[asa] Rejoinder 7E from Timaeus – to Gregory Arago

From: Ted Davis <TDavis@messiah.edu>
Date: Wed Oct 22 2008 - 10:14:01 EDT

Timaeus had forgotten to reply to Gregory, and thus he sent me this last evening.

He notes that Henri Bergson "did not accept a wholly mechanical model of living nature, whereas it seems that all three of the camps in our current debate do. I do not know what an updated Bergsonian evolutionary theory would look like, but if someone should be able to pull it off, I would read it with great attention."

My comment: I don't know whether there is any such thing out there today (an updated Bergsonian theory), but I can say that Bergson was very influential on at least one of the leading science/theology writers of the period between the world wars--I mean Arthur Holly Compton. You would be very interested, Timaeus, in Compton's Terry Lectures, "The Freedom of Man," (given 1931, pub 1935). I don't recall whether Bergson is even directly mentioned in that book, but work I've been doing on Compton (as yet unpublished) reveals that Bergson was probably the single most important influence on Compton's theology of nature, elements of which are expressed in that book.



To Gregory Arago:

I apologize for short-changing you by only replying once so far, and only briefly, to your many posts. The reason that I have not replied to you often is twofold: (1) Often, though you have referred your comments to my discussion, you have been addressing or challenging others, e.g., George Murphy, so I have let your main addressee carry the conversation; (2) Often your comments are so close to mine in spirit that I cannot think of anything to say other than “I agree”, or “Good point!”

Nonetheless, I have found your replies interesting and thoughtful, though sometimes a little hectic in style and therefore a bit hard to follow.

I will try to comment briefly on a few points:

On Oct. 2, you wrote:

“Timaeus wrote: “Drop the grand claims of self-sufficiency for the Darwinian mechanism, to make room for another cause, on another level of causation: intelligent design.”
In reply, I implore Timaeus: Drop the claims of bottom-up causation represented by such examples of Mt. Rushmore, Easter Island, a mousetrap and the ‘Welcome to Victoria’ floral arrangement (Meyer’s fav); these things have nothing other than analogy to do with ‘intelligent design’ being proposed in ‘biology!’ The conception of ‘intelligent cause’ in IDM-ID is not merely of an intelligence,’ it is of a mysterious (extra-earthly or non-earthly) intelligence (i.e. another level of causation) that is not within ‘science’s’ domain to study.”

Mt. Rushmore is not bottom-up causation, but top-down causation, as is all “design” causation. Of course, that is not to deny that two levels of explanation can be simultaneously true. The lights on a neon sign reading “Eat at Joe’s” are due BOTH to impersonal natural causes (the laws of electricity, causing mindless electrons to flow necessarily through the neon-filled letters), AND to design (neither the meaningful English sentence nor the layout of the electrical parts would exist without intelligence). The NCSE people insist that only “bottom-up” causation exists in nature, or at least that science is only allowed to study “bottom-up” causation in nature. I maintain that this is irrational, and that a fully rational approach to causation should be more important in science than “methodological naturalism”. That is, I prefer “inference to the best explanation”, which allows for multiple levels of causation in science. But then, as my name i!
 ndicates, I am partial to ancient philosophy, which possessed such subtlety, in contrast to much modern philosophy of the period running from Bacon through to Darwin. And on your last sentence, while science cannot study the Creator (or the Demiurge or the Prime Mover) directly, it can study the effects of the same directly.

You criticize me, and ID, for being too mechanical in the conception of nature. I think this is a potentially valuable criticism. I think that there are two reasons why ID has leaned strongly towards mechanism: (1) There are many features of biological systems which do in fact seem to be explicable wholly in mechanical terms; (2) Mechanical language guarantees that ID will not be accused of importing “spiritual” or “supernatural” causation into science. If you regard the flagellum as a very complex, well-engineered machine, which works entirely by acid chemistry and the laws of physics, you cannot be faulted descriptively or accused of importing theology, yet you can still work in the notion of design. But I agree that the mechanical understanding of nature leaves many problems, not to mention religious problems. For example, if we could use biochemistry to create a human being from scratch, with all the working biochemical parts, would that human being have a !
 soul? Is soul nothing other than the working arrangement of the parts of the whole? ID has no answer to this, and ID Christians do not seem to me to have publically addressed it. (However, I have privately spoken to one Christian ID biologist who has criticized ID on this point.) I have mentioned in passing Henri Bergson, whose evolutionary thought has been scorned as “unscientific” by atheist-Darwinists and TE-Darwinists alike. Yet Bergson, whatever his faults, at least did not accept a wholly mechanical model of living nature, whereas it seems that all three of the camps in our current debate do. I do not know what an updated Bergsonian evolutionary theory would look like, but if someone should be able to pull it off, I would read it with great attention.

On Oct. 7 you asked about immanence/transcendence in relation to ID and TE. There is not a one-to-one correspondence in the case of ID. (I can’t speak for TE.) ID is compatible with either the immanence or the transcendence of the designer. This is due to the very simple fact that ID cannot say anything about the designer that does not follow directly from the design itself. If I am in an airplane and look down on a football field at night, and see a huge display of lights spelling out the name of the football team, I can tell that the spelling of the name was designed, and not by accident, but from that distance I cannot see whether someone has laid out a bunch of torches in a letter pattern (“transcendent” designer), or whether a group of people walking about with torches have voluntarily arranged themselves into the letters of the name (“immanent” designer). All I can be sure about is that the word “Minnesota Vikings” did not occur due to the accidenta!
 l blowing by a windstorm of torchstands into a letter pattern, followed by the accidental lighting of every one of the torches through conditions of atmospheric dryness plus static electricity.

On Oct. 21st you ask me to take up a “challenge” regarding human-made versus non-human-made, but I’m simply not sure what the challenge is. Are you talking about the distinction between natural and artificial objects? If so, I agree that there is a distinction between natural and artificial objects, and never denied it. But I don’t get the point in relation to ID or TE. Is the point that the design inference only works for artificial objects, and doesn’t work for living systems? That wouldn’t be sound as an a priori declaration. One could hold that living systems are quite different from artificial objects in some respects, but not in all respects. For example, living things come into existence via generation rather than manufacture, but the model which governs the generation may be a designed model (ID), rather than an accidentally produced one (Darwinism). But possibly I just don’t understand what you are driving at.

As for your interest in continental philosophy, I agree with you that much of the North American discussion about evolution is based on heavily Anglo-American understandings of nature, which go back ultimately to the mechanistic thinking found in Hobbes and Descartes. The complete contempt for Bergson in Anglo-American circles is noteworthy, for example. His view of life is derided as “unscientific”, or “mystical” or the like, and thus incompatible with modern science (understood as materialism and mechanism). And of course Greek science is considered to be utterly unworthy of consideration (even though modern biology, with its inability to finally escape teleological thinking despite its ferocious allegiance to materialism, is finally coming to think that maybe Aristotle wasn’t such a moron after all). Anglo-American thought generally is Procrustean and narrow, focused on materialism and mechanism on the metaphysical side, and on the formal correctness of argu!
 ments (preferably these days with symbolic logic) on the epistemological side. It is the pathetic ghost of what once was the richness of European philosophy and theology. And the one thing which North America has been taking from Europe over the last 30 years – the line of thought running from Heidegger through Derrida and Foucault, which dominates thought in the Humanities and Social Sciences in North America now – is the most culturally destructive possible borrowing from Europe; it is nothing less than the taking of the poisons which have killed Europe into the bloodstream of North America. I wish that North American academics would pay much more attention to the whole history of European thought, and not simply to the trendy nihilism of French imitators of German philosophy. On this subject, the Sokal hoax exposed the intellectual vacuousness that Anglo-American thought in the Humanities and Social Sciences has sunk to, and on the more serious moral-political si!
 de of the problem, Allan Bloom’s book, *The Closing of the A!
Mind*, is still relevant. And not just TE, but ID and neo-Darwinism, are largely oblivious to these larger philosophical and cultural problems.

I see a thin ray of hope, however, when biologists like Sternberg and Denton start talking about Platonic forms in biological contexts. It means that at least some of the natural scientists are starting to recover the philosophical depths of old Europe, even if the humanities scholars and social scientists are currently drowning themselves in modern European nihilism. It will be the greatest of ironies if the modern scientists rather than the modern humanists are responsible for restoring our fullness of understanding of the world, but the world is filled with ironies these days.

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Received on Wed Oct 22 10:14:52 2008

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