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My take on our distant origins

August 17, 2012

I have no issue that evolution happens in nature in the here and now. I have no problem that it happened in the near past, when the observations that gave birth to Darwin’s theory were made. I’ve no problem with physics as an explanation about how the material world of the here and now works. But I do have a problem with any attempt to scientifically explain our distant origins based on present evidence.

The problem is that to conclude that our origins are evolutionary, one  effectively presupposes:

1) That our distant past can be accurately inferred from present day evidence given a sufficient amount of it;
2) That there sufficient evidence is effectively available;
3) That we have found such a sufficient amount of evidence;
4) That an extrapolation a few million years or so outside of a data set that spans at most a small number of decades (maybe 20 or so decades) is valid, when in almost every case a straightforward extrapolation out of a data set that amounts to a few million percent of the width of the dataset results in garbage results.
5) That archeological and paleontological evidence dug up today was present in reality yesterday, the day before and all the days going back to the time said evidence came to rest where we found it. (I know this is pedantic, but self-generating dungeon examples from the early days of computer adventure games make me wonder whether or not reality in fact works the same way, generating history on demand from the requirements of consistency with already remembered experience… what I can’t find a way to do from available evidence is to rule out such possibilities and thus one cannot safely assume to the contrary.)

I just do not believe that our actual distant past is within the reach of science. The only thing that the predictions of our apparent past based on extrapolation from present and near-past data give us is a way to test the internal consistency of our current theories and their compatibility with present day evidence. Trying to say where we came from millions of years ago by scientific means is like sampling the trajectory of a plane over maybe a couple of metres of its flight and then trying to work out mathematically where said plane came from, concluding that since the plane hasn’t changed trajectory during those couple of metres over which it was sampled, it never has. The fact is that the distant past is inaccessible to us, since eventually if we try to logically infer what reality was like in the distant past we end up standing on a house of cards of unverifiable assumption after unverifiable assumption.

If you take the view that mind is fundamental, love and emotions of mind are fundamental and that matter is a by-product of experience, as a completely alternative metaphysical foundation to conventional science, then the account of a world created by the postulation of a mind such as that described in Genesis 1 can actually make sense. But whatever you do in terms of deducing what things were like anywhere but the here and now, you need to be careful as to what metaphysical foundations you are standing on.  And whatever you do, don’t blindly assume that the mass of bright minds of today have got it all right… remember how long it took our scientific forefathers to realise that phlogiston was a red herring…

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From → Philosophy

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