What’s Wrong with the World

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The trouble with William Paley

I lay it all out over at my personal blog. Now I’m off to go hide under the table – if Lydia asks, you haven’t seen me, got it?

Comments (131)

Why would you need to hide under the table?

While I sometimes think you're too harsh on Paley and the IDists -- for, after all, one must speak to one's audience in the language its members understand -- *I'm* going to be throwing stones, or even overripe tomatoes, at you. And surely, or so one might imagine from some recent comments, I'm the "rudest" one here.

Keep working on Lydia, Ed! We'll make a Thomist of her yet.

(Resistance is futile!)

Excellent post.

Hi Ed, I've read your two entries about final causes in physical laws (I plan to get around to TLS sooner or later), and I think that provided it's understood, the argument you make in them is pretty much undeniable.

But, I have a hard time understanding how it's relevant to the question of the design of life. Maybe I can explain my confusion.

In Scriptures, there are various events that we believe were intended by God. To take one example, consider the destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah by fire. It's possible that this event was caused by a volcano or something, and was thus fully consistent with physical laws (notwithstanding the part about angels staying in the flesh at Lot's house and blinding people), but in that case, we believe that God used the volcano to accomplish His plan. While the destruction of S&G might've been consistent with physical laws, it wasn't necessitated by them. A universe with the same physical laws, but in which S&G is not destroyed by fire, is perfectly conceivable. The Christian belief is thus that God planned the destruction of S&G in particular, regardless of whether or not He stayed within physical law to do so, and regardless of the final causality entailed by those laws.

Someone could formulate an ID-style argument for the destruction of S&G being on purpose. The argument would be something along the lines of "The destruction of S&G, coinciding with Lot and his family evacuating the city right before it happened on a warning that it was about to be destroyed, is highly specified, and I calculate the probability of it happening by chance to be at most 1 in 10^568... blah blah blah. Therefore, I conclude that it was deliberately planned."

Okay, the argument would be lame in the extreme, but someone could still formulate it. And the result of such an argument wouldn't be Quetzalcoatl or some other reduction of God (because the argument doesn't entail that physical laws are devoid of final cause), but simply that the destruction of S&G was planned... which happens to be true.

In the case of life, and humans in particular, it seems to me that we have a similar situation. Take the most metaphorical reading of the opening chapters of Genesis as you like (I'm a Framework-ist myself), it's still pretty clear from Scripture (and has been universally held true by Christianity everywhere through the ages) that God planned humans in particular at the very least. This fact doesn't imply that physical laws lack final causality. And as with the destruction of S&G, the existence of humans is not entailed by known physical laws, regardless of their final causality. I've seen a number of ways of reconciling God's planning of humans with various evolutionary accounts, and all of them leave open the possibility, at least in principle, of a probabilistic argument showing that humans (and/or other biological phenomena) were planned.

I guess what I'm saying is, your charge of mechanicalism only seems to hold if the design argument entails that there is no final causality in the universe except that which is imposed from the outside by God when He designs life. But while some proponents of the design argument do seem to say that, it doesn't seem to me that the argument itself actually requires it.

I believe this is what they call on Facebook a "poke." Every once in a while and for no apparent reason, FB will suggest out of the blue that you "poke" one of your friends. Evidently this morning Ed got a message that said, "Poke Lydia?" :-)

I certainly don't have time to get into the empirical issues, so Mr. Farrell, you will have to forgo the pleasure of telling me how much I have been bamboozled by those low-down cheats at the Discovery Institute. In any event, I am the merest layman in scientific matters and claim only the right to have as much of an opinion as any layman who tries to make up his own mind.

It seems to me unlikely that Ed and I will ever make any progress on the meta-issue, and I'm sorry about that. But in the spirit of not missing an opportunity (though I may not have time to keep up the discussion), here are a couple of questions that might clarify the issue, which to me is entirely one of evidence:

Ed:

--Do you consider it metaphysically impossible that God should make a machine? Choose your own machine, so long as you make it an interesting one: An airplane, a computer, an automobile, a typewriter. And let “make” include making from pre-existing materials, making ex nihilo, or making by some sort of bank-shot process whereby particles are front-loaded years before. Any actual method you like.

--If it is not metaphysically impossible that God should make a machine, then what sort of evidence would you consider legitimate to use to _raise the probability_ (not even necessarily to convince you) that God--the real God--had made a particular machine? Note that the probability here could be raised by evidence that a being that _might be_ the real God had done so, even if the evidence did not mean that the being _must be_ the real God.

--Is it metaphysically impossible that biological entities should have a structure like that of a machine or a computer?

--If it is not metaphysically impossible, then what sort of evidence would you consider legitimate to use to raise the probability that God had made a biological entity which has a structure like that of a machine or a computer?

Hello Deuce,

Part of the problem here is that when people hear that Thomists are critical of ID theory, their first response is an incredulous "How can they possibly object to the idea of divine design?"

Well, that's not what we object to. If someone wants to make a case for some particular divine intervention in a way that does not presuppose (explicitly or implicitly) either (a) a mechanistic conception of nature or (b) a univocal application to God of concepts derived from the created order, then that's fine with me. My problem is not with the notion of "intelligent design" per se (though I admit to finding the expression annoyingly redundant, since "design" already entails intelligence). My problem is with certain specific metaphysical and methodological assumptions taken for granted in a certain kind of theorizing about "intelligent design."

Hi Lydia,

Just saw your comment after posting mine, but I have to run to teach a class, so I'll reply later on. But no "poke" was intended!

Lydia,
Mr. Farrell, you will have to forgo the pleasure of telling me how much I have been bamboozled by those low-down cheats at the Discovery Institute.

LOL. Fair enough.

Please don't all me "Mr. Farrell." (I'm not THAT old. Well, not yet, anyway.)

It seems to me that when we object, even teasingly, to being called "Mr" (or "Mrs") that we are objecting to being treated as adults.

It's fine, Ilion. John, I won't do it anymore. John Farrell sensed that I tend to use "Mr." in a deliberately distancing manner, in this case intended to indicate solidarity with Mike Behe, Jon Wells, and my other friends at DI, and I understand his objection.

What is your take on Genesis 1 and 2, Ed?

Lydia,

A preliminary point: From a A-T point of view, machines presuppose non-machines. That is to say: A machine -- a clock, say -- does not have an organic unity insofar as its components already have natural tendencies of their own, and these tendencies have nothing to do with the function of the object we've artifically constructed from them. (As Aristotle says, if you made a bed out of fresh wood and then planted it, the parts, if they grew at all, would grow into trees and not beds.) So machines only exist because there are natural -- non-mechanical, non-machine-like -- parts to construct them from.

If follows that natural objects themselves are not machines and that the universe as a whole is not a machine. Therefore God's relationship to the world as Creator is not like that of a machinist to the machine he creates. Therefore any would-be theistic argument that models God and the natural world in this way is simply off on the wrong foot from the start.

Now, on to your questions, in the order 3, 4, 1, and 2:

3: If you mean "Is it metaphysically impossible for biological structures to be in certain respects comparable to machines?" then the answer is No, that is not impossible, if only because everything is comparable to everything else in some respect or other. Hence e.g. the bacterial flagellum is very complicated, just like some machines are. But if you mean "Is it metaphysically impossible for biological structures to be machines, full stop?" then the answer is Yes, that is metaphysically impossible. Machines presuppose natural objects; therefore natural objects cannot coherently be characterized as machines.

4: If the question is "What would make it probable that God made a biological object that was a machine?" then the answer is that nothing would make it probable, because (for the reasons just given) the concept of "a biological object that is a machine" is incoherent. If the question is instead "What would make it probable that God made a biological object that had certain machine-like qualities?" then the answer is that since we already know independently that God made all natural objects, of whatever degree of complexity or machine-likeness, then we already know that it is maximaly probable -- because certain -- that He made the machine-like ones specifically. But for that very reason, the question isn't interesting. It's like asking "What would make it probable that God made a pink ice cube?" Apart from the fact that He already sustains everything anyway, I don't have any special answer, and don't think that the question is much worth thinking about. For the reason we know God creates and sustains the world has no more to do with the comlexity or machine-like qualities of natural objects than it has to do with their color. (Of course, questions about comlexity are relevant to the debate over Darwinism. But that's another topic.)

1: No, of course God could make a machine. He does it all the time. E.g. He's sustaining in being the computer I am typing on right now. And He could cause another one to materialize out of thin air if He wanted to. (As a matter of metaphysical necessity, though, both acts entail creating and sustaining natural substances which have been organized into the sorts of machines we call computers.)

2: I don't know. I suppose that if a computer materialized out of thin air in front of me right now, then I would naturally suppose that there is at least some probability that God did it. But that's because I aready know on independent grounds that God exists and can do such things.

What I don't think is interesting or much worth pursuing is the question of how we could go from such a bizarre event all by itself to the God of classical theism. Because the metaphysical analysis of how the natural world works -- and thus of what sorts of possible causes of such strange events there might be -- is already itself going to get you automatically to God.

For that reason, from my POV, miracles are the sorts of things that are better examined after we've already established, via independent arguments, that God exists. For only once we get clear on the way the world works -- which includes God's sustaining activity as first uncaused cause relative to all natural, secondary causes etc. -- can we properly interpret the significance of this or that odd event.

Shoot, I messed up "No" and "Yes" in some of the answers above. I trust my meaning is clear, though.

OK, I've now fixed it up.

Mike, I'll get back to you, because I've got to run to a meeting.

A machine -- a clock, say -- does not have an organic unity insofar as its components already have natural tendencies of their own, and these tendencies have nothing to do with the function of the object we've artifically constructed from them.

and

"But if you mean "Is it metaphysically impossible for biological structures to be machines, full stop?" then the answer is Yes, that is metaphysically impossible. Machines presuppose natural objects; therefore natural objects cannot coherently be characterized as machines."

and

No, of course God could make a machine. He does it all the time. E.g. He's sustaining in being the computer I am typing on right now. And He could cause another one to materialize out of thin air if He wanted to.

If I may play the Devil's Advocate here, it seems like this leaves open the possibility that biological structures could be machines. For it's true that (say) the bacterial flagellum also is made up of components (proteins, which are made of amino acids, which are made of molecules, which are made of atoms) with natural tendencies of their own that have nothing to do with the function of the flagellum.

Now, if God could make a machine, and the flagellum is made of components with unrelated natural tendencies, does that leave open the possibility that as far as we know, the flagellum could be just such a machine? If, on the other hand, the flagellum can't be a machine by virtue of it's being made by God, and therefore natural rather than artificial, doesn't that imply that God couldn't make a machine?

Machines presuppose natural objects; therefore natural objects cannot coherently be characterized as machines.

It seems to me that to get from this to "It is metaphysically impossible for biological entities to be machines, full stop," you need some intermediate premise like, "Biological entities are natural objects in such a sense that they cannot coherently be characterized as machines." Now, we've talked before about questions concerning natural tendencies and whether these are to be attributed to ice qua ice or rather to atoms, etc., and your position, Ed, has always been that *at whatever level* one decides to make fundamental causality reside, it is at that level that the Aristotelian notion of intrinsic "tendencies," etc., kicks in. You haven't ever, as far as I know, given an argument that a biological entity must be a natural object in the sense of being, let us say, an object with a fundamental or not otherwise reducible/analyzable causal tendency. And as a matter of fact, modern biology, chemistry, and physics seem to have gone quite a long way towards reducing biological tendencies (to grow, say), to biochemical interactions of more fundamental parts, which parts need not have anything in themselves to do with the function of the organism, organ, etc., as a whole. It is their arrangement that allows them to interact in the requisite way for the large-scale functions that we observe to take place. This is _very much_ like a man-made machine. And it is true of _all_ biological entities, not simply of the bacterial flagellum or whatever. So it seems to me that you are just declaring biological entities to be "natural" in this heavy sense of "natural" that is not actually empirically justified and isn't, for that matter, even required by your metaphysics, unless that metaphysics takes to itself the undeserved nature of an _empirical theory_, in which case it will simply be a _falsified_ empirical theory. From all that you have said, I can see no reason why biological entities should not "presuppose natural objects" in very much the same sense that my car does so, where those natural objects are molecules, atoms, or even quarks.

A preliminary point: From a A-T point of view, machines presuppose non-machines. That is to say: A machine -- a clock, say -- does not have an organic unity insofar as its components already have natural tendencies of their own, and these tendencies have nothing to do with the function of the object we've artifically constructed from them. (As Aristotle says, if you made a bed out of fresh wood and then planted it, the parts, if they grew at all, would grow into trees and not beds.) So machines only exist because there are natural -- non-mechanical, non-machine-like -- parts to construct them from.

The problem I have with this argument is that both the tree and the bed have their origins in the same periodic table and physical laws. A tree is only not a machine under this argument because it exists already in nature, but that doesn't do much to expand on whether or not a tree really is a machine or not relative to God. If God wills a tree into existence, the act is proportional to a human creating a bed from its base atoms using a nano-assembler.

Relative to God, the tree would be still just a machine. I don't see how it could be different unless we change the definition of machine to just exclude certain types of creation. Its natural tendencies would only thus be a manifestation of the way that God created the tree to behave, much like how the "tendencies of a clock" exist only because the clock maker designed the clock that way.

Time to see if I managed to properly grasp the reasoning I've read about in TLS and elsewhere (Didn't get Aquinas yet, so I'm working with a handicap here.)

In the ID perspective (at least the ID perspectives Ed is talking about here), the focus is typically on "arrangements of parts" found in nature - specifically arrangements that seem vastly unlikely to 'just so happen to become so arranged' in an unguided way, such that finding such an arrangement leads to an inference of design at whatever strength. So a bacterial flagellum is interesting because it requires, at base, a specific set and arrangement of parts such that removing any of these means you're left with something that is not a BF and cannot do what a BF can. Not that it can do these things, but inefficiently - cannot do them, full stop. Analogously, remove the engine from a car and you aren't left with a car that runs inefficiently, because the car is no longer running in any proper sense of the term.

In the Aristotilean/Thomistic perspective, you aren't looking for inferences of design. Or at least, the sort of "design" you're looking for is found in areas that would either be ignored by the ID perspective or (worse) regarded as not evidence for God at all. Simple regularities of nature suffice: A universe that consists of nothing but an electron orbiting a nucleus would point towards a divine mind on the A-T perspective, precisely because that electron/nucleus exhibits a final cause and teleology all on its own, and these things imply (prove?) the divine. Now, there are various other arguments for God in the A-T perspective as well, but all of them 'work' before you even take a look at the intricacies and complexities of the "design" in the universe. So it's preferable to establish God, or at least establish powerful rational arguments for God, before you even look at these complexities.

I agree with Ed that the arguments he lays out in TLS are powerful, and that the A-T tradition should be defended - and the 'mechanistic' perspective of nature should be rejected, given that we have (in my view) a vastly superior metaphysic to work with. On the other hand, I agree that ID arguments do have their place. Ed suggests that Christians would not answer atheists with a powerful argument for Zeus or Quetzlcoatl. My personal response is that I would, happily - but then again I have a sense of humor about that. On the other hand, I think Ed should remember that one argument against A-T proofs of God is that they do not themselves prove the Christian God (and therefore should be rejected, as it could promote a faith other than Christianity) - so he should be sympathetic to proving/inferring the existence of a powerful mind, because it's at least getting you "on the road" to that Christian God. (Indeed, it may even get someone on the road to A-T - after all, if science does not indicate atheism, then for many atheists the "battle" is lost and it's time to get used to God/gods.)

I also think talk about "machines" is confusing, ironically because ID (in this case, meaning the success of human technology, etc) has been so tremendous. Strangely, I also see this as partially feeding back into the A-T perspective. We tend to focus on humanity being able to create 'complex' things. Powerful computers (hence the attraction to DNA/genetics, which seems very analogous to computer language - yet vastly superior), robots/mechanics (hence the attraction to irreducible complexity arguments, or appreciation for the vast complexity in cells and other organisms), etc. But as we're able to mimic nature in finer and finer detail (Maybe even mimic ex nihilo creation, when we think in terms of computer simulation) - and this is where I think the ID movement has a problem, and the A-Ts have a solution - nature, even relatively 'uncomplicated' things such as melting ice, begin to strike me as more and more purposeful, intentional, etc. In other words, it loops back and once again points at the teleology and final causality that A-T proponents see EVERYwhere.

So I find myself cheering for both A-T proponents, and (at least the broad class of) ID proponents. And hopefully I've demonstrated some understanding of both perspectives here.

Mrs McGrew: "It's fine, Ilion. John, I won't do it anymore. John Farrell sensed that I tend to use "Mr." in a deliberately distancing manner, in this case intended to indicate solidarity with Mike Behe, Jon Wells, and my other friends at DI, and I understand his objection."

The ambiguity of formality is one of the points of it, in the first place.

E.Feser: "If follows that natural objects themselves are not machines and that the universe as a whole is not a machine."

No, it doesn’t; for an agent may make use of a machine in multiple ways; an agent may cannibalize one machine to repair, or even build, a different machine. Further, any given machine may easily be comprised of components which are themselves machines: “the universe” could be a machine “all the way down.”

... for instance, I'm not comfortable adopting a familiar tone with those I don't know fairly well, or, at any rate, haven't known for some time (being thrust into a new situation, say a new job, where people insist upon being first-named, is quite unpleasant to me), so I can't just call you "Lydia" or call Edward Feser "Ed."

But, at the same time, I'm not going to call either one of you "Doctor" ... one of the prerequisites of the sort of open discussion the internet makes possible is that no one stands in a privileged position with respect to others.

So, I call you “Mrs” or “Mr” as is appropriate.

On the other hand, since I go by a handle (the name of my name, as I think of it), rather than by my name, the above sorts of issues don’t apply when others are addressing me. Perhaps that explains why certain small-minded persons need to make a point of calling me by my Christian name (what? am I insulted thereby?), or trying to merge “Ilíon” and “idiot” into a single word.

Lydia wrote:

And as a matter of fact, modern biology, chemistry, and physics seem to have gone quite a long way towards reducing biological tendencies (to grow, say), to biochemical interactions of more fundamental parts, which parts need not have anything in themselves to do with the function of the organism, organ, etc., as a whole.

That is not actually completely true, in that even atoms, which one might suppose have not direct connection to a grasshopper, all obey the same fundamental law: the law of conservation of energy. There are only a finite number of ways to arrange atoms which are consistent with the LCE and therefore, a finite number of ways (okay, technically, a finite number of infinite ways) one may arrange atoms since all levels ,ust be consitent with theis law. Thus, there is a law connecting all matter, no matter how it is arranged.

The Chicken

Lydia wrote:

And as a matter of fact, modern biology, chemistry, and physics seem to have gone quite a long way towards reducing biological tendencies (to grow, say), to biochemical interactions of more fundamental parts, which parts need not have anything in themselves to do with the function of the organism, organ, etc., as a whole.

That is not actually completely true, in that even atoms, which one might suppose have not direct connection to a grasshopper, all obey the same fundamental law: the law of conservation of energy. There are only a finite number of ways to arrange atoms which are consistent with the LCE and therefore, a finite number of ways (okay, technically, a finite number of infinite ways) one may arrange atoms since all levels must be consitent with this law. Thus, there is a law connecting all matter, no matter how it is arranged.

The Chicken

Lydia wrote:

And as a matter of fact, modern biology, chemistry, and physics seem to have gone quite a long way towards reducing biological tendencies (to grow, say), to biochemical interactions of more fundamental parts, which parts need not have anything in themselves to do with the function of the organism, organ, etc., as a whole.

That is not actually completely true, in that even atoms, which one might suppose have not direct connection to a grasshopper, all obey the same fundamental law: the law of conservation of energy. There are only a finite number of ways to arrange atoms which are consistent with the LCE and therefore, a finite number of ways (okay, technically, a finite number of infinite ways) one may arrange atoms since all levels must be consitent with this law. Thus, there is a law connecting all matter, no matter how it is arranged.

The Chicken

My apologies for the multiple posts. My dial-up connection has started to drop out for no apparent reason in the last month and it didn;t look as if my last post went through because the modem hung up.

The Chicken

Ilion,

You say the universe could be a machine all the way down. Could you give an example of something that, if it existed, would not be a machine? And could a machine have immaterial parts? For example, if you're a realist about universals, and you agree that universals are not material, could you nevertheless say that universals are "part of a machine"?

One problem I have with the idea that the universe could be "a machine all the way down" is that it implies I have to regard even the most basic constituents of reality as a machine. Is an electron a machine?

I also wonder if part of the problem here may be miscommunication. In TLS, Ed mentions how modern "mechanistic" descriptions of nature are, if taken seriously, bringing a broadly Aristotilean metaphysic back (Talk of 'algorithms' and 'information', etc, as really existing and perhaps fundamental aspects of reality) - while the people offering up such descriptions are unaware that they're doing exactly that. So maybe if we broke down what's meant by "machines" being in nature, we'd arrive at a similar area - oddly, that to make sense of "nature as a machine", we end up bringing in teleology and formal/final causes anyway.

Just a hunch.

I also wonder if part of the problem here may be miscommunication. In TLS, Ed mentions how modern "mechanistic" descriptions of nature are, if taken seriously, bringing a broadly Aristotilean metaphysic back (Talk of 'algorithms' and 'information', etc, as really existing and perhaps fundamental aspects of reality) - while the people offering up such descriptions are unaware that they're doing exactly that. So maybe if we broke down what's meant by "machines" being in nature, we'd arrive at a similar area - oddly, that to make sense of "nature as a machine", we end up bringing in teleology and formal/final causes anyway.

I don't think any of us really disagree with any of that, Joseph. It's rather the fact that Ed is drawing what is arguably a false dichotomy between different types of machines saying that one is not a machine, but another is. In his tree/bed example, the fact that the tree is a living thing does not make it less of a machine unless you assume that machine must only imply an inorganic system.

MC, when I said that the more fundamental parts

need not have anything in themselves to do with the function of the organism, organ, etc., as a whole.

I meant a kind of "having to do with" that is more robust than "all obeying the law of the conservation of energy." Consider that in _that_ sense, the parts of an airplane also "have something to do with" the airplane in exactly the same way--both the parts and the airplane as a whole obey the same fundamental physical laws. But _that_ isn't relevant to what Ed means when he says of a machine:

A machine -- a clock, say -- does not have an organic unity insofar as its components already have natural tendencies of their own, and these tendencies have nothing to do with the function of the object we've artifically constructed from them

My point would be this: Whether or not a heart, an eye, a flagellum, or a fly is a machine in this sense--in that it is made up of components that already have natural tendencies of their own, which tendencies have nothing to do with the function of the object taken as a whole--is an empirical matter, not a matter of pure philosophical metaphysics. And I think it has been pretty clearly shown, empirically, that biological organisms and organs _are indeed_ made up of components whose "tendencies" have nothing to do in and of themselves with the function of the object as a whole, especially if one takes "components" at a small enough level--for example, at the level of atoms or even, in many cases, molecules. They only _come_ to "have to do with" that larger function when they are arranged in a certain way relative to one another.

E.Feser: "4: If the question is "What would make it probable that God made a biological object that was a machine?" then the answer is that nothing would make it probable, because (for the reasons just given) the concept of "a biological object that is a machine" is incoherent. ..."

The concept "a biological object that is a machine" is not incoherent -- you are, sadly, behaving/reasoning in the same manner that 'atheists' and "Darwinists" and "liberals" typically do.

The reason that nothing would make this *probable* is that God is a agent, and probabilities can be applied to or calculated for agents only en mass, but not to an individual agent.

Mike T,

As I said, I really wonder if part of the problem here isn't just miscommunication. I asked Ilion (not that he's had much time to reply - I think I posted 10 minutes ago) for an example of something that, if it existed, would not be a machine. And part of the reason for pointing out that 'mechanistic' talk in TLS is because, if it's accurate, then people describing things and talking as if they were machines - and yet unknowingly embracing a broadly Aristotilean perspective based on the particulars of their description - is pretty common.

If it's agreed that formal/final causality is necessary to fully describe certain things that exist, then calling those things "machines" just seems like something not worth getting worked up over from an A-T perspective. Since it would seem (at least to me) that anyone asserting as much means "machine" in a very different way than Ed and other A-T proponents are critical of.

I would say that a cloud is not a machine. Neither is a sand dune or a wave of the sea. Insofar as Ed's description (and it is his in the first place, not mine) is accurate about machines--that they are made of components that have nothing intrinsically to do with the function (or should we say activity?) of the machine as a whole--I would take that to be less than a _sufficient_ condition for the existence of a machine.

...these tendancies have nothing to do with the objects we've constructed from them

That is absolutely wrong from a scientific point of view. Tendancies build on tendancies. They do not supplant them. In fact, in some objects, such as e;ectrons, pretty much the only tehndacy they have is conservation of energy and the objects constructed from them have the same tendancy. The tendancy of the small is the least tendancy of the large.

If you disagree with this, then you disagree with all of modern science. I'm sorry, but tendancies are inherited. They may be superceeded at some level as other tendancies come into play, but they are never supplanted. One cannot supplant a tendancy from the top-down. One may neutralize it, but one cannot make it disappear.

I think Duhem, the famous physicist and philospher of science would agree with this. In fact, it forms a part of the Duhem-Quine thesis in the philosophy of science.

The Chicken

Joseph A:You say the universe could be a machine all the way down. Could you give an example of something that, if it existed, would not be a machine?

Just be sure that you don’t drop the context in which I said that, or the subjunctive mode in which I said it.

Off hand, I can’t at the moment think of anything at a higher level than atoms that (if it exists) cannot be properly seen as being a machine, or, to be comprised of machines.

But, keep in mind that what a thing is made of is not necessarily what it *is* (it’s ‘atheists’ who are required by their metaphysics to make that mistake). For instance, we all are made of a batch of chemicals with a very low resale-value; but that is not what we *are*

Consider the sun; it seems (if it exists) to be a pretty simple thing. Yet, can it not be properly seen as a machine? And, can it not be properly seen as a component of yet another machine? (‘Atheists,’ of course, are required to deny these two questions.) Among other things, the sun furnishes energy to fuel the biosphere of earth; that is one of its purposes, it is (among other things) a machine for furnishing energy to fuel the biosphere of earth. At the same time, the sun (along with the moon and the earth) is a component of a three-body clock; or, if one insists on not viewing the earth as being a component of the clock, then the sun is a component of a three-body clock comprised of the sun, moon and stars (with “the stars” being treated as a single body).


Joseph A:And could a machine have immaterial parts? For example, if you're a realist about universals, and you agree that universals are not material, could you nevertheless say that universals are "part of a machine"?

Of course a machine can have immaterial parts (I can’t think of any machine that does not); the real question is can a machine *not* have immaterial parts, can there exist a machine with no immaterial parts at all?

At the very minimum, the purpose of a machine is immaterial. Can there really exist a machine which has (or had) no purpose at all? Is that not an oxymoron?


Joseph A:One problem I have with the idea that the universe could be "a machine all the way down" is that it implies I have to regard even the most basic constituents of reality as a machine. Is an electron a machine?

You’re overlooking the context and the subjunctive nature of what I said.

Does an electron have a purpose? If it does, then is it not a machine … or possibly even something “higher” than a mere machine?


Joseph A:I also wonder if part of the problem here may be miscommunication. In TLS, Ed mentions how modern "mechanistic" descriptions of nature are, if taken seriously, bringing a broadly Aristotilean metaphysic back (Talk of 'algorithms' and 'information', etc, as really existing and perhaps fundamental aspects of reality) - while the people offering up such descriptions are unaware that they're doing exactly that. So maybe if we broke down what's meant by "machines" being in nature, we'd arrive at a similar area - oddly, that to make sense of "nature as a machine", we end up bringing in teleology and formal/final causes anyway.

Just so. And even moreso.

A machine is not something that “just is;” a machine -- to *be* a machine, rather than merely an object -- has, or at least had, a purpose, a teleological end. Conceivably, a machine can outlast its purpose, but nothing can ever be a machine if it never had a purpose.

But, machines cannot assign themselves their purposes.

L.McGrew: "I would say that a cloud is not a machine."

And I would say that it is ... in some respects and in some relationships, but not in others.

Lydia et al.,

First: Yes, I was assuming that (1) biological objects are natural objects, and thus (given what I've said about natural objects), (2) they are not machines. The reason I didn't see the need to assert (1) separately is that (1) is blindingly obvious -- certainly I know of no one who denies it, including Lydia. (I.e. everyone knows that biological objects are not made in Detroit, but just naturally occur alongside floods, snowstorms, rain, etc.) Also, yes, being made of components that have no intrinsic tendency to function together toward a common end is only a necessary, not a sufficient, condition for being a machine.

Now, Lydia's question seems to be: "Why can't biological objects be machines even on an A-T point of view, given that we've made so much progress explaining them mechanistically?" Well, there are two problems with that. First, I deny the premise of the question -- we have not made such "progress." Second, such a view would be an extremely odd one for someone to take about biological objects if he is already willing to concede A-T metaphysics in general.

In elaboration of the first point, it is, for one thing, notoriously difficult to eliminate function talk in biology, and notoriously difficult to eliminate something like a notion of goal-directedness, and thus teleology, in accounting for an organism's development. This was the major theme of Gilson's From Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again (now back in print, incidentally) and something also emphasized by such writers as Marjorie Grene, Andre Ariew, David Stove, and J. Scott Turner, to name just a few -- people I've cited in previous posts on these themes, and (apart from Gilson) people with no A-T ax to grind. So, again, I just don't buy the premise; it is at best highly controversial. What you're doing, Lydia, or so it seems to me, is what people so often do, entirely fallaciously, in both biology and in other scientific contexts: inferring from "We have learned a lot by focusing attention on those parts of nature which can be modeled in a purely quantitative, or machine-like, or otherwise non-teleological way" (perfectly true) to "Therefore there is nothing more to nature than what can be modeled in such ways" (false, and certainly a non sequitur).

In elaboration of the second point, supposing one accepts the general A-T POV at least for the sake of argument, it is mysterious why one would think biological phenomena are an exception -- especially given the point just made about the difficulty in biology of eliminating function talk, and teleological talk in general, in favor of talk of mechanistic efficient causes.

Suppose I drop a stack of mail and the letters fall into a certain pattern. Obviously the letters have no inherent tendency toward that pattern; the stack is for that reason not an organic whole. Now suppose that we start finding stacks of letters in that exact configuration over and over and over, without exception. Then we will naturally conclude that someone is arranging them that way -- that is to say, that what we've got is, if not a machine exactly (given the sorts of examples we normally think of when we use "machine") then at least an artifact. But suppose it turned out that there were no human beings, aliens, etc. making the envelopes fall that way, that this was just a universal pattern that always occurred when letters fell. In that case, we would conclude that the arrangement was neither a sheer accident after all, nor an artifact, but a natural causal phenomenon -- and thus (if we're already buying a generally A-T POV for the sake of argument) the sort of thing that reflects final causality: the envelopes do that because they have an inherent causal power which points to that outcome as its natural effect.

Now, switch the example to the bacterial flagellum, or whatever. It is not an accidental arrangement, but neither is it something natural agents (people, aliens, etc.) have to keep bringing about. It just occurs naturally, every day. Well, just as in the envelope example, the natural conclusion to draw -- again, at least if we're already accepting A-T metaphysics in general for the sake of argument, as Lydia seems to be doing -- is that this is a natural kind of object, and thus not an artifact or machine.

Now if you don't want to accept a general A-T metaphysical framework in the first place, that's another thing. But again, Lydia's question seemed to be premised on the assumption that we could accept it for the sake of argument as a general position, and still make an exception in the case of biological phenomena. So it's no good to say "Maybe God is invisibly bringing the bacterial flagellum about, through some special miraculous intervention in the natural order, every time!" You've already conceded for the sake of argument that there is nothing miraculous about other, more basic causal patterns -- the behavior of electrons, or whatever. That is, you've already conceded that at least they are natural non-mechanistic processes that don't require any special divine intervention over and above God's ordinary sustaining causal activity (which from an A-T POV underlies absolutely eveything already). So why is the bacterial flagellum an exception? Why does its everyday operation require a miracle -- something that the natural order is not already set up to bring about -- when the everyday operation of electrons (or whatever) requires only God's ordinary, non-miraculous sustaining action? What could ground such a judgment -- again, at least if one is going to accept A-T in general?

In general, I would say that the logic of the A-T position is radically anti-reductionist. In general, the so-called "successful ontological reductions" people take for granted are nothing of the kind. What they are is really just examples of how we can learn certain things -- new technologies, new ways to predict future events, etc. -- by focusing on certain aspects of the natural world. They have no tendency whatever to show that those aspects are somehow all that "really" exist. The reductionistic conclusion is not read off from the scientific results, but read into it.

Obviously this large claim is something that would have to be defended on a case-by-case basis for those who think some particular example shows otherwise. Read Oderberg's Real Essentialism for the most thorough existing defense of A-T anti-reductionism by an analytic philosopher. The point for now is just that it is a very odd position to suggest "Yes, A-T might be true in general, just not where biology is concerned." Indeed, traditionally biology was always supposed to be the area where mechanistic reduction had the hardest time of it! That's why we're all supposed to genuflect before Darwin -- he finally found a way, or so it is claimed, to get rid of teleology even in biology, where it was most resilient. Very strange to see Lydia, of all people, seemingly suggesting that biology might be the easiest place to defend mechanism!

Finally: Ilion, I have no idea whatsoever why you think I'm acting like an "atheist, Darwinist, or liberal." What I do know is that you have given no actual argument against my claim that the notion in question is incoherent, at least given (a) A-T metaphysics and (b) my (obviously) implicit premise that biological objects are a kind of natural object.

MC: "If you disagree with this, then you disagree with all of modern science."

As though that really matters.

'Modern science' isn't *about* truth, and it doesn't begin with truth -- thus, no pronouncement of 'modern science' can ever *rationally* be taken as being true merely on the basis of being a pronouncement of 'modern science;' one must use something other than 'science' to judge a pronouncement of 'modern science' as being true.

Ilion,

I only have some brief time right now, but I'll respond to you later. Thanks for the ample reply!

Ed,

I'm trying to understand what everyone means by machines here. Let me ask you: Do you see a machine as something which is necessarily devoid of intrinsic or otherwise fundamental teleological description? Meaning, would it be fair to say that a key difference between a machine and something biological/natural is "A machine can be completely described without any reference to teleology, and something biological cannot be completely described without any reference to teleology."?

So a bacterial flagellum is interesting because it requires, at base, a specific set and arrangement of parts such that removing any of these means you're left with something that is not a BF and cannot do what a BF can. Not that it can do these things, but inefficiently - cannot do them, full stop.

You are looking at that from the wrong angle. Out of the approx. 40 proteins comprising the flagellum, only 60% are considered indispensable by virtue of being found in all bacteria types (and 40% of those indispensable proteins have alternate functionality as the Type Three secretory system). The interesting thing is that only two proteins, a whopping 5%, are considered both indispensable and unique to the flagellum. So irreducible complexity is complex, but it is still reducible.

Step2,

From my understanding of IC, what you bring up is beside the point. The claim that a given structure is IC does not mean 'None of its parts can have alternate uses', or that 'Every single thing that makes up the structure is indispensable'. A car has an IC core - this doesn't change just because "Well, I can take the fender off and it still runs - therefore it's not IC!" or "I can use these spark plugs as earrings - therefore it's not IC!"

An IC claim does not even mean "an IC structure could never evolve!" - Behe himself, if I recall, admits there are scenarios where this could take place. But they're scenarios of a guided or front-loaded evolution, or require/suggest a very different understanding of evolution than is common now (neo-darwinism being the prime example, I suppose). Whatever the case, Behe's talk of IC doesn't require that all parts of a given IC structure can't be found to have alternate uses (Miller's tie clip) or that every part of the structure where IC is found (the fender of a car) be essential to the ICness.

Joseph,

A plant (say) and a machine both exhibit teleology. But the teleology is intrinsic in the first case and extrinsic in the second. The parts of the plant are of their nature "directed toward" the flourishing of the whole. But the parts of a machine are not -- they operate to serve the end of the whole only to the extent that they have been forced to do so by someone who redirects them away from (some of) the natural tendencies they would otherwise manifest.

Mr Feser: "Finally: Ilion, I have no idea whatsoever why you think I'm acting like an "atheist, Darwinist, or liberal.""

Why, at a minimum, I refer to the cirularity and question-begging you've been employing. In this quote (see below), you even hold that circle up to admire it in the light ... and, still, somehow, you miss seeing it.


Mr Feser: "What I do know is that you have given no actual argument against my claim that the notion in question is incoherent, at least given (a) A-T metaphysics and (b) my (obviously) implicit premise that biological objects are a kind of natural object."

Since when is it *my* responsibility to prove your amusing assertion wrong? Is it not rather *your* responsibility to prove it right? How much more like the typical 'atheist' (or "Darwinist" or "liberal") do you intend to get in your (ahem) reasoning?


Mr Feser: "... at least given (a) A-T metaphysics and (b) my (obviously) implicit premise that biological objects are a kind of natural object."

And your (obviously) implicit assumption is *also* employing the 'atheistic/materialistic' conception of "the natural," is it not? Such that things which are "natural" just are, that they come to exist and continue to exist all on their own?

Plato's 'Forms' are unthought Thoughts, which is absurd. Perhaps some individual items can be rescued from Plato's metaphysic, but the whole of it rests upon that absurdity, and so it is pointless and worthless as a whole.

It seems, according to you at any rate, that Aristotle and Thomas were going on about unintended Intensions, which is fully as absurd as Plato's unthought Thoughts. Personally, I'm not ready to give up on Thomas -- perhaps you're misunderstanding him, or perhaps I'm misunderstanding you.


Mr Feser: "What I do know is that you have given no actual argument against my claim that the notion in question is incoherent, at least given (a) A-T metaphysics and (b) my (obviously) implicit premise that biological objects are a kind of natural object."

You risibly asserted that "A preliminary point: From a A-T point of view, machines presuppose non-machines. That is to say: A machine -- a clock, say -- does not have an organic unity insofar as its components already have natural tendencies of their own, and these tendencies have nothing to do with the function of the object we've artifically constructed from them. (As Aristotle says, if you made a bed out of fresh wood and then planted it, the parts, if they grew at all, would grow into trees and not beds.) So machines only exist because there are natural -- non-mechanical, non-machine-like -- parts to construct them from.

If follows that natural objects themselves are not machines and that the universe as a whole is not a machine.

"

I denied your "it follows" ... in this instance, that is all the argument I need make, for your "argument" is merely the circular assertion of you presumption.

Do you really think I'm going to cut you any more slack on faulty reasoning than I do the 'atheists,' just because we're essentially "on the same side?"

Interesting debate. Now I shall be the fool, as I am writing after imbibing a few pints of ethanol in a tasty aqueous solution.

I believe the entire topic is misdirected.

A machine is simply something that changes one form of work into another. Complex machines, such as supercomputers or industrial robots or Rube Goldberg monstrosities are nothing more than an ordered amalgamation of simple machines.

A machine is not the whole object, merely the appellation of one aspect of its existence.

Ed,

Thanks for the clarification. I'd further ask, are you saying it's impossible for humans to create something (other than through animal/plant breeding or procreation, of course) that has intrinsic teleology? It seems to me that the only way to determine that something has or does not have intrinsic teleology is through metaphysics - not that that's bad, of course. I think science only tells us so much about the world.

Ilion,

Thanks again for your substantial reply. I'll give my responses below. And I'm trying not to take you out of context here - I have no tricks here. Just trying to figure out what you think and why you think it.

One thing I'm confused about: At first you say you "can't at the moment think of anything at a higher level than atoms that (if it exists) cannot be properly seen as being a machine, or to be comprised of machines". That sounds like you think atoms are not machines. But then you seem to imply that an electron is a machine (if it has a purpose, and I take you to mean that EVERYthing - electrons included - have purposes). Which, it seems to me, would make atoms and quanta both machines.

Do I have you right? Am I missing something? And either way, does that mean you can't think of anything (even atoms) that could both exist and not be a machine, or at least part of a machine?

Further, to contrast your view with Ed's: Ed has said that (for example) a plant would have intrinsic teleology, while a machine would have extrinsic teleology. I suspect - and again, I could be wrong - that your own view is one of the following: Everything has extrinsic teleology / everything has intrinsic teleology. Am I right? And even if so/if not, would you be willing to expand on your own thoughts as far as intrinsic/extrinsic teleology goes?

That further seems to be the case with the last part of your response to me - that the universe could be (is?) a 'machine, all the way down'. But essential to this is that it's utterly shot-through with (intrinsic) teleology, purpose, etc. Indeed, any thing with a purpose is itself a machine. Again, do I have you right?

Hopefully I'm actually making some headway in understanding you here. If nothing else I'd like to know where everyone is coming from here.

Patrick: "A machine is simply something that changes one form of work into another. Complex machines, such as supercomputers or industrial robots or Rube Goldberg monstrosities are nothing more than an ordered amalgamation of simple machines."

That's not quite right, it's too "physicality-centric" (for lack of a better term): a computer program is also a machine, and there is nothing material/physical about a computer program. It's also too "passive-voice" ... it tends to sweep under the rug the fact that a machine serves (or served) a purpose.


A shovel and a steam-shovel are both tools. A shovel is not a machine, but a steam-shovel is a machine.

What is it which makes the one a machine, but not the other? Is it simply the greater capacity of the steam-shovel to move dirt from here to there? Is it the greater size of the steam-shovel? Is it the greater complexity of the steam-shovel?

No. What makes the steam-shovel a machine, rather than merely a tool, is that it was imbued by its designer(s) with a certain degree of (admittedly, in this example, quite limited) automomy with respect to the task for which it is designed. Certainly, a steam-shovel must be constantly operated by a human; and thus, its automony is, as I said, quite constrained. However, the human's effort and control doesn't directly do the digging and moving of dirt, as with the shovel.


A machine, while it is not an actual agent, has been imbued (by an agent) with "virtual agency." A machine is agent-like with respect to its designated function.

"And I'm trying not to take you out of context here - I have no tricks here."

I didn't mean anything of the sort. It's just that it's something we all end up doing so easily, and so I was making a point of pointing out that the specific post I'd made cannot help but be misunderstood absent its context.

How about if I really throw you for a loop, Joseph A? I question whether the sun exists.

Now, don't mistake: I don't question whether there is a bunch of matter in a specific gravity-well (which gravity-well results from that mass of matter), and that we call this matter "the sun."

Rather, I question whether anything which doesn't possess identity can truly be said to exist.

On the other hand, this question arises from "naturalism" and I am a Christian, not an atheist.

So, it's not really a problem/issue for me. That is, much as an automobile -- which has no identity of its own -- exists because we humans impute identity to it, so too, the sun -- which has no identity of its own -- exists because God imputes identity to it.

Ilion,

Once again, I have no idea what you are talking about. It's not news to you, I'm sure, that I'm approaching things from an A-T point of view, a point of view I've defended at length in many places. And what I've been doing both in the post linked to and here in the combox is trying to show what follows from that POV vis-a-vis Paley-style arguments. No circularity at all. You and I may disagree about the premises in question, but that's a different matter -- the conclusions don't merely re-state the premises, which is what circularity involves.

Anyway, frankly, I find your manner so gratuitously, out-of-left-field, straight-out-of-the-box offensive that I'm not interested in pursuing this any further with you. We've had enough combox nastiness here of late -- and precisely because I must take my share of the blame for it, I don't think it wise to begin something that's not likely to end well. Bye.

Of course you're not interested in pursuing this; I'm pointing out that you're not reasoning, or at minumun, not arguing, properly, and no one likes to be told that. Especially when it's true.

Ilion,

Well, I've heard of that view before - mereological nihilism, yes? And I do agree that once God is denied, then absurdity takes over (and this becomes clear once we follow through on what naturalism must mean and don't allow any illicit smuggling from a theistic / non-materialist view to take place). And I think Ed makes a similar point in his criticism of naturalism and atheism in TLS., which I found compelling.

I guess what I'd ask is how you can tell what God does or does not impute identity to? Natural theology (which I guess would be similar to Ed's approach)? Something else?

And just so it doesn't seem like I'm all questions, no answers - I have trouble settling on a single view. I think there's something strong to be said for idealism, for panentheism (less the process theology view, more the eastern orthodox tradition), for Aristo-Thomist metaphysics (world suffused with final causes and intrinsic teleology / intentionality?), and even a simulated universe view (I think the analog of God as programmer and universe as program is what your own thoughts most reminded me of, in fact.) In fact, the only view I find out and out absurd is the materialist/naturalist view. It either starts looking very inconsistent (Dennett) or outright absurd.

Mike T,

Back to your question of this morning, the anti-climactic answer is that I have no detailed worked-out view of Genesis 1 and 2, only because I haven't had time to think through the issue as thoroughly as I'd like to. And the reason has to do with precisely the metaphysical issues we've been discussing. The historical sciences -- in particular, and most to the present point, research into the history of life and research into biblical history -- have in modern times simply taken for granted a naturalistic metaphysics. That metaphysics has radically determined both the methodology of these areas of research and the standard interpretation of the empirical evidence. But naturalistic metaphysics is false. What needs to be done, then, is to reconceive these areas of research in line with a correct metaphysics, which (I claim) is classical metaphysics in general and A-T metaphysics in particular. Only then can we get a fix on what it is exactly that we ought to be expected to "harmonize" Genesis 1 and 2 with.

Yeah, fine, Ilion, whatever. You sure got my number. Like I said, Bye.

Joseph,

Sorry, missed your question at first. Yes, that's what I'd say. Any artifacts we create do not have intrinsic teleology but only extrinsic teleology.

Mr Feser,
It saddens me that you are behaving like this – until just a few moments ago, I had a great deal of respect for you. But, I’ll get over that sadness.

So, you don’t want to talk to me. Fine, I won’t talk *to* you. However, I may talk *at* you – and you won’t like that.

Ilion,

It saddens me that you are behaving like this – until just a few moments ago, I had a great deal of respect for you.

Well, I could say the same thing to you. Take a break, then please go back and read over your comments. I think you'll find that they are rather gratuitously offensive from the get-go. I have no problem whatsoever with disagreement, even very strong disagreement, as I think my exchange here with Lydia -- for whom I have always had the greatest respect -- and others shows. Not to mention many other exchanges over the years. What I do have a problem with -- certainly at the end of a long, tiring day, and after last week's unpleasantness -- is gratuitous nastiness, something I find especially surprising coming from you, since I haven't seen this from you before.

And it doesn't help that the "begging the question" charge happens to be false, and groundless. Still, if you're going to accuse me of something, at least do it with a smile. Life is short, the day has been long, and I've got better things to do than trade insults with people who really just don't seem to be reading what I wrote very carefully. Or who take offense when others express dismay at their offensiveness.

Maybe some other time I'd just grin and bear it. Not today, sorry.

Hi Ilíon,

You asked a couple of question of Feser, but I wanted to answer them anyway.

Here's one of the things you wrote above (your words in bold):

You risibly asserted that "A preliminary point: From a A-T point of view, machines presuppose non-machines. That is to say: A machine -- a clock, say -- does not have an organic unity insofar as its components already have natural tendencies of their own, and these tendencies have nothing to do with the function of the object we've artifically constructed from them. (As Aristotle says, if you made a bed out of fresh wood and then planted it, the parts, if they grew at all, would grow into trees and not beds.) So machines only exist because there are natural -- non-mechanical, non-machine-like -- parts to construct them from. ... If follows that natural objects themselves are not machines and that the universe as a whole is not a machine."

I denied your "it follows" ... in this instance, that is all the argument I need make, for your "argument" is merely the circular assertion of you presumption.

I agree with you that Feser's argument in the above passage is not the sort of thing should convince you. Basically, he's assuming that there are four kinds of thing: simples; aggregates, which are collections of simples; machines, which are aggregations of simples organized to carry out a function; and animals, which are aggregations of simples that carry out functions because they are organic unities. Now, I suspect you're going to claim that the notion of organic unities won't do any work; but I don't know how to respond to that, because I don't know what an organic unity is. But regardless, Feser does nothing in this quoted passage to convince you that animals have organic unities--he just assumes it. At least, so it seems to me.

But I know Feser doesn't believe something else you claims he believes:

"And your (obviously) implicit assumption is *also* employing the 'atheistic/materialistic' conception of "the natural," is it not? Such that things which are "natural" just are, that they come to exist and continue to exist all on their own?"

No, Feser explicitly rejects this in TLS. Why do you think he's committed to it?

Mr Feser seems to have forgotten (already) that we're not speaking *to* one another.

"Take a break, then please go back and read over your comments. I think you'll find that they are rather gratuitously offensive from the get-go. ... What I do have a problem with -- certainly at the end of a long, tiring day, and after last week's unpleasantness -- is gratuitous nastiness, ..."

Mr Feser seems also suddenly to not comprehend the difference between specific (and targeted) criticism, on the one hand, and "gratuitous nastiness," on the other.

For the record, I *am* being nasty in that last post; though, not gratuitously so. Talking *at* someone is not at all a nice thing to do.

Bobcat: "But I know Feser doesn't believe something else you claims he believes:"

Ilíon: "And your (obviously) implicit assumption is *also* employing the 'atheistic/materialistic' conception of "the natural," is it not? Such that things which are "natural" just are, that they come to exist and continue to exist all on their own?"

Bobcat: "No, Feser explicitly rejects this in TLS. Why do you think he's committed to it?"

I asked him a rhetorical question concerning something he'd specifically said to me, did I not? Where did I *claim* that he believes anything?


So, Mr Feser explicitly denies 'naturalism' -- that's well and fine; yet logical consistency is an on-going problem that plagues us all. Moreover, all of us live in a naturalistic society, and most of us were educated (as it's called these days) into naturalism ... so, it's very easy to slip into modes of thought which we know to be erroneous.


Mr Feser said:

Mr Feser (to LMcG): "A preliminary point: From a A-T point of view, machines presuppose non-machines. That is to say: A machine -- a clock, say -- does not have an organic unity insofar as its components already have natural tendencies of their own, and these tendencies have nothing to do with the function of the object we've artifically constructed from them. (As Aristotle says, if you made a bed out of fresh wood and then planted it, the parts, if they grew at all, would grow into trees and not beds.) So machines only exist because there are natural -- non-mechanical, non-machine-like -- parts to construct them from.
.
If follows that natural objects themselves are not machines and that the universe as a whole is not a machine. ...
"

Mr Feser (to me, in response to my denial of his "it follows"): "What I do know is that you have given no actual argument against my claim that the notion in question [that a "biological object" may be a machine] is incoherent, at least given (a) A-T metaphysics and (b) my (obviously) implicit premise that biological objects are a kind of natural object."

But no one here, certainly not I, has claimed that "biological objects" are not natural objects. How is it that "biological objects" being natural objects says anything at all about whether they are machines?

A machine is a made thing which is made to serve a purpose.

So, IF the fact that "biological objects" are natural objects tells us that "biological objects" are not machines, THEN this fact must in some way touch upon either the "madeness" of machines or the purposefulness of machines, must it not?

But, Mr Feser is not asserting that "biological objects" may have a purpose. So, he *must* be asserting that "biological objects" are not made objects.

Or, for whatever reason, he wasn't thinking clearly and didn't really mean what he said to me.

oops ... [But, Mr Feser is not asserting that "biological objects" may not have a purpose.]

Dr. Feser writes:

My problem is not with the notion of "intelligent design" per se (though I admit to finding the expression annoyingly redundant, since "design" already entails intelligence)

ID theorists have been explaining for years why their notion is called *intelligent* design:

"[W]hy ... the adjective "intelligent" in front of the noun "design"? Doesn't design already include the idea of intelligent agency, so that juxtaposing the two becomes redundant? Redundancy is avoided because intelligent design needs also to be distinguished from apparent design. Because design in biology is so often attributed to natural forces (e.g., natural selection), putting "intelligent" in front of "design" ensures that the design we are talking about is not merely apparent but actual (for scientific realists, actual in the sense that there is a real designer behind the design; for scientific anti-realists, actual in the sense that the design is in principle irreducible to natural causes)." [W. A. Dembski, 2001]

Several ID theorists have been answering the ID-is-Paley's-natural-theology-resurrected criticism for years too. Those answers may be logically / philosophically flawed, or unpersuasive, but it seems to me that if such is the case then those answers should be acknowledged and refuted.

Lastly, ID theorists have insisted explicitly, for years -ad nauseam- that their brainchild is *not* a theological argument but an argument that [Dembski, 2001]

"rejection of design must not result from imposing arbitrary constraints on science that rule out design prior to any consideration of evidence" ... that "science needs to address not only the evidence that reveals the universe to be without design but also the evidence that reveals the universe to be with design. Evidence is a two-edged sword: Claims capable of being refuted by evidence are also capable of being supported by evidence. "

"The central question that intelligent design raises for science is this: Are there natural systems that are in principle incapable of being explained in terms of natural causes and do such systems exhibit features that in any other circumstance we would attribute to intelligence?"

I don't understand why ID entails *extrinsic* teleology, and I don't understand why the ID theorists' IC / SC exemplars, like the bacterial flagellum, being in some sense *analogous* to a machine, is an A-T thought-crime?

Now, I'm acutely aware that the WWWtW discussion, being among people who are Ph.D.s, is "above my [minimum-wage intellect] pay grade," so I assume I' wrong and hope someone is willing to explain why my impression that Dr. Feser's argument misses the mark -because he's not refuting ID theorists' arguments, or he's ignoring the fundamental argument and refuting notions that are peripheral to the theory itself- is wrong?

Oops!

I wrote: ... and I don't understand why the ID theorists' IC / SC exemplars, like the bacterial flagellum, being in some sense *analogous* to a machine, is an A-T thought-crime?

My train of thought was derailed. I meant to write: ... and I don't understand why the ID theorists' IC / SC exemplars, like the bacterial flagellum, being in some sense *analogous* to a machine, are A-T thought-crimes?

Dear Ilion,

(Be kind...)

You wrote:

No. What makes the steam-shovel a machine, rather than merely a tool, is that it was imbued by its designer(s) with a certain degree of (admittedly, in this example, quite limited) automomy with respect to the task for which it is designed. Certainly, a steam-shovel must be constantly operated by a human; and thus, its automony is, as I said, quite constrained. However, the human's effort and control doesn't directly do the digging and moving of dirt, as with the shovel.

If you took the shovel and held it above the ground and then dropped it, it would do the same essential thing as the steam-shovel with gravity substituting for the steam. It may only do the operation once, but that is enough, from your definition, if I understand it, to qualify it as a minimal machine.

Alternately, one could take the shovel and put it in the middle of an Andy Worhol piece of art in various places. This is enough to make the use of a shovel autonomous with respect to the task for which it was designed, namely a part of a piece of art.

Machines are not machines until a context is specified. Change the context, change the function. In one context, a shovel has fewer options than a steam shovel, but in another, it has more. I can use a shovel to eat cereal with (a crude example) in a number of different ways not determined simply by the shovel, itself, but by the action of the person using it. I can't eat cereal in any way with a steam shovel.

In other words, there are few things (if, perhaps, none) that are so truly isolated from man as to lack the ability to be used and directed by man. This, by your definition, if I understand it, would still allow most, if not all material things to function as machines, since they can be used extrinsically.

Okay, rake me over the coal, but use a shovel, not a steam-shovel, please :)

The Chicken


Ed writes:

First, both Paleyan “design arguments” and ID theory take for granted an essentially mechanistic conception of the natural world.

This is misleading because your making it sound like the IDers are assuming something that is their responsibility to prove, i.e., that they‘re begging the question. But this is not the case at all; for the mechanistic conception of the natural world is an assumption that makes their case more difficult to prove, not less. So if they can make their case notwithstanding, their arguments then appear even stronger.

Furthermore, a Thomist can make similar arguments using the same assumptions. It's called a dialectical or ex hypothesi argument. Aristotle used them all the time.

Sarah: "My train of thought was derailed."

At least you didn't leave out the word which flipped the entire meaning of your sentence.

Ed writes:

The second problem is that Paley and Co. conceptualize this designer on the model of human tinkerers, attributing our characteristics (intelligence, power, etc.) to him in a univocal rather than an analogous way. . .

Where is your evidence that this is ID’s concept of the designer? From what I have read, the ID position is that it doesn’t make any judgments pertaining to the attributes of the designer. Where is your evidence to the contrary?

If certain IDers are opposed to classical theism, this is quite accidental to ID theory itself -- whose object, by the way, is not God, but the evidence of design in the natural world.

Ed writes:

For, the pretenses of its less astute advocates notwithstanding, naturalism is a metaphysical theory, not an empirical one. . .

Less astute advocates? All the advocates of Darwinism pretend that it is an empirical theory.

You’re right, it isn’t. But this is why the Darwinists are so terrified of ID theory -- because ID is the empirical theory that Darwinism pretends to be!

Hello Sarah,

First, yes, I know that that's why they use the expression. It's still jarringly redundant. If other people use "design" incorrectly (by attributing it to impersonal forces like natural selection) the remedy is to point this out as often as necessary -- not to add a second misuse of language to the first one. Anyway, it's a small point, and admittedly more about style than substance.

Second, I acknowledged in my post that ID theorists are not trying to do exactly what Paley was doing. As I said, the reason that is irrelevant is that I am not talking here about what differentiates them , but rather about what they have in common.

Third, I also know that ID theorists do not claim that their arguments get you necessarily to God. But they also say that the designer might be God, in the sense that their arguments at least raise the probability of God's existence. And that is the point I take issue with. As I've argued, given their methodological and metaphyscial assumptions, their arguments cannot get you anywhere close to God, at least not as God is conceived in classical theism.

George,

No, their mechanistic assumptions do not merely keep them from getting all the way to the God of classical theism, they positively exclude the God of classical theism. As I said in the original post, a God apart from whom the world might have existed anyway is not the God of classical theism. There is no room in classcial theism for even the metaphysical possibilty of anything existing apart from God, precisely because God is Being Itself, Pure Act, etc. So, classical theism and a mechanistic philosophy of nature positively exclude each other. Hence any metaphysical position which assumes mechanism even for the sake of argument implicitly rules out classical theism from the get go. It's like a libertarian saying "Let me make things difficult for myself by ruling out private property for the sake of argument. Now, here's my argument for libertarianism..." You're not making things difficult for yourself, you're making them impossible for yourself.

Ed writes:

The trouble with Paley-style arguments, then, is not that they are bad science – they may or may not be, depending on which ones we are talking about – but that they are bad theology.

ID theory is not bad theology, because it is no theology at all, and does not pretend to be. To call ID bad theology is like calling a rooster a bad giraffe.

Hence any metaphysical position which assumes mechanism even for the sake of argument implicitly rules out classical theism from the get go.

That’s just silly.

So if I were to say to someone, “Even given that elements could exist free and without purpose, the human eye could not have come about by chance,” I would no longer be a Thomist; but I would thereby become a devote of Zeus, or perhaps a Freemason?

George R., this is one of the times when I like you a lot.

Sorry I haven't time to say much more, but I have much more to say.

I'll say here only a couple of odds and ends:

--I've known some people associated with ID who think that some sort of vitalism and anti-reductionism in biology _favors_ ID. I can see that argument, though I myself am inclined somewhat towards reductionism anyway, so it's not one I've explored a lot. In any event, though, I should register, Ed, that anti-reductionism or vitalism does not of itself undermine ID and might itself provide, if it were correct, another locus for a type of design argument.

--Regardless of whether or not some sort of "something more" is necessary to make a blade of grass alive and make it operate than can be explained and described in terms purely of physical components and their arrangement, it is definite that a _good deal_ of the operation, existence, and growth of the blade of grass _can_ be thus explained. My problem, Ed, with your use of the phrase "natural object" is that as far as I've been able to conclude, the phrase carries with it the heavy metaphysical baggage that if something is a "natural object" in your sense, we aren't supposed to talk about the details of its underlying structure as part of an evidential argument that it was made by an intelligent being. Now, frankly, I think it's ridiculous to attach that sort of baggage to the notion of a "natural object," but since everything I've been able to gather indicates that that phrase _does_ have that baggage in your use, I have to tackle that attribution right at the outset. Hence, my continued pressing of the very real and important analogy with man-made machines, about which more later.

I'm off to ride a horse.

Bobcat,

Well, I've indicated here (e.g. in my most recent reply to Lydia) why I think biological objects are irreducible, and also what it is to be an organic whole (namely, and briefly, it is to be something whose parts have an inherent tendency to function for the good of the whole). But yes, to make a compelling case to someone who completely rejects A-T metaphysics would take much more work than the comments I've made so far. The context, though, was one where Lydia seemed to be granting for the sake of argument that A-T was true in general and suggesting that a mechanistic view of biological phenomena would still be plausible on that assumption. And I think I've shown why that is not in fact plausible at all.

Either way, what a critic could reasonably say in response is "Fine, but you'd need to say a lot more to convince me that the whole A-T view is right, or that biological phenomena are irreducible." And that's not what Ilion said. Ilion claimed instead -- with no support whatsoever (though with a lot of gratuitous snottiness) -- that what I had said was question-begging. And it wasn't.

Dear Ed,

First thanks for a great discussion (also thanks for sticking around and engaging with the comments).

Second, does the A-T model allow for special creation of some biological kinds?

Thanks

As a machininst, I am well aware of two facts. God creates. Man fabricates. I can no more create an automobile than I can fabricate a blade of grass (well, unless it's astroturf). Perhaps when a Chevy begets a Chevy or I have a lawn made of nylon I have to cut every week, I'll re-think this. Otherwise I'll know the difference between the machines man fabricates and the nature God continually creates.

P.S. to Ilion: A shovel is no less a machine than a steam-shovel. Indeed, it's a variation of one the most basic of machines, the lever.

Lydia,

A-T anti-reductionism is not "vitalism," at least as that term is usually understood. It is not the claim that there is some mysterious ingredient, elan vital, something kind of like a material substance only more ethereal, which animates dead matter and brings it to life. The A-T view of life is as different from vitalism in this sense as the A-T hylemorphic brand of dualism is different from Cartesian dualism. For the "animating principle" in both cases is not a substance at all, but rather a form, which on a hylemorphic analysis is understood as only a component of a complete substance.

In general, from an A-T point of view it is a fundamental metaphysical error to ask which "ingredients" go into making something alive, at least as that sort of talk is usually understood -- that is, as if we already knew that things are made up of a bunch of independent parts which have to be assembled in just the right way in order to get a stone, a flower, a dog, or a human being, and the only question is whether and where we need to add some spooky "elan vital." To assume this model is to assume precisely (part of) what is at issue in the dispute between A-T and mechanism.

From an A-T point of view, substances are metaphysically prior to their parts. That's the sense in which it is anti-reductionistic. We shouldn't think e.g. "A dog is what you get when you combine paws, fur, teeth, tail, etc. in just such and such a way." That has things backward. Instead, that something is a dog is itself what makes its parts what they are. For the same reason, what makes the A-T analysis of a dog anti-reductionistic is not that in addition to paws, fur, teeth, tail, etc. it throws in a little "elan vital." What makes it anti-reductonistic is that it holds that the whole is ultimately what explains the parts, rather than the other way around.

That is not by any means to deny that part of our explanation of a substance involves noting how its components make up the whole; it's just that a reference to their belonging to the whole is ultimately required in order to understand the nature of the parts themselves. So, A-T is anti-reductionist, not in the sense of adding immaterial parts to material ones in order to explain life, but rather in the sense of taking a holistic approach the analysis of life.

Now, you go on to write:

if something is a "natural object" in your sense, we aren't supposed to talk about the details of its underlying structure as part of an evidential argument that it was made by an intelligent being. Now, frankly, I think it's ridiculous to attach that sort of baggage to the notion of a "natural object,"

The problem with this statement is that if the A-T analysis of living things is correct, then the way in which the underlying structure in question operates is not the way a machine does -- i.e. it is not a matter of parts which have no inherent tendency to work together somehow being redirected, against their natural tendencies, to work together. And in that case, God's relation to living things is not like the relation of a machinist to a machine. Yes, God, who is intelligent, still causes living things, but not in the way a machinist puts a machine together. He's isn't tinkering with parts in order to get them to come out, against their natural tendencies, as a living thing. Rather, He is causing to exist something whose parts do by their nature have a tendency to serve the whole.

So, it seems to me the problem with your statement here is this: It amounts to saying "The problem with your position, Ed, is that it constitutes an A-T analysis of life rather than a mechanistic one, and that is ridiculous." And there are two things wrong with this:

1. It just beg the question. If you want to say that the A-T view of life is wrong, fine. But simply noting -- as, it seems to me, is in effect all you're doing here -- that the A-T view is not a mechanistic view of life (because it does not allow us to think of the parts of living things as arranged in the way a machinist might) is not an argument. It's just a restatement of the difference between the views, together with an implied assertion of the superiority of the mechanistic view.

2. The A-T view is not "ridiculous." Again, if you want to say it is false, that is another question. But since, as I have suggested, your statement here just amounts to asserting the "ridiculousness" of not treating living things as machines, it also amounts in turn to just dismissing the A-T view itself as ridiculous. I don't think you mean to do that -- I hope not, since the A-T view is manifestly not "ridiculous," whether or not one ultimately accepts it -- but, again, I think that that's what your words imply.

Again, I want to emphasize, as I have before, that this does not entail that there aren't aspects of living things that are in some ways comparable to machines. Of course there are, and if that's all you meant I'd have no objection. But you need more than that to make your case. You need to show that they just are machines in the sense in question, viz. that their parts have no inherent tendency to function for the good of the whole. And it seems to me you haven't given any reason to believe that, and certainly no reason to think it "ridiculous" to deny it.

I apologize for the length. But as our discussion indicates, the underlying metaphysical differences between A-T and ID go very deep -- far deeper, I think, than proponents of the latter realize. So it's very difficult just to stay at the level of comparing the two views -- the discussion inevitably turns to explaining just what the views are, so as to get past common misunderstandings.

Thanks, David. Yes, absolutely, A-T allows for that. I want to emphasize that the A-T vs. ID dispute is not an "evolution vs. creation" dispute. That's a separate (though obviously related) issue. It's a dispute over how the cause of natural objects causes them: Is it comparable to the way a machinist makes a machine? ID says yes, A-T says no.

But, Ed, I tried before (in a different thread) saying, "Okay, let's just talk about the ways in which a living thing is _like_ a machine," and my impression there as here was that you were and are absolutely opposed to doing that. My problem is that you literally seem to refuse, completely to refuse, to say, "Okay, let's look at the ways in which these parts come together and work and the ways in which that is machine-like and see how that might probabilify their being the result--at some point in the causal chain--of a directing intelligence that thought up the thing."

I would think you could do that and remain a good Thomist. Alex Pruss apparently thought that you could do that and remain a good Thomist (or at least, so I took him in the exchanges at that earlier time, though I want to be careful about putting words in his mouth). You are the one who just literally will not talk about the ways in which the flagellum, darn it, looks like an outboard motor, or the ways in which DNA acts like computer code, or any of a host of other examples, and what evidential implications that might even have in theory or in principle. When pressed, you admit that these are indeed real biological phenomena. But you insist that there is something wrong with considering them evidentially.

Whether you like it or not, it's an epistemological fact that these things have evidential value. From the little I know about Thomism, I wouldn't think that Thomism would rule out admitting that. What I said was "ridiculous" was saying that we literally mustn't talk about the details of the underlying structure of a living object as part of an evidential argument that it was made by an intelligent being. I continue to say that that is ridiculous. But I'm not the one saying that such a refusal is required by Thomism. In fact, I've always thought it wasn't.

By the way, something I don't have time to go back and find and quote...

Did I correctly understand you to be attributing to me or anybody else the view that God creates a bacterial flagellum over and over again, continuously? I mean, nobody thinks that. The veriest young earth creationist doesn't think that. Nobody is defending that or arguing for that. Actually, if anything, the details of bacterial reproduction are themselves probably fodder for more design inferences. We all know that bacteria reproduce and have been doing so for a long, long time.

Lydia said (to Ed):

You are the one who just literally will not talk about the ways in which the flagellum, darn it, looks like an outboard motor, or the ways in which DNA acts like computer code, or any of a host of other examples, and what evidential implications that might even have in theory or in principle. When pressed, you admit that these are indeed real biological phenomena. But you insist that there is something wrong with considering them evidentially.

This is precisely one of the points at which I think typical design views are weak: there is, in fact, no reason to consider them evidentially in this way unless we have independent reason to think that this is not just a spiffy metaphor or convenient analogy. There are lots of ways in which a flagellum is not a like an outboard motor; and there are lots of ways in which DNA is not like a computer code; and so forth. So we already know that the comparison is not one that automatically puts them in the same genus. The level of comparison is (1) partial and (2) highly abstract -- the abstraction makes it still useful, e.g., for roughing out a solution to some basic development problem, but the partial character of it means that we can trust it to a limited extent for extrapolating current behavior -- the analogy simply can't be trusted as evidence for a particular sort of originating causal story. I can think of molecules of air along the lines of billiard balls to some useful effect, but that in itself is not evidence of an initiating billiards stroke, and while people used to think of the brain as a telephone exchange, again, to some use, but this was never evidence for a pre-existing telephone company. The fact that we can draw these comparisons is on its own not evidence for the causal origin; it's merely a result of the ingenuity of the human intellect in adapting the content of the imagination to the solution of new problems. As our knowledge improves, our analogies will tend to get better and better; but the analogies themselves will never give us reason to prefer one causal account of its origin over another. Independent evidence is required.

the analogy simply can't be trusted as evidence for a particular sort of originating causal story. I can think of molecules of air along the lines of billiard balls to some useful effect, but that in itself is not evidence of an initiating billiards stroke

Poor comparison. Billiard balls don't originate from a stroke that hits them, and nothing about the analogy between molecules of air and billiard balls depends upon those aspects of billiard balls (for example, their unusual surface smoothness) that we take to indicate that they were made deliberately.

Let me add, Brandon, that the question of how good some analogy is really seems to take us afield from what is at issue between Ed and me. As far as I can tell, and he's free to correct me if I'm wrong, on Ed's view it wouldn't matter *how* good such an analogy was. It wouldn't matter if investigation revealed little biological computers, gears, wheels, motors, or whole miniature airplanes all made out of proteins and happily reproducing themselves as part of blades of grass or something. (Please don't misconstrue me: This is an example. I'm not saying there really are micro-airplanes made out of proteins in blades of grass.) But it wouldn't matter. Because blades of grass and all other objects we know as biological objects have been defined as "natural objects" and because they have thus been defined, *nothing* we find out about the details of their fine structure and the resemblance of those details to machines as we otherwise know machines is *allowed* to be used as part of an argument that they really were made by an intelligent entity. To use those details and that comparison in that way, *no matter how amazingly close the analogy and amazingly appropriate the comparison happened to be* would be by definition to have the wrong view of the object and to infer the existence of a being who *could not be God* as the putative maker and thus, by identifying this being as possibly being God, to encourage a wrong view of God.

Now, I"m not out to misrepresent anybody, least of all my valued friend Ed Feser. Truly. So I'm happy to be corrected here.

But my avowed purpose originally was to stick to the meta-issue, and to talk about how good the analogy is between DNA and computer code would be to take us to the empirical issues directly, whereas my goal is merely to see if I can possibly induce Ed to be _willing_ to consider this as an empirical rather than an a priori issue.

So I didn't want my previous comment to move the discussion somewhere else.

The Chicken: "(Be kind...) ... Okay, rake me over the coal, but use a shovel, not a steam-shovel, please :)"

I'm always kind ... until the situation no longer allows kindness as a viable option.

You seem to have asked ... hmmm, an inattentive ... question; I have no justification in thinking that you asked a foolish question. In this situation, it would be wrong, immoral, for me to treat you as though you had asked a foolish question.

The distinction I'm making here is between making a mistake in trying to think correctly about something and declining or even refusing to think correctly about that something. You appear to me to be trying to test what I'd said (unlike Bill Tingley, who is simply dismissing it) to see if it holds up; and that's a good thing. You just (it seems to me) got a bit careless, let something slip your mind, and asked an irrelevant question.

Until Joseph A asked me, I'd never given any thought to what differentiates a machine from a non-machine (and I can assure you that in at least one place in my post to him I spoke carelessly, such that what I intended is not what I wrote or he read). So, the definition I've given may be incomplete (though I think any incompleteness will be minor). Shoot, it may even contain an absurdity (though I'm sure it doesn't). So, test it.


The Chicken: "If you took the shovel and held it above the ground and then dropped it, it would do the same essential thing as the steam-shovel with gravity substituting for the steam. It may only do the operation once, but that is enough, from your definition, if I understand it, to qualify it as a minimal machine."

A steam-shovel, for all its bulk and complexity, is a minimal machine, it just barely instantiates the concept 'machine.' On the other hand, a theromostat, which is very small and very simple, far more perfectly instantiates the concept 'machine.'

Why and how is that so? It's because the virtual-agency with respect to its function with which a steam-shovel has been imbued is so minimal that for it to do its function an actual agent must continuously intervene to operate the machine. On the other hand, the virtual-agency with respect to its function with which a thermostat has been imbued is so great that the only necessary intervention by an actual agent is to initially set it.


So, does a dropped shovel *really* exhibit any degree of virtual-agency (or autonomy) with respect to its function? Does it even complete its function? Or, does it -- at best -- perform but one part of its function ... and only complete the full function when the actual agent puts his back into it because the hole isn't going to dig itself?


The Chicken: "Alternately, one could take the shovel and put it in the middle of an Andy Worhol piece of art in various places. This is enough to make the use of a shovel autonomous with respect to the task for which it was designed, namely a part of a piece of art."

OK, I was slightly wrong above ... you are either being absurd or stepping right up to the line of absurdity; it begins to appear that you're not *really* trying to test what I'd said.

A machine has (or had) a function, and that function isn't merely to suck money out of the pockets of wannabe-sophisticates. A machine's function is not to be, but to do. The function of a piece of art (or "art" as the case may be) is not to do, but to be.


You quoted part of what I'd said to Patrick. Didn't you read the next two sentences?
["A machine, while it is not an actual agent, has been imbued (by an agent) with "virtual agency." A machine is agent-like with respect to its designated function."]


The Chicken: "Machines are not machines until a context is specified. Change the context, change the function."

Does this really contradict anything I've said. Shoot, I might even have said something like: "... an agent may make use of a machine in multiple ways; an agent may cannibalize one machine to repair, or even build, a different machine. Further, any given machine may easily be comprised of components which are themselves machines ..."

The Chicken: "In one context, a shovel has fewer options than a steam shovel, but in another, it has more. I can use a shovel to eat cereal with (a crude example) in a number of different ways not determined simply by the shovel, itself, but by the action of the person using it. I can't eat cereal in any way with a steam shovel."

Neither shovels nor steam-shovels have options, for they are not agents; you, being an agent, may have more or fewer options with respect to how you will use, or mis-use, either of the tools. You can even use a shovel as a hammer, if you wish; it's a very inefficient use, especially compared to an actual hammer, but you can do it.


The Chicken: "In other words, there are few things (if, perhaps, none) that are so truly isolated from man as to lack the ability to be used and directed by man. This, by your definition, if I understand it, would still allow most, if not all material things to function as machines, since they can be used extrinsically."

And this is a problem, how?

The question was, "What differentiates a machine from a non-machine?" And the context for that question was the question, "May any "natural objects" be rightly seem as being machines *apart* from any use to which humans may put them?"

The examples I gave of a (non-machine) tool and a machine were indeed human made objects. However, the abstraction for 'machine' which I gave doesn't reference humans, but agents.

Certainly, humans are the agents with which we are most familiar, but even the atheists (except for those denying agency altogether) don't claim that only humans are agents. And, as Christians (definitionally!) we affirm that God is an agent; the source of agency, in fact.


Contrary to Mr Feser's assertion, seeing the world-as-a-whole as a machine does not contradict Christianity.

Right, exactly: it doesn't matter in the least how good the analogy is, since the analogy by its nature will be a comparison between things in distinct genera; and therefore its application to causal explanation rather than merely the behavior it models has to be confirmed by independent evidence. The only way this would cease to be the case is if it were clear that it wasn't actually an analogy at all, because the two shared a genus. As long as we're clear they don't we need an independent reason to think the analogy has evidential value for the causal story. So we're not moving the discussion elsewhere in the least.

On the billiard balls, you seem to have missed my point; the conclusion rejected was not to the cause of their existence as molecules but to their motion like billiard balls, and the point was explicitly that we use comparisons all the time and therefore that we need independent reason to think that they have evidential value in a given case for the actual causal explanation. Precisely the problem is that the only reason that is generally given -- and the only reasons in all of your above comments that I can see -- for distinguishing out these comparisons as special depends on viewing the world in a mechanistic way; and if there is no other reason, we should hardly find it surprising that Ed refuses to play such a game: it would amount to nothing more than asking him to accept a view he thinks false. But it's difficult to see what other reason is supposed to be operative here.

L.McGrew: "... I mean, nobody thinks that. The veriest young earth creationist doesn't think that. ..."

I once had working links to an onlive version of a biology text-book. The author -- the same author -- faulted "creationists" both for (so he claimed) holding to scientism and for disbelieving that "evolution" is true.

I should say, too, Lydia, with regard to this (although I intended the billiard balls to serve a different function from the way you interpret them here, and although this might lead the discussion elsewhere):

Poor comparison. Billiard balls don't originate from a stroke that hits them, and nothing about the analogy between molecules of air and billiard balls depends upon those aspects of billiard balls (for example, their unusual surface smoothness) that we take to indicate that they were made deliberately.

In the nineteenth century John Herschel gave, in fact, an argument that the analogy between molecules of air and billiard balls involved aspects of billiard balls that indicated in the billiard balls case that they were made deliberately; it was not a bad analogy -- in the nineteenth century the best scientific knowledge suggested that the analogy went very far. It was bad inference, because it involved mistakenly treating the analogy as sufficient in itself for the causal inference, when in fact independent evidence was needed to show that the analogy was not purely behavioral. And I don't see any formal difference between this and what you are suggesting Ed consider.

Brandon has already made some of the relevant points. I would add this: Lydia, you said:

*nothing* we find out about the details of their fine structure and the resemblance of those details to machines as we otherwise know machines is *allowed* to be used as part of an argument that they really were made by an intelligent entity.

No, like I said, our dispute is, fundamentally, not over whether God makes biological structures, but how He does. My claim is that He does not make them in the way a machinist does, viz. by tinkering with parts that otherwise would have no natural tendency to work together. That's why probability has nothing to do with it. It's not improbable that the bacterial flagellum does what it does, precisely because it is its nature to do so, it's precisely what we should expect it to do. It's only if you deny final causes -- and thus the natures and inherent causal powers that are their concomitants, and thus, in turn, that things have any inherent tendency to work together in the first place -- that all of this comes to seem a question of weighing probabilities, wondering how these inherently unrelated parts ever got together, etc.

You are the one who just literally will not talk about the ways in which the flagellum, darn it, looks like an outboard motor, or the ways in which DNA acts like computer code, or any of a host of other examples, and what evidential implications that might even have in theory or in principle.

Well, if you read The Last Superstition you'll see that I do in fact make a very big deal of DNA. The reason, though, is not because of its complexity, the improbabilitiy of its coming about through impersonal processes, etc. None of that is at all relevant from an A-T point of view. What is relevant is that genetic information points beyond itself, and would do so however simple that which does the pointing and that which is pointed to might have been. Complexity is also not to the point vis-a-vis the bacterial flagellum. What an A-T theorist sees when he looks at the bacterial flagellum is just another, dime-a-dozen example of organic parts united toward a common end -- the good of the organism -- as a final cause. You could just as well focus on a toenail, because what matters is end-directedness, not complexity. To go on and on about the outboard motor stuff is like going on and on about how many pixels it took to make up an image of some smiley face drawing, in order to prove it was made by an artist. The number or complexity is in both cases quite obviously beside the point -- that it is a drawing at all, even a very simple one, is what matters in the one case (number of pixels be damned) and that it is an irreducible organic whole at all (number and arrangement of parts be damned) is what matters in the other case.

As Brandon says, sure, IF you're going to look at the world from a mechanistic point of view, then complexity, analogies to human artifcats, and the like do suddenly become very important. But whether we should look at it from that point of view is precisely what is at issue.

Did I correctly understand you to be attributing to me or anybody else the view that God creates a bacterial flagellum over and over again, continuously? I mean, nobody thinks that.

No, of course nobody -- or nobody I know, anyway -- believes that. That was my point. We all know that these biological phenomena, like all biological phenomena, are ordinary parts of the natural world. And when we couple that with general A-T metaphysics (which you were conceding for the sake of argument) that naturally leads us to the conclusion that the parts of such objects have a natural tendency to function as a unit, and are thus not "machines" in the relevant sense. The point, in other words, was to show why it will not do to suggest that one could take a general A-T view about the rest of the world while holding biological objects specifically to be nevertheless mechanical. If they're not accidental (like the random pile of envelopes) and they're not specially created each time (like the repeating patterns of envelopes stacked by some guy) then the only remaining alternative is that they are natural -- and thus, if we're already conceding a general A-T metaphysics for the sake of argument -- not artifacts or "machines," in the relevant sense (because in that case they'd be like the envelopes sorted over and over again by the guy, rather than like a regular natural causal pattern).

Brandon,

Your view on analogies leads me to a few thoughts.

I disagree that DNA is merely analogous to a language/code, or that the flagellum (regardless of its origin story) is merely analogous to a motor, etc, but for the sake of argument I'll grant this.

First, wouldn't this standard equally mean that it's illicit to regard parts of nature as not designed? And this would extend to parts of the world typically regarded on all sides as not showing evidence of design - a typical mountain as opposed to Mount Rushmore, for example. It seems that even having a plausible causal story (Well, we have evidence this mountain was formed by various natural processes, such as erosion, etc) wouldn't be of use here, at least insofar as determining or ruling out design goes.

Second, let's say someone does in fact have independent reasons to believe in the causal origin. Oddly enough, let's say I accept the arguments Ed lays out in TLS. Or even if I accept Plantinga's view that belief in God is properly basic. Wouldn't this then bolster use of DNA analogies, etc, in the context of a design perspective? I'd agree that ID typically tries to infer design independently, rather than simply interpret science within a framework like that - but I'm curious if you think this is licit.

Finally, back to square one. You mention that one of the reasons you reject design analogies (DNA is a computer language, the bacterial flagellum is an artifact, etc) is because these analogies are highly abstract - yes, there are ways these things are like human artifacts, but also ways they are different. But our technological capabilities ever march on and improve - and one of the reasons these things remain unlike our creations is that they're of (forgive me for putting it this way) "higher technology" than we're currently capable of. Now, imagine that one day this is no longer the case: Humans become able to create DNA 'from scratch' in the laboratory. Or we're able to create a bacterial flagellum, or guide a contained evolutionary process. At that point, DNA and the flagellum will no longer be roughly analogous to otherwise distinct human artifacts (computer code, outboard motors) - we will have demonstrated human designers are capable of being responsible for such things. Or even responsible for the arrangement of processes that originate such things. Granted, this wouldn't necessarily prove beyond a doubt that a designer had originated such things to begin with - but would it constitute evidence in favor of these things being designed/originated by a designer?

Addendum: Going back and re-reading what I wrote earlier, Lydia, I can see why you might have got the impression I was attributing to you the view that the bacterial flagellum was specially created over and over. But what I intended by referring to the idea was simply to close off every possible avenue of escape for the view I was attacking. That is, I was saying: "And even if you considered trying this route to get around the problem -- positing special creation of the flagellum every time etc. -- here's why it wouldn't work."

Bill Tingley:P.S. to Ilion: A shovel is no less a machine than a steam-shovel. Indeed, it's a variation of one the most basic of machines, the lever.

Actually it is a lever with a wedge on the end.

A steam-shovel is similarly composed of simple machines, in particular the wedge, lever, wheel, pully. One could argue that the hydraulic/pneumatic portions are also simple machines, they just don't have that "classical" moniker.

I suppose that I am too close to these things to consider them even semi-autonomous.

But our technological capabilities ever march on and improve - and one of the reasons these things remain unlike our creations is that they're of (forgive me for putting it this way) "higher technology" than we're currently capable of.

Joseph A. makes a pertinent point. It is actually in the computer age that we have come to be better able to understand than ever before just how designed-looking the DNA code is. It's almost impossible to talk about some of these things except in terms of "coding." In fact the more we advance the more we understand.

More later. Got a lot of other notes and stuff piling up from elsewhere to answer.

I may be haring off on a bad tangent, and if so I apologize in advance. But it seems to me that

1. Biological beings are generated . Machines are made . (I will even grant, if God were to make a machine, that machines are - sometimes - created. But created is not generated .) We usually think of these modes of coming to be as fundamentally diverse. For good reason, I think.

2. A biological being has a principal of unity within itself, causing it to tend toward self-continuation, more so than its component parts tend to continue to be. The cells reproduce, live, and die, while the organism itself goes right on being itself, one continuum of unitary being. The skin gets cut, and the platelets sacrifice themselves so that the organism continues to be.

Whereas a machine's principal of unity exists within its maker only. Insofar as it has any unity at all, it has that unity only by reason of its being directed to an end, and that end is imposed from without . It's end is not a natural, internal principle.

3. From which we arrive at the next point: a biological being has a nature . It is of a particular species of being in its own right, not on account of how we happen to be viewing it for our purposes today. But a machine is "in" a species of complex entities only because we put it there given how we choose to use it, and that changes at our whim. A chair is "furniture for sitting on" because it is often used that way, but it can ALSO be "firewood", and a "part of a forest" in a small child's game, and "ballast on a boat", and a "prop for doing handstands on in a highwire act" as well, without any distortion of its nature, because it has no nature as such.

This can all be summed up by saying that biological beings have life whereas machines do not. 130 years ago this would not have been remotely controversial.

Now, I know that some people expect nanotechnology to develop "machines" that reproduce themselves, and computer technology to produce machines that "think" for themselves. And, based on these hypotheses, they think that there is no fundamental difference between living and non-living beings. It's funny, though, that the very same people who hypothesize this pretty much across the board also deny the existence of the soul. So much so that I suggest that there is an essential tie-in. Once you get rid of the soul as the interior principle of life in living things, you are pretty much committed to a conclusion that there is nothing fundamentally distinct between living and non-living.

Joseph A: "Well, I've heard of that view before - mereological nihilism, yes?"

Beats me! But it doesn't really seem like it.

The idea came out of exploring the implications of a realization/insight which came to me a few years ago in a flash; to wit: that were atheism indeed the truth about the nature of reality, then logically we cannot exist; but, since we obviously do exist, then we can know without possibility of error that atheism is false.

That particular realization above had to do with our minds; the point I was making reference to, which came from exploring the implications of the insight, has to do with our bodies. (It's conceptually related to the "Theseus' Ship" paradox.)

Consider a rock. Now, consider that a hammer breaks the rock into two equal parts. Does the rock still exist? Of course not. But what does that mean? Are we not saying that one rock ceased to exist, while simultaneously two different rock began to exist?

But, what if the hammer made only the slightest ding in the rock? Does the rock still exist? Most people will say "Yes;" I think that answer is wrong.

What if the hammer-blow broke the rock into two unequal parts, such that one part comprised 2/3 of the mass of the total and the other part the remainder? Does the rock still exist? Most people will say "No."

Now, if we keep re-running the thought-experiment, and in each iteration the smaller part of the broken rock is small in mass than in the previous iteration, at what point does the breaking of the rock no longer cause the rock to cease to exist?

The answer is entirely subjective, of course. To me, this indicates that if there is an objective answer, then it must be the case that as soon as the rock is changed, it no longer exists.

But, this also leads to the conjecture (and conviction, in my case) that the rock never really existed in the first place. For, after all, even in the "open-and-shut" case of the rock being broken into two equal parts, what we *actually* said when we said that the rock ceased to exist is that one rock ceased to exist and two rocks began to exist. And that doesn't seem quite rational.

So, if there is to be rationality in this, it seems to me that it must be the case that we, who are agents, attribute existence to the rock, but that the rock doesn't actually exist on its own. The mass of matter which we are calling "that rock" exists indepentently of our attribution, surely, but not "that rock" itself.


But, must not this same line of reasoning apply to all physical things? Must it not be the case that when the matter of which a physical thing is comprised changes (either a subtraction or an addition of matter), then the thing ceases to exist and some other thing exists in its place?

That is, if this reasoning is sound than there appears to be no continuity-of-existence in anything which changes.

But, we (or bodies) change, and continuously, instant to instant. And still we are convinced that we are the same entity which energed from our mothers' wombs all those years ago.

How can this be? Are we really a different entity instant-to-instant? Or, is the above reasoning incorrect (this possibility is what everyone will jump on, but I do not expect to be shown where I have made an error). Or, is there something about us which allows for persistence-of-existence even through the changing of the matter of which we are comprised?

I think that the last possibility is true (and obviously true). What we living organisms posses, and what the rock lacks, is identity, or 'selfhood.' We human beings may, and frequently do, attribute identity to a rock, but the rock never actually possesses it, for it is not a 'self.'

And so, it seems to me that most of the things we speak of do not actually exist -- that, rather, we attribute existence to these things, but they do not possess it (for, not being 'selves,' they cannot possess anything).


Joseph A: "And I do agree that once God is denied, then absurdity takes over (and this becomes clear once we follow through on what naturalism must mean and don't allow any illicit smuggling from a theistic / non-materialist view to take place)."

Yes! This is how we can know, without possibility of being in error, that atheism (the denial that there is a Creator-God) is false.

Given that "the natural world" exists, and given the proposition that "There is/was no Creator of "the natural world"," then the philosophy called 'naturalism' must be true (and the sub-set of it called 'materialism' must be true).

Now, if 'naturalism' is the truth about the nature of reality, then *all* things must be explicable in principle, and without remainder, in terms of 'naturalism.' As you say, it is "illicit" for the 'naturalist' to attempt to smuggle into his explanations and reasonings anything which does not belong to 'naturalism.'

But, thought and reason (among other things) do not belong to, or fit within, 'naturalism,' and certainly not within 'materialism.'

When we think, the immaterial content of "thought A" leads to the immaterial content of "thought B." When we reason, the immaterial relationship between the immaterial content of "thought A" and the immaterial content of "thought B" leads to the immaterial content of "thought C."

But, if 'naturalism' were true, then it is not the content of one thought, nor the relationships between thoughts, which leads to further thoughts. Rather, each individual thought has a physical cause ... and there is no getting, logically, from one thought to another; there is no connection between the content of thoughts.

If 'naturalism' were indeed the truth about the nature of reality, then we cannot think and we cannot reason.

But, this is absurd; therefore 'naturalism' is absurd.

But 'naturalism' follows directly from the denial that there exists a Creator of "the natural world." Therefore, the denial is absurd; therefore the affirmation that there exists a Creator of "the natural world" is seen to be true.

Or, there is no such thing as "the natural world," after all; and that certainly seems to be absurd.


Joseph A: "I guess what I'd ask is how you can tell what God does or does not impute identity to?"

I don't know. Does it matter? I didn't ask whether it's an interesting question or something we would want to know.

I think we can know, via reason, that anything which does indeed possess identity has been given it by God (whether directly or indirectly). For, nothing can give itself identity; and it seems that we ourselves merely *treat* objects which lack identity as though they possess it.


Joseph A: "And just so it doesn't seem like I'm all questions, no answers - I have trouble settling on a single view. I think there's something strong to be said for idealism, for panentheism (less the process theology view, more the eastern orthodox tradition), for Aristo-Thomist metaphysics (world suffused with final causes and intrinsic teleology / intentionality?), and even a simulated universe view (I think the analog of God as programmer and universe as program is what your own thoughts most reminded me of, in fact.) In fact, the only view I find out and out absurd is the materialist/naturalist view. It either starts looking very inconsistent (Dennett) or outright absurd."

I quite understand. We can't get "outside" the world so that we can test any of the various not-obviously-absurd views. The best we can do inthat regard is to reject the ones which we know throw off absurdities.

Tony: Exactly. Well said.

Lydia: I agree that talk of "coding" etc. points to something important. Namely, that Aristotle was right:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2009/01/computers-minds-and-aristotle.html

You can't escape A-T, folks. Go with it. Repeat after me: "All your base are belong to us." ;-)

With respect to billiard balls and air molecules, they are pretty much exactly analogous, except where quantum effects have to be taken into consideration with respect to internal vibration and rotation. Surface effects are secondary.

Brandon wrote:

In the nineteenth century John Herschel gave, in fact, an argument that the analogy between molecules of air and billiard balls involved aspects of billiard balls that indicated in the billiard balls case that they were made deliberately; it was not a bad analogy -- in the nineteenth century the best scientific knowledge suggested that the analogy went very far. It was bad inference, because it involved mistakenly treating the analogy as sufficient in itself for the causal inference, when in fact independent evidence was needed to show that the analogy was not purely behavioral.

Can you give a citation? I am not sure that Boltzmann, who invented statistical mechanics, would have agreed with this.

Lydia wrote:

Billiard balls don't originate from a stroke that hits them, and nothing about the analogy between molecules of air and billiard balls depends upon those aspects of billiard balls (for example, their unusual surface smoothness) that we take to indicate that they were made deliberately.

This is flat out wrong. The shape of molecule, while not necessary for first-order calculations are very important for second-order calculations, to the point that if air molecules had different shapes or weights than they have, air would not exist. The gases either would escape the earth or they would react to heat in such a way that things like water vapor and ozone would not act to block UV radiation. Shape of molecules is every bit as important as the shape of billiard balls and can be used in the same sense to show a creator.

The Chicken

On circularity

Let us suppose that Mr Feser's intended audience for this thread had been 'atheists;' and let us suppose that Mr Feser's intended object for this thread had been to convince that audience that Christianity is true.

Then, let us suppose that Mr Feser's argument had been in the form of "Given the truth of Christianity, then ..." or "Given the truth of the Bible, then ..."


Question: could any rational and honest person fault those 'atheists' for scoffing at the circularity built into Mr Feser's argument? Could anyone honestly fault them for saying that he hadn't made an actual argument in the first place?


Now, who are Mr Feser's audience, and what is the object of this thread? The audience (at any rate, the primary audience) is made of persons who are already Christians, and the object is to convince them that their understanding of (at least a certain aspect of) the metaphysical ground of Christianity is incorrect (*). Or, if one cannot see that it goes that deeply, then at minimum his object is to convince his audience that the metaphysic which sees the world as a machine, or at least as machine-like, is false, and that the "A-T point of view" is true.

And, what is the form his argument takes? It is "Given the truth of the A-T point of view, then ..."

But, his audience does not accept (and most of us don't really understand) the premise of what he's claiming is the "A-T point of view."

Given the object of the argument, and its audience, the argument is question-begging.


(*) I'd told him that he was arguing much like 'atheists' so typically do. I might as well have said like Calvinists tend to do.

Ilion,

Forget it. The A-T understanding of the world is correct. Pay no attention whatever to the fact that Jesus does not share it.

Ilion, it would be so much easier for both of us if you just 'fessed up and said: "OK, maybe 'circularity' wasn't what I should have said, and maybe I was a little too snarky. Sorry. Cut me some slack, would you Feser?" I'd be happy to.

Anyway, as you say, my intended audience here has primarily not been atheists but other Christians. And even if my point had merely been to show "Here's what follows from an A-T point of view," then it would not have been circular. At worst it would have rested on an undefended premise. In fact it wouldn't have been even that, since I have defended A-T at length elsewhere, in books and blog posts many readers of this blog have read. But again, even if it was undefended, "resting on an undefended premise" does not entail "circular." Maybe you really want it to entail that, because you want to justify retroactively your initial rash assertion. But it doesn't.

Anyway, all that is moot, because my point has not in fact merely been to show what follows from A-T. That has, to be sure, been the focus in the combox, because I've been debating with Lydia whether A-T allows for a mechanical view of biological objects. But go back to the original post and you'll see that I was arguing for far more than that.

Specifically, I argued that the reasons Paley-style arguments should be avoided by Christians are (a) that the mechanical view they rest on is incompatible with classcial theism, insofar as a mechanical view allows for the possibility that the world might in principle have existed even apart from God, and classical theism does not allow that even in principle; and (b) the univocal use of concepts enshrined in Paley-style arguments leads to an anthropomorphic conception of God rather than a classical theistic one.

Neither point presupposes A-T at all. Indeed, an A-T-hating atheistic naturalist could accept them, with glee. Nor does the claim "Classical theism is the way a Christian should go" presuppose A-T. For example, a Platonistically inclined Christian could accept that claim, as could a Christian who eschews philosophical systems but adheres to the councils and creeds.

So, again, no circularity at all. How about we move on to somthing more productive?

Hi Michael. And that's all I'm going to say. Gonna go bite my tongue now...

Ilion,

I won't bother defending Ed (I doubt he needs my help). But I will say that I mostly took Ed's purpose here to illustrate why someone who accepts A-T metaphysics is going to be ill at ease with ID arguments. In which case arguing 'Given the truth of A-T...' doesn't seem illicit.

Let's say I was defending idealism. If someone were to ask me "Why do idealists reject perspective Y on issue Z?", it would make sense for me to give an explanation of why perspective Y is faulty under the assumption that idealism were true.

Now, if I were trying to convince a skeptic that perspective Y on issue Z were false, then of course I couldn't and wouldn't say "Well, assuming idealism is true.." and offer that explanation as a serious argument for idealism.

That said, I do disagree with Ed on the utility of ID arguments, for reasons similar to what Alexander Pruss mentioned over on Ed's blog. And I said outright that if I had a powerful argument for the existence of Quetzlcoal or Zeus, I would happily use it against atheists even as a Catholic. (Indeed, I admit that I absolutely enjoy pointing out how multiverse arguments, eternity arguments, etc strongly point towards a created/simulated universe, and therefore deism at the very least.) But I also have a strong sympathy to A-T metaphysics and perspective and for all purposes accept most of their arguments - and I therefore see the value seeing why Ed would explain "Look, this is why thomists believe in God, believe in providing powerful arguments for God, believe the world is rife with teleology, yet nevertheless there's a rift between the A-T view and what seems to largely make up the ID view."

It is actually in the computer age that we have come to be better able to understand than ever before just how designed-looking the DNA code is.

Lydia, I assume you mean that 5% or so of the human genome that isn't junk? Meaning, DNA that used to code for functional proteins in common ancestors, but no longer does so?

Not gonna go there, John. I'm biting my tongue. Like Ed.

Then, Lydia, I beg your pardon. And btw, I offer my apologies if any of my previous statements on other threads re: the DI have offended you. I have enjoyed this post and all the contributions.

E.Feser: "Specifically, I argued that the reasons Paley-style arguments should be avoided by Christians are (a) that the mechanical view they rest on is incompatible with classcial theism, insofar as a mechanical view allows for the possibility that the world might in principle have existed even apart from God, and classical theism does not allow that even in principle;

and (b) the univocal use of concepts enshrined in Paley-style arguments leads to an anthropomorphic conception of God rather than a classical theistic one."

The Bible presents the world as being an artifact, a work of craftsmanship ... and presents God (Christ, himself, according to the NT) as the Craftsman. Contrary to Mr Feser's frequent assertions, viewing the world as a machine, or as machine-like, does not in the least conflict with Christianity (*).

A "mechanical view" of anything *always* implies the existence of a mechanic -- machines don't make themselves, machines don't assign themselves their purposes/ends. That the 'materialists' have co-opted the word 'mechanistic' to mean something like "looks mechanical, but really isn't," and that we all (including I) have used the word 'mechanistic' in this absurd sense, doesn't change what the word means and implies.

Perhaps, rather than berating the IDists for the redundancy of saying "intelligent design," Mr Feser might better put his talents to use rescuing such words as 'mechanism' and 'mechanistic.'


A "mechanical view" of the world may even be more in accord with Christianity than the "A-T point of view." For, is it not the case that under a "mechanical view" of the world, most objects in the world are *just stuff* (the major class of exception being living entities)? Whereas under the "A-T point of view" even the stuff that appears to us to be *just stuff* isn't really *just stuff* because the ends of this stuff are intrinsic, rather than extrinsic?

How can such a view, taken seriously, not lead to, oh, sun worship? If God created the sun (even if it's not really a machine, as I think it is), for a purpose, *how* can it have an intrinsic purpose? Is not the claim [that the created sun has an intrinsic purpose] oxymoronic?

====
(*) I'm not too concerned with "classical theism;" I care about Christianity.

Perhaps I'm misunderstanding, but the God of "classical theism" seems to me to be just a little to much like "the God of the philosophers," who is not "the God of the Bible." I'm not ashamed of "the God of the Bible;" I have no need to clean him up to make him presentable to the folk who hate even the anemic "God of the philosophers." It's my intention to understand God as he presents himself in the Bible.

Joseph A: "But I will say that I mostly took Ed's purpose here to illustrate why someone who accepts A-T metaphysics is going to be ill at ease with ID arguments. In which case arguing 'Given the truth of A-T...' doesn't seem illicit."

I never said that in that circumstance it would be illicit.

What is the title of this thread? It is "The trouble with William Paley," it is not something like "Why A-Tists have a problem with William Paley."

What is the content and point of the essay on his private blog, to which this thread's OP links? Does it amount to (to vastly summarize it) something like "I reject Paleyan and ID design arguments because they conflict with (my understanding of) the A-T metaphysic (which is the correct metaphysic)" (which, however interesting on the personal level, would be rather pointless on a higher level, would it not?), or is it something like "You *too* should reject Paleyan and ID design arguments because they conflict with the A-T metaphysic (which is the correct metaphysic) and because they must lead to a false understanding of God."


Mind you, I agree with many individual things Mr Feser said and says; on A-T itself, I reserve judgement, because I realize that I don't really understand it.

I'm just pointing out, and faulting, the specific circularity here-and-now in this particular context, and that some portions of the argument he's made here-and-now are not actually true --

For instance, it's not *actually* true that a "mechanical view" of the world is contrary to Christianity.

For instance (as I said when I first started criticizing what he's saying), it's not *actually* true that (as the existence of machines presuppose the existence of non-machines) "natural objects" cannot be machines, for:
1) machines can be built of other machines;
2) the (design and) building of machines, and assignment of purposes/ends to machines, requires that there be an agent or agents to do it -- machines don't build themselves, or set their own purposes; and even a conceivable machine that builds other machines does not build itself and cannot actually design the machines it builds (those who would claim otherwise are playing fast-and-lose with language), nor assign them their purposes/ends. According to Biblical religion, God is an agent, the source of agency, in fact. According to Biblical religion, God is the creator of "natural objects." There is no logical or rational reason to suppose that God (an agent) cannot make machines or any, or all, the "natural objects" he has made. To insist that "natural objects" cannot be machines is just stubborn question-begging.
3) moreover, machines do not have to be material objects; mental objects can also be machines.


And, whatever Paley was up to, as has been pointed out at least once in this thread, ID isn't really about God. Yeah, the IDists talk about God a lot ... partly because the 'atheists' and "Darwinists" who like to pretend to be critics of ID won't shut up about their own badly-reasoned theology, and partly because, well, if ID is rational, then it implies God -- you know, the one who is not just another object in "in the universe" -- and not Zeus.

Since we (at any rate, Joseph) have mentioned the comments on Mr Feser's own blog, a comment by "Doug" (and which Mr Feser either doesn't get or blows off without thinking carefully about) seems quite appropriate:

... Granted the arguments are not as strong, nor as persuasive as the A-T tradition, but the point that they have in their favor is precisely the point that you disapprove of: they play from the position of the "other side".

Or, as I put the concept in the very first comment here: "... after all, one must speak to one's audience in the language its members understand."

'Atheists' like to imagine that naturalism dispenses with God (and, as Mr Feser said, getting them to admit that "Darwinism" is false isn't going to change that). However, ID doesn't militate simply against "Darwinism," it also militates against naturalism. Sadly, even if 'atheists' in general were to admit that naturalism is false, few of them would become Christians -- atheism isn't a reasonable nor reason-based stance.

However, *some* 'atheists' can be reached by reason; helping them to see the unreasonableness and anti-reason of atheism is the way to do it. This cannot be done by starting from the more advanced position which is Christianity, but rather must start with the simple things they will accept.

The usefulness of ID in this regard is in showing that *even if* one starts with the assumptions which 'atheists' will admit to, one logically cannot avoid God; that the only sure "defense" against finding God is to retreat into irrationality.

Ilion,

I disagree with how you've taken the thread, but that's fine. As I said, I'm content to let Ed speak for himself on this matter, and he doesn't need an amateur like me defending him - I just thought there could be situations where giving an explanation of why Y is rejected (and assuming, for the sake of explanation, the truth of worldview X) is appropriate.

As for whether the "mechanistic" worldview is non-Christian, I'd agree that I don't think it is. But I also think "Christianity" is very broad. I would probably agree that the "mechanistic" worldview is, however, not going to fit with classical theism. For some that's not going to be a problem, and to be honest, I have vastly more in common (and also more sympathy for) the Christian with the mechanistic outlook than the naturalist-materialist. Of course I'll have disagreements with them (deep ones, given my growing affinity for thomism), but then even A-T proponents or those adhering to scholastic metaphysics can have disagreements with each other.

Either way, it should go without saying that your "mechanistic" view of nature is vastly different than atheist conceptions of it. In fact, though I'm sure you have a lot of favor for ID arguments, it also sounds like you're making arguments about "mechanism", machines, and designers that is not strictly an ID argument besides. In fact, at least the parts you've spoken of here, seem vastly more philosophical and metaphysical in nature. Not that I have a problem with that, of course.

(Actually, one of my biggest problems with ID-as-apologetics is that I think they give far too little attention to metaphysics and philosophy. I think ID would be much more successful if they shifted emphasis from science to those topics, including the pursuit of justifying a broadly theistic worldview and building from there. As for ID-as-science/evidence, I suspect the eventual result is going to be surprising: Namely, I think "New Atheism" is the last-gasp of an already nearly-buried movement, but ID-style considerations are going to lead to some strange theism/deism replacement for it.)

I'm not an IDist. But I'm also not hostile to it. I long ago embraced my “inner creationist” -- queue up massive misunderstanding (yes, I’m looking at you, Christine, and you, Albert Hunt).

I think some of the IDists are fools. Not necessarily the Big Names, but more some of the hangers-on: some of those folk care about ID only in so far as they see it as a tool not to help our society see the falseness of ‘modern evolutionary theory,’ but to replace one set of panjandrums with another/themselves.


"In fact, at least the parts you've spoken of here, seem vastly more philosophical and metaphysical in nature."

As I like to say: "'Science' is a toy for little boys; men do philosophy ... and theology."


"... Namely, I think "New Atheism" is the last-gasp of an already nearly-buried movement, but ID-style considerations are going to lead to some strange theism/deism replacement for it."

Very few 'atheists' actually are atheists (that's why I typically put the word in quote marks). Contrary to their protestations, very few 'atheists' adopt such atheism as they do adopt on the basis of reason. OF COURSE, few 'atheists' are going to become Christians simply because and when all their props have been publically kicked out from under them. Those were simply rationalizations, they'll just find others.

The point about my “inner creationist” is that I don't need something like ID.

I've been thinking about a lot of things I could say here. I would _like_ to get time to address the matter of how in machines one supposedly forces the parts to act "contrary to their natures," as Ed says above. That seems to me to be false _both_ for man-made machines _and_ for those very machine-like entities--biological objects--which we did not used to know were very machine-like. It seems to me that the analogy goes very far and that for some purposes it is legitimate to say that biological entities are even machines-within-machines.

While I'm willing to use the term "analogy" between biological objects and machines, chiefly because all of the things that are uncontroversially machines are man-made and hence much less advanced than biological objects, I don't think this is _just_ some sort of oddball or weak analogy. I think that if it were possible for there really to be machines made of proteins and such, this is very much what they would be like.

Now, what seems to me perhaps more profitable than going into further detail there is another set of questions for Ed.

--Ed, would you say that a rock--a lump of sandstone, say--is a natural object in your sense? I note that a rock does not reproduce, though reproduction seems to be a big part of the notion of natural object discussed above w.r.t. biological objects. I'm beginning to think that anything that isn't man-made is going to be defined as a "natural object," but that's partly what this question is checking on.

--Is it your position that all natural objects point with equal _evidential_ and _epistemic_ force to God and that there is something deeply wrong about holding that some natural objects--biological objects, say--provide a special kind of evidence for the existence of God that other natural objects--such as a rock, if a rock is a natural object on your view--do not provide? In other words, is some sort of radical epistemological egalitarianism required, on your view, among natural objects as far as their evidential relation to the existence of God?

--If so, is it your position that this aspect of your position is inherent to Thomism and that all good Thomists must agree with it?

It seems to me that if the answers to the above questions are as expected, than this is really the root of the issue. If the answers are as expected, then what Ed objects to in ID is that it treats biological objects as providing stronger evidence for the existence of a designer--which argument must rely on their detailed structure--than rocks, which lack that underlying structure. Somehow, any argumentative focusing on that detailed structure is supposed to have all sorts of bad philosophical and theological consequences.

*If* that were really entailed by Thomism, then Thomism would be false, because obviously there *isn't* anything wrong about focusing on the underlying structure of an object for such argumentative purposes. I suspect that the problem, though, lies in the insistence that such a position is entailed by Thomism, though of course I could be wrong.

David asked above,

does the A-T model allow for special creation of some biological kinds?

Ed replied,

Yes, absolutely, A-T allows for that.

Why, in that case, couldn't evidence concerning the underlying complexity of biological objects be evidence favoring (to some degree) special creation over some other means of bringing these things into being?

(I hasten to add that ID arguments are compatible both with special creation and with some sort of front-loading or something, but I've never been fond of the latter, and IMO the arguments do have a stronger tendency to favor some sort of intervention at some point(s), though I'm by no means speaking for any of the "leaders" in ID as a movement when I say that but only for myself. )

Okay, I know I'm bombarding, here, but I want to get out these various points and questions as I have a moment here or there.

Ed says,

That's why probability has nothing to do with it. It's not improbable that the bacterial flagellum does what it does, precisely because it is its nature to do so, it's precisely what we should expect it to do.

Now, this is most odd. One could also say, "It's not improbable that the keys of a typewriter do what they do. It's their nature to do so. They are oriented towards the end of the function of typing, towards the good of the whole." But _that_ wouldn't address what is meant by someone who says, "It is improbable that this typewriter should have come into existence without the deliberate working of a designing intelligence."

_Obviously_, the question in the case of the bacterium, the eye, the blood-clotting cascade, or whatever is *how something like that came into existence*. Saying that its parts are what they are because of its nature tells us _nothing_ about its original coming-into-existence. Nor, for that matter, does saying that God sustains them at all times, because obviously that doesn't mean that they are _eternal_. Bacteria or whatever came to be at some particular time, and a big part of the question here is when and how.

So all this talk about wholes and parts and starting with the whole and the nature of the bacterium and so forth seems to me to be a) a point of agreement, because I fully admit that the parts of a living creature are oriented toward the good of the whole, and *I think that that argues for its being designed, because that is what designed things are like*, b) not decisive in any way regarding how and when God made such creatures in the first place, c) not contrary to their having an underlying structure similar to that of a machine, which in any event is an empirical question that we cannot decide a priori.

Lydia,

In answer to your questions at 9:02AM:

1. Yes, it's a natural object, not only in the obvious sense of not being an artifact, but also in the metaphyscial sense of being a substance with an essence. (Qua sandstone anyway -- being a lump of that particular size and shape is accidental.)

2. Yes, they have equal evidential value. For example, they are equally compounds of essence and existence, and thus require a divine cause to combine these two metaphysical components. (It is true that the biological object has a more complex essence, but that is not what matters -- being an essence/existence compound at all is what matters from the POV of a Thomistic First Cause argument.) Also, they equally manifest final causality, and thus require a divine ordering intelligence to direct them toward their natural ends. (It is true that biological objects manifest far more complex patterns of final causality, but again, it is not complexity but the existence of final causality at all that matters from the POV of the Fifth Way.)

3. Sure. This isn't stuff I made up. Occasionally you will find popular works, and even some older Neo-Scholastic manuals, that try to make some hay out of this or that biological organ at least as illustration of the reality of final causes -- because they are more dramatic examples of final causality than simple causal relations are -- but the standard A-T line is that Paley and Co. took a philosophical wrong turn.

Unfortunately, when you go on to say that this view must therefore be obviously false, all that is obvious is that you are, once again, simply assuming that the mechanistic view of nature is correct. It's just question-begging. Or so it honestly seems to me.

Lydia, I think you've admitted in the past that you're not that familiar with the A-T view apart from what I've said about it in combox posts and the like. But it's an extremely complex and sophisticated millennia-old tradition. It may be out of fashion these days and not taught in philosophy grad programs, but you're the last person who needs to be told that that means absolutely nothing. Why don't you just pick up a good book on it some time and try to understand what it's all about? It doesn't have to be one of mine -- read Oderberg, or Benedict Ashley, or someone else if you prefer. Because it seems we keep going around in circles, and always coming back to this basic unargued conviction you have that the A-T view is just obviously wrong. And the view deserves a fairer shake than that. You may still end up rejecting it, but it deserves deeper study.

Hence in your most recent post, the typewriter example is -- obviously, if you'll forgive my saying so again -- just question-begging, because a typewriter is an artifact rather than a natural substance and thus (on the A-T view) has no intrinsic teleology but only extrinsic teleology. So yes, of course, in that case we're going to regard the arrangment of the parts as improbable, because bits of metal have no natural tendency to work together in that way. But whether teh arrangement of the parts of a biological object is relevantly similar is exactly what is in question, so that it will hardly do just to present the example as evidence that they are relevantly similar.

I would say, Ed, that _you_ should say that the means-end ordering depends on the level at which one looks at the thing. I think that's scientific fact, so that's why you should say it just like anyone else should. For example, while "bits of metal have no natural tendency to work together in that way," the keys and other higher-level parts of the typewriter _do_ have such a tendency, in one sense of "tendency," because they've been developed for the purpose of serving the whole, just as you point out regarding biological things. The point is perhaps even clearer if one thinks of a machine that runs all the time, like my computer when I leave it on all the time. In that sense, the keys of the typewriter are the proper analogue for, say, folded proteins, or for organs in the body. The "bits of metal" are properly analogous to the carbon atoms, which qua carbon atoms *just don't* have a natural tendency to form properly folded proteins. That's a matter of empirical fact, take it or leave it.

So part of the problem seems to me to arise from comparing apples and oranges--comparing "parts" of biological entities which have functions because they are not "parts" at a small enough level to "parts" of a man-made machine all the way down at the bottom--a mere bit or molecule of metal, for example.

I'm going to stop there for now, because I will be interested later in your answer to mine at 11:37.

Lydia,

Re: your 11:37 comment:

Why, in that case [i.e. A-T's allowance for special creation], couldn't evidence concerning the underlying complexity of biological objects be evidence favoring (to some degree) special creation over some other means of bringing these things into being?

Well, like I keep saying, if an object is already known to be neither an accident (like a random pile of fallen envelopes) nor an artifact (like a doll house made out of envelopes) then it is a naturally occurring kind of thing, which just results from the way the natural world is set up. And that's what biological objects are. So far I think we agree. But then, if we add A-T to the picture, it follows that such objects are substances with natures, that in the case of living things their parts are inherently directed to the working of the whole, etc. so that there can be nothing remarkable about this ordering as such (that's just what parts of that sort do by nature). Etc.

Now, when, given all that, are we faced with a question of whether such a thing was created? Well, one case is when we ask: Though we know where today's plants come from (i.e. other plants) where did the first ones come from? Aristotle himself didn't face this question because he thought the world had no beginning, but Aquinas, like us, knew Aristotle was wrong about that. So it's a real question for us.

So, where did they come from? Well, if plant life, construed very broadly as that which carries out only the functions associated with nutrition, growth, and reproduction, is (as A-T theorists held traditionally) irreducible to inorganic processes -- because organic wholes (substances where the parts ore inherently ordered toward the good of the whole) are irreducible to inorganic processes -- then it's hard to see how you're going to get from non-life to even simple plant life. And that leads to an argument for special creation. But notice that it doesn't have anything to do with complexity. A gigantic random pile of envelopes might be extremely complex and a certain microorganism extremely simple, but it's the latter that requires a special explanation, because of the inherent ordering of its parts (however simple) to the good of the whole. Things like the bacterial flagellum are more complex, but it isn't their complexity per se which, form an A-T point of view, might lead to an argument for special creation. It's rather what it has in common with simpler biological structures that does so.

So, in short, the answer is that complexity is just irrelevant.

(I hasten to add that ID arguments are compatible both with special creation and with some sort of front-loading or something, but I've never been fond of the latter, and IMO the arguments do have a stronger tendency to favor some sort of intervention at some point(s), though I'm by no means speaking for any of the "leaders" in ID as a movement when I say that but only for myself. )
IF human chromosome 2 is indeed real evidence for a relationship of common biological descent between apes and humans (who are thereby apes themselves) THEN human chromosome 2 is also indeed real evidence for either: 1) direct intervention; 2) "front loading" so mind-boggling as to be indistinguishable (to us) from straight-up intervention.

A gigantic random pile of envelopes might be extremely complex and a certain microorganism extremely simple, but it's the latter that requires a special explanation, because of the inherent ordering of its parts (however simple) to the good of the whole.


I think that's a very important comment and shows either a difference of opinion between us or a misunderstanding between us. I think the particular type of "complexity" that I want to talk about when I talk about biological organisms _could not_ be present in the big pile of envelopes and is in fact closely bound up with the ordering of parts to wholes, or _at least_ the ordering of parts to purposes/functions. There are obviously sub-wholes (if one can use such an awkward word) in many organisms--a whole hierarchy, in fact.

I also think that as an empirical matter no one should ever refer to a microorganism as "simple." The most one could say is "simple compared to some other organisms" or something like that. But the tiniest microorganism is just not simple in any strong sense of "simple" that I would recognize.

... of course, the straight-up intervention isn't logically restricted to God.

I really must add, Ed, that the A-T argument you've just given for special creation in the origin of life means that the ID-ers think you're one of them, even though you don't. They really do have a big tent, and you have just apparently said that you think there is an argument for not merely _design_ but yea even for special creation in the origin of life. All arguments welcome, from their perspective. Welcome to the club. :-)

Ed,

[I]f an object is already known to be neither an accident (like a random pile of fallen envelopes) nor an artifact (like a doll house made out of envelopes) then it is a naturally occurring kind of thing, which just results from the way the natural world is set up. And that's what biological objects are. So far I think we agree.
if plant life, construed very broadly as that which carries out only the functions associated with nutrition, growth, and reproduction, is (as A-T theorists held traditionally) irreducible to inorganic processes -- because organic wholes (substances where the parts ore inherently ordered toward the good of the whole) are irreducible to inorganic processes -- then it's hard to see how you're going to get from non-life to even simple plant life. And that leads to an argument for special creation.

Lydia's right. Your Discovery Institute membership card is in the mail.

So, which bases belong to whom?

Step2, Who's on first. What's on second.

Lydia, I don't know is stealing home base!

Ha! Well, look, as I've said before -- and I realize it can very easily get lost in the fog of debate -- I respect the ID guys, I think they've been dealt with atrociously by Darwinists, and I carry no brief for Darwinism.

Plus, Michael Egnor at DI has said some very nice things about TLS.

Plus, Michael Egnor at DI has said some very nice things about TLS.

Ed, I'm glad he has. He has said some utterly nonsensical things about Lemaitre and the Big Bang that have forced me to conclude that he's either A. stupid, or B. intellectually dishonest.

This is my problem with the DI. They may be nice guys at heart, but when they assume the tactics of the people they oppose they are undercutting the cause we all think important to fight for.

Father George Lemaitre did not propose the Big Bang theory because he was trying to prove God created the world at such and such a time, and those nasty atheistic scientists didn't believe him. He was a good physicist and he simply realized, before anyone else did, that you cannot maintain the Einstein model of a static universe indefinitely into the past. The GRT field equations cried out for an actual temporal beginning to the universe. Even Einstein realized this when he listened to Lemaitre. And so did George Gamow and his team, and so did Peeples and his team and Penzias and Wilson when they finally discovered the cosmic microwave background radiation.

I have the same problem with Michael Behe's arguments for irreducible complexity. When his probability math is so transparently bad that even foul-mouthed grad students in evolutionary biology can show him up, we, all of us, have a right to say, WTF, why weren't you better prepared???

Ilion is spot on. I don't need ID to support my faith in creation either. And if they are as habitually incoherent as the doddering George ('Darwin = Hitler') Gilder, well, forgive me for looking, like Ed, to Aristotle and St. Albert and St. Thomas and not William Paley for theological support.

Had Darwin studied Pascal instead of Paley when he was a theology student, we all would be so much better off today....

John,

I agree that I don't need ID to support my faith in creation either. I still think ID brings a lot to the table, though, sometimes unintentionally. If nothing else - arguments about ICness, etc, aside - ID promotes looking at nature as if these things were artifacts. From DNA to evolution to cells, etc. Not some things utterly disconnected from minds that "just so happened" to pop up. Maybe there's a better way to get beyond that kind of weird modern compartmentalization that now and then seems to pop up (where science is here, and religion/God is here, and much effort is done not to let these spheres mingle), but they do contribute something.

I disagree about Egnor, and enjoy his columns. But regarding Behe: According to him, he doesn't really need calculations to determine what evolution can do, as Lenski's bacterial cell lines already provide an actual example of what evolutionary processes can accomplish. (As does some other work, mind you, which Behe has recently blogged about.) And one thing in Behe's favor - he's consistently well-mannered and calm when discussing these things, and very good about replies (including to that foul-mouthed grad student). That doesn't make him right, of course, but it does speak well of him considering the amount of mud-slinging that's so common when it comes to the topic.

That's a good point, Joseph. Well said.

I will add, though, that I wish he had not refused to debate the grad student. That could have been a teachable moment.....

Bill Tingley: "P.S. to Ilion: A shovel is no less a machine than a steam-shovel. Indeed, it's a variation of one the most basic of machines, the lever."

The second sentence isn't actually true; nor is the first. I'll explain the error in the second, and then demonstrate the error in both of them together.

A shovel isn't an instantiation of the concept 'lever;' rather, the design of a (manufactured) shovel incorporates the concept 'lever:' that is, a hjovel isn't *just* a lever. And, indeed, the functionality of 'shovel' can be acheived with a bucket or a board -- in which case, the only levers involved are one's own arms and back. When, for lack of a proper shovel, one uses a board as a shovel, has one become a shovel? When, for lack of even a board, one uses one's own hands to shovel, has one become a shovel?

It is not the design of a particular shovel which makes it a shovel, but rather its designated function which makes it so. The particular design of an object designated as 'shovel' makes it a more or less efficient tool for acheiving the functionality of shoveling.


Bill Tingley: "P.S. to Ilion: A shovel is no less a machine than a steam-shovel. Indeed, it's a variation of one the most basic of machines, the lever."

By this reasoning, a simple on-off switch is also a machine.

Let us imagine that Mr Tingley and I are neighbors. And let us imagine that we live in identical (as we say) houses, from the floorplan down to the appliances. The only difference (other than changes due to wear-and-tear) between our two houses is that my furnace is controlled by a thermostat and his furnace (which is identical to mine) is controlled by a manual on-off switch, such as we use to control the built-in lighting.

So, I set my thermostat, and I'm done. Provided it doesn't get so cold tonight that the heat doesn't radiate out of the house faster than the furnace can warm the house, I'll be comfortable with no more effort on my part.

On the other hand, if Mr Tingley is feeling chilled, he must get up from his comfy-chair (or bed) to turn on his furnace. Then, when he's satisfied with the warmth, he must again intervene to turn off his furnace. He may even need to open a window to quickly vent some excess heat, had he not turned it off soon enough.


Is Mr Tingley's on-off switch a machine? Of course it isn't! One has to be speaking from blind ideology, rather than from reason, to insist that it is. Is the switch-Tingley-window "system" a machine? Of course not!

So, what makes my thermostat, which may or may not include a level, a machine, while Mr Tingley's on-off switch, wich does include a lever, is not a machine? The defining difference is the intervention requited to get the functionality; or, as I put it earlier, the relative autonomy with respect to function of the machine in contrast to the non-machine.

[I that trust Gentle Reader will understand what I meant to say in that last post, despite the typos and the grammatical infelicity.]

Ilíon: "The point about my “inner creationist” is that I don't need something like ID."

John Farrell: "Ilion is spot on. I don't need ID to support my faith in creation either."

Well, just so one doesn't get the idea that I'm one of those silly persons whose "faith" is so "spiritualized" that it spurns (or, as frequently appears to be the case, fears) logical and empirical evidence.


John Farrell: "I have the same problem with Michael Behe's arguments for irreducible complexity. When his probability math is so transparently bad that even foul-mouthed grad students in evolutionary biology can show him up, ..."

Really? Is that *really* what happens?

Or, is the truth that certain "foul-mouthed grad students in evolutionary biology" are so intellectually dishonest that *nothing* will convince them to admit (because nothing can *compel* them to admit) that 'modern evolutionary theory' is self-contradictory, and thus illogical, and thus false?

'Modern evolutionary theory' is false, and 'modern evolutionary theorists' (aka "Darwinists) are liars; and *nothing* compels a human being to reason honestly or to speak truth.


John Farrell: "... , we, all of us, have a right to say, WTF, why weren't you better prepared???"

Are you not "foul-mouthed?" What is the substantive difference between saying/writing "What the f?" and saying/writing the full phrase? What is the substantive difference between calling something (someone's idea or argument, perhaps) "crap" or "dung" or "crud" and calling it "sh*t?"

There is no difference in substance ("crap" or "dung" or (generally) "crud" all refer to "sh*t," just as the euphemistic abbreviation "WTF" refers to the fully-spoken phrase). The "inappropriateness" of a word or phrase is a matter of context.


John Farrell: "I don't need ID to support my faith in creation either. And if they are as habitually incoherent as the doddering George ('Darwin = Hitler') Gilder, well, forgive me for looking, ..."

Did George Gilder *really* draw an equivalency between Darwin and Hitler?

Certainly, it's the received wisdom amongst the "Darwinists" that he did ... but "Darwinists" tend to be liars.

Just to give the reader a personal anecdote illustrating the (typical, as I claim) intellectual dishonesty of (in Mr Farrell's phrase) "foul-mouthed grad students in evolutionary biology" --

Gentle Reader may recall the hoopla in Darwinist circles a few years concerning the 'Avida' computer program. I was, at the time, active on the ARN discussion boards.

There came a point when I was fed up with all the false claims about the capabilities and meaning of the program being advanced there by the 'modern evolutionary theorists.' So, I spent a great deal of time explaining why the expansive claims were theoretically -- mathematically and logically -- impossible. Computer programs do not, and cannot, and never will be able to do the things claimed by the "Darwinists" of 'Avida.'

Now, mind you, I didn't present myself as a "computer expert" (I'm not sure whether anyone there even suspected how I earn my living) -- I didn't argue along the lines "I scoff at the claims advanced for 'Avida' -- and I'm an "expert" -- therefore you too should scoff at these claims." Rather, I argued along the lines "The claims advanced for 'Avida' are false -- and here is how *you* can know that the claims are false -- and therefore you too should scoff at these claims."

Logic, of course, meant nothing to the 'modern evolutionary theorists' at ARN -- and, because the management of ARN is "evenhanded," it was OK for the 'modern evolutionary theorists' to call me dishonest because of my conclusions, but not OK for me to call them dishonest because of their "reasoning."


OK, but get this: Finally, I got a copy of the source-code for '

Avida' (freely and openly available). Because I *am* a programmer, I understood, even without looking at the code, how the "magic" happens -- use of "random" numbers as inputs to the program. I got the code to see whether they had hidden this fact; from the documentation it appeared that they hadn't (for to do so would have defeated one of the design-goals); and they hadn't.

THEREFORE, I was able to tell the reader exactly how he could demonstrate on his own computer using exactly the program as the 'Avida' team distributed it (*) one of the important points I had been making.

How do you think the "Darwinists" responded to this? They literally accused me of "breaking" (that exact word) the program, despite that all I did was explain to the reader how to execute the program (by making one small change to the inputs to a particular execution) such that it always generated the same results, given the inputs.


(*) Had the developers fully hidden the use of "random" numbers, I'd have needed to make a change to the program to make the use apparent -- and the "Darwinists" could have plausibly (though falsely) accused me of dishonestly modifying the program.

Hi Ilion,
Did George Gilder *really* draw an equivalency between Darwin and Hitler?

Big time. And Stalin. Watch his hand-waving rant at the American Enterprise Institute gathering in May 2007.

http://www.aei.org/video/100708

Poorly organized presentation = hand-waving rant?

The individual things Gilder said in that video are true: poorly organized, poorly presented, but true.


But, it seems to me that the hand-waving is coming from you. It was you who asserted that Gilder says that Darwin = Hitler; and then you present this video as evidence for your assertion, while also (and falsely) asserting that he is saying that Darwin = Stalin.


In the video, he said "Both Naziism and communism were inspired by Darwin ... This is the kind of fruits that this totalist, materialist superstition yields."

This is true, and it is not saying that Darwin = Hitler. That you seemingly can't comprehend this nuance is not our problem.

Poorly organized presentation = hand-waving rant?
Yes. If you can cite any literature in the mathematical or science journals to support Gilder's contentions about information theory, I would be happy to see them. His most glaring mistake is claiming that the medium of DNA is independent from the information it carries. This would come as news to college level biochem majors who learn early on that many of the important functions performed by nucleic acids are directly due to their chemical properties.

Gilder's example of the transmission of information via electromagnetic waves is equally wrong. The message/information is built into the medium by modifying the amplitudes of the carrier waves. For that matter my Mac's DVD drive writes information onto my DVD-Rs by heating up the plastic disk--the medium--and modifying the magnetic material on the surface to write the information there (usually video). The medium is not independent of the message.

In the video, he said "Both Naziism and communism were inspired by Darwin ... This is the kind of fruits that this totalist, materialist superstition yields."

This is true.

No, this is intellectual laziness. We can agree that Nazism was pagan, race-based and totalitarian, but to say it was materialist in the sense Gilder generalizes just doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Communism is a closer match, perhaps, but even here the "inspiration" is problematic, as Marx was not without his own problems when it came to Darwin.

We might both as well argue that Christianity inevitably leads to the Inquisition, witch burnings, the ghettoization of Jews and Southern slavery.

ear John Farrell,

I can't watch the video because of dial-up at home :( Could you summarize the points he makes about information theory?

I googled Mr. Gilder and found, on the Discovery Institute site a list of articles he has written. One of them, The Materialist Supersititon I read. It is poor science. I know a fair amount of quantum mechanics, I do research on neurodynamical modeling of the brain, and I am an expert on paradox theory. I do not find his points scientifically accurate. That is being kind. Actually, they are fanciful conjecture. Let me annotate some of his paragraphs. I will try to keep my comments objective, but some of his comments are frustrating.

The overthrow of matter reached its climax in the physical sciences when quantum theory capsized the rules that once governed all solid objects. Scientists no longer see the foundation of all matter as inert, blind, impenetrable particles. Rather, physicists now agree that matter derives from waves, fields, and probabilities. To comprehend nature, we have to stop thinking of the world as basically material and begin imagining it as a manifestation of consciousness, suffused with sparks of informative energy.

Utterly silly. Physicists can use either a particle or a wave description of matter and get exactly the same result. This was proven by Dirac in 1926, for which he, in part, won a Nobel Prize. What the heck is informative energy?

The fundamental entities in quantum theory are wave-particles, a profound paradox that was first launched in 1887 when Albert Michelson and E. W. Morley did their famous experiments which showed that there is no ether in the universe. Until the experiments of Michelson and Morley, the fundamental belief was that the universe is filled with solid matter—"ether"—which would be needed as the medium through which light waves could move just as sound waves travel through air. Earlier experiments had demonstrated conclusively that light is a wave; it was assumed, therefore, that a material medium must exist through which the waves of light could travel. By dispelling the notion of ether as the medium bearing light, Michelson and Morley effectively banished most of the matter from the universe.

I would flunk a student if they turned in a paper with this paragraph. I studied freshman-level physics with one of Einstein's colleagues and biographers who was an expert on the Michelson-Morley experiment. Heck, the first attempt at the experiment was done at my undergraduate university. The Michelson-Morley experiment did not banish most of the matter from the universe. At most, it simply meant that light did not need a medium for propagation. That is true of electromagnetic waves, in general. Maxwell's equations, the one's that govern the propagation of electromagnetic radiation, does not depend on the existence of the Ether.

Light emerged as an esoteric paradox of waves without substance that travel at a fixed speed in relation to a medium with-out substance. In 1905, Albert Einstein declared that if there were no ether, light could not be a wave; it had nothing to wave through. Instead, Einstein said, light consisted of quanta—packets of energy—that he called photons. Although said to be "particles," photons observed the equations of wave motion developed by James Clerk Maxwell in the 1860s. They seemed to be a cross between a wave and a particle.

This is wrong. He is confusing the origin of Special Relativity with the Photoelectric Effect. In fact, it is unclear how much the Michelson-Morley experiment influenced Einstein at all (he, apparently did know about it). The null result of the Michelson-Morley experiment showed that light has no preferred reference frame. This allowed for the development of Special Relativity. The use of photons was to explain how photoelectric material could eject energy that was dependent on the frequency but no the amplitude of light.

In terms both of classical physics and of human observation, this wave-particle cross was an impossible contradiction. Waves ripple infinitely forth through a material medium; particles are single points of matter. At once definite and infinite, a particle that is also a wave defies our sensory experience. In successive steps, Niels Bohr, Louis de Broglie, Werner Heisenberg, and others showed that not only light but also electrons, protons, neutrons, and other atomic "particles" likewise exhibited wave action. Eventually, the paradoxical duality of wave-particles would come to exclude all materialist logic; quantum physics does not make materialist sense.

This is more nonsense. First of all, Heisenberg developed particle mechanics, Schrodinger developed wave mechanics, so no one denied that light behaved like a particle. In fact, Heisenberg was working to prove that all matter behaves like particles (or more correctly, as observables in an experiment). When Mr. Gilder says that, "Waves ripple infinitely forth through a material medium; particles are single points of matter.", he has no idea what he is talking about. First of all, photons and electrons are not particles, otherwise, they would have extension in space. They do not. They are localized Gaussian wave packets which behave in a particle-like fashion. Also, waves do not ripple infinitely. In fact, they are absorbed, deflected, diffracted, bent, etc.


Quantum physics can make sense, how-ever, if it is treated in part as a domain of ideas, governed less by the laws of matter than by the laws of mind. Atomic phenomena, the paradoxical stuff of the quantum domain, seem to represent the still-mysterious domain between matter and mind, where matter evanesces into probability fields of information and mind assumes the physical forms of waves and particles. Paradox, which is a perplexity for things, is a relatively routine property of thoughts. Conceiving of the quantum world as a domain of ideas, we make it accessible to our minds. The quantum atom is largely an atom of information, a rich domain of information at the foundation of matter.

This makes no sense. Again, I would flunk him if he were my student.

We have no idea what "ideas" are. To make the connection between something we can measure and something we cannot requires some sort of bridge and I have no idea what the nature of that bridge might be, except in the Hypostatic Union, but if he is trying to say that quantum mechanics requires the supernatural, he is way wrong. Also, to say that paradox is a perplexity fot things makes no sense and I know of not one single person who has used this language.

What the heck is a probability field of information? How does mind assume the physical forms of waves and particles? What the heck is an atom of information? It is true that information theory relies on bits as exchange units of information, but these are not atoms. Also, quantum theory can deal with information storage in so-called quantum computers, but these have to do with accessing states of a quantum system. Quantum fields do exist, but they do not appear to be a candidate for a bridge between matter and mind. As the entry on quantum field theory says in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

The question whether QFT is an atomistic theory hinges on the understanding of atomism. The answer could be ‘yes’, if atomism is understood as the availability of reductionist explanations, and ‘no’, if atomism is understood as the claim that all there is are particles and the void. However, looking at effective field theories, even the ‘yes’ with respect to reductionism could turn into a ‘no’ since there is no fundamental level of particles/fields any more (see Cao & Schweber 1993). Further discussions of the significance of effective field theories for the question of reductionism can be found in Hartmann 2001 and Castellani 2002. [emphasis, mine]

If there is no fundamental level of particles or fields, then how can Gilder compare and contrast particles and waves as if they were finite things (or at least one of them)?

If this is what he says in the video, then, if Ilion is correct, he reached a correct conclusion in spite of bad logic. Since I don't know what he said in the video, I don't know this, for certain, but if his video is anything like his writing, I am not convinced that he is making a contribution.

Sorry, I tend to get carried away when people start spouting junk science. I ask to be corrected if I erred in representing what Mr. Gilder said or meant.

Oh, and a note to poor, departed Ilion:

The computer program used the Monte Carlo Technique as it is called in statistical mechanics.

The Chicken


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