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

From: Schwarzwald <>
Date: Wed Dec 16 2009 - 16:42:02 EST


To admit evolution is not necessarily to admit that man's "arrival" was
slow, or that what constitutes man is measured entirely by
biological/physical attributes. As I already said, yes, defining what
constitutes "man" is going to be part of this, and is itself a debate.
Assuming biological evolution took place does not end this debate, or even
do much of a job of informing it on its own.

Even then, recognizing/arguing that "Homo erectus slowly transformed ... and
eventually one branch gave rise to H. s. sapiens" does not mean that there
was no first man. Now, any clarity is going to come from what definition of
"man" is offered - a definition which, I'll repeat one more time, is not
automatically determined entirely by biological/reproductive attributes.
Even arguing that man is defined by traits given to degree leaves you with
traits which either won't be universal (in which case, you'll have a first
owing to there being a member possessing the appropriates traits to have a
relevant degree of) or will be universal to life (in which case you're still
getting a first, unless you believe physical life has eternally existed.)

Frankly, I could turn around and argue that if we're going to play the
"degree" card, then it's not clear that H. erectus, H. neanderthalensis, or
H. sapiens, and even daucus carota are not 'the same thing, differing only
by degree'.

On Wed, Dec 16, 2009 at 3:50 PM, dfsiemensjr <> wrote:

> 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 <>
> writes:
> Murray and Dave,
> Some responses below.
> Dave,
> 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.
> Murray,
> 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 Wed Dec 16 16:42:49 2009

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