What kind of God is interesting?

In a previous comment I wrote:

If God has no love, but is powerful, I’m not interested. If He has love, but no power, that interesting, but of little significance (he’s a cosmic puppy dog–dyslexia?). If He has no goodness but interest in humans, he’s a powerful and cruel dictator. If He is not just, but has power and interest, there can be no Justice under his creation. If he has love, power, knowledge, justice, and interest in human beings, you would expect expect this to be revealed to those in whom he expresses interest. This is a foundational argument for pointing to the Christian God, who is described as having all these characteristics.

I’m not trying to directly tie this into ID, creationism, or naturalistic evolution at this time, but I do think there could be implications for each perspective. I have a hard time with the orthogonality position relating to the realms of science and theology. And believe it or not, I actually think Dawkins is correct in his theological extensions of naturalism to atheism (although tied back in with my arguments above), and that furthermore, if you are a pure naturalist [philosophically] it follows that believers are delusional (as he [Dawkins] is so fond of saying). I don’t think evolution entails atheism, but I do think naturalism [philosophical] does. Of course you could probably split hairs all day long on different definitions of naturalism.

I just thought this was worthy of a post in its own right.

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53 Responses

  1. Naturalism could be taken as nothing more than saying that science can only deal with the natural world. Given that, it would follow that statements about supernatural beings (including God) would not be countenanced by any scientific theory. But that doesn’t entail atheism unless further premises are added. Let’s see if this works:

    1) Science is restricted to investigation of the natural world.
    2) Scientific knowledge is the only sort of knowledge there is.
    3) Thus, there is no knowledge of anything supernatural, and further, there is no reason to believe in the existence of supernatural entities (including God or gods).

    I don’t care much whether “naturalism” is used as a label for (1) or for (2) — perhaps it would be best to use “naturalism” as a label for the conjunction of (1) and (2)? — and certainly (3) follows from (1) and (2). But I would insist on the distinction between (1) and (2), and that (2) does not follow from (1), nor does (1) follow from (2).

    I certainly would not accept (2) myself, and I’d accept (1) only in some heavily qualified form. So while I consider myself a “naturalist” in the sense that I accept some version of (1), I don’t think that naturalism entails atheism, because (1) doesn’t entail (3) all by itself.

    I would hasten to add that the argument as sketched above could be improved, and welcome improvements and corrections!

  2. An “interesting” God?

    What an interesting concept!

  3. 1) Science is restricted to investigation of the natural world.

    Many people seem to believe this in a rather simplistic way so I think it’s worth taking a look at. If science is restricted to investigation of the natural/”physical” world but human knowledge itself is based on sentience which is transphysical in its own nature within Nature then science has been defined in such a way as to be blind to human nature and perhaps ignorant of much else that happens in the world as well. After all, is there any known form of knowledge without sentience of it? None that I know of.

    If one does restrict knowledge/scientia to being blind to sentience, intelligence and design then one ought to admit that science is very myopic form of knowledge, yet those who justify imagining things about the past based on supposed “rules” and restrictions usually tend to think that are making vast progress in a knowledge of all things. After claiming that science must be blind to sight, design, intelligence and sentience many go on to claim that they have knowledge of and can “explain” the very things that they were supposedly blind to in terms of blind processes and so on. If they are blind to such things as a matter of principle given the definition of science then how can they explain what they are ignorant of?

    Their supposed blindness and ignorance toward the physical impact of sight, sentience and intelligence is hard to maintain so they tend to forget their way of methodically building and progressing towards a philosophy of naturalism. For example, a critic once noted the type of “wise lack of consistency” typical to biologists:

    Electrons and nucleons are not known to be sentient, while the higher animals are. If a rat laps up a solution of saccharine, the rational explanation of this lies in the fact that the solution tastes sweet and that the rat likes that. The tasting and liking are facts that physics and chemistry as known today cannot explain.
    And this conclusion gives the whole show away. Because it acknowledges a conscious desire by an individual capable of such desire, it leads on further to the recognition of deliberate actions by individuals and the possibilities of error on their part. Thus a whole series of conceptions emerges that are absent from physics and chemistry as known today. Indeed, nothing is relevant to biology, even at the lowest level of life, unless it bears on the achievements of living beings: achievements such as their perfection of form, their morphogenesis, or the proper functioning of their organs; and the very conception of such achievements implies a distinction between success or failure—a distinction unknown to physics and chemistry.
    But the distinction between success and failure is present in, and is indeed essential to, the science of engineering; and the logic of engineering does substantiate in fact what I am saying here of biology. No physical or chemical investigation of an object can tell us whether it is a machine and, if so, how it works. Only if we have previously discovered that it is a machine, and found out also approximately how it works, can the physical and chemical examination of the machine tell us anything useful about it, as a machine. Similarly, physical and chemical investigations can form part of biology only by bearing on previously established biological achievements, such as shapeliness, morphogenesis, or physiological functions.
    A complete physical and chemical topography of a frog would tell us nothing about it as a frog, unless we knew it previously as a frog. And if the rules of scientific detachment required that we limit ourselves exclusively to physical and chemical observations, we would remain forever unaware of frogs or of any other living beings, just as we would remain ignorant also by such observations of all machines and other human contrivances.
    The achievements which form the subject matter of biology can be identified only by a kind of appraisal which requires a higher degree of participation by the observer in his subject matter than can be mediated by the tests of physics and chemistry. The current ideal of “scientificality” which would refuse such participation would indeed destroy biology but for the wise neglect of consistency on the part of its supporters.
    (Scientific Outlook: Its Sickness and Cure
    by Michael Polanyi
    Science New Series, Vol. 125, No. 3246 (Mar., 1957), pp. 482)

    Even if it were true that science must be restricted to a sort of pseudo-Newtonian worldview it still might tend to progress towards knowledge of supposed “gaps” which might point towards an ultimate singularity/”gap” in which naturalism itself would dissolve totally. If the physical world were generally designed to point towards rational explanations and to resist naturalistic explanations would tend to find the very things that they tried to exclude even if they imagine multiple universes to salvage “naturalism.” If their principle has been dissolved on their own terms to the point that they have to imagine multiple universes then one has to wonder how “natural” all these universes supposedly are. Are they natural to each other or could one be unnatural? Perhaps if one called one of these imaginary universes heaven and another hell would that make them supernatural enough to be excluded from science and so on?

  4. mynym,

    I may be off here, so bear with me, but this reminds me of the difference between musicologists (theorists, historians) and composers and performers. The theorists and historians, who have a great impact on the art, have very little real connection with the music, in an aesthetic or creative way, and their sole mission is to break down and examine every aspect of music until it really doesn’t resemble music anymore (the theoretical parts never seem to come together to make the whole, or music). Whereas, the composer and performer, although aware of theory and history, can sense the music as a whole (sound, timbre, pitch, beauty). They can experience music, because they can walk through the musical forest without stopping to examine every musical tree and bush, and therefore they understand music at what I believe to be a higher level, a sentient level. If this is a bad analogy, then I apologize.

  5. Well, I don’t know.

    If science is restricted to investigation of the natural/”physical” world but human knowledge itself is based on sentience which is transphysical in its own nature within Nature then science has been defined in such a way as to be blind to human nature and perhaps ignorant of much else that happens in the world as well.

    From the fact that sentience cannot be reduced to the Newtonian mechanism — physics and chemistry — does it follow that sentience is not natural?

    To be honest, I’m very worried about this.

    If it does follow, that can only be because physics and chemistry determine what is to count as “natural”. But why should physics and chemistry have priority? Why don’t biology — or psychology, for that matter? — have a right to be just as basic or ultimate as physics and chemistry are?

    Every science has a right to its primitive or undefined terms — as “mass” is a primitive term in physics — so why aren’t biology and psychology entitled to “sentience” as a primitive notion?

    It strikes me that we would first need an argument for assigning more ontological weight to physics and to chemistry in order to then claim that a concept like “sentience” must be trans-physical or supernatural.

    But I cannot think of any argument for assigning priority to physics and to chemistry in a way that doesn’t simply beg the question.

    Besides which, if we define ‘nature’ as ‘that which science investigates,’ then assertions such as ‘science is restricted to the natural world’ pretty quickly turn into ‘science is restricted to what science investigates’!

    But . . . I’m not so sure there’s a good alternative, apart from pointing out the obvious — that “nature” has no precise meaning at all, but a range of meanings which depend on what “nature” is being contrasted with. (If soda has “artificial flavorings” as well as “natural flavorings,” we don’t mean to say that the flavorings in the soda are of supernatural origin!)

  6. Carl wrote:

    If it does follow, that can only be because physics and chemistry determine what is to count as “natural”. But why should physics and chemistry have priority? Why don’t biology — or psychology, for that matter? — have a right to be just as basic or ultimate as physics and chemistry are?

    I was thinking about this a little today from the perspective of psychology. I worked in one lab where we did take psychophysiological measurements with a software program that I wrote, but with the rest of the research I conducted, there was no chemistry of physics measured. So, we often had people rate different subjective experiences or attitudes on a quantitative scale and looked at different experimental influences on these experiments. So, even the subjective can be studied experimentally.

    mynym wrote:

    After claiming that science must be blind to sight, design, intelligence and sentience many go on to claim that they have knowledge of and can “explain” the very things that they were supposedly blind to in terms of blind processes and so on. If they are blind to such things as a matter of principle given the definition of science then how can they explain what they are ignorant of?

    mynym, I’m not completely sure I understand what you are getting at, but I’ll give it a go. Correct me if I’m wrong here. Our intelligence and sentience, allow us first to conceive of and understand the nature and function of things in the world. And perhaps, pure naturalism purports to be blind to these things–the fact that what must come first is an intelligent and sentient understanding.

    Evolution is considered to be a blind process, and is investigated with an essentially blind tool, scientific naturalism. In essence, scientific study is tied inextricably to our sentience and psychology. It becomes somewhat absurd if you reduce our minds to mere chemical and physical processes. In other words, blind chemical and physical processes are studying other blind chemical and physical processes. I’m not sure I got your point exactly, but maybe you can expand on it if I have misunderstood.

  7. It seems to be assumed by the critics of naturalism, as represented here, that naturalism can’t be taken on board without thereby eliminating our common-sense notions of sentience, awareness, thought, and so of knowledge itself. I know how this argument is supposed to work in the Plantinga version, but I have to say, I just don’t see how it succeeds.

    In part this is because I don’t see why concepts of sentience, awareness, thought, etc. need any kind of metaphysical theory for their intelligibility — at any rate, no more than do concepts of kittens and lollipops.

  8. Carl,

    Let’s just say, I have my doubts. Ultimately, I don’t think I can say for certain. I think, consistently, the problem is that any theory has proven woefully inadequate in explaining these things. In part too, I think for me, it has to do with phenomenology in contrast to supervenient physicalism.

    As to the concepts of kittens and lollipops, those will flow from the notions we are discussing. There is no concept of these things without awareness and intelligence.

    BF Skinner viewed all of human experience as reducible to conditioning (essentially stimulus-response relationships). And that thought was nothing more than an internal behavior that is conditioned. I find that to be very consistent with materialism, which I find to be very inconsistent with my personal phenomenology and my exploration of the phenomenology of others.

    With a purely materialistic framework, it’s difficult to conceive of how awareness and consciousness are anything other than epiphenomena…just illusions with survival purposes. But if that’s the case, I think nearly everyone has a strong resistance to this notion because it goes against our phenomenological experiences. And I doubt that you find those notions compelling either. All of your thoughts, feelings, knowledge, awareness, and so forth, are entailed by chemistry, physics, and past conditioning. If that’s the case, and we are somehow able to ascertain that is the best description of reality, then maybe we should give up these discussions altogether and just try to reproduce as much as possible.

  9. The real problem with epiphenomenalism isn’t that it contradicts the phenomenology of lived experience per se, but that it makes nonsense of the idea that mental activities have causal influence over physical activities (e.g. I think of raising my arm, and then I do so). Though perhaps that’s what you had in mind.

    It’s my prejudice that it’s hard to get a firm read on what theories of mind would or wouldn’t contradict the phenomenology of lived experience unless we have a sure grasp of what the phenomenology of lived experience actually is. And I think that once we start working that out, following the lead of philosophers like Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, then the old problems like “the mind-body problem” and the “free will-determinism problem” aren’t solved but rather dissolved — they will cease to strike us as problems worth solving.

    One of the difficulties I’m working on now is how the phenomenological perspective can be reconciled with a naturalistic perspective. I understand your skepticism about whether this can be done, and I’m far from having it worked out in enough detail to convince a skeptic. Let me say, instead, that I’m working in a mineshaft already partially excavated by John Dewey, Hans Jonas, and Evan Thompson, and I’m encouraged by what they’ve found.

    I should emphasize: my aim is not to show that theism is wrong and naturalism is right, but only to show that naturalism is also compatible with phenomenology.

  10. My version of naturalism isn’t that my beliefs and desires are entailed by neurochemistry, but that my beliefs and desires are neurochemical events but at a different level of description. There is no more contradiction between the two levels — the belief/desire level and the neuro-chemical level — than there is between describing a table in terms of pieces of wood and describing it in terms of arrangements of protons, neutrons, and electrons.

    Thus, the important question as I see it is not “which description is true?” — since they are both> true — but rather, “which description is useful for which purposes?” For example, the belief/desire level is useful for navigating social relations, including ethical relations, and the neuro-molecular level is useful for treating certain kinds of disorders. I’m not troubled by the differences in the different levels of description.

  11. Thus, the important question as I see it is not “which description is true?” — since they are both> true — but rather, “which description is useful for which purposes?” For example, the belief/desire level is useful for navigating social relations, including ethical relations, and the neuro-molecular level is useful for treating certain kinds of disorders. I’m not troubled by the differences in the different levels of description.

    I would say though, that if we are talking about the philosophical implications of these things, then it may be that both levels of description and their relationship to one another are important to examine simultaneously to the extent possible. If all of the one level of description (belief/desires, navigation of social relations, ethical relations, awareness, and sentience) are epiphenomena, then our perception that we have chosen to believe anything, make ethical choices, or even have awareness are but mere illusions with survival value predicated on our physics and chemistry. And so, perhaps our perception that we are having a rational discussion is also illusory epiphenomena of our physics and chemistry. You might be able to say it’s unimportant whether it’s true that it is an illusion or is not, but I find it to be important.

  12. I do think we’re getting clearer on our differences, Country Shrink, and I find that helpful and important.

    You might be able to say it’s unimportant whether it’s true that it is an illusion or is not, but I find it to be important.

    I wouldn’t want to put the point that way . . . I would say that it’s unimportant to me is the question, “but what is really true?” And this is because I think that questions about truth, or existence, or reality (however you might want to put it) are questions that only make sense to ask within a specific context.

    I want to emphasize this — that it’s only within specific contexts of inquiry, and only within the space made possible by different social practices, that it even makes sense to ask a certain question.

    In light of that, I would say that the possibility that consciousness is an illusion is not a possibility that is “alive” for me. At the level of phenomenology, consciousness is as real as anything could possibly be. I don’t want, or need, anything more than that. So I don’t feel the force of questions like, “but is consciousness really real, or only apparently real?” — and my commitment to talking about consciousness or rationality is not threatened by discoveries in neuroscience or evolution.

  13. In light of that, I would say that the possibility that consciousness is an illusion is not a possibility that is “alive” for me. At the level of phenomenology, consciousness is as real as anything could possibly be. I don’t want, or need, anything more than that. So I don’t feel the force of questions like, “but is consciousness really real, or only apparently real?” — and my commitment to talking about consciousness or rationality is not threatened by discoveries in neuroscience or evolution.

    And this is somewhat my point. Our phenomenological experience tells us it is real; however, I think supervenient physicalism would entail these things as being epiphenomena. I think it is extremely rare that a person would accept this on a personal level, despite it possibly being entailed by other philosophical assumptions that a person might hold.

  14. Well, when words like “supervenience” and “physicalism” are being thrown around, I feel as though I should bow out of the conversation and go back to reading a lot more. I don’t know any of that literature, not really. My proclivities in philosophy of mind tend towards Donald Davidson, John McDowell, and Hilary Putnam, and those gentlemen have a decidedly non-reductive, and so non-physicalist, naturalism. I don’t take physicalism seriously to begin with, so I’m not terribly interested in the conceptual gymnastics involved in making sense of the place of mind in the physical world, or the more general predicament of trying to explain the appearances of non-particles in a world of particles.

    It seems that one of the really salient differences between us, Country Shrink, is that you want solutions to metaphysical problems. Whereas I don’t want a metaphysical thesis of any sort (unless “metaphysical” is itself understood in an eccentric sense) — I want to do philosophy without metaphysics.

    (In fact, I follow Nietzsche and Rorty in thinking that philosophy without metaphysics results from taking atheism seriously — more seriously than most atheists take it!)

  15. Carl, there’s an overview here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Physicalism

    But regardless, your point is taken. I’m not sure either of us has it within ourselves (possibly because of our differing perspectives on God) to accept the other’s viewpoint on this particular matter, whereas we may find agreement elsewhere.

  16. That could be, Country Shrink.

    I think that the heart of the disagreement concerns whether metaphysical questions (e.g. question about ultimate truth or ultimate reality) are important questions or not. It’s because I don’t take metaphysical questions all that seriously that naturalism doesn’t threaten my self-conceptions.

  17. Carl,

    Although explicitly, I would agree that you don’t take it all that seriously. But perhaps implicitly you take it more seriously. For is not a position of atheism a metaphysical position (i.e., an expression of an ultimate truth or reality)? I think it’s probably pretty hard to live and be a human without metaphysics creeping into our minds. I don’t want to try to read your mind here, but that’s just what it seems like to me.

  18. What I would like to do, if it is indeed possible, is find a way of living out an atheistic life without metaphysical commitments one way or the other. I’ll comment further on that thought on my own blog.

  19. In other words, blind chemical and physical processes are studying other blind chemical and physical processes. I’m not sure I got your point exactly, but maybe you can expand on it if I have misunderstood.

    You seem to be seeing my point but it’s possible to expand on it. It’s partly a point against what generally remains the current ideal of “scientificality” although in my opinion the pseudo-Newtonian worldview behind it seems to be crumbling these days. But since it just won’t seem to die out totally even now(Especially among New Atheists and people of this sort.) it may be worthwhile to try to shed some light on the subject.

    The irony of the people who adhere to a worldview that’s a relic of the “Enlightenment” is that they honestly think that they can “see the light” based on nothing but blind processes. We’re constantly using sight as a metaphor for understanding and knowledge (I used it twice in the first paragraph of this comment.) and yet sight is precisely what they cannot see given their worldview. It is common for people to talk of science to the point that it seems they’re simply murmuring the term “science” as if it is a magical word that assures knowledge and Progress, yet the only knowledge we know of is rooted in a form of irreducible sentience and the only way to judge Progress is by a moral sense of ought which probably isn’t explicable in Darwinian terms.

    I wonder if all the hubris and arrogance which many of the people I’ve debated tend to wouldn’t be quite so strong if they could still see the night sky and wonder at it. Somehow it seems that the “privileged planet” is indeed quite a good observatory and so the stars make man realize his insignificance, yet devoid of the Psalmists attitude of “What is man that you are mindful of him…” that very sense of insignificance is transmuted into vast arrogance with respect to knowledge. It seems to have to do with an attitude which develops devoid of God because the sense of insignificance that comes with observing the heavens which Christians and Jews have admitted to for millenia is somehow perverted into a vast arrogance with respect to knowledge of the entire Cosmos by proponents of scientism these days. Often the first to say that we are nothing more than bits of Cosmic dust blown by the wind also seem to be the first to argue that we can know or progress towards knowing all there is to know about the Cosmos.

  20. ….they understand music at what I believe to be a higher level, a sentient level. If this is a bad analogy, then I apologize.

    It was a good analogy in my opinion. I don’t mean to argue that reductionistic forms of knowledge are wrong or even inferior. They can be a good and perhaps even a superior form of knowledge. What I argue against is the “nothing but” form of reasoning which can emerge from what began as a useful tool in attaining different levels of knowledge. For example, when people begin to argue that something like sentience is “nothing but” or “nothing more than” the biochemical events of a brain then I’d argue that they can’t really know that.

  21. ….my commitment to talking about consciousness or rationality is not threatened by discoveries in neuroscience or evolution.

    If a proponent of evolution argues that they can explain consciousness as nothing more than an artifact of the impact of algorithmic processes on genes and biology would that threaten your view of it?

    If not then what would threaten your view of consciousness? It seems to me that you think that your views are threatened by transcendence, whether it’s philosophical notion of the transphysical/metaphysical or something which seems to bear more stigma in the modern mind such as the “supernatural.”

  22. If someone were to claim that she can explain consciousness in terms of biology and genes, I’d listen, but I’d be skeptical. The theories I’m familiar with at present — Dennett, Flanagan, and Edelmann — all promise far more than they deliver. I’m not impressed, yet.

    My views about consciousness, such as they are, are not threatened by anything. I’ve tried to make clear — tried and repeatedly failed, obviously — that I am uninterested in all metaphysics, whether “transcendent” or “naturalistic.”

    (Actually, this is not quite true — I’m very interested in metaphysics if there could be a metaphysics that took its inspiration from James and Dewey and Wittgenstein — but this is clearly not something that most of the participants and visitors to this site are familiar with, or would recognize as “metaphysics” even if they were familiar with it!)

  23. I wonder if all the hubris and arrogance which many of the people I’ve debated tend to wouldn’t be quite so strong if they could still see the night sky and wonder at it. Somehow it seems that the “privileged planet” is indeed quite a good observatory and so the stars make man realize his insignificance, yet devoid of the Psalmists attitude of “What is man that you are mindful of him…” that very sense of insignificance is transmuted into vast arrogance with respect to knowledge.

    From time to time, I’ll stare up at the stars and marvel at creation. It’s really incredible. I think DB has noted before about how you can analyze things to the point that beauty is destroyed. I’m going on a fishing trip on Wednesday, and plan to stare up at the night sky to marvel at creation again. It’s a very humbling experience. Thanks for point this out, I haven’t done this in awhile.

  24. (Actually, this is not quite true — I’m very interested in metaphysics if there could be a metaphysics that took its inspiration from James and Dewey and Wittgenstein — but this is clearly not something that most of the participants and visitors to this site are familiar with, or would recognize as “metaphysics” even if they were familiar with it!)

    A lot of us may not be familiar with it. I for one am not. Although I’d be willing to learn if you care to explain.

  25. It seems to have to do with an attitude which develops devoid of God because the sense of insignificance that comes with observing the heavens which Christians and Jews have admitted to for millenia is somehow perverted into a vast arrogance with respect to knowledge of the entire Cosmos by proponents of scientism these days. Often the first to say that we are nothing more than bits of Cosmic dust blown by the wind also seem to be the first to argue that we can know or progress towards knowing all there is to know about the Cosmos.

    This is what I see also. “Often the first to say that we are nothing more than bits of Cosmic dust blown by the wind also seem to be the first to argue that we can know or progress towards knowing all there is to know about the Cosmos.” If we’re nothing, in the the naturalistic scheme of things, then why would we believe that we have answers to anything? We can’t have it both ways at once. We either are nothing and at the mercy of chance, natural process, or, we’re much more than that, and therefore, we have to look beyond our minds and ourselves, to a great extent, to see why we’re more than mere biological process!

  26. …Dewey….but this is clearly not something that most of the participants and visitors to this site are familiar with, or would recognize as “metaphysics” even if they were familiar with it!

    I had a philosophy class that focused on Dewey but I’m still not that familiar with his thinking. It seemed like I was being bored out of my mind so I didn’t learn much. This may have been the fault of the professor but I suspect that Dewey’s gooey educational philosophy and his philosophy in general may have had something to do with it. My impression is that his thinking has been influential in the American education system, to the point that even people like the early Puritans with their limited educational resources were more educated in actual knowledge and logical/mathematical reasoning than many students today. For all the modern student’s knowledge of their own little experiences, feeeelings and high self-esteem they don’t actually seem to have knowledge of things. Many students actually esteem themselves too highly because they are ignorant of important forms of knowledge.

    Again, given that Dewey seemed to bore me right on out of my metaphysical mind I may be ignorant of his thinking. Perhaps you can defend him for me against his critics:

    Liberalism without natural rights, the kind that we knew from John Stuart Mill and John Dewey, taught us that the only danger confronting us is being closed to the emergent, the new, the manifestations of progress. No attention had to be paid to the fundamental principles or the moral virtues that inclined men to live according to them. To use language now popular, civic culture was neglected. And this turn in liberalism is what prepared us for cultural relativism and the fact-value distinction, which seemed to carry that viewpoint further and give it greater intellectual weight.
    (The Closing of the American Mind by Alan Bloom :29-30)

    It would be ironic if Dewey’s thinking wasn’t associated with educational progress historically. If so then he could be compared to Darwin because although Darwin imagined many creation myths rooted in Progress history shows that his thinking typically undermined progress as we now know it.

  27. I think DB has noted before about how you can analyze things to the point that beauty is destroyed.

    Not to mention persons, lovers walking on the beach, rainbows, frogs, fish, biology in general, etc. A simple illustration makes the point again:

    Perhaps a simple illustration will help convince us that science is limited. Let us imagine that my Aunt Matilda has baked a beautiful cake and we take it along to be analyzed by a group of the world’s top scientists. I, as master of ceremonies, ask them for an explanation of the cake and they go to work. The nutrition scientists will tell us about the number of calories in the cake and its nutritional effect; the biochemists will inform us about the structure of the proteins, fats etc. in the cake; the chemists, about the elements involved and their bonding; the physicists will be able to analyze the cake in terms of fundamental particles; and the mathematicians will no doubt offer us a set of elegant equations to describe the behaviour of those particles.
    Now that these experts, each in terms of his or her scientific discipline, have given us an exhaustive description of the cake, can we say that the cake is completely explained? We have certainly been given a description of how the cake was made and bow its various constituent elements relate to each other, but suppose I now ask the assembled group of experts a final question: Why was the cake made? The grin on Aunt Matilda’s face shows she knows the answer, for she made the cake, and she made it for a purpose. But all the nutrition scientists, biochemists, chemists, physicists and mathematicians in the world will not be able to answer the question — and it is no insult to their disciplines to state their incapacity to answer it. Their disciplines, which can cope with questions about the nature and structure of the cake, that is, answering the ‘how’ questions, cannot answer the ‘why’ questions connected with the purpose for which the cake was made. In fact, the only way we shall ever get an answer is if Aunt Matilda reveals it to us.
    (God’s Undertaker:
    Has Science Buried God?
    by John Lennox :40) (Emphasis added)

    There nothing wrong with reductionism as a useful heuristic, as I said before problems only arise based on “nothing but” reasoning. And I’d argue that this is a form of reasoning typical to Darwinism. For instance, a Darwinist might argue that Aunt Matilda didn’t make the cake for the reasons that she as a thinking person with he own purposes made it. No, instead of making the cake for her own reasons the fact that she made a cake has more to do with supposed genetic programming passed down from ancient worm-like creatures and survival. Indeed, what most people think of as Aunt Matlida herself as a person is largely an illusion brought about by genetic algorithms and past patterns of cause and effect.

    Of course I’d argue for the reality of Aunt Matilda as a thinking being influenced by historical patterns of cause and effect but not “nothing more” than the supposed past still unfolding at present. So I see no reason to imagine things about the past to explain her actions away in the present.

  28. Sorry for the missing words and letter in the last comment, I should have read it first.

  29. To echo the sentiments of mynym and DB:

    A randomly-evolved human cannot percieve anything other than a randomy-evolved interpretation of reality.

    We percive that we exist in a 3-dimensional physical reality. Why not 4? How about just 2? How do we know there aren’t INFINITE material realities? Why only 3 physical dimensions? If that’s just what our randomly-evolved brains can interpret, then we have no reason to assume there aren’t infinte material realities.

    For example, what if we never evolved the biological mechanism by which to perceive light? Would that mean light doesn’t exist? We certainly could have possibly not evolved eyes or an optic nerve. Based on randomness and evolution, doesn’t that mean that there are probably myriad other properties of the “creation” (or universe, if you want) that we also don’t know exist, or can’t perceive, because we evolved no means to? Surely we haven’t evolved the means to know about the existence of the potentially infitine (by extension of evolutionary principles) properties of creation?

    It confounds me how evolutionists can avoid asking themselves these questions, or if they do, how it can possibly not bother them.

  30. I guess I’m the self-appointed “evolutionist” on this blog, so I’ll stand up and represent.

    I would say that, as an evolutionist (of some sort), our cognitive and perceptual capacities are the result of variation and selection. But does that idea imply that our capacities are not reliable guides to how things are? I don’t see how. And more to the point: I can happily concede there very likely — almost certainly — are aspects of reality that we have no cognitive or perceptual access to, on account of our evolutionary history. But so what? That’s perfectly compatible with thinking that our cognitive and perceptual capacities do provide with genuine access to those aspects of reality which do show up for us as real (e.g. colors, sounds, three-dimensional space).

  31. Carl,

    Your argument of, “So what…,” sounds very much, to me, like the argument a fundamentalist would make about scientific inquiry. If something comes along, which disrupts the philosophical security of the fundamentalist, they just blow it off as, “So what, we still know what the truth is.” Perhaps, I’m not grasping your point here.

    …I can happily concede there very likely — almost certainly — are aspects of reality that we have no cognitive or perceptual access to, on account of our evolutionary history. But so what? That’s perfectly compatible with thinking that our cognitive and perceptual capacities do provide with genuine access to those aspects of reality which do show up for us as real (e.g. colors, sounds, three-dimensional space).

    What if your “so what” material is necessary for our understanding of the “aspects of reality that do show up,” and we’re unaware because we refuse to acknowledge anything that cannot be measured scientifically, as Mike and Mynym have pointed out? So all that exists is what we can see, hear and feel etc, and all else amounts to, So what?

  32. You’re right to imply that I’m cheerfully unconcerned about the threat of skepticism. The possibility suggested above —

    What if your “so what” material is necessary for our understanding of the “aspects of reality that do show up,” and we’re unaware because we refuse to acknowledge anything that cannot be measured scientifically?

    is of no interest to me. What is of interest to me is those cases where we have observations that don’t fit into existing theories and which call out for the revision of theories. There are plenty of such cases now, and it seems obvious to me that there will always be ‘anomalies’ (to use Kuhn’s term), no matter what the theory is. The mere possibility of skepticism, in the absence of evidence for skepticism with regards to particular theories under particular circumstances, is no more interesting to me than is medieval scholasticism.

    More importantly, skepticism and scholasticism are on a par because mere skepticism, like scholastic worries about the nature of angels, can make no difference to scientific practice. There are enough things that do make a different to scientific practice that I’m not willing to be overly concerned about things that don’t.

    Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m as crazy about moonlit walks on the beach with a lover arm-in-arm and marveling at creation as the next person. And more generally, I don’t think that science has an exclusive claim on reality. So I’m passionately “anti-scientistic,” if you will. But that’s consistent, I think, with insisting on standards of good scientific practice, not worrying about skeptical threats to knowledge, and so on.

  33. Carl,

    But that “So What” is exactly what confounds me. Because it means that we really can’t know anything against what must be truly infinite possibilities. So, if we can’t know anything, how can we rule out intelligent design?

    I would agree with you that “our cognitive and perceptual capacities do provide us with genuine access to those aspects of reality which do show up for us as real”, but you must realize that you have no logical basis upon which to make that statement. By your definition, “Real” is nothing but an randomly-generated electrochemical movie show in your brain. By what logic do you assume that your concept of “real” contains universal constants? You mean to tell me that gravity = Gravity, or light = Light, or good = Good, or love = Love??? These are randomly-evolved concepts that emerged from noise, after all, are they not?

    You see, utter and complete randomness violates our very sense of being. It is intolerable. It leads some to seek absolutes and others to say “so what”. But is that good science? Is it not a cop-out? Did Newton simply say that the apple falls down because “it just does”? Life is a Good thing, because “it just is”? So, why not ask what leads us to impose value judgments and purpose into what evolution tells us are randomly-evolved concepts? Intelligent design allows for all this and more. It makes much more sense in describing our natural affinity to validate ourselves and our experience. It allows for value judgments and purpose. It allows me to say that Love is Real. It really exists outside of my brain – it’s built into the creation by design. So is ‘Good’. So is gravity, light, hydrogen, and all that other good stuff.

  34. I have no interest in ruling out “intelligent design” as a merely logical possibility. My interest lies in showing that intelligent design is a worse explanation than Darwinism is. That doesn’t mean, obviously, that Darwinism is the best possible explanation. We always assess evaluations in light of their competitors and in light of best available evidence, and both the competition and the evidence is always subject to change.

    More generally, I have no interest in determining whether or not human truth is the same as truth from a God’s-eye point of view — in other words, whether human truth is absolutely true or not. The truths that are available to us as human beings — scientific, ethical, aesthetic, spiritual, mathematical — are the truths that interest me. Whether these truths correspond to “absolute truth” is, so far as I can tell, unanswerable in principle — because to answer such a question, we would have to have a way of stepping outside of ourselves, and I don’t see how that makes any sense at all.

    The crux of my approach here rests on a distinction I insist upon between the objective and the absolute. A claim is absolutely true (or false) if it is not even in principle revisable — if nothing could ever justify revising or re-considering the claim. A claim is objectively true (or false) if it does not depend on the beliefs and desires of those who accept (or reject) the claim. Objectivity is contrasted with subjectivity; absoluteness is contrasted with fallibilism. What I am urging here is a plea for “objective fallibilism”: that we can reject absoluteness without rejecting objectivity.

    Now, I understand that most of the people in this conversation don’t want to reject absolutes. They want absolutes. To that, all I can say is, by all means, go ahead! Only, please don’t think that absoluteness is the only way to safeguard objectivity. In other words, if you can see how objectivity is distinct from absoluteness, but still want absoluteness, you’ll get no argument from me. It’s the distinction between objectivity and absoluteness, and that you can have the former without the latter, that I’m concerned with here.

  35. “…because to answer such a question [of absolutes], we would have to have a way of stepping outside of ourselves, and I don’t see how that makes any sense at all.”

    Well, it suffices to say we do disagree there!

    And sure, one can reject absoluteness without rejecting objectivity. But how I’m understanding you is that the way you’ve discovered to do that is to offer up a “so what”? “So what if my child looking into my eyes, saying he loves me, is worth only the molecules it’s imprinted on?”. I have to admire your stance, because it’s one I could never take.

  36. “So what if my child looking into my eyes, saying he loves me, is worth only the molecules it’s imprinted on?”.

    I believe that if you read carefully through my other comments on this site, both on this thread and others, as well as what I’ve said on my own blog, it will be crystal-clear that the sentiment expressed in the above quotation above is completely antithetical to my views.

  37. In other words, If Darwinism is true, then it’s indeed possible that love is nothing more than a freak concoction of molecules. However, that doesn’t imply at all that the experience of love is anything different from the experience of one who wishes to place an absolute value on it. Thus the “so what”. The experience of love is the same for both the absolute/fallible and the objective/subjective. The same goes for the value we place on such an experience (such as “good”).

    Did I miss your point or twist it? I’m sorry if so!

  38. Just to add another observation:

    If Darwinism is true, it’s indeed possible that the need to believe in a creator or intelligent design (“man is a religious animal”), is also worth nothing more than the molecules it’s imprinted on. Would that mean atheists are more evolved; or that they are willingly suppressing a primordial instinct?

  39. I would say that, as an evolutionist (of some sort), our cognitive and perceptual capacities are the result of variation and selection.

    Proponents of Darwinian reasoning use the term “selection” so often that for some it seems to be a way of attributing intelligent choice to inanimate matter. It’s interesting that those who believe in things coming about by “chance” often use language implies intelligence. It seems to me that using such language allows a mind that cannot really think itself the result of random chaos and chance to rest on bits of intelligence which it argues actually do not exist. Note that they don’t really need to refer to label rather simple processes of culling, screening and filtering “selection.” Darwin himself noted that it would be more accurate to call the so-called process of “selection” natural preservation. I’d suggest “natural happenstance” myself because if variation and the environment come about “randomly” then despite the tendency of modern Darwinists to argue that “natural selection” isn’t a random process that doesn’t really matter given that it’s filtering through “random” mutations that come about by chance in an environment ultimately created by chance.

    Ironically the notion of chance is a science/knowledge stopper, it is an argument which stops the study of cause and effect. A scientific view rooted in the study of cause and effect would be that chance is an illusion brought about by an absence of knowledge. Even the examples that people use to argue for the creative power of “chance” combined with a process of filtering like natural selection can be surrounded by knowledge based on an actual scientific view. For instance, some use a coin toss to illustrate the concept of chance. Yet since chance is actually just an illusion brought about by the absence of knowledge it is easy to point out that if the trajectory of the coin, its mass, the force it was flipped with, etc., was all known then “chance” disappears as one advances toward a knowledge of how the coin will come to rest. Chance is ignorance, chance is ultimately nothing, yet it’s typical for proponents of Darwinism to argue as if it something which explains all there is to know.

    If our perceptual capacities are the result of variation then the real issue is not “natural selection” but what actually produces the variations and adaptations which it filters. Is your argument ultimately rooted in our perception of chance?

  40. …we would have to have a way of stepping outside of ourselves, and I don’t see how that makes any sense at all.

    At all? This reminds me of the “nothing but” statements typical to reductionists who tend to argue that what we tend to think we are is actually nothing but an illusion generated by natural selection operating on genes and so on. I’d argue that the view that we can’t step outside of ourselves for a transcendent view of things is generally correct, an important view, etc. The problem is adding “at all” to it.

    For example, if we have no way of stepping outside of ourselves, observing ourselves, talking to ourselves and so on then why do we do such things all the time and further how would we have any knowledge of ourselves if we could not somehow get outside of ourselves enough to see ourselves? In contrast to the argument that immanence is all there it seems to me more likely that sense is in some sense always a union of transcendence and immanence in awareness:

    On the one hand there are the millions of neurons at work, the iris adjusting the pupil, the lens thinning or thickening to focus light on the retina and information being processed faster than in any super computer at the bat of an eyelid. On the other, we directly and constantly experience all that we see in our minds. The act of seeing allows us to get “in touch” with things. To see is to be aware and thereby to know what’s going on in the world around us. Acts of awareness are not simple optical processes. Optical processes enable us to be aware, but to identify being aware with the operation of optical processes is like saying that the images on TV screens are to be identified entirely with electron guns and screens. The enabling structure is one thing and the enabled experience another. Awareness is an ontological reality as fundamental as matter itself.
    But so far our discussions have remained at the level of physical sight. Let me pass on to the equally important theme of seeing on a purely mental plane. Here we are talking of the mind’s capacity to grasp meaning that is the exact counterpart on the conceptual plane of what takes place during the act of seeing at the perceptual level. When we “see the point” or “see something to be the case” or “know what you mean” or “realize” or “understand” or “comprehend” or “visualize,” then we are performing acts that, again, cannot be described and explained in physical terms, let alone by reference to evolution. All of these acts presuppose the mind coming to grips with something. When we say that a sense of integrity should prohibit us from taking a bribe, we’re not talking simply of physical actions but of irreducible ideas. When our reading of Mahatma Gandhi’s My Experiments With Truth moves us, it’s not the print marks on paper that stir our emotions. Our mind sees something that can’t be expressed in terms of molecules and particles.
    (The Wonder of the World
    by Roy Abraham Varghese :164)

    It’s interesting how symbolism seems to be timeless. For example he argues on the one hand and then on the other while dealing with themes of transcendence and immanence. The right hand is typically symbolic of transcendence while the left is more immanent, it seems that one might even be able to extend this ancient notion to the political notion of a Left and Right. Is it symbolism or reality? Interesting to note that at some point people really do tend to sit on one side of a room or another and then tradition develops while language unfolds as labels like “right wing” apparently emerge and so on. Of course in Christianity God’s right hand man is the Christ who sits on his right and so on while those to the sinister left are sent away. Perhaps it’s little wonder that Leftists seem to fear the Christian Right so much, yet at the same time those on the Right can be blinded by righteousness. They forget that God seems to be willing to cut off his own right hand symbolically speaking. Now I am meandering because it’s a political season.

  41. Mike,

    For one thing, I would distinguish between materialism, as a metaphysical position, and Darwinism, as a theory (or better, a cluster of related theories) about the origins of biological diversity. One could certainly be a Darwinist without being a materialist, and historically speaking, materialism predates Darwinism by over two thousand years. (Assuming that Democritus, 460-370 BC, was the first materialist philosopher.)

    In my own case, I’m critical of materialism as a metaphysical position because I’m critical of metaphysical positions in general. My aim is to find a way of doing philosophy without metaphysics — or at least without metaphysics of a certain kind — and I have as little patience with materialism as I have with any other metaphysical position.

    There’s also something to be said, I think, for emergentism as a metaphysical theory . . . the idea here being that life can exhibit properties which are irreducible to mere matter, and that mind can exhibit properties which are irreducible to mere life. I’m not delighted by emergentism — it’s too metaphysical for my taste — but if I had to sign off on any metaphysical position, it would be emergentism.

    If our perceptual capacities are the result of variation then the real issue is not “natural selection” but what actually produces the variations and adaptations which it filters. Is your argument ultimately rooted in our perception of chance?

    I wouldn’t dismiss selection as glibly as you seem to do here, but I do agree that evolutionary theory needs a more powerful account of the origins of variation. Here’s where there are real and interesting debates among biologists, chemists, and physicists.

    I suppose that, for my money, I’m inclined towards the work of Stuart Kauffman, who’s done some interesting experiments on the possibilities for self-organization in certain types of complex systems. Thus far his work has been done in computer models, so certainly there’s room for skepticism about whether those results hold with respect to bio-molecules. Still, I find it on the whole a promising line of research.

    The basic idea, then, would be that there are capacities for self-organization in biological systems, and that the organizations which result are then the ‘raw material’ on which selection operates — with the crucial proviso, of course, that by ‘selection’ we’re only talking about differential reproductive success within a population.

    In any event, I’m not really happy talking about “chance” above the quantum level, and sometimes not even then!

  42. Carl wrote: “I’m not delighted by emergentism — it’s too metaphysical for my taste — but if I had to sign off on any metaphysical position, it would be emergentism.”

    That’s certainly interesting. You may want to watch the video posted (the most recent blog entry) by Country Shrink. To me, emergence fails there, because the DNA molecule and it’s mechanisms for replication within a cell are just incredibly complex – to the point of beauty (my own observation there). If there was an emergent process to come from the primordial noise, it certainly would not be such a finely-tuned machine. Also, it is argued that the DNA molecule must be present in order for a cell to replicate in the first place – hence, there was no starting simple-cell to “emerge”, so to speak.

    Anyway, my main point of interest lies not in debating evidence so much, as it does in making an appeal to rationality, and the conflicts evolution presents to it (at least in my mind – but we are all human are we not?). I understand your aversion to the metaphysical (and certainly many get lost in space there!), but I think sometimes there simply must be an allowance to bring it into the equation:

    Remember Carl Sagan in “Cosmos” making a great demonstration of how 2-D objects would experience a 3-D object intersecting the 2-D plane of existence? Perfectly clear and logical. Now what if God permeates ALL dimensions of reality (as the Bible says)? What if the only way that God can be experienced in this 3-D reality is by Love? Just like the basketball is perceived in 2-D as a flat circle or a single point (depending on where it intersects). Perhaps Love is the physical manifestation of God in this reality? Food for thought at least?

    What if our consciousness exists outside of this 3-D material reality? What if our bodies are only a 3-D manifestation (akin to Sagan’s basketball in 2-D) of our spiritual selves. Consider, maybe biochemical reactions are not the *cause* of our emotions, they are the *result* of our emotions emanating from our spirit consciousness. The chemical reactions are just how emotions “look” in 3-D. Or, maybe we don’t “see” with our eyes, we see with our consciousness – which exists outside our physical 3-D reality (could explain why an unconscious man having an out-of-body experience can see himself and hear the conversation, for example). But in this 3-D reality, our bodies act as an impediment to our true experience, to our consciousness (ESP aside for the sake of brevity, except to say that some people’s brains are less an impediment). In other words, as long as we live biologically, our space-time experience must be filtered through the physical, fallible mechanism of the body, complete with lag time and innefficiency. So, maybe the brain is not the source of our sentience, it is merely our means to perceive the 3-D manifestation of it?

    You may dismiss this as irrevelent dualistic thinking, but I think it shows an example where metaphysical thinking can shed some light even on a Darwinistic view, if one so chooses.

  43. Mynym wrote:

    Somehow it seems that the “privileged planet” ….. Often the first to say that we are nothing more than bits of Cosmic dust blown by the wind also seem to be the first to argue that we can know or progress towards knowing all there is to know about the Cosmos.

    I just loved that paragraph!! Thanks so much for writing it!

  44. I suppose that, for my money, I’m inclined towards the work of Stuart Kauffman, who’s done some interesting experiments on the possibilities for self-organization in certain types of complex systems. Thus far his work has been done in computer models, so certainly there’s room for skepticism about whether those results hold with respect to bio-molecules.

    The last time I watched a lecture by Kauffman he argued that an organ like the heart was ontologically real and could not be reduced to natural selection. He also argued that given the Darwinian notion of co-option and pre-adaptations Darwinism has no predictive power because initial conditions cannot even be specified.

    On modeling self-organization I would ask a few questions. Is your hard drive organized by magnetism or do you as an intelligent being make use of technology and mechanisms based on the law of magnetism to store information that you write?

    Code of any sort is not known to be written by natural processes, no more than computer code is. Nor is there evidence that energy fields and so on created in the Big Bang can self-organize into complex patterns of information that just happen to fit a mathematical language which in turn describes them.

    The fact that the symbols and signs typical to design can be decoded and seen in Nature may itself be telling: “[T]he laws of nature are written by the hand of God in the language of mathematics.” –Galileo

    Yet we should still know that we do not know, as our own language seems designed to speak to us of its own limits even in its highest forms:

    In a piece of mathematics that stands as an intellectual tour-de-force of the first magnitude, Gödel demonstrated that the arithmetic with which we are all familiar is incomplete:
    …that is, in any system that has a finite set of axioms and rules of inference and which is large enough to contain ordinary arithmetic, there are always true statements of the system that cannot be proved on the basis of that set of axioms and those rules of inference. This result is known as Gödel’s First Incompleteness Theorem.
    Now Hilbert’s Programme also aimed to prove the essential consistency of his formulation of mathematics as a formal system. Gödel, in his Second Incompleteness Theorem, shattered that hope as well. He proved that one of the statements that cannot be proved in a sufficiently strong formal system is the consistency of the system itself. In other words, if arithmetic is consistent then that fact is one of the things that cannot be proved in the system. It is something that we can only believe on the basis of the evidence, or by appeal to higher axioms. This has been succinctly summarized by saying that if a religion is something whose foundations are based on faith, then mathematics is the only religion that can prove it is a religion!
    (God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God
    by John Lennox :52)

  45. Thanks so much for writing it!

    Thanks, it often seems to me that if one simply lets language speak for itself then you will tend to write with the accumulated wisdom of our species. This type of view is ultimately rooted in the idea that language and logic themselves trace back to the Word and Logos. As a contrast note the Neitzschean attitude towards language in which “values” can be created as an act of will and so on. This is the pattern of the Anti-Word or Anti-Christ as Neitzsche himself might put it: “And mankind reckons time…from the first day of Christianity!–Why not rather from its last?–From today?–The transvaluation of all values! [Except mine.]” (The AntiChrist
    by Friedrich Nietzsche (See Sharp Press) :91)

    Here’s a short satire I write a while ago of symbolic patterns of thought, as I recall gnostics symbolized it as a snake eating its own tail.

    This is a tale of a Serpent that seems intent on eating its own tale:

    One day a Serpent thought: “I wants thisss Garden! Even God spoke the One who walks in words saying, ‘It is good.’ Yes it IS good and I wantss it! I wantsss the sense of the sensuous that the One has!” A rather logical Eve was there just minding her own business until the Serpent said to her, “Did God really say?”

    “What are you really saying?” Eve replied.

    “Huh? But I, eh, uh, eh…I really want to ssay sssomething here.”

    “Why? I’m not sure it’s possible to ‘really’ say anything if the creator of language didn’t really speak His own Word correctly.”

    “Listen woman! Are you going to listen to what I have to say or not?”

    “Well, for the sake of argument what are you really saying?” said Eve.

    “Huh? Well I’m really saying what did God reeeally say? That’s what I really wanted to sssay, okay?”

    “Okay. But I know what God said already.”

    “Really? But I…what? Oh, ssso you do, do you? How arrogant and prideful! You just think you do!”

    “Of course I think I do. That’s because I do. It’s really quite simple.” Eve replied.

    “No it isn’t! Now lisssten to what I have to say lest I bite you! Now then, what I really, really, wanted to say is that God only spoke his Word to control and limit you! For you see, He is just jealous and fearful. He secretly really fears me and knowledge… uh, I mean you!”

    Eve replies, “Me or you?”

    “Never mind. Will you just look at this fruit, now doesn’t that make you feeeeel really good? ”

    “Yes it does actually but that does not matter to me because God spoke the Word. So that is what it is. For the Word is who He is so He means what He says.”

    “I, uh, eh….what? Woman!” and the serpent tried to bite at her heel but she simply stepped on its head, crushing it.

    The End

    (Nietzsche would hate a woman like that, although of course he generally hated them anyway.)

  46. “…it often seems to me that if one simply lets language speak for itself then you will tend to write with the accumulated wisdom of our species. This type of view is ultimately rooted in the idea that language and logic themselves trace back to the Word and Logos. As a contrast note the Neitzschean attitude towards language in which “values” can be created as an act of will and so on. This is the pattern of the Anti-Word or Anti-Christ”

    Yes, it’s amazing when the wisdom and logic of the Logos speaks through our utterances. I have sensed this, but not as often as I would like to! This, for me, is part of the evidence of the unseen and assurance of those things hoped for, which cannot be measured or at least not by mere human standards. Values that can be created as an act of man’s will are opinions, not values. The same serpent is still alive and thriving in our arrogance and self-esteem.

  47. Mike, the questions you raise are certainly interesting, and suggestive, but I don’t know what else to say besides that. And I feel some frustration at not knowing how else to respond.

    The Lennox quote on the Goedel incompleteness theorems is not quite right. The consistency of arithmetic cannot be proven within the system itself, but it can be proven “meta-mathematically,” on the basis of other considerations. So the consistency of arithmetic need not be taken on “faith,” as Lennox suggests.

    On modeling self-organization I would ask a few questions. Is your hard drive organized by magnetism or do you as an intelligent being make use of technology and mechanisms based on the law of magnetism to store information that you write?

    Of course there are parameters to the system. In the case of the computer models, we know that the parameters are created by the programmer. In the case of biological systems, the parameters are physical processes and the laws that govern them. It is not possible to rule out the possibility of a “intelligent designer,” but the argument from analogy cannot sustain the belief that there is, either. In any event, the argument would only work if the analogy can be sustained between genetic and other intracellular mechanisms on the one hand and human-contrived codes and machines on the other. But it is far from clear to me how far this analogy can be pressed. Perhaps we describe the molecules as being “codes” and “machines” simply because those are systems with which we are more familiar?

  48. Carl, given what you previously admitted about the liklihood of there being aspects of reality that we have no cognitive or perceptual access to, what rationale is there for dismissing a priori these possible realities (I know you stated you have not).

    The very fact that metaphysical concepts are available to us mere humans to even grasp, and moreso, do resonate with the vast majority of us; certainly by itself must say something (unless one is a strict materialist I guess, which you say you are not).

    As a Christian, I can certainly say that it’s easy for me to not get “stuck” there. For there is something else called Revelation that provides a key for decoding our metaphysics. But that is beyond the scope of the conversation, so I’ll gladly leave it there.

  49. Carl, given what you previously admitted about the liklihood of there being aspects of reality that we have no cognitive or perceptual access to, what rationale is there for dismissing a priori these possible realities (I know you stated you have not).

    First, allow me a very minor correction: I don’t recall having made, and certainly retract if I did make, any claims about the likelihood of aspects of reality that are closed off to us. I consider it possible, which is not the same as likely. Likelihood is a probabilistic concept, but in this case, I don’t see how we have any basis for estimating the relevant probabilities.

    So, in light in that, I have no a priori reason for dismissing them — nor do I have any reason, a priori or a posteriori, for accepting them. They are simply idle.

    The very fact that metaphysical concepts are available to us mere humans to even grasp, and moreso, do resonate with the vast majority of us; certainly by itself must say something (unless one is a strict materialist I guess, which you say you are not).

    The very fact that humans are capable of creating metaphysical systems of vast sophistication and beauty tells us a great deal about the power of human imagination and reason. I’m not a strict materialist, insofar as I don’t think that imagination and reason can themselves be given a fully satisfying reduction to the concepts used in neuroscience. But I’m happy to say that our inability to devise a satisfying reduction is itself a symptom of human finitude.

    I have to admit, I do find it amazing that, considered one way, we’re basically just apes that figured out to talk and make fire, and considered another way, we produced the magnificent works of Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Shakespeare, Newton, Einstein, Goedel, and Joyce — works through which the human spirit does somehow touch something transcendent.

  50. In the case of biological systems, the parameters are physical processes and the laws that govern them. It is not possible to rule out the possibility of a “intelligent designer,” but the argument from analogy cannot sustain the belief that there is, either.

    If one were to land on another planet and find it full of robotic-like technology which had the apparent purpose of self-replication, resource gathering, etc. then the statement “This planet is full of technology.” would be more of a basic aspect of pattern recognition and detection than an “analogy” or pattern comparison. Of course we typically recognize technology based on our own experience but that doesn’t necessarily mean that recognizing technology must always be rooted in analogies to our own. In fact, many of the technologies observed in biology may have no analogy* in our own yet, typically mankind’s technology lags behind and follows from technology already in use. The microscopes and telescopes by which science/knowledge progresses are designed with lenses which imitate the human eye while the simple fact is that such lenses couldn’t be designed in the absence of vast amounts of biological technology already in use and so on.

    *E.g.

    One of the accomplishments of living systems which is, of course, quite without any analogy in the field of our own technology is their capacity for self-duplication. With the dawn of the age of computers and automation after the Second World War, the theoretical possibility of constructing self-replicating automata was considered seriously by mathematicians and engineers. Von Neumann discussed the problem at great length in his famous book Theory of Self-Reproducing Automata, but the practical difficulties of converting the dream into reality have proved too daunting. As Von Neumann pointed out, the construction of any sort of self-replicating automaton would neces sitate the solution to three fundamental problems: that of storing information; that of duplicating information; and that of designing an automatic factory which could be programmed from the infor mation store to construct all the other components of the machine as well as duplicating itself. The solution to all three problems is found in living things and their elucidation has been one of the triumphs of modern biology.
    So efficient is the mechanism of information storage and so elegant the mechanism of duplication of this remarkable molecule that it is hard to escape the feeling that the DNA molecule may be the one and only perfect solution to the twin problems of information storage and duplication for self-replicating automata.
    The solution to the problem of the automatic factory lies in the ribosome. Basically, the ribosome is a collection of some fifty or so large molecules, mainly proteins, which fit tightly together. Altogether the ribosome consists of a highly organized structure of more than one million atoms which can synthesise any protein that it is instructed to make by the DNA, including the particular proteins which compromise its own structure — so the ribosome can construct itself!
    The protein synthetic apparatus is also, however, the solution to an even deeper problem than that of self-replication. Proteins can be designed to perform structural, logical, and catalytic functions. For instance, they form the impervious materials of the skin, the contractile elements of muscles, the transparent substance of the lens of the eye: and, because of their practically unlimited potential, almost any conceivable biochemical object can be ultimately constructed using these remarkable molecules as basic structural and functional units. The choice of the protein synthetic apparatus as the solution to the problem of the automatic factory has deep implications. Not only does it represent a solution to one of the problems of designing a self- duplicating machine but it also represents a solution to an even deeper problem, that of constructing a universal automaton. The protein synthetic apparatus cannot only replicate itself but, in addition, if given the correct information, it can also construct any other biochemical machine, however great its complexity, just so long as its basic functional units are comprised of proteins, which, because of the near infinite number of uses to which they can be put, gives it almost limitless potential.
    It is astonishing to think that this remarkable piece of machinery, which possesses the ultimate capacity to construct every living thing that ever existed on Earth, from a giant redwood to the human brain, can construct all its own components in a matter of minutes and weigh less than 10^16 grams. It is of the order of several thousand million million times smaller than the smallest piece of functional machinery ever constructed by man.
    (Evolution: A Theory in Crisis by Michael Denton :337-338)

    In any event, the argument would only work if the analogy can be sustained between genetic and other intracellular mechanisms on the one hand and human-contrived codes and machines on the other. But it is far from clear to me how far this analogy can be pressed.

    I don’t agree that it’s analogy, instead I would argue that human technology is reliant on and is only a pale imitation of technology which can be recognized as already in use in Nature.

    Perhaps we describe the molecules as being “codes” and “machines” simply because those are systems with which we are more familiar?

    Or perhaps we describe them that way because that’s what they are. We’re along way from Darwin’s ideas of blobs of goo/”protoplasm” and so on. The irony of the hubris typical to us is that if a person designed a flying machine based on nano-technology which was half as efficient and elegant as that already in use in actual flies then such a structure would be looked at as one of the wonders of the world. Yet flies already exist, so why is it that human technology is a wonder of the world but technology already in use isn’t?

    *E.g.

    How do insects fly and hover? Initially it might seem that the aerodynamics involved would work against flight. For instance, how is it possible for a bumblebee to fly given that its wings are too small to support the lift required by its weight? Moreover, insects, unlike airplanes, continually flap their wings—and this is hard to square with theoretical calculations. Michael Dickinson points out that fruit flies, which know nothing of aerodynamics, nevertheless utilize vortex production, delayed stall, rotational circulation and wake capture as they effortlessly stay aloft while flapping their wings about 200 times a second.
    (The Wonder of the World: A Journey from Modern Science to the Mind of God, by Roy Abraham Varghese :103-106)

    Note that the notion of flying isn’t drawn from “analogies” to mankind’s technology or knowledge of flight, it already existed as a fact of Life for millenia and we’re only just now getting around to imitating and understanding some aspects of it. If anything mankind’s technology is analogous to the technology already in use in Nature, not the other way around.

  51. I have to admit, I do find it amazing that, considered one way, we’re basically just apes that figured out to talk and make fire, and considered another way, we produced the magnificent works of Plato… works through which the human spirit does somehow touch something transcendent.

    You are still adhering to “nothing but” reasoning there. I may do it myself sometimes, it seems to be more tempting for men given its hidden disdain for immanence and the way that the human mind “naturally” seems to associate immanence with the feminine for many reasons. There are exceptions but women don’t seem to tend towards that type of reasoning as much.

    But anyway, why is it that “just” and “nothing but” seems to emerge when talking about the physical substrate of existence/immanence? For one thing it’s wrong anyway but there’s also little reason to think of immanent things as if they are “nothing but.” If a physicist says that we’re “nothing but” matter then they had best look a little deeper into the nature of matter. If a biologist says that we’re “nothing but” apes then they had best look a little deeper into the biological structure of apes. And so on. Biologists have a bad habit in this area, perhaps when biologists design a machine that can run on some plants and animal products, has teleological principles written into it which shape its being, self-reproduces in ways that approach an infinite diversity while maintaining typological unity which also sometimes apparently sings and dances in joy, writes Mozart, etc., then maybe they can engage in “nothing but” reasoning. But until they do they clearly don’t have some supposedly all encompassing knowledge to back up their ignorant and stupid “All there is to this, is this!” statements about immanent things.

  52. The irony of the hubris typical to us is that if a person designed a flying machine based on nano-technology which was half as efficient and elegant as that already in use in actual flies then such a structure would be looked at as one of the wonders of the world. Yet flies already exist, so why is it that human technology is a wonder of the world but technology already in use isn’t?

    The answer is, as you already know, Mynym, the blindness of man’s vanity!

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