I know it’s a rehash of other arguments, and I know the debate is not and probably never will be settled, but it’s something that weighs on my mind quite a bit. What is Evolution, at its root, and why does it continue to baffle so many otherwise amazing intellects?
To preface this, I am not a biologist nor a scientist nor a philosopher, at least not by trade. I am an engineer who is fascinated by the human mind and how it functions, and as a consequence I have spent much of my life studying psychology and philosophy. So what you are about to read is an examination based on the mind of one who seeks the roots of things and the ways they function.
Furthermore, nowhere in this will I be attempting to disprove evolution. By no means do I have the time or ability to do such a thing. What I aim to do in this post is to determine the proper philosophical placement of evolution and how it can be studied, tested, justified, or refuted.
To begin, let’s consider the origins and implementations of Science.
The Philosophy that is Science
Science, as we commonly understand it, has its strongest origins in the thought of Aristotle. Aristotle’s work has formed the basis for our understanding of a great many things (indeed, he is called The Philosopher by many great minds for exactly this reason), and among these are logic and the scientific method and its implications.
At root, all thought is irrational, but philosophy seeks to overlay a rational process over what is otherwise somewhat chaotic and unpredictable to achieve understanding. Logic is a consistent approach that takes premises that are known to be true (whether by definition or by strong evidence and prior logical reasoning) and synthesizes them in a way that produces a new idea which can be reasonably proven to follow from the premises. For example, if I am a man and all men are mortal (our premises), then it follows logically that I must be mortal.
Science, then, is an extension of the same thinking that produces logic – it seeks to apply a consistent rational method over our irrational minds’ observation of reality to produce consistent and reliable premises on which to build. We do this, in a formal sense, through the Scientific Method.
- Formulate a hypothesis – a “little idea” of how things should work based on logical synthesis of current observations
- Devise a repeatable and consistent test of the hypothesis in order to invalidate it – while we cannot even prove that gravity works as we expect it to at all times and in all places, we can prove the ways it does not seem to work
- If the hypothesis proved false, devise a new hypothesis
- If the hypothesis proved true, devise a new test to invalidate the hypothesis
- Repeat the process until you run out of ways to invalidate your hypothesis
Now, the result of all this is not itself pure truth. Using clever mathematical models, the geocentric theory was tested repeatedly and worked just fine, but eventually tests were carried out that invalidated what could have been held as truth. Instead, we use the philosophy that is science to establish evidences toward the reliability of hypotheses.
For this reason, we owe it to our thought to devise distinctions for the things related to science:
- Scientody is the philosophy and practice of science, as simply expressed in the scientific method
- Scientistry is the profession of science, encompassing those who call themselves “scientists”
- Scientage is the collection of hypotheses that have been tested and (thus far) failed to be invalidated
Now we come to the question of evolution. How does evolution hold to the terms previously defined, and how do its deviations change our perception of it?
We can most readily identify Scientistry with evolution. As you can readily identify from visiting any Natural History museum or reading any major scientist publication, evolution is strongly correlated with scientists. Not all scientists adhere to the theory of evolution, as many have religious or philosophical reasons to seek alternative ideas, but the correlation is currently unquestionable.
The question becomes murkier when looking at the other two “science” terms. Let us first look at scientody.
As scientody is a well-defined philosophical construct, we can use its precepts to test whether evolution adheres to it or belongs elsewhere. After all, we do not use the philosophy of ontology to analyze whether Abraham Lincoln lived or whether a caterpillar forms a chrysalis, so it stands to reason we should not apply scientody where it does not belong.
Let us devise a logical progression:
- Scientody is encapsulated in the scientific method
- The scientific method relies on tests that are repeatable and consistent
- Evolution is asserted to be a process requiring millennia and large scales of generations to observe
- Therefore, evolution cannot be tested in a repeatable and consistent manner
- Therefore, evolution does not belong under scientody
Now, I know what many of you will think here: “We can test evolution!” And, to a very limited degree, you are correct. Evolution predicts that it is possible for many dog breeds to descend from the large sampling of genetic components in the “older” dog breeds (e.g. you can selectively breed the wolves once populating France to produce poodles). The problem here is that this is only one of the precepts of evolution: in order to test evolution properly, we need to be able to breed one species into a wildly different species, like fish into mammals or birds or reptiles. Under the theory of evolution, this would take millennia, and so it is not testable in a repeatable and consistent manner.
This does not mean that evolution is inherently wrong, of course. What it means is that evolution does not belong among the sciences. For, if it cannot be analyzed under scientody, it cannot produce scientage, and so it is not science in any meaningful sense.
Not Science, but History
If evolution does not have a place among the sciences for the reasons laid out, then it must logically belong somewhere else in the field of philosophy. And, as all rational thought is the domain of philosophy, it is a change of kind and not a refutation.
Let us look at the overarching aspects of evolution to see what kind of philosophical mindset is required to work with it:
- Evolution requires large timescales not perceivable even by the collective generations of scientists who have had the idea to work with.
- Evolution makes assertion primarily of past events occurring over the millennia undocumented
- Evolution draws evidence primarily from artifacts retrieved from ancient earth
- Evolution makes predictions based on those artifacts, on the pre-established philosophy of Evolution, and on the scientage gleaned over the past few hundred years
Based on the historically-oriented aspects of evolution, it is tempting to consider it a historical philosophy. If so, then it (like the rest of history) relies on evidences and testimonies passed down to our current day. We can observe that, for the most part, this is the case.
If evolution is history, then we must ask the same questions we do when we consider, say, World War II. In the case of this war, which some very few living can claim to have witnessed first-hand, we have conflicting testimonies from artifacts and documents. It is the struggle of historians to devise methods to determine which testimonies are backed by evidences (e.g. did a nuclear bomb go off at Nagasaki – we have evidences of devastating forces sufficient to change the landscape and burn ash silhouettes onto stone walls) and which testimonies are most reliable (e.g. how many Jews died during the Holocaust – some accounts number in the tens of millions, some in the hundreds of thousands).
In the case of evolution, we must treat the conditions of the sites where artifacts are retrieved as evidences, and we must treat what we find there and how we find it as testimony. For example, if we were to find seashells and fish bones buried deep in the rocks alongside dinosaurs or horses, we must take that as whole testimony to some historical event sufficient to have these fossils together. If we were to find a human skeleton inside a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton, we would have to take that as testimony to some historical event sufficient to have that fossil pattern appear.
This, so far, is merely the discussion of the practice of retrieving testimonies and evidences for evolution as a historical philosophy. What is far more difficult is to combine all the testimonies to create a picture of the historical events corresponding to those testimonies or evidences. If, for example, we found that human inside the T. Rex, we have to create a picture sufficient for that to be – it could be that geological forces caused it to happen, or it could be that the T. Rex ate the human. The theory as it stands says it would have to be geological forces, because we are beginning with the story and then applying testimonies to it (not an unreasonable thing, considering we assume the events to have occurred millennia before recorded human testimony) instead of the other way around.
Of course, the physical evidences we retrieve and the state of the sites where they are found are only one piece of historical evidence. We must also consider the testimonies of scientage to determine whether the stories we construct can be considered valid possibilities. Taking our hypothetical dinosaur-eaten man, if we could find nothing in the scientific knowledge base to allow for the geologic explanation to be true, then our story holds no water and we must seek after another such story. To use a real example, if one were to deny that we employed nuclear weapons in the past 70 or so years FOR THE FIRST TIME IN HISTORY (as we do), our scientage would allow us to debunk it with Cesium testing of old wines (wines bottled before the war have no Cesium, Cesium has a long enough half-life for them to have it if it was present, and newer wines have Cesium).
As a matter of fact, if you read the research work tied to evolution, you will find this is exactly the current practice, tacitly admitting that evolution “science” is, in fact, historical analysis.
Implications and Contradictions
First, we must look at the most obvious and essential question this reclassification of evolution raises. If evolution is not a science, then it has none of the consistency and repeatability of scientage, and it cannot be treated as though it does. We can test gravity in thousands of ways, from large scale projects like space exploration to dropping a ball in a vacuum tube, but we cannot do similar tests on the historical claims of evolution. This means they are no more reliable than our understanding of the history of, say, Byzantium or Akkad.
Can we still teach evolution in schools? Absolutely we can. But the implication of evolutionary study being a historical philosophy instead of a scientific one means that it cannot be logically taught alongside cell biology or physics, because they are two different things.
But, all this being said, evolution is still upheld as a scientific paradigm despite being a theory in constant flux and challenge by the evidences presented. The fact of the matter is, we do find fossils in places we don’t expect them to be. We do find that age dating methods are easily rendered meaningless by environmental factors (e.g. Hadrian’s wall contains leaves supposedly tens of thousands of years old according to the tests, but the wall is only a few thousand old). And yet, it is held as scientifically true and unquestionable.
(As a side note, all of science is questions. If we were to find anything that appeared to contradict the laws of gravitation, it would be incumbent on us to test the observed phenomenon and, if necessary, replace the long-verified hypothesis).
This raises another question for a later post: is there more to evolution than mere historical analysis? Is there a philosophical or, dare I say, religious necessity for evolution in other fields of thought held by the Scientistry? I am not yet prepared to address this.
Conclusion, or TL;DR
- Science is a philosophical discipline
- Science is defined in three categories: scientody (the philosophy and practice of science), scientage (the set of reliable hypotheses tested and, so far, unrefuted), and scientistry (the profession of science)
- Evolution logically belongs not to science but to historical philosophy
- As evolution is not scientage, it has none of the reliability implied by scientage
The Author wishes to express that he may well be entirely, 100% wrong. He invites all those who disagree to consider their cases and present them as concisely and pathos-free as possible in the comments below.
Stay safe, and happy 2017 to you all.