.
>>>
>>>
>>>
>>> To unsubscribe, send a message to
>>> majordomo@calvin.edu<mailto:majordomo@calvin.edu> with
>>> "unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message
>>>
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Received on Sun Aug 2 09:02:35 2009

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