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Biosemiotics and Intelligent Design


Semiotix – Stephen Pain

The distinction between “theorising” and “belief” is extremely important because our attitude differs towards them. In a theory the reified concept of the sign does not have an ontological status but an epistemological one. While in belief, the concept has often a clear ontological one. Uexküll believed in his concept of the Bauplan in the same way as Bergson believed in the vital force. The concept of a plan is of course no different from the creationist’s concept of “intelligent design”. Any usage of the Bauplan is further complicated by its ideological usage in The Biological State, Uexküll‘s template for the German State, one that was anti-democratic and in many instances attractive to the Nazi of the 1930’s. Here I might bring in a Viennese philosopher of biology, Felix Mainx, who contributed an entry to an encyclopaedia of science of which Charles Morris was one of the main editors. After the terrible experience of the Nazi period, Mainx spent a lot of time analysing in detail the wrongs of vitalist biology or “parabiology” as he called it. Certainly, Uexküll’s theory of the Bauplan falls into this category:

The same holds for the concepts “plan”, “constructed plan”, “functional pattern”, and the like. It is characteristic of many parabiological theories that they turn such concepts into things to which they attribute an action on the “substrate” of organic events. (Mainx, p.637)

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The Copenhagen-Tartu scene has a foothold in the University of Hamburg? Do they publish anything that's scientifically worthwhile? But I can get my hermeneutic of suspicion on and suggest that Pain's paper is a product of the post-2001 Science Peace. The Philosophy and World View tables are heartwarming stuff. The columns should really have been labelled Tired and Wired. Everything is brighter with Post-Modernism. According to Pain, Uexküll's brand of vitalism is "no different from" ID, yet ranks below it on the reification evil-o-meter? "Interpretant: God" and "Reification: Relgious High" is the cheap-tuxedo argument again. So ID mandates a (presumably Genesis-like) creation by a transcendant personal God while at the same time being identical to inter-war vitalism - which in turn is highly compatible with Nazi immanentism? And do only creationists/vitalists believe in the objective existence of fundamental entities in science? It is true both that vitalism is compatible with ID and that there's a fine collection of skeletons in its specimen room. I have some doubt that inter-war biology can be divided neatly between Nazi 'parabiology' and 'proper' biology taking place elsewhere, though. anonym

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