"One of the reasons evolutionists are convinced their theory is true is because of the way the species compare to each other. The patterns we find amongst the species, say the evolutionists, prove Darwin’s idea beyond a shadow of a doubt. Such arguments pervade the evolution genre—from textbooks to popular literature—but what exactly do they mean? To understand this we must understand the evolutionary mind. These arguments have circuitous histories and baked-in assumptions that are now long forgotten. But they are worth remembering. Here is one example.
In the early years of modern science it was argued that motion was caused by contact between masses. In this mechanical philosophy, influences in the natural world were assumed to be transmitted only by direct mechanical contact. And while this may seem intuitive, the related assumption that there can be no vacuum was less obvious. But it was taken to be a fact. As Rene Descartes wrote in 1644, “some make the mistake of imagining [the heavens] to be a totally empty space … there can be no such vacuum in nature.”
For Descartes the planets moved around the sun because they floated in a cosmic whirlpool. And although Isaac Newton later disproved any such Cartesian whirlpool effect, the Lutheran philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Leibniz later promoted Descartes’ ideas. As Leibniz explained in 1715, the principle of plenitude disproves the existence of vacuums in nature:Now let us fancy a space wholly empty. God could have placed some matter in it without derogating in any respect from all other things. Therefore he has actually placed some matter in that space; therefore there is no space wholly empty; therefore all is full.It was a good example of how rationalism can produce certainty in even the most obscure notions. Empirical evidence gives one a healthy respect for nature’s complexities, but thought experiments lead to tidy conclusions..."
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