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

From: dfsiemensjr <>
Date: Wed Dec 16 2009 - 15:50:12 EST

If someone claims that an individual is the first to prove a
mathematician's conjecture, we are involved in a terminus ad quem. There
were presumably others earlier who tried the proof. But the first o a
class is understood as a terminus a quo, the first of a continuous
sequence of successors. But even here there is a problem with evolution
within a population. For one who holds that Adam was the first man, the
term is obvious. For one who recognized that Homo erectus slowly
transformed into H. neanderthalensis and H. sapiens, and eventually one
branch gave rise to H. s. sapiens, it is not clear that there was a first
member of any of the species or subspecies.
Dave (ASA)

On Tue, 15 Dec 2009 22:46:04 -0500 Schwarzwald <>
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 <>

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

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 <>

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 <>

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

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.


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Received on Wed Dec 16 16:18:48 2009

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