Re: [asa] Natural Agents - Cause and Effect, Non-Natural Agents

From: Terry M. Gray <>
Date: Thu May 28 2009 - 11:11:55 EDT

Greg, Randy, and others,

Perhaps we should substitute the word "creational" for "natural" when
this is what we mean. Besides, the word "nature", when analyzed
carefully, implies autonomy and self-existence, rather than radical
dependence on the Creator.

The only pitfall I see is that angelic, demonic, and Satanic activity
would be "creational" in addition to human and social behavior.

While I expect this to go nowhere, I will put in a plea for a richer
ontology, say, along the lines of Hermann Dooyeweerd, where we don't
just have natural vs. supernatural or physical vs. human, but we have
a range of options each with their own unique philosophical dimensions
and methodologies: thus, mathematical, physical, biological,
psychological, social, economic, political, pistic, etc. In fact, this
is how the academic world really does break down and why it's often
difficult for social scientists to talk to physicists.


On May 28, 2009, at 5:32 AM, Randy Isaac wrote:

> Greg,
> You and I may have different definitions of "natural" or perhaps
> even "physical" and so you attribute positions to me that I don't
> hold. I tried to explicitly define terms but perhaps it wasn't
> clear. My use of the terms "natural" or "physical" is what I think
> is common among my colleagues: it includes all human actions,
> choices, emotions, etc. Perhaps the only human function not included
> are communion with God, indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and a
> personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I would consider that as
> supernatural though natural processes are inevitably involved.
> Yes, I know that in universities sometimes the "natural sciences"
> are distinguished from the "social sciences" but we're not using the
> term "natural" in that sense. I've never had a problem with and have
> always considered all social sciences to be "natural" as opposed to
> "non-natural" or "supernatural" or whatever term is in favor.
> Randy
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: Gregory Arago
> To: ; Randy Isaac
> Sent: Sunday, May 24, 2009 9:00 AM
> Subject: Re: [asa] Natural Agents - Cause and Effect, Non-Natural
> Agents
> Hi Randy,
> We,ve had versions of this discussion before on the ASA listserve
> and I appreciate that you recognize the difficulties in
> distinguishing human-made things from non-human-made things. You
> have, however, if memory serves me correctly, indicated that it is
> possible to recognize <artificial> things as distinct from <natural>
> things, while also admitting a grey zone.
> Your new acronyms are in some ways helpful and in other ways they
> further confuse the conversation (just like MN vs. MN). But first
> things first, I think you,ve mislabelled what you consider to be
> <the question.> Or at least, I don't see demarcating <science> from
> <non-science> as the main topic. It puts all of the focus on
> <science> (as a single, monolithic term) and nothing on the
> differences between the sciences, which include the use of various
> methods, strategies, approaches, theories, paradigms, etc.
> Randy wrote: <The question is <Can science detect design?> My
> response was that you [Cameron] must first specify what design we
> are discussing.>
> Another way to phrase your question is <What kind of design can
> science detect?> Phrasing <the question> this way would offer room
> for Mike Gene,s positive approach to design and would perhaps
> satisfy Cameron,s notion that <Darwinism,> which (as an ideology) is
> inconsistent with Christianity, banished the concept of <design>
> forever from the academy. I don,t think you,re suggesting that
> <design> simply *cannot* be a <scientific> concept by definition. Or
> are you Randy? Those who argue this are predominantly atheists or
> agnostic anti-theists.
> It might do some good for TEs/ECs in terms of kingdom communication
> to at least accept that *some* kinds of <design> are scientifically
> detectable. But *which* kinds? Let me be clear though Randy, that
> I,m not necessarily speaking about <origins of life> or <origins of
> consciousness> as topics for which <design> should be allowed in
> <scientific> hypotheses. Surely you personally have <designed> many
> things in your life, which are amenable to scientific study?
> That said, let me address your PT and MT acronyms, what they reveal
> and what they obscure. First, I think you,ll find IDists welcoming
> to the idea you suggest of at least considering <teleology> in
> scientific realms. Your position, it seems, however, is that
> <metaphysical is philosophical,> while <physical is scientific>. But
> I don,t see any reason that responsible overlap between them cannot
> take place so that philosophy can help science (natural-physical and/
> or human-social) with the unity of knowledge. Without philosophy,
> science is just fragmented specialisation by elites (a kind of new
> priesthood) in our (mass) <scientific age>.
> You write:
> <PT is design as carried out by a phyiscal entity having some degree
> of intelligence taking some action mediated by the four fundamental
> forces (E&M, gravity, strong, and weak).>
> Here,s where the problems and obscurantism come in. A <physical
> entity with intelligence> is not *merely* a physical entity. And
> saying that such an entity is <natural> is also problematic. This is
> because, as a character that most under-40 <young peopole> can
> understand, when he was faced by a deterministic (cf. evolutionary)
> view of history and the future, once said: <The problem is choice.>
> You,ve placed human-made and (other) animal-made things in the same
> category of PT. Certainly people have goals and purposes and plans,
> and therefore <teleology> is an appropriate concept to apply to the
> building of temples or pyramids, etc. But you need to recognise non-
> natural sciences, Randy.
> It seems to me that Cameron,s argument, and perhaps Mike Gene,s too,
> is that <intelligent causes> needn,t be excluded a priori from
> <science>. Of course, then my questions (which are part of the
> recent field called PSS - philosophy and sociology of science) then
> are: <which science?> and <whose science?> And that is a big deal on
> topics such as whether or not science can *only* study <natural>
> things. If you,ve read my long critique of Keith Miller,s position,
> Randy, there I argue that <science> can study non-natural things
> too. Do you agree with this or not?
> You,ve give an example, Randy, where <intelligent causes> are not
> necessarily the same as <supernatural causes>. So, it doesn,t seem,
> as you say, that it is <logical to conclude that the intelligent
> agent in question is divine.> But if the <agent> in question is not
> <divine> or <supernatural>, I don,t think the IDM,s impact would be
> as important, nor do I think they would have much ground on which to
> stand in suggesting that they are offering a <bridge between science
> and theology>.
> I see nothing wrong with elevating the concept of <intelligence>
> among scientists, or of highlighting the idea of <pattern
> recognition> or <specification>. Nevertheless, it is in partnering
> natural-physical scientists (i.e. where <intelligence> is already
> studied wrt non-human life forms, e.g. animals) with human-social
> scientists (i.e. where <intelligence> is already studied wrt
> humanity) that the most significant advancescan be made in the 21st
> century. Unfortunately, the IDM has not yet taken such steps to
> create such a union; nor has the leadership of ASA.
> Gregory
> --- On Sun, 5/24/09, Randy Isaac <> wrote:
> From: Randy Isaac <>
> Subject: Re: [asa] Natural Agents - Cause and Effect, Non-Natural
> Agents
> To:
> Received: Sunday, May 24, 2009, 3:11 AM
> Cameron wrote:
> 7. The rest of Keith Miller's argument is more or less the same as
> Randy Isaac's. He argues that one cannot infer design without some
> prior knowledge of the designer or the means. I would like to make
> two points about this (A) Even if he is right, he still has not
> established that ID tries to "investigate divine action". Design-
> inference in ID is not God-inference (all IDers concede that God can
> be identified with the designer only by non-scientific arguments),
> and in any case, God's *effects* are not the same as God's invisible
> *actions*. ID as a theory, therefore, does not "investigate divine
> action", in any reasonable sense of that phrase. But it makes great
> theological rhetoric, which is why TE people keep using it. This
> greatly disappoints me. (B) The argument that prior knowledge of
> either the designer or the means is required for design detection
> strikes me as unsound, but to establish that will require a separate
> post. So I will leave it here for the moment.
> Let me try a differnt path to help explain. The question is "Can
> science detect design?" My response was that you must first specify
> what design we are discussing. At the expense of inventing two new
> acronyms, let's separate design into two aspects: Physical
> Teleology (PT) and Metaphysical Teleology (MT). PT is design as
> carried out by a phyiscal entity having some degree of intelligence
> taking some action mediated by the four fundamental forces (E&M,
> gravity, strong, and weak). Examples abound and include a bee hive
> built by bees, a Mayan temple, an Egyptian pyramid, an ant hill,
> Olduwan tools, etc. Maybe plant intelligence would also be included
> though I'm still learning about that. MT is any design in the
> physical world perpetrated by a metaphyiscal entity with means other
> than the four fundamental forces. Examples would be angels, demons,
> spirits, or God carrying out events like speaking or appearing in a
> dream, sending pigs over a cliff, water becoming wine, etc.
> Using this terminology, let's rephrase your question and break it
> into several parts:
> Can science detect PT? Yes.
> Has science detected PT in the origin and/or development of living
> cells? No.
> Can science detect MT? No.
> Has science detected MT in living cells? No.
> Note that determining jugs to contain water at one point in time and
> wine at a subsequent point with no known exchange of liquids doesn't
> constitute detection of MT. And this example illustrates why science
> cannot detect MT no matter how much we may wish it could. The
> effects are not repeatable or obtainable under controlled
> situations. One can only document the state of the system at various
> points in time but not trace the Hamiltonian that effects the
> transition.
> As for your being "greatly disappoint[ed]" that some people keep
> using the "great theological rhetoric" of ID investigating divine
> action, it really isn't clear what ID is investigating. It has often
> been noted on this list that it is bewildering that ID advocates
> usually get very upset when ID is defined as stating "there are
> patterns in nature that are best explained by the actions of a
> supernatural (aka divine) agent," insisting that it must be
> "...intelligent agent" and not supernatural. The only logical reason
> for such insistence (other than the strategic desire to keep ID non-
> religious to allow it in the classroom) is that natural (or physical
> since some people were upset on this list about the definition of
> natural) agents are a reasonable option. That notion runs into
> difficulty rather quickly upon reflection. And so, unless one
> believes in other influential spiritual (i.e. nonphysical) beings
> with creative powers, it seems logical to conclude that the
> intelligent agent in question is divine. Bewildering indeed.
> Randy
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Terry M. Gray, Ph.D.
Computer Support Scientist
Chemistry Department
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, CO 80523
(o) 970-491-7003 (f) 970-491-1801

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Received on Thu May 28 11:12:36 2009

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