Philosophy of Evolution: Scientific Judgement Problem

Scientific Judgement Problem

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The Problem of Scientific Judgement

Can the concepts of "evolution" and "fact" be joined together in a scientific judgment? Philosophic judgment has already been considered in the last section, and now scientific judgment must be considered. Syllogistic reasoning, which is composed of two premises leading to a conclusion, will be considered in the next chapter.

Scientific judgment involves a number of problems. For most of the twentieth century there were scientific problems with the term "evolution" that prevented evolution as it is in itself to be immediately recognized as the same evolution apprehended as factual.1 First, there was a problem about the nature of science, since science itself was changing. Second, there were problems with the new material of science. Third, there were problems with new scientific methods. Fourth, there were problems with the world views of many scientists, which were not a Scholastic view. Fifth, there was a problem with certitude. Sixth, there was a problem about the exclusive right of science to find truth. Seventh, new theories of evolution brought new problems.

By way of introduction, it should be noted that modern science and philosophy were historically intertwined. From the eighteenth century, the ideas of Newton were accepted without any problem. However, in the nineteenth century scientific thought moved from a preference for Rationalism to a preference for Positivism and Empiricism. In fact, it was in the middle of the nineteenth century that Positivism triumphed even in philosophy. One of the greatest representatives of this Positivistic school, and probably the most systematic, was Herbert Spencer (1820-1904). In epistemology the fundamental problem is the motive for determining certitude in judgments. Spencer replies that the fundamental motive for certitude is the inconceivability of the contrary. By this Spencer hoped to assume a intermediate position between Empiricism and Aprioricism. Against Empiricism, he sustained the principles of logic and the intuitive forms of space and time which man knows from birth and which are the presupposition of every certain cognition. But he also maintains that these dispositions, independent of individual experience and the foundation of this experience, are previously constituted in man during the slow and progressive development of the human species, and are transmitted to individuals by heredity.2 Given that science and philosophy are historically intertwined, now let us consider the scientific problems with the term "evolution" that prevented evolution as it is in itself to be immediately recognized as the same evolution apprehended as factual.

First, there was a problem about the nature of science, since science itself was changing.3 To understand the profound change in science, a short history may be in order. The earliest Greek thinkers directed their philosophical efforts to the world of nature, the world that meets the casual observer. Aristotle, and tradition, remembers these men by the title "physicists."4 The interpretation of the "physical" universe was the object of research for Thales (c.640-546 B.C.) to Empedocles (c.500- 435 B.C.) and Anaxagoras (c.500- 428 B.C.). Plato (428-347) wrote the Timaeus. Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) himself was the father of biology. In the Middle Ages, St. Thomas (1225-1274) defined science a number of times.5 St. Thomas also treated the division of the sciences many times, especially in his younger years.6 In the seventeenth century, science as we know it was born and its growth was phenomenal.7 As the nineteenth century began, that is after 1800, a great optimism for scientific progress was felt.8 Ernest Renan (1823-1892) believed science to be a religion. There was still Neo-Romanticism and Neo-Idealism, but scientists no longer had the optimism of Laplace or Comte. Mathematics entered into a period of profound crisis due to Non-Eucledian geometry of Gauss, Lobaceoskij, and Riemann, and also the theories of Cantor, which eventually opened the road to the complete logicization of mathematics by G. Frege and B. Russell. Physics also entered a period of profound crisis as thermodynamics compromised the mechanicist ideal, even more in 1900 by the quantum physics of Plank and in the same year by the experiment of Michelson.9 That same crisis was evident in the difficulty in even defining modern psychology, which was less than a century old and was always a storm center of controversy and conflicting opinion.10 This same crisis also is evident in modern biology in the light of the confusion that has reigned over a decade about the proposition that "evolution is a (scientific) fact."11

Second, there were judgment problems with the new material of science. Scientific facts have to be the basis of a philosophy of nature, and armchair theory alone does not get the scientist very far by itself.12 The chimpanzee genome has been published, with some opposition that humans and apes may have had a common ancestor. Two teams, one under Eddy Rubin, director of the Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute in Walnut Creek, California, and another team under Svante Pbo at the Max Planck Institute for Evolution and Anthropology in Leipzig, are now sequencing the one million base pairs of the Neanderthal genome, and are moving toward publication.13 The increasing new material touched evolution in general in biological science and touched the evolution of man in psychological science. Examine evolutionary biology and evolutionary psychology.

Where does evolutionary biology get its new material, especially in the area of studies on evolution, and how can this new material create problems of scientific judgment? Paleontologists are accumulating enough fossils to form "family trees," while other scientists are assembling anatomic details, using biochemistry such as the experiments of Morris Goodman in 1960, using molecular genetics such as the 1975 paper by Berkeley scientists Mary-Claire King and Allan Wilson, using DNA base pairs, and including activities such as burial ceremonies and the use of fire in the analysis of hominization.14 New material in biology raises at least four problems in the linking of "evolution" and "fact" in a scientific judgment. First, studies of the genome will be able to distinguish taxonomic species better than at present, but taxonomic species are not the proper and philosophical species helpful in proving evolution, and these studies are incomplete although of enormous future potential.15 Second, the use of the genome to time evolutionary changes is extraordinarily imprecise.16 Third, a number of inversions, deletions, and duplications occur in large parts of the genome that are inert and unused.17 Fourth, genes alone do not dictate the differences between species, but also the functional non-coding DNA, comprising some 3% to 4% of the genome and mostly embedded within and around the genes.18

Where does evolutionary psychology get its new material, especially in the area of studies on evolution, and how can this new material create problems of scientific judgment? Darwin is the "patron saint" of modern psychology, because of his pioneering contribution of treating emotions and their manner of expression as products of evolution.19 Although no single incident can be said to constitute the origin of psychology, it is a relatively young science whose beginnings belong to the last half of the nineteenth century.20 About 1839, Ernst Weber studied stimulus and sensory experience. Theodor Fechner (1801-1887) continued these studies. The Weber-Fechner law states to judge the next sensation as more intense, it has to have a stimulus increase in squares. Psychophysics was the name given to this measurement. Fechner wrote the first book in the new science of psychology, The Elements of Psychophysics (1860). Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920) shares with Fechner the title of father or founder of modern psychology. Wundt published the first complete psychology textbook, Outlines of Physiological Psychology, in three volumes; he set up the first psychology research laboratory at Leipzig; he founded the first German psychological journal, Philosophical Studies; and he set up the first system of psychology, the introspection method, thereby creating the first school of psychology.21 Wundt dominated psychology up to the 1890s. In the first decade of the twentieth century, a crisis arose in psychology: first, it fell short of its founders’ excessive expectations; second, it was capable of study outside the university laboratory (while the founders demanded experiments only in the laboratory); and third, it was charged with artificiality and remoteness from life situations. The revolt against the "New Psychology" of Wundt, which maintained the mental life of man was no higher than sense or sensation, then broke into two major movements outside the laboratory: the Psychoanalysis of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) which moved to educational testing, and Behaviorism which moved to animal studies. Franz Brentano (1838-1917) in Vienna also broke with Wundt, and founded Gestalt Psychology, meaning that the whole (Gestalt) exercises a determining influence on the perceptual process from beginning to end. New material in psychology raises at least five problems in the linking of "evolution" and "fact" in a scientific judgment regarding man. First, confusion arises due to the difference in the foundations of the science of psychology: Wundt holding nothing but conscious processes, Watson holding nothing but behavior, Freud holding nothing but unconscious, and the Gestalt School, holding nothing but perceptual configurations.22 Second, intellectual cognition in man is more than the sense cognition shared by animals, which difference is not admitted by Wundt.23 Third, the Neo-Scholastics assert the reality of free will in man is proved by general consensus, experience, the nature of the will, and the exigencies of the moral order, while Wundt, Spinoza, Schopenhauer, Hffding, Ziehen teach the illusion of free will is sufficiently explained from consciousness of our own activity joined with ignorance of the forces which really determine choice.24 Fourth, the establishment of psychological laws is not always precise, as in the Weber-Fechner Law which is a pseudo-problem, professing to study "differences" when it only relates to "proportions."25 Fifth, scientific judgment about evolution is hindered because the broad view of the unity of man is only in the process of development in modern psychology.26

To continue with our general scientific problems with the term "evolution" that prevented evolution as it is in itself to be immediately recognized as the same evolution apprehended as factual, we come to the third major point: there were judgment problems with new scientific methods. Modern science had some roots in the sixteenth century with the spirit of the Renaissance in its love of nature and a new consciousness of man’s dominion over nature.27 The scientific revolution was the experimental method, which was not slow in bearing fruit, even for the natural philosophy of Linnaeus and Buffon, men important for our evolutionary studies.28 While the experimental method coincides with the philosophy of nature, the purely mathematical method does not. The philosophy of nature even inspired Descartes, with the division res extensa and res congitans, and Kant’s view where space and time are a priori forms of subjectivity, while pure mathematics has distanced itself from even these philosophers.29 Therefore, the mathematical method used exclusively is a scientific judgment problem in joining "evolution" with "fact." A first problem with scientific method is its proclivity to depend on mathematics alone.30 A second problem in scientific method is that evolution is an interpretive tool in understanding history, rather than strict science; and this is known from the fact that evolution is a one-way process, and cannot be the subject of experimentation, just as history is linear and non-experimental.31 A third problem with science is that the scientist does not always use good scientific method, such as the case of Galileo who used arguments based on the Bible against the advice of his friend and admirer, Cardinal Barberini.32 A fourth problem with science, especially Positivistic science, is that imagination cannot be used to understand creation, an element in the discussion of evolution and fact.33 A fifth problem with scientific method is that the dating of fossils and the use of genetic variation as a clock are both unreliable, and currently vary by a big margin of error.34 A sixth problem with scientific method is that some concepts, like evolution or its application to the cosmos, are easier treated in science as a class of theories, but it is very difficult to explain a class of theories, some of which (like theories of evolution) are essentially different.35 A seventh problem with scientific method is that experimental science treats on the proximate causes which are admitted in science from experience, experimentation, and are measurable, but experimental science also has to give an explanation of the facts, which may involve ultimate causes in philosophy.36 An eighth problem with scientific method is that it is by nature inductive, and must be helped by deduction, and every science must both inductive and deductive.37 So scientific method itself may be an impediment to a judgment joining evolution with fact.

The fourth general area where there were judgment problems arise is from the diverse and often defective world views of scientists, which cause problems in the joining of "evolution" to "fact" in a scientific judgment. Human psychology is still comparatively new, and is characterized by many differences in outlook among its advocates.38 These differences in outlook can sometimes be given philosophical names, but are better more loosely categorized as world views which sometimes contain elements of a number of philosophic systems.39 The first problem is that modern definitions of human personality consider only the empirical manifestations as evolutionary fact, and neglect the unifying principle that gives human beings concrete human existence.40 The second problem is the need to rediscover the Aristotelian theory of finality in evolution, because it is impossible not to find finality in studies of DNA.41 The third difficulty is that the "New Realism" in science, which doubts that human reason can attain reality except for a mathematical approximation that brings science nearer to the real.42 The fourth difficulty arises from Positivism which only admits sense knowledge, and not intellectual knowledge, yet proposes evolution as a unique and supreme law.43 The fifth difficulty arises from Evolutionism as a "reductionist" view of "only science," which tries to explain scientifically all the phenomenon of spirit and matter treated by the laws of physics and biology."44 The sixth difficulty is that Evolutionism seems to have gathered new force, but not new proofs, rather from Relativism.45 The seventh difficulty in joining "evolution" and "fact" in scientific judgment is that many eminent scientists now believe that scientific theory is an "artistic creation" to devise some fruitful guide to further study; and in addition, these future theories will be entirely statistical.46 So the defective world views of some scientists present scientific problems with the term "evolution" that prevented evolution as it is in itself to be immediately recognized as the same evolution apprehended as factual.

Fifth, there was a judgment problem with certitude, which causes problems in the joining of "evolution" to "fact" in a scientific judgment. First, due to the fact that "science" is an analogical term, no one branch of science, like evolutionary biology, can be erected into a monolithic idol without destroying the integrity of truth.47 Second, scientific hypothesis is an instrument, and not a conclusion with certitude, even though an instrument is useful for investigation.48 Third, the working hypothesis has to be confirmed by scientific experiment to begin to furnish certitude.49

Sixth, there was a judgment problem about the exclusive right of science to find truth, which causes problems in the joining of "evolution" to "fact" in a scientific judgment. The last years of the eighteenth century and the first years of the nineteenth century signaled a complete break between science and traditional philosophy. The philosophy that dominated Europe was the purely Rationalistic and Aprioristic philosophy of Descartes, Malebranche, Spinoza, Leibniz, and Wolf.50 The rigid positions of Scholasticism, or its acceptance of science without discernment, only offered a decadent Aristotelianism and Scholasticism that did not satisfy scientists, whose own method was becoming ever more positive and experimental.51 In chemistry, Lavoisier, Proust, Dalton, Berzelius and Avogardo were active. In electricity, Galvani, Volta, Coulomb, and Cavandish were active. In mathematics, Lagrange, Legendre, Laplace and Monge were active. However, in philosophy there was nothing better to offer than the great metaphysical systems of transcendental idealism of Fichte (1762-1814), Schelling (1775-1854), and Hegel (1770-1831). In the early twentieth century, scientists refused to admit any ontological or philosophical concepts, and even to create an autonomous empirical terminology for science.52 Therefore, the search for truth from one single empirical source, facts alone without seeking explanations, causes a problem with the joining of "evolution" and "fact" in a single scientific judgment.53 A factor for the solution of the problem is that from 1900 and after, there was an increasing number of scientists who have been asking questions that were formerly looked upon as purely philosophical.54 A second factor for the solution of the problem is that insights are available from a number of sources, empirical science, philosophy, and theology.55 Even with these further insights, care must be taken to honor the special method of each of these three sciences, but it is not easy to keep these disciplines apart.56 However, Catholic scientists can be encouraged by the pronouncements of the Church that when science adheres to its own method, it cannot come into conflict with faith.57 Further, dialogue between philosophers, scientists, and theologians continues, just as in the International Congress on Evolution held in Rome in 2002.58

Seventh, new theories of evolution brought new judgment problems, which cause problems in the joining of "evolution" to "fact" in a scientific judgment. First, with a new emphasis on the Anthropic Principle, we see the universe the way it is, because if it were different, we would not be here to observe it; this makes it difficult to conceive any fact of evolution of alien life.59 Second, there are many recent theories of evolution, the very number of which argue against evolution being factual.60 Third, evolution is not proper science, but rather a historical process, since it is a one-way process which cannot be the subject of experiment or the subject of some pure mathematical hypothesis.61 Fourth, the factual scientific judgment of evolution has less credibility due to scientists’ proclivity to philosophize.62 Fifth, the factual scientific judgment of evolution has less credibility due to the mysteries of nature, among which is the mechanism of evolution.63

In conclusion, there is a negative scientific judgement dividing "evolution" from "fact," therefore judging, "Evolution is not a fact." If we consider the judgement, "The snow is white," whiteness in the snow as apprehended can be verified in the snow as it is outside the mind. There are a number of scientific reasons preventing the immediate philosophical judgement, "Evolution is fact," since evolution as apprehended cannot be immediately verified in evolution as it is outside the mind.

Author: John Edward Mulvihill,S.T.D., D.Min., Ph.D.
Copyright 2009 by The Genealogist,3236 Lincoln, Franklin Park, IL 60131 U.S.A.