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Science, Logic, and the Foundations of Evolution: Part 2

Descartes and Voltaire portraits

[Originally published as the second section of Logic and Science]

This article builds on the logical foundation of understanding the distinction between deductive and inductive reasoning presented in Part 1:

New Approach, Erasmus’s Old Audience

Darwin’s new, logical approach to origins resonated with his grandfather’s old but growing audience. Erasmus was a leading influence in the Enlightenment movement. However, even as an elected fellow into the Royal Society in 1761, none of his works on evolution were recognized by the Society.

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Erasmus’s work on animal classifications, organic laws, disease classifications, and advancing concepts of biological evolution in his two volumes of Zoonomia (1794–1796), however, gained a broad Enlightenment audience who agreed with his views, including his “improvements by generation” theory:

Would it be too bold to imagine that in the great length of time, since the earth began to exist, perhaps millions of ages before the commencement of the history of mankind, would it be too bold to imagine that all warm-blooded animals have arisen from one living filament… delivering down those improvements by generation to its posterity, world without end!

Logic’s Forceful Premise

The universe as an intrinsically logical concept emerged as the forceful premise of the Enlightenment movement, a philosophy rooted in rationalism. In their search for a logical explanation for the yet unresolved mysteries of the universe, no stone was left unturned, including Bacon’s use of inductive reasoning driving the scientific method.

Coining the Latin phrase in the Discourse on Method, “Cogito, ergo sum” (“I think; therefore I am”), René Descartes (1596–1650) of Touraine, France, developed the intellectual foundations of the Enlightenment movement, including a return to the deductive reasoning process to resolve nature’s persistent mysteries.

Descartes is known as the father of modern philosophy and algebraic geometry. His approach profoundly influenced Modern Western thought, giving rise to the Enlightenment’s new philosophical system, which was reminiscent of Aristotle’s. Known as Cartesianism, Descartes erroneously argued that all knowledge could be acquired through deductive reasoning.

In the decades before The Origin of Species, Descartes’s deductive approach continued to gain popularity, including with Darwin, challenging the scientific principles developed by Bacon. In his letter to Henry Fawcett, an Enlightenment statesman, economist, and colleague, Darwin argues for the deductive approach:

About 30 years ago, there was much talk that Geologists ought only to observe & not theorize; & I well remember someone saying, that at this rate a man might as well go into a gravel-pit & count the pebbles & describe their colours. How odd it is that everyone should not see that all observation must be for or against some view if it is to be of any service.

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Descartes Versus Bacon: Logic and Science

The popularity of Descartes’s deductive approach challenged the use of Bacon’s scientific method. Descartes argued that all truth is discoverable using human reasoning. Bacon, however, had argued truth must be discoverable independent of reasoning.

Given the scope of unsolved mysteries, intellectuals and Enlightenment scientists increasingly resonated with Descartes’s deductive approach, including John Locke (1632–1704) and David Hume (1711–1776). As Wikipedia states:

In an anthropocentric revolution, the human being is now raised to the level of a subject, an agent, an emancipated being equipped with autonomous reason… This anthropocentric perspective of Descartes’s work, establishing human reason as autonomous, provided the basis for the Enlightenment’s emancipation from God and the Church.

The philosophical tale in The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776), written by François-Marie Arouet (1694–1778), best known as Voltaire, commented on, criticized, and ridiculed events, thinkers, popular philosophies, and religions of the time. As a deist, Voltaire argued:

As Christianity advances, disasters befall the [Roman] empire—arts, science, literature, decay—barbarism, and all its revolting concomitants.

In France, Paris merged as the center of the Enlightenment movement, challenging traditional doctrines and dogmas. Tragically, the movement sparked the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror, resulting in over 16,600 executed in Paris and the provinces over two years.

To understand the origin of life, inductive reasoning was abandoned. By adopting the premise that the universe must be intrinsically logical, non-logical explanations were excluded, including the Genesis account. Philosopher Immanuel Kant, using this approach in his Critique of Judgement (1792), reasoned:

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A daring venture of reason… [in which] one organic being [is] derived from another organic being, although from one which is specifically different; e.g., certain water-animals transform themselves gradually into marsh-animals and from these, after some generations, into land-animals.

Evolution emerged as a cardinal ideology of the Enlightenment movement as a natural explanation for the origin of life. By the mid-nineteenth century, the movement’s influence increasingly gained traction amongst the intellectual elite. Darwin turned to evolution since the biblical explanation was increasingly unpopular.

The Origin of Species was “one long argument,” Darwin explained, “from the beginning to the end” — music to Descartes: treason to Bacon. While the book includes one diagram, objective measurable “facts” are not found in any table or graph, nor in any of the voluminous text. The Origin of Species is a supreme history of science text, but not a science textbook.

As “Darwin’s Bulldog,” Thomas Huxley explains –

[The book] Is one of the hardest books to understand thoroughly that I know of.

The Royal Society, nor any other science organization, awarded a medal to Darwin for The Origin of Species. However, the American Philosophical Society awarded Darwin an honorary membership in 1869.

Natural Selection Deductive Logic

Natural selection is the logical construct Darwin used to explain life, becoming one of the longest-running controversial theories in the history of natural sciences.

Natural selection exemplifies what happens to a theory founded “beyond the bounds of science.” Even evolutionary scientists remain critical. Evolutionary scientists Jerry Fodor of Columbia University and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini of the University of Arizona, in What Darwin Got Wrong, explain:

We have both spent effort and ink… to show that Darwin’s theory of natural selection is fatally flawed.

The views of Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini are widely held. Even in the words of powerhouse evolution advocate Jerry Coyne of the University of Chicago:

We must stop pretending we understand the course of natural selection.

Niles Eldredge, an American biologist and paleontologist of the American Museum of Natural History, a long-time collaborator with legendary evolution advocate Stephen Jay Gould, contends:

In the literal sense of the word, no doubt, natural selection is a false term.

In natural selection’s truth or consequence moment, not a single scientific organization has developed a scientific consensus on natural selection in the twenty-first century; despite numerous attempts,

Darwin, a Scientist?

Early in his career, Darwin approached his work following the principles of science and was awarded a Royal Medal in 1853 for his contributions to geology (1846) and paleontology (1851). He practiced as a scientist then.

Gambling on deductive reasoning, Darwin used logic to argue in The Origin of Species that natural selection was the “means” accounting for life. However, he never again received an award from any scientific organization.

Natural selection is a philosophical concept, not a scientifically valid theory. The intersection of logic and science is tricky to navigate since logic can reach “beyond the bounds of science.”


Empirical scientific evidence, not necessarily logic, is always compatible with the Genesis account written by Moses.

In the words of Albert Einstein,

Everyone who is seriously engaged in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that the laws of nature manifest the existence of a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble.

The theory of evolution is a philosophy, not a valid scientific fact.

Richard William Nelson profile 2013

Written by Richard William Nelson

Richard William Nelson earned a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from the University of Southern California following graduation from the University of California, Irvine, with a Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry. For more than a decade Dr. Nelson has been writing and speaking on the scientific merits of biological evolution. Dr. Nelson has spoken nationally and internationally to audiences in churches, schools, universities, and community organizations. As the author of the book entitled Darwin, Then and Now, The Most Amazing Story in the History of Science using more than 1,000 documented references, Dr. Nelson advocates using the scientific method to assess the merits of the theory of evolution.

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