William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

There’s More Than Physics: A Review Of Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos. Guest Post by Bob Kurland

Thomas_Nagel_teaching_Ethics

Kurland provides us with a succinct review of Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False. This will ease us into the week with a discussion why our intellects cannot be explained by science. But can be otherwise. For a more comprehensive view, Ed Feser’s in-depth series on the book—almost book length itself!—is not to be missed.

The aim of this book is to argue that the mind-body problem is not just a local problem…but that it invades our understanding of the entire cosmos…I believe a true appreciation of the difficulty of the problem must eventually change our conception of the place of the physical sciences in describing the natural order.

What? An eminent philosopher of the mind, Thomas Nagel, a professed atheist, taking up the theistic argument that “the materialist, neo-darwinian conception of nature is almost certainly false”—who wood-a thunk it?

In a nutshell, Nagel argues that current belief that there is a physical theory of everything—a theory that includes human mentality and values—is unbelievable:

I find this view [reductive materialism and neo-Darwinism] antecedently unbelievable–a heroic triumph of ideological theory over common sense. [p 136]

This disbelief is founded on the following propositions:

  • physical science cannot account for the incredibly unlikely beginning of life;
  • physical science and the neo-Darwinian model cannot account for the development of consciousness;
  • physical science and the neo-Darwinian model cannot account for the development of cognition from consciousness;
  • physical science and the neo-Darwinian model cannot account for the role of value in human activity.

The fundamental difficulty with the currently accepted physical picture, according to Nagel, is that the ways in which materialism and neo-Darwinism try to account for mentality are inadequate.

The first way is to deny that the mental is an irreducible aspect of reality, either (a) by holding that the mental can be identified with some aspect of the physical, such as patterns of behavior or patterns of neural activity, or (b) by denying that the mental is part of reality at all, being some kind of illusion (but then, illusion to whom?). The second way is to deny that the mental requires a scientific explanation through some new conception of the natural order, because either (c) we can regard it as a mere fluke or accident, an unexplained extra property of certain physical organisms — or else (d) we can believe that it has an explanation, but one that belongs not to science but to theology, in other words that mind has been added to the physical world in the course of evolution by divine intervention. [emphasis added] The Core of Mind and Cosmos

Nagel rejects divine intervention, both for the presence of mind and for the beginning of life. Instead he proposes a teleological principle that operates to achieve values (undefined) that include consciousness and cognition; mutations that work to such an end are preferred, that is have a higher probability. Nagel terms the failure of materialism and neo-Darwinism to account for the above “a materialism of the gaps”. The arguments Nagel gives to support the above propositions are involved. Were I not already convinced of his propositions, I would find his arguments unconvincing.

Since a detailed examination of these arguments would require an article almost as long as the book, I’ll not do that. Instead, I invite the reader to go to the book, or if you don’t want to spend the bucks, look at Chapter 4 of the book, on Cognition (it’s available online for free–use the link).

Finally, I wonder why the addition of a “teleological principle” is not more ad hoc than that of a creating God. It does seem to be the case that for many atheists, their faith (or non-faith?) cannot be shaken.

57 Comments

  1. Briggs

    July 20, 2015 at 8:54 am

    Of course we have to agree with Nagel that teleology forms part of cause. Things tend in certain directions. Teleology is natural is Thomistic and Aristotelian metaphysics, but materials have long sought to toss it out, making crude and baseless references to probability, as if probability were a thing.

    But where does the teleology come from? Well, the same place as our intellects. Don’t miss the Summary Against Modern Thought series, which can be accessed by using the Categories drop-down menu at the bottom of every page.

  2. Physical science cannot account for the development of metamorphosis.

    Isn’t an illusion mental?

    Agreed that the addition of a “teleological principle” is at least, if not more so, ad hoc than creating a God. Or maybe “teleological principle” is the atheist version of God, since they don’t want to admit there might be a God.

    (Briggs: Is there someone other than Thomas Aquinas that addresses this?)

  3. physical science cannot account for the incredibly unlikely beginning of life;

    False in two ways: Physical science says that the “life” of an organism is just the thermodynamic and chemical “livelyness” of its component molecules. Whether the organization of molecules into a “living” organism, by which is meant a collection of molecules which interacts with its environment in such a way as to preserve the collection in its activity, and to reproduce the pattern in which its component molecules are organized in a new collection, is “incredibly unlikely”, has not been proved at all. It may well be almost inevitable given the history and properties of matter in the universe. That such processes were “incredibly unlikely” to have begun is a pure conjecture. The actual processes of material “life” are well accounted for by physical science and neo-Darwinism.

    physical science and the neo-Darwinian model cannot account for the development of consciousness;

    True: If by “consciousness” you mean the changing flux of Qualia which constitutes and is the “substance” or “stuff” of first-hand experience; and for the existence of which physical science and neo-Darwinism have provided no explanation whatsoever. See David Chalmers and what he calls “The Hard Problem”.

    physical science and the neo-Darwinian model cannot account for the development of cognition from consciousness;

    False: “cognition” is essentially information processing and that is explicable on the principles of physical science and does not need to “develop from” “consciousness” as defined above; and its evolutionary development is explicable on the principles of neo-Darwinism. What is not explicable within either of those paradigms is why “cognition” should “be accompanied by” or “be made manifest as” or “give rise to” or “be subvenient to” or “cause” that changing flux of Qualia which constitutes first-hand experience.

    physical science and the neo-Darwinian model cannot account for the role of value in human activity.

    False: there is logical hiatus between “facts and values” or “statements in the indicative tense and statements in the imperative tense” but that does not prevent the evolution of an animal which exhibits occasionally adaptive, apparently purposive in a teleological sense, behaviour patterns which are the active expression of electrochemical processes genetically caused to develop in its neural architecture. What physical science and neo-Darwinism cannot account for is why such activities of the neural architecture should “be accompanied by” or “be made manifest as” or “give rise to” or “be subvenient to” or “cause” a changing flux of Qualia of first-hand experience that we choose to call “preferences”, “emotions”, “desires”, “purposes”, “intentions” or “feelings” and which constitute our first-hand experience of valuing.

    Qualia are the great mystery. Their logical relationship to the principles of physics is unclear. To the extent that the principles of physics depend upon observation it is the principles of physics which are logically derived from the flux of Qualia. Qualia have not, as yet, been logically derived from the principles of physics. If they ever are, and the principle of causality remains intact thereafter, then neo-Darwinism will likely explain their distribution in the lived first-hand experience of “conscious” subjects. Until then, Bishop Berkeley and the Buddhist meditation masters are at the forefront of what little knowledge we have of Qualia and their logical relationship with the principles of physics.

  4. The teleological or physico-theological argument, also known as the argument from design, or intelligent design argument is an argument for the existence of God or, more generally, for an intelligent creator “based on perceived evidence of deliberate design in the natural or physical world.”

    RE: “I wonder why the addition of a “teleological principle” is not more ad hoc than that of a creating God.”

    In contemporary use, the “teleological principle” is the same as “intelligent design” – neither more or less ad hoc because it is the argument to explain a creating God.

    As for that design [teleological principle] – neuroplasticity is a topic to peruse as that delves into the nature of the underlying “design” (e.g. London Cabbies demonstrated to have increased brain tissue in areas associated with spatial relationships, something that takes a couple of years of focused study to develop). Neuroplasticity, the study thereof, has shown –and demonstrated—consistent patterns of effects of brain damage. Strokes, for example, can slowly nibble away at someone’s (usually an elderly person’s) mental capacity. And basic personality and their demonstrated values, sometimes altering them in profound ways – ways that are also predictable based on knowing what brain area is damaged/destroyed. The effects of strokes on particular areas of the brain, where profound personality changes are consistently observed in the same consistent ways for the same types of brain damage, also points compellingly to a physical (“hard-wiring”) of the brain being the cause & sourse of personality, not some divinely installed soul. If the latter, where is the soul going as one (usually elderly) person undergoes (suffers from) a series of micro-strokes that slowly nibble away at their personality, intellect and a myriad ways of functioning? Or, is that just God’s way of harvesting one’s soul bit-by-bit over time vs. all at once at death?

    If responding, please don’t cite Edward Feser, not only doesn’t he get it, he refuses to acknowledge the reality of some basic medical physics (e.g. Edward Fesar, “What is a soul?,” Friday, March 30, 2012):

    “…. In particular, a human being can be damaged to such an extent that it completely loses the organs of its animal and vegetative powers, and thus cannot exercise them at all — to such an extent that only its intellectual and volitional powers remain. BUT THOSE INTELLECTUAL AND VOLITIONAL ASPECTS OF HUMAN NATURE, PRECISELY BECAUSE THEY ARE IMMATERIAL AND THUS DO NOT DEPEND ON ANY CORRUPTIBLE MATERIAL ORGAN, CANNOT THEMSELVES PERISH, any more than they can in the case of an angel — …”

    As is well known & documented, the intellectual and volitions aspects of human nature ARE highly dependent on the corruptible brain, and when given parts of the brain are corrupted in specific ways, the affected human’s behavior changes in consistently observed (‘predictable’) ways.

    It’s easier to evade addressing hard facts when one can toss in ‘big words’ to gussy-up simple concepts (verbal equivalent of ‘smoke & mirrors’). It’s the same exact tactic a fortune-teller/astrologer [pseudo-science/philosophical belief] applies when discussing astronomy (science) as if talking about the objective science of the study of stars somehow lends credibility to the belief in fortunetelling by the stars. For those that want to believe, this is all it takes… unfounded pretense built on hubris interwoven with facts not truly relevant to the actual topic.

    Feser, and others, to hang onto his particular viewpoints & broader philosophy, resort to the standard tactic of talking about a topic, and presenting examples, giftwrapping the concepts in jargon that sounds profound, but which but evading entirely pesky facts that will not only contradict but disprove entirely, a cherished belief. Verbal gymnastics aside, it’s the same tactic of hubris – only here instead of being meant to deceive some audience (e.g. with astrologers) it’s meant to deceive oneself.

    Robert DeNiro co-starred in a good movie about that principle, Angle Heart. It’s about a guy that thought he concealed his identity from a debt collector but only gave himself amnesia – in the end regaining his senses just before paying his debt. It’s a good movie, but will be opaque & nonsensical to those who have difficulty comprehending metaphor & other forms of symbolism.

  5. “The effects of strokes on particular areas of the brain, where profound personality changes are consistently observed in the same consistent ways for the same types of brain damage, also points compellingly to a physical (“hard-wiring”) of the brain being the cause & sourse of personality, not some divinely installed soul.”

    I must have missed the part of religion where God specially stated there is no mind-body connection. I seem to recall statements to the opposite. Humans are both mental and physical—these two components cannot be disconnected. This is not evidence that God does not exist but rather that a genuine understanding of religion and God is missing in the speaker making the comment.

  6. I must have missed the part of religion where God specially stated there is no mind-body connection.

    Perhaps not God, but personality changes after strokes imply some thoughts are not possible or change following physical damage. Makes one wonder if the brain is a necessity to thought and, if so, one can only wonder how the intellect would function after death.. If it can’t then how would one experience the joys of Heaven?

  7. Ye Olde Statistician

    July 20, 2015 at 4:30 pm

    If by “consciousness” you mean the changing flux of Qualia which constitutes and is the “substance” or “stuff” of first-hand experience

    No. By “lion” do you mean the changing flux of “gazelles”? By “vacuum cleaner” do you mean the changing flux of electricity?
    BTW, one loves the use of scare quotes around “life.” An excellent job of smuggling.
    ++++

    In contemporary use, the “teleological principle” is the same as “intelligent design”

    “Contemporary use” is wrong in so many ways. It is often sloppy and inchoate. “Teleology” is one of them. Hence, the confusion evidenced by the statement.

    London Cabbies demonstrated to have increased brain tissue in areas associated with spatial relationships

    Boxers have been demonstrated to have increased muscle tissue in areas associated with left jabs and right crosses. Naturally, if an organism exercises an organ, that organ will develop. But no one, least of all Thomas, would deny that “spatial relationships” are a matter for the brain.

    The effects of strokes on particular areas of the brain… points compellingly to a physical (“hard-wiring”) of the brain being the cause & sourse of personality, not some divinely installed soul.

    “Contemporary use” is wrong in so many ways. “Soul” [anima] is another of them. So too the confusion of consciousness with “personality.”
    BTW, we should all be comforted that Thomism places consciousness in the brain as well. It is an outcome of the “common” sense.
    (cf. Brennan, Thomistic Psychology, Macmillan, 1941)

  8. DAV: You’re missing my point. There is a mind-body connection and it is expected that damaging the body will affect the mind. It’s logical and realistic. As for intellect after death, seems logical that a God that created humans would have a plan for that. The body was clearly only designed for Earth. Admittedly, since humans just could not follow instructions, death became necessary. I don’t see that any aspects of life after death would be impossible for God.

    I would also note that in the science arena, there’s always talk of taking brain cells or whatever and putting the mind into a computer. Creation of a new body. If humans think they might be able to do this….?

  9. The mind isn’t the essence of our consciousness or cognizance. It is more than likely an just interface between us and our soul.

  10. In terms of the mind-body connections, the Catholic Church holds that the soul and body are one; put another way, the soul has a body.
    “You don’t have a soul, Doctor. You are a soul. You have a body, temporarily.”
    from “A Canticle for Leibowitz”.

  11. I’ll have more to say to JT why his assertions that the four propositions are false is incorrect, later….just got back from a near-accident: on a two-lane highway, car passing (over the solid line) coming directly to us, and we went into the ditch. The car was towed and ran ok, so we’re ok, so Thanks be to G-d.

  12. Teleology is rubbish because it’s useless intellectual baggage. It *explains* nothing. The purpose of teleology is to give religious or spiritually minded people a fuzzy sense of delusion that there is *something* magical that explains everything for them. (Hence the emotive infatuation with Aristotelian idiocy in this day and age. Of course, Aristotle wasn’t idiotic 2.5 millennium ago. It’s just idiotic to peddle this nonsense today.)

    The other problem is that many claims made in the above article are wrong or misguided. We have already been down this path of pretending something exists by giving it a name. Case in point, Vitalism. And people who declare that life cannot derive from non life do so for fairly ignorant religious reasons. (Religion need not be ignorant. It just seems to attract a certain a certain class of ignorant person as its defender, unfortunately.) Anyone familiar with the current state of origins of life research would not make the sort of foolish statements made in the above article.

    Finally, to say science doesn’t know X, Y or Z, is unhelpful, but to draw conclusions from that is to engage in a logical fallacy. (Argument from ignorance.) We don’t know X, therefore it must be W. To point out our current limitations in understanding nature does not bring us one step closer to making religious claims more robust. In fact, neither have anything to do with each other. If you are a theist, then to understand nature a little more is to gain some slight insight into the mind of God. Only the ignorant and fearful worry that such insights ‘disprove’ God. The existence or non-existence of God is a metaphysical question, not a scientific one.

  13. “Teleology is rubbish because it’s useless intellectual baggage. It *explains* nothing. The purpose of teleology is to give religious or spiritually minded people a fuzzy sense of delusion that there is *something* magical that explains everything for them. (Hence the emotive infatuation with Aristotelian idiocy in this day and age. Of course, Aristotle wasn’t idiotic 2.5 millennium ago. It’s just idiotic to peddle this nonsense today.)”

    I notice that in this polemical emotive outburst, there is no attempt to disprove teleology. Someone already unsympathetic to it might gain a, ahem, fuzzy sense of delusional intellectual superiority over “idiotic nonsense” and “magic” in “this day and age”, but I fail to see what else it’s supposed to accomplish.

  14. @ Ye Old Statistician

    By “lion” I might mean an abstract concept, to wit: a universal, which allows me to use the word “lion” to denote indifferently any one of many thousand particular animals which might enter into my flux of experience, as in “Oh, look! There is a Lion!” Or I might mean that actual portion of the flux of Qualia, irrespective of what explanation you propose to give for its happening, which I immediately and intuitively recognize as Lion, meaning nothing more than, THAT. It is a very deep question whether the objects whose existence we postulate as causes thereof in order to explain the consistencies and patterns in the flux of experience are real.

  15. “As is well known & documented, the intellectual and volitions aspects of human nature ARE highly dependent on the corruptible brain”

    …which Fesar [sic] does not in fact deny. It would appear that someone “doesn’t get it”, but that someone is not Feser. Put simply (probably too simply), a damaged bodily organ (IE, the brain) may prevent the intellect from being fully expressed, although its potential to do so is still there. Thomists do not deny that the brain is linked to cognitive function.

  16. Senghendrake,

    It’s not an emotive outbust because I’m an academically trained philosopher. (But I run my own business as there is not much work for philosophers these days.) Teleology is a historical artifact that was replaced intellectually nearly 400 years ago, by the Cartesian metaphysics. I don’t need to present arguments against it any more than I need to present arguments that the moon is not made of green cheese. If you’re claiming that the moon is made of green cheese, you need to prove it, not me. Of course, you can argue that my claim that the moon is NOT made of green cheese is just an emotive argument because I provided no evidence. Well that type of argument makes you look as bright as your Telelogy statement, doesn’t it?

  17. “It’s not an emotive outbust because I’m an academically trained philosopher. ”

    Academically-trained philosophers are immune to emotive outbursts? Gotcha.

    “Teleology is a historical artifact that was replaced intellectually nearly 400 years ago, by the Cartesian metaphysics. I don’t need to present arguments against it any more than I need to present arguments that the moon is not made of green cheese.”

    Oh, I beg to differ. That’s the whole point, isn’t it? It’s pretty clear that I think the said replacement was a mistake, and incorrect, and that you DO need to present the said arguments. Trying to avoid doing so by appealing to the “obvious” does not impress me in the least. Also, appealing to the fact that something is historical and out of fashion versus the newcomer that replaced it comes across as highly fallacious. That’s not going to work on me.

    “If you’re claiming that the moon is made of green cheese, you need to prove it, not me.”

    I’d say that in this case, the burden of the proof lies on those who are proposing something new (Cartesian metaphysics) rather than those opposing (Scholastics). The entire point of my criticism is that you failed to back up your statements, and further doubling down is not helping your cause as far as I am concerned.

  18. In any case, if Mr. Nitschke is interested in levying his academic philosophical training to destroy some backwards idiots and their magical out-of-fashion metaphysics, he is cordially invited to do so on this forum:

    http://classicaltheism.boardhost.com/index.php

  19. Ye Olde Statistician

    July 20, 2015 at 9:30 pm

    Teleology is rubbish because it’s useless intellectual baggage.

    This would carry more weight if you have not demonstrated in the past that you do not understand natural telos. There is some discussion here:
    http://www.sunypress.edu/pdf/54101.pdf
    where it explains how the old mechanical philosophy of the machine age made the idea literally unthinkable. People who still cling to the old modernist account even in an age of attractor basins, potential functions, adaptation, coding, and the like, still have those difficulties.

    The other problem is that many claims made in the above article…

    It is useful to recall that the claims were made in a book written by an atheist, so any counterclaim that the concept is only for people looking for an excuse to posit God obviously miss the mark. Recall that Aristotle did not reason from telos to God. He did reason from efficient causes to God; but no one derogates efficient causation because of this.

  20. IF life ”created itself” because was hot water = energy available +carbon and other essential elements for life on that spot = now on every square foot are ALL essentials for life available, and new independent genera would have popped like mushrooms everywhere BUT: no ”second independent genera” was create for 3.7 billion years! All the knowledge, money and technology today, cannot create one new life – was that ”pinch of mud” smarter than ALL the contemporary scientist?!

    Dolly the ship was created, by scientist using the genes from god’s creation! When the scientist said to god: -”give me some dirt, I will create life” – God replayed: -”make your own dirt”!

  21. Senghendrake,

    Again you are only being stubborn for religious reasons, not because you’re being rational. There is no teleology in science, because teleology is useless. This is not something you can debate. We have computers, cars, Pluto missions, all with the help of Cartesian metaphysics and the scientific method, and zero, ziltch, zip, using Aristotelian nonsense.

    The other obvious point is that even if you persist with the useless teleological metaphysics, there are lots of things it can’t explain. I once had a chat about this and offered my chess playing computer as an example of why teleology was useless. Nobody responded because they couldn’t. Except YOS, who jumped in to assert that Cartesian metaphysics was fine for chess playing computers but teleology was needed for everything else. Wrong. Cartesian metaphysics explained all the examples. Scholastic metaphysics could explain some of them. Clearly, when you’re in that situation you select the metaphysics that explains more, not stick to the primitive animist metaphysics that explains less. Of course, I’m not here to convince you, as the world has moved on centuries ago, and for excellent reasons since proven correct. If you want to live in a mental dark age, that must clearly be your choice.

  22. Ye Olde Statistician

    July 20, 2015 at 9:54 pm

    Teleology is a historical artifact that was replaced intellectually nearly 400 years ago, by the Cartesian metaphysics.

    Descartes made many blunders, it is true; and kicking starting 400 years of philosophical squid ink was not least among them. He believed for example that if they could be expressed in mathematical terms, we could prove physical theories with the same certainty as mathematical theorems. Only in the past hundred years — with quantum mechanics, Popper, software, etc. — have we been shaking loose of it.

    Cartesian metaphysics also said the soul was a substance independent of the body, but we don’t see anyone touting that aspect of the Cartesian revolution.

  23. Stefanthedenier,

    Regarding life you ask the wrong question. Here is a better question for you: can God create life from non-life?

    If the answer is ‘no’ then you’re claiming there are things God can’t do.

    If you claim ‘yes’ then what is left of your argument?

    I suppose you could say, yes God created life using magic. But what is magic? It’s just another meaningless pretend word. (YOS has a whole library of meaningless pretend words he can toss into the conversation at a moment’s notice. It makes him think he is clever.) If you don’t reference magic, then you can say God designed a natural universe that made the creation of life from non life possible. Which would strike any rational person as more sane than believing in the existence of something you can’t even define.

  24. YOS,

    We’re not talking about Descartes philosophy, i.e., Discourse on the Method, et al. We’re talking about the intellectual movement broadly defined as Cartesianism that lead to the development of modern science. The Scholastics produced no science. Because they were wrong. There was only intellectual progress when your primitive animist nonsense was abandoned. We’ve moved on from Cartesianism to some degree. We do not know ‘the’ truth. But we know objectively, that we are closer to it at least, than your dark age beliefs.

  25. Ye Olde Statistician

    July 20, 2015 at 10:08 pm

    Again you are only being stubborn for religious reasons

    Except Nagel (whose book was being discussed) is an atheist and had no religious reasons.

    We have computers, cars, Pluto missions, all with the help of Cartesian metaphysics and the scientific method

    Henry Ford was a Cartesian scientist? Who knew. Now most of that was due to engineering rather than science, and Descartes comes into the Pluto mission only insofar as analytical geometry is helpful in doing the calculations. Newtonian mechanics was sufficient, and Newton proved his case using good old Euclidean geometry.

    But why not cite the usefulness of the mechanical escapement, the printing press, the elliptical arch, the windmill, and eyeglasses as somehow “proving” the usefulness of the philosophy of that age?

    I once … offered my chess playing computer as an example of why teleology was useless. … YOS, who jumped in to assert that Cartesian metaphysics was fine for chess playing computers but teleology was needed for everything else.

    That doesn’t sound right. Are you sure you grasped the point? As for any artifact, the teleology is self-evident: the intentions of the artisan. The telos in that case was to win chess games; the telos of a mechanical clock is to tell the time. Even to hold that a material gallimaufry of plastic and silicon is a “computer” requires human intention, as John Searle (another atheist, as it happens) pointed out. (My tea cup is a computer, currently executing the program “sit there and do nothing.”)

  26. Will: On your question of God creating life from non-life, I tend to agree with your more “rational” explanation, but then I wondered if God is alive and created life on earth, is God using magic or simply using part of his own life and expanding. After all, humans create another human from their life. I don’t know if it makes sense, I’m just throwing it out there. (You often mention you are a philosopher and this is what we discussed in philosophy, so I’m asking in that spirit.)

  27. Will Nitschke, I was a communist by birth, not by choice; I’m agnostic by conviction.

    Yes, I’m sure that god created everything we can see or not; nothing creates by itself – I hope his parents were looking over his shoulders, when he was creating the lot, not to screw it up.

  28. Sheri,

    Assuming the premise of God’s existence, God doesn’t use magic as it’s not required. He builds a universe that does what he wants based on the laws of nature he creates. ‘Magic’ is something only human minds require when they cannot grasp something or do not know something, but like to pretend to themselves that they know something they don’t.

    Stefanthedenier,

    While I am entirely sympathetic to your skepticism of the something from nothing claim, you cannot know that God did this or that, or that God is or is not required to make things happen, because nobody knows the answers to such questions. What you meant to write was, “I feel better if I believe X.”

  29. YOS,

    As always you intentionally conflate issues, because you are obviously buried knee deep in dogmatic beliefs; now, you are clearly not as silly as the arguments you usually present. A strict Catholic can do good science or engineering, by using the Cartesian methods that he or she did not invent. Newton’s mechanics sprang from Cartesianism (hence his quote, that he stood on the shoulders of giants) even though he was devout.

    A chess playing computer required a human designer but there is no Telos to be found in it. If you want to say God designed nature, that’s fine. It’s a metaphysical claim that cannot be proven or disproven. But you don’t want to say this. You want to assert there is Telos everywhere in nature. Not required, any more than the requirement for the computer to have it. We proved the non requirement when we built a computer that could act on intent.

    This is not hard to grasp and in a way, self evident. (Things are always self evident, usually after centuries of wrong turns are explored.) The reason why it is not self evident to you, is that you are mired in a certain kind of ancient religious philosophical dogmatism.

  30. Will Nitschke. so far; nobody succeed to create OR destroy one single atom – look how many atoms are in this universe – somebody / on English is called ”God” on other language has different pronunciations, BUT: that guy created those things. I wasn’t talking about the Buddhist or Muslim gods or what the bishop knows. Somebody created all this mess, and looks pretty interesting.

    On the other hand, the bishop doesn’t know sh/t from clay, same like me, regarding the real God

  31. so far; nobody succeed to create OR destroy one single atom

    Really? Atomic weapons only pretend to do these? If not, what makes you think the list will not expand?

  32. DAV said: ”Really? Atomic weapons only pretend to do these?”
    mate atomic weapons destroy buildings that ”people made” not atoms! Fission and fusion are not destroying what god made!

    God made all the things; to be manipulated and used by people, not to be destroyed; changing one thing into another is NOT ”destroying it” e=>mc2 OR revers. Eating the bread to fertilize the soil to produce more grain for bread = nothing made by god destroyed in the process. cheers!

  33. changing one thing into another is NOT ”destroying it”

    Then you have a very odd definition of destroy. Changing a house into rubble is destroying the house. Making a tree into lumber is destroying the tree.

    de·stroy, verb
    put an end to the existence of (something) by damaging or attacking it.

    cre·ate, verb
    1) bring (something) into existence.
    2) cause (something) to happen as a result of one’s actions.

    Fission is the destruction of atoms while fusion creates them in the sense that something which wasn’t there (the new atom) comes into existence. If you meant Create from Nothing and return to Nothing: the idea that the universe sprang from Nothing is pure conjecture. How do you know the universe didn’t come from something that always was? The idea that something physical has existed forever is no more farfetched than a god who has existed forever.

  34. Will: That is NOT what I asked. I asked if God is living, why could he not create our life from his living being. There was absolutely NO mention of magic in that statement. And you insult in my intelligence by lecturing on magic. I know perfectly well the difference between magic and science. May I assume you had a lapse in reading comprehension or that simple philosophical questions have become beyond the scope of your ability to answer? I was asking a question a philosopher should be concerned with or at least be able to answer with something useful. Perhaps that was mistake. (Your definition of magic applies to evolution, you do know that? You made the exact same case to Stefan that applies to evolution–we CANNOT KNOW these things. You can be so blind to your own prejudges and then you give answers to others that just scream out that prejudice, while lecturing them on the non-existent realities of science.)

    DAV: Matter is neither created nor destroyed. So atoms would be rearranged, not created or destroyed. Unless you have discovered the laws of physics need to be amended.
    The physics law is stated as: law of conservation of matter – a fundamental principle of classical physics that matter cannot be created or destroyed in an isolated system.
    We can argue over classical versus theoretical, but comparing atomic fusion to a tornado is questionable. I was always taught macro and micro are not equivalent.

  35. Sheri, Matter is neither created nor destroyed.

    The claim was that atoms have not been created nor destroyed by anyone., specifically, nobody succeed to create OR destroy one single atom

    Sorry but this is false. What gets rearranged in an atomic weapon are subatomic particles and even those have been broken apart by people. Ramming antimatter with normal matter results in complete annihilation of the matter in question. This is not new physics.

  36. DAV: I am just reporting that the law itself used the word “destroyed” and “matter”, both of which are apparently up for interpretation as far as you are concerned. You can argue this out with stefanthedenier.

  37. Sheri, FYI it’s mass and energy which can’t be created nor destroyed. Matter can be created from or returned to energy (destroyed) thus E=mc^2. The confusion is that stefanthedenier apparently was talking about creation from Nothing (which I addressed) and bobbled it.

    https://van.physics.illinois.edu/qa/listing.php?id=1757

    Even the Wiki page on Conservation of Mass admits: Certain types of matter (a different concept) may be created or destroyed

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conservation_of_mass

  38. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/conservation+of+matter
    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/conservation+of+matter
    http://2012books.lardbucket.org/books/introduction-to-chemistry-general-organic-and-biological/s08-01-the-law-of-conservation-of-mat.html

    Wiki is not a valid source of anything other than opinion and often bad information. Wiki will tell you climate change is real. Not so much after the master manipulater constanting editing the pages to reflect the official mantra was removed, but still. I am horrified that people think an encyclopedia edited by ANYONE is somehow a quotable source.

    Again, I really don’t care about this. I was just putting up a common statement taught to most everyone in high school physics. Was the wording “proper” and “correct”? Maybe not, but it’s what was taught.

  39. Wiki is not a valid source of anything other than opinion and often bad information.

    But freedictionary and dictionary.reference are acme sources?
    For Wiki, not always true and in this case agrees with the physics department at University of Illinois that I linked first (see Follow Up #1 at same). Can’t say for sure of course but they likely know what they are talking about.

    Here’s that link again if you’ve misplaced it:
    https://van.physics.illinois.edu/qa/listing.php?id=1757

    Conservation of matter is a fine principle for chemistry where nuclear changes don’t occur but it is not generally applicable.

  40. Ye Olde Statistician

    July 21, 2015 at 3:30 pm

    But what is magic? It’s just another meaningless pretend word.

    Natural magic is the production of an effect using “hidden” [occult] properties of matter; for example, the banishing of a headache by the medieval practice of chewing willow bark. Engineering is the production of an effect using known [manifest] properties of matter, as in the modern production of aspirin. Natural science is the process of moving things along the scale from occult to manifest.
    “We marvel at something when, seeing an effect, we do not know the cause. And since one and the same cause is at times known to certain people and not to others, it happens that some marvel and some do not.”
    — Thomas Aquinas, Contra gentiles

    We’re talking about the intellectual movement broadly defined as Cartesianism that lead to the development of modern science. The Scholastics produced no science.

    Except for producing science itself. However, the development of modern science, per Peter Dear, consisted of six things:
    1. The view of the world as a kind of machine.
    2. The distinction between “primary” and “secondary” qualities.
    3. The use of deliberate and recordable experimentation.
    4. The use of mathematics as a privileged tool for disclosing nature.
    5. The pursuit of natural philosophy as a research enterprise.
    6. The reconstruction of the social basis of knowledge around a positive evaluation of cooperative research.
    (in Mersenne and the Learning of the Schools)
    Most of these “pillars” were present in the Middle Ages, which is why many historians today tend to play down the idea of a Scientific Revolution. The real revolution, imho, was the successful attempt by Descartes and Bacon (the latter in The Masculine Birth of Time) to redirect the telos of science from an appreciation of the beauty and interconnectedness of nature to one of making useful products to further man’s dominion over the universe.
    Bacon, being wiser than Descartes, did not claim final causes did not exist, but simply that they did not further man’s conquest of the universe. To understand that a bird’s wing is for flying does not help build strategic bombers, but to know how it does so will result in profitable ventures — even if by bicycle makers and not scientists.

    hence his quote, that he stood on the shoulders of giants

    Which he lifted from Bernard of Chatres:
    “We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. Our glance can thus take in more things and reach farther than theirs. It is not because our sight is sharper nor our height greater than theirs; it is that we are carried and elevated by the high stature of the giants.
    — Bernard of Chartres, quoted in John of Salisbury,
    Metalogicon [1159], Book III ch. 4
    Considering the bad feeling between the two — Newton methodically eliminated references to Descartes in his book– he was hardly likely to have meant Descartes as the “giant.”

    A chess playing computer required a human designer but there is no Telos to be found in it.

    You mean it is not for playing chess? Who knew. Or did you mean something like this:
    The teleology or “directedness” of a watch towards the end of telling time is extrinsic to the parts of the watch, insofar as there is nothing in the bits of metal and glass that make up the watch by virtue which they inherently serve that end. The time-telling function has to be imposed on them from outside.
    Objectively, apart from human interests, the object is “nothing but” a collection of plastic and metal parts. Its “computerish” character is observer-relative; it is in the minds of the designer and users of the object,

    You want to assert there is Telos everywhere in nature. Not required, any more than the requirement for the computer to have it. We proved the non requirement when we built a computer that could act on intent.

    That is self-contradictory: the most direct form of telos is acting on intent. And of all the doubts of telos in the natural world, none ever doubted telos in the world of artifacts. Until, we suppose, now.
    This is not hard to grasp and in a way, self evident.

    you are mired in a certain kind of ancient religious philosophical dogmatism.

    The book under discussion in which natural teleology was defended was written by an atheist.
    ++++++++++

    Really? Atomic weapons only pretend to do these [create OR destroy one single atom]?

    Right. We haven’t even found any atoms yet, let alone created or destroyed them. What we did was jump the gun and apply Democritus’ term “atom” to a different kind of particle; but those things are more like Aristotelian minima than they are like Democritus’ atoms. “Atom” meant “unbreakable” and meant particles that did not have parts (and therefore could not have extension). But the things we call atoms very definitely have parts and do have extension, and some have been physically split.

    Changing a house into rubble is destroying the house. Making a tree into lumber is destroying the tree.

    This is a metaphorical use of “create” and “destroy,” and much of the confusion stems from a failure to distinguish such equivocal usages. Imagine trying to discuss “evolution” when some discussants consider the maneuvers of a marching band to be “evolutions”!!

    What we do with the tree and the house is transform them by altering the form of the underlying matter. The matter itself is “that which persists through change.” This is not what is meant in the technical sense by “create” even though in common talk the term is often used so metaphorically.

  41. I didn’t see anywhere that someone can alter the free dictionary. My point was about common usage, but since you have no interest in this, I’m done.

    I did not lose the link but thank you for being so concerned about my possible lack of organization and/or memory.

  42. This is not what is meant in the technical sense by “create” even though in common talk the term is often used so metaphorically

    Then you must think creatio ex nihilo is merely carrying unnecessary baggage for emphasis much like tuna fish does with fish and creatio ex materia is just plain silly: creation from nothing from something.

  43. Sheri,

    I doubt very much you understood what I wrote, because your criticism of what I wrote clearly demonstrated that failing. Nobody can understand the difference between ‘science and magic’ contrary to what you asserted, because there is no such thing as magic. You can’t understand the difference between two things, if you don’t know what one of those two things is.

  44. YOS,

    If you merely now wish to redefine Telos out of existence, that’s fine. I’m happy to agree that the issue is merely definitional after all. When I point out that a chess playing computer has intent, in one sense this is true and in other senses it is not. Because it depends on the definition of ‘intent’ one selects.

    If your definition is, acting on conscious human desire, then the chess playing computer has no intent.

    If your definition is, acting in a measurable observable way to achieve a goal, then clearly the chess playing computer has intent, by any objective standard.

    If by ‘Telos’ you now mean a convenient short-hand description of some other deeper (less self evident) process, then that is fine. However, I would still point out that by introducing this short-hand you are allowing confusions to more easily enter your thought processes. (Because you will tend to confuse your analogy for a real thing.)

    Again, let me grant the premise that God exists. God creates Nature, and Nature is designed to achieve whatever goals God set it. That would include the creation of life from non life. Since God created Nature, Nature can do whatever God’s purpose is. This is no arbitrary limit in Nature, since it’s God’s Tool. It’s actual limits or its Laws, are those set by God also. Therefore, to argue that Nature cannot create life from non-life is a confusion of thought. And we already understand, in our extremely primitive understanding of Nature, that Telos is a redundant concept. And not only do we understand it philosophically, we proved it empirically when we managed to create universal computing machines.

  45. Will: There’s no such thing as unicorns or dragons, but people have a clear picture of what said mythical creatures look like. I can’t discuss the difference between horses and unicorns because unicorns are mythical?

    How can you assert there is no such thing as magic if it cannot be defined or described? It’s meaningless to say there’s no such thing as magic as it is to say there’s no such thing as jljlja;ouerkaje. Undefined terms cannot be discussed nor dismissed as nonexistant.

  46. Sheri,

    A unicorn is a horse with antlers who loiters around young female virgins. I can also give you a description of Spiderman or Sauron, even though these individuals do not exist.

    But you can’t give me a description of what magic is. You can point to *something* and say *this* was *caused* by magic. But you can’t describe magic to me. Magic is a place holder word for that which has no no meaning. Another place holder word we’ve discussed innumerable times here, is ‘random’.

    I can point to *something* and say this was *caused* by a *random* [or insert ‘magical’] process. Probability theory was invented for that very purpose–to give a description, but of *something else observed*. I can’t say say X was caused by randomness. Because there is no such thing as randomness/magic.

    On this point, Dr Briggs and I, and even YOS, no doubt agree completely.

  47. I’m now going with “i know it when I see it” or I would recognize it if it did pop up. Worked for Justice Stewart.

  48. Will Nitschke said: ”A unicorn is a horse with antlers who loiters around young female virgins.”

    Will, unicorn evolved when a Greek scholar went to Egypt, he was shown a rhino – so: he recorded in his book: -”there is an animal that looks like a horse, but has one horn”
    Therefore: that animal exist!

  49. I’m sure humans are imaginative enough that they don’t need to see a rhino to think up a horse with a horn on its head. I doubt Frank Baum had to visit Africa to come with the idea of flying monkeys.

  50. Will Nitschke said: ”I’m sure humans are imaginative enough that they don’t need to see a rhino to think up a horse with a horn on its head”

    Will, the Greek scholar has made a picture of the rhino, on a clay tablet – whoever read what’s on the tablet; that’s how he interpreted it. I wander IF YOUR imagination would have being different, if you saw it on a clay tablet, instead on a color photo

  51. Can we get back to the point of the discussion?

  52. Ye Olde Statistician

    July 22, 2015 at 8:32 am

    If you merely now wish to redefine Telos out of existence

    Who is re-defining? I’m explaining the actual definition that was originally employed, as opposed to the silly distortion employed by the Early Moderns.

    When I point out that a chess playing computer has intent, in one sense this is true and in other senses it is not.

    Be careful. You are rephrasing Thomas’ minor premise in his Fifth Way.

    it depends on the definition of ‘intent’

    Not especially. Intention is only one kind of telos, and does not apply to inanimate bodies. That you continually use “intent” when you mean to say “telos” indicates that you do not understand what it means.

    by introducing this short-hand you are allowing confusions to more easily enter your thought processes

    Actually, I am attempting to clea up your confusion between “telos” and “intent.” Confusion arises from using terms equivocally or by joining two things under a common term. Confusion is lessened by splitting distinct meanings into separate terms. Do not confuse your analogy of “intention” for “telos” with the real thing.

    Again, let me grant the premise that God exists. God creates Nature, and Nature is designed to achieve whatever goals God set it. That would include the creation of life from non life.

    Now you are channelling Augustine of Hippo as well as Thomas Aquinas!
    “It is therefore, causally that Scripture has said that earth brought forth the crops and trees, in the sense that it received the power of bringing them forth. In the earth from the beginning, in what I might call the roots of time, God created what was to be in times to come.”
    — Augustine of Hippo, On the literal meanings of Genesis, Book V Ch. 4:11

    and
    “Nature is nothing other than a certain kind of art, namely God’s art, impressed upon things, whereby those things are moved to a determinate end. It is as if a shipbuilder were able to give timbers the wherewithal to move themselves to take the form of a ship”.
    — Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Physics II.8, lecture 14, no. 268

    Telos is a redundant concept.

    I do not see how the terminal is redundant to the railroad, or the target to the archer. How can “A cause B, always or for the most part” if there is no B? How could adaptation proceed? How could computers compute?

    we proved it empirically when we managed to create universal computing machines.

    You say that as if computers had objective existence. But an assembly of metal and plastic is only an assembly of metal and platic and derives is function of computing from its designers and builders. How does this demonstrate the redundancy of telos any more so than the automata built to amuse the Byzantine Emperor? Or indeed, a hammer. A hammer is a hammer only in the minds of humans. Otherwise, it is simply an assemblage of metal, wood, and rubber.

  53. Will: Maybe, if we could recall what that was.

  54. “Intention is only one kind of telos, and does not apply to inanimate bodies.”

    Exactly the point I am making, which you repeat, yet without comprehension. Cartesian metaphysics adequately explains the natural world (hence success of modern science). Your Telos theory has (a) no useful explanatory power – it is no more that a rhetorical word game, and (b) cannot explain significant parts of the natural world. Something you freely admit.

    This is why, intellectually, the world moved on to the superior metaphysics. You’re stuck in your dark age dogmatism for emotive reasons, not rational ones. A metaphysics cannot be “proven” as “wrong”. There can be only “better” or “worse” metaphysical concepts, based on their explanatory power. Your medieval metaphysics was superseded centuries ago because it was drastically inferior with regards to (a) and (b). But again for you, this is not about serious philosophy. It appears to be more about some form of masturbatory self indulgence driven by feelings, unfortunately.

  55. Ye Olde Statistician

    July 22, 2015 at 6:38 pm

    Cartesian metaphysics adequately explains the natural world (hence success of modern science).

    You have named no success of modern science, only successes of modern engineering. Medieval engineering (aside from inventing the profession) include in no particular order: camshafts, verge-and-foliot escapements, mechanical clocks, eye glasses, wheeled plows, hydraulic hammers, toothed wheels, transmission shafts, steam blowers, blast furnaces, treadles, spinning wheels, trebuchets and mangonels, crossbows, flying buttresses, stained glass, elliptical arches, cranks, overhead springs, coiled springs, horse collars, gunpowder and pots de fer, the mizzen mast, the compass rose, portolans, stern rudders, anaerobic curing of fatty fish (“pickled herring”), screw-jacks, screw presses, printing presses…
    As regards scientific accomplishments, the explanation of the rainbow (Theodoric of Fribourg), the work principle in physics (anon., Aliud commentum), motion on an inclined plane (Jordanus de Nemours), image formation on the retina (Witelo), laws of magnetism (Pierre Maricourt), and “Gresham’s” law of money (Nicole d’Oresme).

    The problems of science. In addition to formulating the scientific method and providing the study of nature with a “home base” independent of political control, the medievals established the subject matter of modern science: the nature of space and time, the existence of a vacuum and the possibility of motion through it, the kinematics and dynamics of local motion, etc. The scholastics posed hundreds of different questions and cited a massive amount of empirical data (bellows, siphons, etc.) Galileo and the others did not work on new questions; they found new answers. As Grant says, “Without the natural philosophy of the universities, the 17th century would have had little to discuss.”
    The language of science. The medievals passed along Aristotelian terms like potential, cause, matter, substance, analogy, relation, quantity and quality, genus and species, and created new terms like numerator and denominator, uniform motion, acceleration, gravity, momentum, impetus, inertia, kinematics and dynamics, intensity and quantity. Without this language, we could not talk about the problems of science.

    Your Telos theory has (a) no useful explanatory power … and (b) cannot explain significant parts of the natural world.

    a) It’s not a “theory.” It’s necessary for efficient causation. Explain how A can cause B if there is no B.
    b) How can you “explain” the heart without mentioning that it is for pumping blood? How can you “explain” evolution without mentioning that it is the “origin of species”? How can you explain computer programming without mentioning that it is for something.
    c) Natural telos was never abandoned. It was smuggled in quietly. Unless nature acts toward an end, there can be no laws of nature.

  56. Steve borodin

    July 24, 2015 at 5:06 am

    Use of thr precautionary principle rules out use of the precautionary principle.

  57. What happens if two precautionary principles collide? Kind of like when one endangered species eats another. Is there a rule for picking which precautionary principle should apply? Do we just flip a coin, seeings that there is no science in the principle anyway?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

*

© 2016 William M. Briggs

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑