Re: [asa] Anti-Creationist Psychobabble On the Web - non-natural agents?

From: D. F. Siemens, Jr. <>
Date: Sun Apr 05 2009 - 23:22:30 EDT

On Sun, 5 Apr 2009 21:38:50 -0500 Preston Garrison <>
> > Bill Powers wrote:
> >
> >>I would ask a different question:
> >>
> >>Can you give an example of a natural agent?
> >
> >Natural agents are events or processes that have a cause-and-effect
> >link to a subsequent event or process. For example the eruption of
> >a volcano might be the proximal cause (agent) for a subsequent
> >decrease in global temperature by increasing the concentration of
> >sulfur-dioxide aerosols in the upper atmosphere.
> >
> >Organisms are also natural agents as they impact their environment
> >and by their actions cause a subsequent event or process. Humans
> >are obviously powerful natural agents in the natural world.
> >
> >Keith
> >
> Sorry folks, but the philosophy police have arrived. (That would be
> me.) A volcano is not an agent in the sense of that word that
> philosphers have usefully defined.
> An agent is someone who has freedom (not merely degrees of freedom
> in
> the mathematical sense) but freedom in the sense that we that human
> beings and other moral agents are free.
> Talking about volcanos or electrons as having freedom is either a
> rather confusing metaphor or a category mistake, unless you want to
> define the terms agent and freedom differently, which you are free
> to
> do, but please tell us what your definition is.
> O.k., pedantic mode off. Everyone back in the pool. Have fun.
> Preston

We have a problem. The usage of "agent" is broader. OED, after some
meanings that distinguish "agent" from "patient" notes that the term
applies to "any natural force acting on matter." If you are talking about
moral agency, of course, freedom is necessary. But that is only one of a
number of meanings. Even extreme pedantry cannot expunge recognized

I note that causation is normally considered transitive, so A causing B
and B causing C lets us claim that A causes C. There is a different
situation when the chain comes to a person. If A is natural light
dimming, B a photosensitive switch, and C a light going on, it's a chain.
But if B involves a person who may flip a switch, it's not a simple

But it should be noted further that the "causal chain" is not that
simple. Flipping a switch causes a bulb to light, true. But there are
also such matters as wires being entire and insulated, the breaker or
fuse not open, transformers on the poles functional, Maxwell's laws, etc.
almost ad infinitum. Causality involves a network, though it is not what
we normally recognize in using the term, which is likely to be only the
precipitating cause, the last element in what we think of as a chain.
Dave (ASA)
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Received on Sun Apr 5 23:27:44 2009

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