Mr. Darwin Can’t Get a Break

 

It can’t be easy to be Charles Darwin right now. (I mean, for reasons beyond the obvious.) A meticulous researcher and a serious and deeply respectful man, Mr. Darwin spent years carefully documenting and refining his seminal* theory of evolution through natural selection, delaying its presentation until similar discoveries by fellow British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace prompted him to go public and secure his claim as the father of evolutionary theory.

(And what is it with our British cousins, that they should produce simultaneously two men of such insight?)

Imagine for a moment if Galileo, whose encounter with the Catholic Church has been described in this fine piece by our own @Roderic, was today the target of pseudo-scientific sniping for Galileo’s enthusiastic support of the heliocentric model, and that a cottage industry of questionable academic rigor persisted in attempting to tear that theory down. Ponder a world in which the work of Isaac Newton (another big name in British science) was deemed risible by a gaggle of modern critics, despite his having discovered much of classical physics and — oh, yes — co-invented the calculus because plain old math wasn’t quite up to his needs.

Think about that, because that’s what Mr. Darwin has to put up with every single day.

Okay, there’s nothing wrong with questioning science. In fact, to do science is to question science: that’s what science is all about. But while doing science always entails questioning science, the act of questioning science is not always doing science (if that makes sense: it’s one of those p implies q does not imply that not-p implies not-q situations).

A couple of days ago the British newspaper The Telegraph ran a story about a criticism of Darwin mounted by the woke folks at Sheffield University in the UK. That story is paywalled at The Telegraph, but Breitbart is covering it here. The gist of the story is that the school deems evolutionary biology the stuff of white supremacy. The Telegraph quotes the school as writing “It is clear that science cannot be objective and apolitical…. [T]he curriculum we teach must acknowledge how colonialism has shaped the field of evolutionary biology and how evolutionary biologists think today,” and as calling for the “whiteness and Eurocentrism of our science” to be deconstructed.

It’s bad enough that Darwin’s work is attacked via pseudo-science from the right, as I mentioned recently in this piece (paywalled behind Ricochet) about the work of Stephen Meyer. Now the great naturalist is in the left’s crosshairs as well.


What caught my eye about the Breitbart piece (which was linked indirectly by Glenn Reynolds over at Instapundit) was, first, that it is about Darwin, a man I admire and with whom I share a birthday, but also that it mentioned Sheffield University. That august institution came up here recently in this piece I wrote about a quack woke geophysics lecturer at Sheffield calling for an end to the structural racism of the geoscience field. Or something.

 

* I have read that “seminal” is no longer considered appropriate, when discussing contributions in science. I can’t imagine why not.

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  1. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    What I said earlier was that a claim of an omnipotent God was inherently unfalsifiable, and that I hadn’t given much thought to other supernatural claims.

    Your example posits a limited God — a God lacking free will and incapable of choosing to be dishonest. I might be willing to agree that some claims made about a God lacking free will are falsifiable; I’ll have to think more about that.

    Do you have any thought experiments that attempt to make the same point but that allow God free will?

     

    I think you guys should discuss genetic engineering and sex bots instead. But I respect your freedom to discuss whatever you want. Yay the first amendment.

    Henry, no one else is listening. It’s not like we’re inconveniencing anyway. This is an interesting exercise.

    Sex robots are just sad, like opium dens.

    Calm down guys. It’s a joke. 

    • #331
  2. Henry Racette Moderator
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):
    Even a second-rate academic discipline like contemporary analytic philosophy recognizes that omnipotence does not require silly things like ability to break the rules of logic.

    It must, however, include the ability to tell a lie. I have that ability; you have that ability. It isn’t sensible to suggest that an omnipotent being wouldn’t have that ability.

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):
    Think of how the stronger runner has less ability to lose the race. That he has less ability to lose does not mean he is less powerful. Rather, he has so much power that he can’t easily lose.

    That’s sophistry. The stronger runner has as much ability to lose as the weaker runner; he also simply has more ability to win. An omnipotent being that is incapable of uttering an untruth is an oxymoron.

    And so I’m back to wondering if your illustration works if the scientist does not hypothesize a God of limited ability. I don’t think it does.

    • #332
  3. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):
    Even a second-rate academic discipline like contemporary analytic philosophy recognizes that omnipotence does not require silly things like ability to break the rules of logic.

    It must, however, include the ability to tell a lie. I have that ability; you have that ability. It isn’t sensible to suggest that an omnipotent being wouldn’t have that ability.

    Nothing is more sensible. Imperfection is not a strength. Why should G-d so weak as to have the ability to do something so utterly lacking in perfection as telling a lie?

    I’m honest enough that I would have some difficulty telling a lie.  That’s a strength–a power.  I wish I had such strength that it were impossible for me.

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):
    Think of how the stronger runner has less ability to lose the race. That he has less ability to lose does not mean he is less powerful. Rather, he has so much power that he can’t easily lose.

    That’s sophistry.

    It looks to me like sheer logic.  (But maybe you’re just using some word in some way I don’t understand; I guess that’s possible)

    The stronger runner has as much ability to lose as the weaker runner; he also simply has more ability to win.

    Simply false.

    In the Hong Kong MTR  system, I could hardly be the last person to transfer from the East Rail Line to the TKL line at Kowloon Tong Station if I tried–and that is because I am a strong runner and a stronger walker.

    An omnipotent being that is incapable of uttering an untruth is an oxymoron.

    Only by your uninformed definition of omnipotence.

    • #333
  4. Henry Racette Moderator
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):
    Even a second-rate academic discipline like contemporary analytic philosophy recognizes that omnipotence does not require silly things like ability to break the rules of logic.

    It must, however, include the ability to tell a lie. I have that ability; you have that ability. It isn’t sensible to suggest that an omnipotent being wouldn’t have that ability.

    Nothing is more sensible. Imperfection is not a strength. Why should G-d so weak as to have the ability to do something so utterly lacking in perfection as telling a lie?

    I’m honest enough that I would have some difficulty telling a lie. That’s a strength–a power. I wish I had such strength that it were impossible for me.

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):
    Think of how the stronger runner has less ability to lose the race. That he has less ability to lose does not mean he is less powerful. Rather, he has so much power that he can’t easily lose.

    That’s sophistry.

    It looks to me like sheer logic. (But maybe you’re just using some word in some way I don’t understand; I guess that’s possible)

    The stronger runner has as much ability to lose as the weaker runner; he also simply has more ability to win.

    Simply false.

    In the Hong Kong MTR system, I could hardly be the last person to transfer from the East Rail Line to the TKL line at Kowloon Tong Station if I tried–and that is because I am a strong runner and a stronger walker.

    An omnipotent being that is incapable of uttering an untruth is an oxymoron.

    Only by your uninformed definition of omnipotence.

    SA, you and I are at an impasse. I reject the notion that being unable to express certain ideas is a characteristic of an omnipotent being by any reasonable definition. It’s a limitation, a limitation that none of us possess.

    I understand what you’re attempting to do, equating perfection with an inability to tell a lie. I think that takes away moral agency; a being incapable of lying hardly deserves praise for not lying: it has not choice but to not lie.

    Your proposed perfect omnipotent being lacks the free will that I take for granted. Maybe philosophy professors use words this way, but I’m not going to. A being capable of doing everything except lying is a being not capable of doing everything, and not omnipotent by any definition normal people (here we are again) would use.

    Incidentally, your comment about a stronger runner being unable to lose is an absurd abuse of language.

    • #334
  5. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    SA, you and I are at an impasse. I reject the notion that being unable to express certain ideas is a characteristic of an omnipotent being by any reasonable definition.

    You do realize that this is the definition of Thomas Aquinas and other luminaries?  I hardly know what reason is myself sometimes, but I have no doubts that, whatever it is, Aquinas tends to have more of it than just about anyone.

    It’s a limitation, a limitation that none of us possess.

    I do not possess the inability to tell a lie.  That is because of my limitations. I am able to do something utterly lacking in perfection because I fall so short of perfection.  Like the ability to die, any other ability to fall short of perfection is better classified as a weakness than as a power.

    I understand what you’re attempting to do, equating perfection with an inability to tell a lie. I think that takes away moral agency; a being incapable of lying hardly deserves praise for not lying: it has not choice but to not lie.

    Is every form of goodness dependent on the ability to do otherwise?  Why should there not be a goodness that is beyond temptation, beyond even the ability to do wrong?

    There are probably some sins I am not even able to do through strength of character and good habits.  Would that I had more such inabilities!

    Your proposed perfect omnipotent being lacks the free will that I take for granted. Maybe philosophy professors use words this way, but I’m not going to. A being capable of doing everything except lying is a being not capable of doing everything, and not omnipotent by any definition normal people (here we are again) would use.

    You do realize that you are talking to a Christian who represents traditional theism?

    You do realize there is such a tradition?

    And you do realize you are disagreeing with it?  I don’t understand this lack of interest in what the tradition you are disagreeing with actually says.

    Incidentally, your comment about a stronger runner being unable to lose is an absurd abuse of language.

    Wrong again, but I daresay you are right that we are at an impasse.

    • #335
  6. Henry Racette Moderator
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    SA, you and I are at an impasse. I reject the notion that being unable to express certain ideas is a characteristic of an omnipotent being by any reasonable definition.

    You do realize that this is the definition of Thomas Aquinas and other luminaries?  I hardly know what reason is myself sometimes, but I have no doubts that, whatever it is, Aquinas tends to have more of it than just about anyone.

    This may be part of why you and I clash so much, SA. For me, words are tools for communicating ideas in a way that normal people will understand. So I try to use words in a normal, accepted way. If, in the context of a discussion of free will, one argues that a personal capable of running fast is unable to lose a race, that’s an unconventional use of the word “unable.” Normal people would say “well, of course he’s able to lose, but he’s not likely to lose; he most likely needn’t lose.”

    You choose to define “omnipotent” as, among other things, incapable of telling a lie, and you make that an essential detail of our argument. Normal people don’t use words that way. We distinguish between “unable to” and “choosing not to.”

    I think I am more temperamentally suited to dealing with people who use words to convey ideas, rather than subtly reshaping the meanings of words in order to support ideas. So yes, it’s probably a good time to agree to disagree.

    • #336
  7. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    SA, you and I are at an impasse. I reject the notion that being unable to express certain ideas is a characteristic of an omnipotent being by any reasonable definition.

    You do realize that this is the definition of Thomas Aquinas and other luminaries? I hardly know what reason is myself sometimes, but I have no doubts that, whatever it is, Aquinas tends to have more of it than just about anyone.

    This may be part of why you and I clash so much, SA. For me, words are tools for communicating ideas in a way that normal people will understand. So I try to use words in a normal, accepted way. If, in the context of a discussion of free will, one argues that a personal capable of running fast is unable to lose a race, that’s an unconventional use of the word “unable.” Normal people would say “well, of course he’s able to lose, but he’s not likely to lose; he most likely needn’t lose.”

    You choose to define “omnipotent” as, among other things, incapable of telling a lie, and you make that an essential detail of our argument. Normal people don’t use words that way. We distinguish between “unable to” and “choosing not to.”

    I think I am more temperamentally suited to dealing with people who use words to convey ideas, rather than subtly reshaping the meanings of words in order to support ideas. So yes, it’s probably a good time to agree to disagree.

    “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

    “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

    “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – – that’s all.”

    • #337
  8. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    This may be part of why you and I clash so much, SA. For me, words are tools for communicating ideas in a way that normal people will understand. So I try to use words in a normal, accepted way. If, in the context of a discussion of free will, one argues that a personal capable of running fast is unable to lose a race, that’s an unconventional use of the word “unable.” Normal people would say “well, of course he’s able to lose, but he’s not likely to lose; he most likely needn’t lose.”

    You choose to define “omnipotent” as, among other things, incapable of telling a lie, and you make that an essential detail of our argument. Normal people don’t use words that way. We distinguish between “unable to” and “choosing not to.”

    I think I am more temperamentally suited to dealing with people who use words to convey ideas, rather than subtly reshaping the meanings of words in order to support ideas. So yes, it’s probably a good time to agree to disagree.

    That is downright rude.  I never use words to do anything but to convey ideas (unless I’m quoting “Jabberwocky”).  What kind of a jerk do you think I am?

    I am using the dictionary for “unable” as well as “omnipotent,” and I’m also talking about what the doctrine of omnipotence actually means according to the tradition.

    You seem to be talking about what the doctrine of omnipotence means according to all those people who think “Can G-d make a rock so big he can’t move it?” is really profound.

    Taking that as your definition is only slightly more useful than defining the word “Trinity” according to the thought of all those who think Christians believe in one divine person who has three different roles.

    • #338
  9. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Try this line of reasoning, HR.  Suppose that classical theism as well as contemporary analytic philosophy of religion are correct that an omnipotent G-d does not have the ability to break the rules of logic.

    Now observe that, while a loser like me may once in a lifetime, when constrained by extreme circumstances, have a moral obligation to lie, an omnipotent being will never be constrained by such circumstances.

    Now consider this argument:

    1. To tell a lie when one is not constrained by extreme circumstances is to have an imperfection.
    2. To have an imperfection is to have a weakness.
    3. Therefore, to tell a lie when one is not constrained by extreme circumstances is to have a weakness.

    You can add one premise and extend the argument.

    3. To tell a lie when one is not constrained by extreme circumstances is to have a weakness.
    4. It is not possible for an omnipotent being to have weaknesses.
    5. Therefore, it is not possible for an omnipotent being to tell a lie.

    Which of those premises is false, HR–1, 2, or 4?

    • #339
  10. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    https://ricochet.com/962063/what-is-omnipotence/

    • #340
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