Re: Refuting Aristotle et al (was Re: [asa] Dawkins on the fossil record)

From: Schwarzwald <>
Date: Tue Dec 15 2009 - 22:46:04 EST

Murray and Dave,

Some responses below.


I'm sorry, but what you're telling me here amounts to obfuscation and little
more. Why not argue that 2 + 2 = 10 - after all, you could be doing the
equation in base four. It's not speaking to the point I made, and honestly,
I think you have to know that.

As for your example re: "First human". If a human is defined as having
features X, and the first human who has features X fails to produce
offspring with features X, surprise - there was still a first human. So the
example given is no counter to there being a first human.

Now, at this point I suppose you could argue it's possible that two distinct
mothers conceived and gave birth at the exact same times to offspring who
equally fulfilled the (unstated, and as I said, not necessarily entirely or
largely genetic) feature set of "human", and challenge me there. Again, an
objection like that hardly seems worth of more than an eye-roll.

As for Aristotle's scientific views, certainly they were incomplete and
sometimes outright wrong. Darwin's views were also shockingly incomplete and
wrongheaded in some ways. It doesn't mean both didn't have some to say that
still rings true, despite their having died quite a while ago.


First of all, there's complicated, and then there's complicated. Absolutely
I would agree that we are privy to information (or at least, some good and
reasonable theories) that the church fathers did not have to contend with on
this topic. But, as you seem willing to admit, this does not speak against
there being a "first". Not everything has been complicated, after all.

Second, you're going far beyond assuming mere "evolution" when you assert
universal, strict gradualism with biological development. As you are when
you imply that all defining characteristics of humans are "degree"-based, or
reduce entirely to what can be directly passed on in reproduction. Indeed,
the second question seems to go beyond pure science (call it lessening the
degree of the purely scientific that's in play if you like), while the
former at the very least butts into problems with philosophy and theology,
and possibly scientific ones as well.

Now if it's your position that all of humanity's defining traits reduce to
the biological+material, and further that all of them are ones where
humanity differs from all other species and ancestors only and purely in
degree, that's your prerogative. But I think it's obvious that such views go
vastly beyond an assertion of mere evolution, and certainly beyond the
bounds of properly defined science. Every bit as much when people now and
then try to insist that evolution is "unguided and without purpose", and
that this is a thoroughly scientific claim.

On Tue, Dec 15, 2009 at 9:31 PM, dfsiemensjr <> wrote:

> There are a number of problems with Aristotle. For example, try to apply
> the laws of excluded middle and contradiction to "bald" or any other
> characteristic that admits of degrees. Or try to do astronomy on the basis
> that all celestial bodies are composed solely of the quintessence. Or try to
> do chemistry on the basis of only four terrestrial elements. It must also be
> noted that syllogistic (including the additional modal logics) is not
> totally the same as medieval logics, and is quite different from
> contemporary logics (from Frege on).
> As for 2+2=4, it is not necessarily true, for there is modular arithmetic.
> As to a first entity of some sort, it is entirely possible that the first
> one possessing all the human characteristics, by being in a breeding group,
> did not have any offspring with the same complete set of characteristics.
> There has to be a slowly changing breeding group for speciation. The logical
> notion that there has to be a single first does not necessarily apply to
> reality.
> Dave (ASA)
> On Tue, 15 Dec 2009 17:55:19 -0500 Schwarzwald <>
> writes:
> Murray,
> Sorry, but this cuts no ice. If Gregory were simply making an appeal to the
> Church fathers such that they or revelation should be trusted over modern
> science... well, I'd have some problems with that, but "The year is 2009"
> would *still* not suffice as a meaningful argument. There are problems with
> trusting revelation over science (when the two are actually in dispute,
> rather than it being a clash of philosophies), but the 'modern world' hasn't
> done anything but make that view unpopular.
> But when Gregory is talking about how there must have been a first, I don't
> see him as making a theological appeal. It's a logical appeal, one of
> reason. Along the lines of, "Beings of type X exist now. Beings of type X
> have not been reproducing since eternity. Ergo, there must have been a
> first." That's the sort of reasoning a classic greek may have used - but
> today's date does not change the validity of it.
> To give another example: Aristotle is credited with the law of identity, of
> contradiction, and the excluded middle. Old, old "laws". Is "It's 2009"
> anything close to an adequate way to dismiss them? Does it even begin to do
> that?
> Same for math. 2+2=4. You can find as much 'argued' (discovered?) in some
> old, old references. Is the reasoning outdated? Is the conclusion now
> suspect because of the passage of time?
> So the "the world is fundamentally different" line doesn't go all that far.
> Nor does, necessarily, scientific advancement. If tomorrow a scientist tells
> me "2+2=71", he better have more than a declaration of "It's 2009" onhand
> when I ask him to defend his view.
> On Tue, Dec 15, 2009 at 5:32 PM, Murray Hogg <>wrote:
>> Schwarzwald wrote:
>>> Not nearly enough, Murray. And I'll bluntly say that the tactic of
>>> refutation by referring to the date is the stuff of glaring intellectual
>>> weakness. It can be deployed for just about any position, even contrary
>>> ones.
>> The difference in scientific perspective between the ancient world and
>> today makes any appeal to Aristotle and the Church Fathers problematic in
>> the extreme - particularly when their opinion (as it is on the question of
>> the "first" human) is so markedly a product of their particular view of the
>> created order.
>> Simply citing those authorities as if they can be considered determinative
>> in any theological debate is PRECISELY to attempt to do theology in a
>> pre-modern intellectual context.
>> Let me note, further, that I purposefully used quote marks on
>> "refutation." I am aware that simply pointing to a calendar doesn't disprove
>> Greg's argument - but it DOES introduce a major consideration that has to be
>> addressed.
>> So the fundamental point is that our conceptual world is fundamentally
>> different from that of Aristotle and the Fathers. The only "glaring
>> intellectual weakness" is on the part of those who pretend otherwise.
>> In that respect, pointing out that there's been 2000 years of intervening
>> scientific progress since Aristotle (and 1500 years of same since the Church
>> Fathers) is not quite irrelevant.
>> Blessings,
>> Murray
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Received on Tue Dec 15 22:46:32 2009

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