48 Replies to “Aristotle and ID

  1. 1
    Ariston says:

    Undoubtedly, Aristotle would have been opposed to Darwinian evolution (and to evolution simpliciter), but the implication that he advocated a form of intelligent design must be significantly qualified (perhaps to the point of being denied).

    Aristotle, of course, did not present an account of biological origins because he believed that the plant and animal species are eternal. And the unmoved mover (i.e., God) is not a creator, but a more subtle kind of cause.

  2. 2
    Dan S. says:

    “Can this passage from Aristotle’s Physics be taught in schools? Or would the Post consider it insufficiently scientific? The debate over evolution didn’t begin with Bush, Schonborn, or the school of Intelligent Design. The debate goes back to the time of the Greeks, but the elite, in order to preserve a phony “scientific consensus,” is working overtime through the press to make sure that students don’t hear it.  ”

    So we should teach Aristotle in biology class? (Beyond perhaps a few lines about classification systems?) Bring back Aristotle to high school, sure, but in a class on philosophy. : )

    I doubt I can claim membership as part of the elite, but I’m pretty sure they’re not working overtime to keep students from learning about Aristotle’s objection to Empedocles’ rather bizarre precursor to natural selection (body parts growing out of the earth and wandering around until they found each other under the influence of Love?!). The American Thinker article is sort of a odd version of this whole debate in a nutshell – should we teach 9th or 10th graders the methods, nature (best guess, never absolute, modifiable) and genuine current consensus of biology, or should we dump large chunks of highly technical, rather advanced verbiage on them – especially along the lines of misleading “Margulis proves Darwinism wrong” claims?

    Despite my great respect for Aristotle, modern science has moved beyond him. His distinction between “chance and spontaneity” and “action for an end” is not relevant here. And no, women don’t have fewer teeth than men. He really got that one wrong, too.

  3. 3
    niwrad says:

    The Aristotle’s causality theory (“action for an end”) is perfectly in accordance with Intelligent Design theory.
    Moreover I found extremely appropriated that George Neumayr remember the Aristotle’s thought:> These axioms are often-forgotten truths.

  4. 4
    niwrad says:

    Sorry. The Aristotle’s causality theory (“action for an end”) is perfectly in accordance with Intelligent Design theory.
    Moreover I found extremely appropriated that George Neumayr remember the Aristotle’s thought:”an unmoved mover is the necessary ground of all creation and that effects cannot be greater than their causes. (Imagine what Thomas Aquinas would say about Darwinian theory.)”.
    Those axioms are often-forgotten truths.

  5. 5
    DaveScot says:

    Dan S.

    I think we should stick to the facts in HS biology class. The fact is there’s a lot more important modern biology to teach than there is time to teach it. By modern biology I of course mean observation and experiment with living tissue. This is opposed to theoretical/historical biology which is based on imprints of dead tissue left in rocks. It is not an experimental science and its conclusions are guesswork. A hundred years ago when cells were still considered blobs of protoplasm one might have made a case that historical biology was important to know. That’s not the case anymore. Micro-evolution, that which can be observed and experimented with, deserves some class time. The chemical, genetic, and morphological relationships between all *LIVING* things deserves some class time. RM+NS as the cause of these relationships deserves this recitation of fact: “Random mutation acted on by natural selection has never been observed to create any novel cell type, tissue type, organ, or body plan”.

    Do you have a problem with any of the above?

  6. 6
    neurode says:

    DanS.: “His [Aristotle’s] distinction between ‘chance and spontaneity’ and ‘action for an end’ is not relevant here.”

    Come now, DanS. Essentially, all you’re saying is:

    “Aristotle’s reasoning incorporates distinctions that my worldview excludes on an a priori basis, and since only my worldview is relevant here, Aristotle’s reasoning is irrelevant. Modern science, with which my own personal worldview happens to coincide perfectly, has moved beyond all that!”

    In fact, the Empedocles-Aristotle debate captures the core issues of the modern ID-Neodarwinism debate almost perfectly…showing that in over two millennia, science has made a net gain of exactly zero (knowledge) with respect to these core issues.

    The reason for this, of course, is that “science”, for all of the details resolved within its artificially narrow focus, has been very poorly defined. Concisely, it has been defined in an overly-restrictive way that effectively excludes certain features of nature at large, including the crucial distinctions you attempt to dismiss, from “scientific” investigation.

    Please, a little more substance next time.

  7. 7
    Charlie says:

    “By modern biology I of course mean observation and experiment with living tissue.”DaveScot

    Yes.
    Descriptions, predictions, experiments, measurements and observations.
    Science in science class. This makes sense.

  8. 8
    Ariston says:

    Neurode: “In fact, the Empedocles-Aristotle debate captures the core issues of the modern ID-Neodarwinism debate almost perfectly…”

    It does not. ID is committed to the existence of a designer who is the efficient cause of some biological facts. Aristotle has no such commitment. As I stated above, Aristotle believed that the plant and animal species are eternal (i.e., there have always been members of those species in existence), and therefore, he did not need a theory of biological origins.

    In fact, teleology as Aristotle defines it is consistent with a thorough-going naturalism (though Aristotle was not a naturalist).

  9. 9
    neurode says:

    Ariston: “In fact, teleology as Aristotle defines it is consistent with a thorough-going naturalism (though Aristotle was not a naturalist).”

    I’m afraid that I wasn’t talking about your particular kind of “naturalism”, whatever that may be.

    Perhaps, unlike the average ID critic, you can render a teleological account of nature which neo-Darwinists would find perfectly compatible with their own characteristic brand of “naturalism”. But in any case, since most of the neo-Darwinists involved in the ID-neoDarwinism debate consider teleology to be a dead hypothesis, we know immediately that they do not agree with you.

    By all means, if you have in fact succeeded in reconciling (neo-Darwinian) naturalism with Aristotelian teleology, then feel free to direct us to a detailed account of your insights. We can then decide, in a fully informed way, whether your teleological version of naturalism lines up with the neo-Darwinian version.

  10. 10
    Ariston says:

    Neurode,

    While I am an ID critic (though not necessarily an ID opponent), I am also not a naturalist. I am a theist for religious and philosophical reasons.

    By “naturalism” I mean “atheism with respect to nature.”

    The teleology at issue in Aristotle’s criticism of Empedocles (Physics II.8) – i.e., teleology as it concerns terrestrial substances – does not require either a deity or a designer. An animal substance receives its complete form from its parents. Therefore, Aristotelian teleology is consistent with atheism and naturalism.

    Modern science, including biology, has abandoned teleology for other reasons (this would want a long explanation), but I would argue that it has not been able to fill the explanatory gap created by its absence. Animals, for example, exhibit an inherent developmental trajectory. At its core, such a trajectory is a telos, and therefore, the animal exhibits teleology. The inherent trajectories of organisms are difficult to account for without sneaking in formal and final causes. Whether one explains these causes in terms of DNA or some other material mechanism is irrelevant.

    Thus, to sum up. Aristotle was not a proto-advocate of ID. Aristotelian teleology is consistent with atheism, and therefore, naturalism. Neo-Darwinists, however, along with the rest of modern science reject teleology on other grounds.

  11. 11
    Dan S. says:

    “This is opposed to theoretical/historical biology which is based on imprints of dead tissue left in rocks.”
    And of course, experiments and observations with live tissue – see genetics. But with this standard, we throw out not only most of geology (plate tectonics, anyone?), but ultimately the process that occurs if one comes home to find the door opened and stuff missing, and cops come and gather evidence . .

    Restrict science strictly to naked-eye observations right here, right now, no inferences, and you toss most of it.

    “The reason for this, of course, is that “science”, for all of the details resolved within its artificially narrow focus, has been very poorly defined”
    Well, it’s been narrowly defined, and that’s why all those details got resolved. Personally, I’m glad to have lived past childhood. Too much philosophy, and science starts wandering aimlessly . . .

    “In fact, the Empedocles-Aristotle debate captures the core issues of the modern ID-Neodarwinism debate almost perfectly”
    This ignores the advances in knowledge, measurement, and possible mechanisms that rather changes the terms of the arguement, to the very limited degree that I understand them. Must we go backwards?

    Remember the stage a lot of us went through, when it was unthinkable that the peas could touch the mashed potatoes? When it comes to learning about the world, this approach still makes sense up to a point, or we end up getting our chewing all messed up. Astronomy, for example, works better without mixing in philosophy*

    *obviously in the broadest sense, it’s a subset of what started out as philosophy, and is based on assumptions about how to know things, etc. But this at a different level than what I mean, I just don’t know the words.

  12. 12
    dave says:

    “In fact, teleology as Aristotle defines it is consistent with a thorough-going naturalism.”

    This, of course, all depends on your definition of “nature” (physis) doesn’t it? Aristotle’s definition meant the simultaniety of the four causes (including final causes, which I assume is what you mean by his “teleology”), in contrast to the modern scientific definition, which admits of only two (efficient and material). If by “thorough-going naturalism” you mean the modern Lucretian/Baconian definition of nature then, no of course Aristotle’s teleology isn’t consistent with a “thorough-going naturalism.”

    If, however, you’re ready to concede Aristotle’s final causes as an irreducible facet of nature, then yes, it’s naturalistic, but only in the sense that he and his followers from Thomas Aquinas to Jacques Maritain meant it.

  13. 13
    Ariston says:

    Dave,

    “Nature,” of course, is equivocal, so let me clarify. “Nature” as I use it in my definition of “naturalism” is meant with its modern sense, i.e., physical universe. “Nature” as Aristotle uses it in the Physics denotes the substantial unity of causes. In saying that Aristotelian teleology is consistent with naturalism, I ultimately mean that final causes are consistent with atheism.

    “…in contrast to the modern scientific definition, which admits of only two (efficient and material).” With respect, this is the kind of statement one might find in an elementary (and incorrect) account of the history of philosophy or science. For Aristotle, an “efficient” cause is the form of one substance acting as the cause of another. Without the complementary notions of form and end, efficient causality in unintelligible.

    The “Lucretian/Baconian” version of naturalism (as you put it), may explicitly reject teleology, but it unwittingly makes use of it all the same. A theory of change must have something do the work of form and end, implicitly or explicitly.

    Thomas and his commentators are not relevant here.

  14. 14
    Ariston says:

    I wrote: “In saying that Aristotelian teleology is consistent with naturalism, I ultimately mean that final causes are consistent with atheism.”

    As ID does not posit a deity as designer, let me add that final cuases are consistent with the absence of any designer.

  15. 15
    dave says:

    “With respect, this is the kind of statement one might find in an elementary (and incorrect) account of the history of philosophy or science.”

    Or on a blog maybe? This ain’t a graduate seminar, and the generalization that Bacon did away with formal and final causes is a pat but useful distinction. Heidegger found it useful anyway, in The Question Concerning Technology, where he makes the same assertion.

    “For Aristotle, an “efficient” cause is the form of one substance acting as the cause of another. Without the complementary notions of form and end, efficient causality in unintelligible.”

    Of course. But are you not doing exactly that with final causes? His whole physics is an integrated system, revolving (literally) around the Prime Mover (a deity, if you will.) Teleology in the Aristotelian sense is unintelligble outside of the whole system of his physics. How then is his teleology consistent with atheism?

  16. 16
    dave says:

    Ariston: “The “Lucretian/Baconian” version of naturalism (as you put it), may explicitly reject teleology, but it unwittingly makes use of it all the same. A theory of change must have something do the work of form and end, implicitly or explicitly.”

    Well, sure — I agree with you here, but Bacon wouldn’t, and that was the point, yes?

  17. 17
    dave says:

    “As ID does not posit a deity as designer, let me add that final cuases are consistent with the absence of any designer.”

    There’s a bit of equivocation here.

    First, The teleology behind A’s final causes is a very different concept than the teleology inferred by ID.

    Second, even if they were the same sorts of teleology, don’t you mean “final causes are consistent with the absense of a *deity*?”

  18. 18
    neurode says:

    Maybe I can help here.

    Ariston: “Aristotelian teleology is consistent with atheism.”

    If teleology and atheism are mutually consistent, then either (a) teleology is inconsistent with theism, or (b) teleology is consistent with both theism and atheism, which implies that it is independent of theology in general. Since teleology is obviously not inconsistent with theism, Ariston is saying that teleology is independent of theology. However, theology deals with that which determines the ends in nature, labeling this concept “God” (we’ll ignore the other criteria that various strains of theology attach to this term). In other words, teleology and theology are not independent conceptual domains, as Ariston seems to think.

    Ariston has also said that teleology is consistent with naturalism. Let “naturalism” denote the hypothesis that nature is subject to causal closure, i.e., is completely determined by nature itself. Then nature is in fact its own teleological determinant – i.e., that which determines the ends in nature – and nature is therefore teleologically equivalent to the central object of theology, God (theology-speak for the teleological determinant, or “that which determines the ends in nature”).

    But where nature and God are co-defined, atheism is by definition unnatural, and to the extent that teleology is consistent with atheism, it too is unnatural. This contradicts the premise that teleology and naturalism are mutually consistent. It follows that if “teleology is consistent with a thoroughgoing naturalism” (as Ariston maintains), then teleology is inconsistent with atheism.

    In other words, Ariston has succeeded in contradicting himself. It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to declare teleology compatible with atheism.

  19. 19
    Ariston says:

    “Or on a blog maybe? This ain’t a graduate seminar, and the generalization that Bacon did away with formal and final causes is a pat but useful distinction.”

    Fair enough. Though I have always been baffled by modern, anti-teleological accounts of (or rather, hand-waving at) causality addressed as “efficient” and “material”. Aristotle’s notion of cause is an integrated whole of material, efficient, formal, and final – efficient and final causes are modes of formal causation, and “matter” is merely the subject of form (indeed, proximate matter is nothing but lower level forms, and primary matter is potentiality, i.e., potentiality for form). It seems to me that the moderns don’t have an account of causality, and seek to hide their ignorance by misappropriating Aristotle.

    “His whole physics is an integrated system, revolving (literally) around the Prime Mover (a deity, if you will.) Teleology in the Aristotelian sense is unintelligble outside of the whole system of his physics.”

    True, Aristotle’s system does involve a deity, but, at least from a physical standpoint, his account of teleology as it concerns terrestrial susbtances does not require it. In the Physics, Aristotle’s argument for the Unmoved Mover is cosmological, not teleological. In the Metaphysics, God is presented as the highest end, but it is unclear how that account is to integrated with the physical treatises.

    Let’s focus on an example, say, the geneology of a particular animal species, dogs. According to Generation of Animals, the efficient cause of a dog is its male parent (in particular, the form of the male dog as imparted by the heat and motion of its semen). The material cause is the matter provided by the female parent. The form is that of dogness (I always think of form as structure). And the end is the mature, adult dog, including procreation.

    Given that Aristotle believed that there have always been dogs, and therefore, that a designer is not required to “make” dogs, together with the fact that dogs have a telos that is given solely by their form which is provided solely from the male parents, it is not clear what role a deity has to play in the dogs’ teleology. That is, what is lost from this account of teleology (that of Generation of Animals) if the metaphysical arguments for God are rejected?

    Moving to Darwinism, what is to prevent a naturally (in the modern sense) evolved dog from possessing a form which determines an end? An embryonic dog certainly has an inherent structure that determines a developmental trajectory, viz., an adult dog. What is to prevent us from identifying that structure with its form, and the terminus of that trajectory with its end?

  20. 20
    Ariston says:

    Neurode: “However, theology deals with that which determines the ends in nature, labeling this concept ‘God’…”

    This begs the question. Can there be ends in nature, or better, ends for natural things, without a designer who determines those ends? I don’t see why not.

    Leaving aside the soundness of evolution, I see no reason to deny that a naturally (again, modern sense) evolved animal would have a form and an end.

  21. 21
    dave says:

    “That is, what is lost from this account of teleology (that of Generation of Animals) if the metaphysical arguments for God are rejected?”

    Aristotle’s metaphysical argument for God is inextricably bound to his his view of change and telos. The nature/physis of a substance is a source of change or motion that moves it towards becoming that which it tends to be: its final cause. It is this motion that gives rise to the cosmological question of the ultimate source of motion.

    Said another way, Aristotle’s integration of the four causes included the idea that the nature of a substance is a principle of change (efficient cause) within itself which moves it towards its final cause. The nature of an acorn is to become a tree. The nature of a puppy is to become a dog. The motion within the puppy doesn’t end with generation, but continues throughout the maturing process.

    It was Aristotle’s observation of the continual process of change towards ends that gives rise to the question of the ultimate source of change/motion.

    As I understand the Physics II, I really don’t think you can separate Aristotle’s view of teleology from his view of God.

  22. 22
    dave says:

    Maybe “inextricably bound” is too strong. But the cosmological argument in Metaphysics lambda arises from the difficulty discovered in the Physics beta that there are contingent objects in motion. Aristotle was compelled to resolve this lest his Physics be incomplete, and did so by arguing that there had to exist one or more imperishable objects in eternal circular motion. You could attack A here on a few points, but it seems to me you would have to do so by rejecting one of more principles from the Physics.

    I really think trying to disengage Aristotle’s telos from his cosmology would prove very difficult.

  23. 23
    neurode says:

    Ariston: “This begs the question. Can there be ends in nature, or better, ends for natural things, without a designer who determines those ends? I don’t see why not.”

    But I do. Ends, like the universe they determine, are ordered constructs. Naturalism, which holds that nature is causally closed, thus implies that nature is an “order-manifesting entity”. If you wish to distinguish this entity from a “designer”, then you need to get busy and start splitting the required hairs.

    But why bother? In the end, all you’ll have accomplished is an exercise in the kind of semantic hairsplitting in which neither side of the ID-neoDarwinism debate is even vaguely interested.

  24. 24
    DaveScot says:

    Dan S.

    Sorry, but whoever told you that genetics uses fossils was pulling your leg. DNA doesn’t survive long in dead tissue and doesn’t fossilize. The only genetic evidence available is from living or recently dead tissue. I made careful note that the chemical and genetic relationships between living things deserves HS biology class study time. The study of living tissue is an experimental science. How those relationships came to be, whether by design or accident, is just guesswork and deserves little mention other than a recitation of the fact that RM+NS has never been observed creating novel cell types, tissue types, organs, or body plans. If you think that recitation is not factual feel free to provide some falsification for it. ID deserves a short mention as well because when you discount RM+NS as an all-powerful gap-filler there’s not much left as a gap-filler aside from design. There are basically three choices for the origin and evolution of life – accident, design, or undiscovered natural law. The accident theory looks more improbable every year as the known complexity of living things increases. The design theory looks stronger every year as human intelligence advances to the level of being able to create and/or modify living things using inanimate chemicals. The undiscovered natural law possibility remains undiscovered.

  25. 25
    Dan S. says:

    DaveScot, slow down and look at what I said:
    “>”This is opposed to theoretical/historical biology which is based on imprints of dead tissue left in rocks.”
    And of course, experiments and observations with live tissue – see genetics.”

    The “theoretical-historical” biology you are opposing is *based* on a *number* of lines of evidence, including “imprints,” biogeography, and the “chemical, genetic, and morphological relationships between all *LIVING* things.” (I do realize that genetics doesn’t really use fossils (darn it!), with one exception that I know of, being the extraction of DNA from rather quite young (all things considered) Neandertal bones – but I’m not familar with any more recent work along these lines, or the validity of the results.)
    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/homs/mtDNA.html
    http://www.psu.edu/ur/NEWS/news/Neandertal.html

    Why did you emphasize “living”? I’m missing your point?

    This vision of science you present is very confusing. How big differences came to be is not *just* guesswork, it’s guesswork based on evidence – like a detective looking for clues, not just randomly collaring people. ID does not deserve a short mention in large part because it doesn’t appear to have even preliminary support. We don’t usually tell students that well, the theory of plate tectonics seems to explain how the continents got where they were, and why rocks from one part of the state seem to have come from far, far away compared to nearby rocks, or why we have a chain of old worn-down mountain ranges and smooshed-up rock along the east coast of the US – but we’ve never seen two continents collide and create a mountain range, so hey, maybe what happened was an intelligent and powerful being designed the earth to look/act like that . . .

    Look, you guys get mainstream science behind ID, and I’ll teach it. Otherwise . . .

  26. 26
    Ariston says:

    Neurode,

    You’re only able to object as you do through question begging supported by equivocation.

    The question begging in nicely summarized as “Ends … are ordered constructs.” A nice premise given that it’s also your conclusion.

    Implicit in this circularity is the equivocation on “ends,” viz., the deliberative, purposeful ends of human behavior, and the non-deliberative, non-purposeful ends of (e.g.) the elements – a person went to the market to collect a debt, and sand settles on the ocean floor because its telos is downward motion.

  27. 27
    neurode says:

    It seems that Ariston is disappointed with my evaluation of his personal notion of teleology. This is unfortunate. But although I’ve tried to make sense of Ariston’s viewpoint, I’m not at all sure that this is possible.

    As nearly as I can determine, what Ariston has in mind is teleology without purpose, or perhaps teleology with a neutered form of “purpose” that suits his unique “naturalistic” perspective. This, of course, represents a radical departure from the mainstream.

    For most of those who have studied Aristotle, teleology is about purpose in nature. Teleological “ends” in nature are not just states at which natural objects somehow arrive, but driving forces analogous to human purpose. The analogy to human purpose invites extension; purpose implies volition, and volition implies some anticipative form of intelligence. Hence, the inference of a guiding hand in nature. (This, at any rate, is the direction in which the teleology concept was developed by the vast majority of Aristotelian scholars.)

    Ariston, on the other hand, apparently wants to neuter the teleology concept by counting inert matter capable of supporting it, thereby trivializing both purpose and teleology and rendering them meaningless from the perspective of the vast majority of philosophically literate people (and in all likelihood, from the perspective of Aristotle himself). This is very special, but it can hardly be counted a recommendation of his viewpoint.

    Therefore, instead of engaging in (apparently futile) argumentation with Ariston about what Aristotle meant by teleology and final causation, I’ll simply point out what is obvious to nearly everyone except Ariston himself: the ID-ND debate is ultimately about the source of natural order, and teleology can shed light on this only if it corresponds, in some sense, to the selective capacity of a designing agency which possesses a form of intelligence permitting it to choose one set of ends, and corresponding laws, over another. Otherwise, nature might as well have been the outcome of a crap shoot, except that a crap shoot never could have produced anything with the level of order and coherence displayed by nature.

    Perhaps, despite appearances to the contrary, Ariston has some worthwhile insight regarding the source of order in nature. If so, we can only hope that he will one day find the magic words to intelligibly express those insights, and get them belatedly off his chest. But until then, his cockeyed blessings on the fantasy marriage of teleology and atheism just don’t count for much.

  28. 28
    Ariston says:

    Neurode,

    A more careful reading of Aristotle (in particular, the Physics and the biological treatises), will show you that you have misunderstood what, in general, a telos is and where it originates.

    Let me prepare you, in summary, for what you would find: a telos is a terminus of motion (i.e., locomotion, alteration, generation) that is determined solely by the form (i.e., structure) of a substance. Indeed, a telos is nothing more than a mode of form. Every substance from the elements (earth, air, water, fire) to the most complex animals has a telos that is solely determined by its form (or, more properly, IS its form qua unactualized).

    A substance receives its form directly from another substance with the same form (i.e., kind from kind). And as Aristotle believed that the kinds are eternal, this line of transmission does not have a beginning. Consequently, there is no need for a designer because there was never an origin to formal complexity.

    That is, for Aristotle the source of order in natural substances is form, the source of a substance’s form is another substance of the same kind, and there is no additional source of substantial form. And as no designer is operative, no designer is required.

  29. 29
    Dan S. says:

    “the ID-ND debate is ultimately about the source of natural order”
    My understanding is that the current politicized debate is actually on how we find out about/interpret nature. At least, that’s all it can be, seems to me, as a science/philosophy of science debate. Granted, there is a concurrent philosophical and theological debate about the source of natural order, but I’m sure you’ll agree that – like long discussions of Aristotelian telos – it doesn’t belong in the high school science classroom.

  30. 30
    neurode says:

    Again, Ariston, this is just so much mumbo jumbo designed to neuter the teleology concept.

    If I had to guess, I’d say that your philosophy comes down to something I call “justism”, the central tenet of which goes something like this:

    “Reality just is! It doesn’t need an origin or an explanation because it’s just there. We don’t need to explain its ordered nature, because that’s simply how it is. And teleology…that just is, too! It’s just the end state of something already implicit in its form. And no, I don’t have to explain how or why the end state gets encoded in or decoded from the formal structure, because, and maybe you didn’t hear me the first time, that’s just the way things are! It just happens!”

    This position is even less scientifically and philosophically enlightening and productive than the one which holds that reality is “just a dream”. It tells us nothing and leads nowhere.

    Accordingly, let me make a suggestion. Aristotle’s notion of final causation is generally understood, though perhaps not by you, as the answer to a question: “Why has this thing come to be?”

    Now, humor us for a moment. Let “this thing” refer to the universe (this should effectively short-circuit any tedious explanatory regress to ever-larger systems). Do you have an answer for the above question that amounts to anything more than mere justism? If you succeed in spelling it out for us, perhaps we may find it worthy of discussion.

    Then again, maybe not.

    DanS, “the ID-ND debate is ultimately about the source of natural order” can be straightforwardly interpreted as follows: either the order in nature, and specifically in biological systems, arises (1) from design, or (2) as the output of a random process, and/or a nominally deterministic process that is itself ultimately random in the sense that it is the outcome of a random process, or which “just is” and requires no further explanation.

    In other words, the source of natural order is either design (on the part of a designing agency), or it is the mere outcome of physical processes governed by laws which themselves were not selected, and cannot be explained.

    Once this question has been tentatively answered with distinct hypotheses, we may then discuss the methodology by which to decide among them, and whether a particular definition of “science” will accommodate it.

    Incidentally, all of this should naturally be discussed in any science classroom from which students are to emerge with anything approaching an understanding of what the word “science” really means (as distinguished from how science is currently defined and practiced by those laboring under the restrictions of a particular philosophy or worldview).

  31. 31
    Dan S. says:

    “In other words, the source of natural order is either design (on the part of a designing agency), or it is the mere outcome of physical processes governed by laws which themselves were not selected, and cannot be explained. Once this question has been tentatively answered with distinct hypotheses, we may then discuss the methodology by which to decide among them, and whether a particular definition of “science” will accommodate it”

    It seems to me that you’re doing philosophy; sounds like science (“hypotheses, “methodology”), but isn’t. You’re going, in a sense, from from the top down, instead of from the bottom up. It’s the same thing that slowed down the development of science among the Greeks, if I understand correctly (which is admittedly questionable).

    “Incidentally, all of this should naturally be discussed in any science classroom from which students are to emerge with anything approaching an understanding of what the word “science” really means (as distinguished from how science is currently defined and practiced by those laboring under the restrictions of a particular philosophy or worldview”

    Um, that’s what science really means right now. Perhaps we could discuss different historical models in an elective class of some sort for older kids, and definitely college, but 9th, 10th grade biology? There it’s enough to focus on what the scientific method is.

  32. 32
    dave says:

    Ariston: “A substance receives its form directly from another substance with the same form (i.e., kind from kind). And as Aristotle believed that the kinds are eternal, this line of transmission does not have a beginning. Consequently, there is no need for a designer because there was never an origin to formal complexity.”

    For Aristotle, the kinds are eternal, but the motion within contingent objects that propel them towards their ends cannot be perpetuated without recourse to some non-contingent source of motion.

    It’s not enough to say that, since Aristotle thought kinds were eternal, final causes do not imply the existence a deity in Aristotle’s system. Aristotle absolutely believed that the motion within things that propelled them towards their ends could not be explained by the things themselves, but only by recourse to a deity.

    Again, you have to do major surgery on Aristotle’s project to separate his telos from his cosmology. Maybe such surgery can be done, but what you’d have left would not be Aristotle, strictly speaking.

  33. 33
    neurode says:

    DanS: “It seems to me that you’re doing philosophy; sounds like science(”hypotheses, “methodology”), but isn’t. You’re going, in a sense, from from the top down, instead of from the bottom up.”

    So it seems that DanS believes that science should work only from the bottom up. The general idea: observe many little details a few at a time, and eventually, like the ground walnuts that form the topping on that Pie in the Sky, all of those little chunks of data will obediently assume the unique, or maybe not so unique, shape of the Big Picture.

    I’ll admit that this tells us something…but only about the restricted definition of science and scientific methodology favored by one DanS. Science doesn’t actually work from the bottom up; it relies on the formulation and testing of hypotheses that go directly for a bigger part of the picture…a part that is closer, as DanS might put it, to the “top”. This is what informs of what we should look for on the empirical level. It is then determined whether or not the selectively observed data can be fitted to the chosen hypothesis.

    Why, then do so many DanS types peer down their noses at any suggestion that maybe, just maybe, this harmonic interplay of top-down and bottom-up approaches is what science is all about, instead offhandedly dismissing the very idea as (ugh!) “philosophy”?

    Of course, this goes rather far to explain DanS’s constricted notion of what should be taught in science classes, and why he thinks that the Big Picture should be excluded.

  34. 34
    Ariston says:

    Neurode: “Let ‘this thing’ refer to the universe…”

    I don’t think that I will. For Aristotle the universe did not come to be, and neither is it a substance with an end.

    Dave: “Maybe such surgery can be done, but what you’d have left would not be Aristotle, strictly speaking.”

    Perhaps. “Strictly speaking” allows for various kinds of leeway. Generation of Animals makes no mention of the Unmoved Mover. The only cause it posits for the existence of an animal substance is a prior substance of the same form. No role is assigned to a deity. Is the Metaphysics account a supplement to Generation of Animals, are the two in conflict, do they represent different periods of Aristotle’s thought? These are interpretational questions.

    It seems to me that the account of Generation of Animals, which in its basics is the one I’ve given, is able to stand alone. It is Aristotelian in the sense that it involves a teleological explanation centered on the four causes.

    Finally, though the Metaphysics posits a role for God in the teleology of other substances, that role is very far from a designer. God does not bring about the existence of something that previously did not exist.

  35. 35
    dave says:

    Ariston: “Generation of Animals makes no mention of the Unmoved Mover. The only cause it posits for the existence of an animal substance is a prior substance of the same form. No role is assigned to a deity. Is the Metaphysics account a supplement to Generation of Animals, are the two in conflict, do they represent different periods of Aristotle’s thought? These are interpretational questions.”

    Two things:

    1) Generation is not the only efficient cause that brings a natural substance into its form. There is also the internal principle of change which Aristotle calls physis. If generation were the only principle of change at work on natural substances, you could not explain how acorns do not simply beget other acorns — you would not have a complete view of natural substances.

    2) While a generational cause might be said to be eternal (although I’m not sure how even the motion of transferring form to form within kinds could be accounted for in Aristotle’s system, without a first cause), physis as it is found in contingent substances is not. The very notion of a “final” cause implies the motion, the action of becoming which moves a substances towards its “end”. In a cosmos without an Unmoved Moved, natural objects would have to be eternal, because their motion towards ends would have no other source but themselves.

    But puppies and acorns are clearly not eternal.

  36. 36
    Dan S. says:

    I misspoke – the top/bottom distinction is all messed up, and I’m not advocating a strictly Baconian science. Instead of simply tossing facts into buckets like a berry-picking expedition, we need to test out our hypothetical searchlights and see how well they illuminate what we’re looking at (should I have said middle out?). Rather than bottom up or top down, what I was trying to say is that you seem to be on another plane altogether – or to put it another way, we’re down here working on the Physics, while you’re out there somewhere with the Metaphysics. Or something

    “(I do realize that genetics doesn’t really use fossils (darn it!), with one exception that I know of . . .)”
    is what I said, and it really does just prove that one can learn something new everyday . . .

    “This paper, like most science papers, is very tightly focused on a specific, addressable problem…in this case, resolving the phylogeny of just American horse species within the last 3 million years. What Weinstock et al. were trying to figure out is how 3 major groups of horse species were related to one another, and how they were related to Old World horses. The method they are using is to extract ancient mitochondrial DNA from bone specimens, sequence a particularly informative stretch, and use established computer techniques to fit them into a phylogenetic tree.”

    That’s PZ Meyer’s write-up over here . . .

    The bones were from 53,000 years old to historic age.

    Article overhttp://biology.plosjournals.or.....io.0030241“>here.

  37. 37
    neurode says:

    Ariston (regarding “Let ‘this thing’ refer to the universe”): “I don’t think that I will. For Aristotle the universe did not come to be, and neither is it a substance with an end.”

    That’s a shame, Ariston, because I don’t think that I can honor your objection. As I pointed out, the purpose was to preclude a causal regress, and I have neither the time nor the inclination to suspend that restriction. The universe is, after all, a sort of object – this is how we refer to it – and if it lacks a meaningful teleological explanation, then likewise for its contents (since they are mere parts of it). Somehow, I don’t think that this is what Aristotle had in mind.

    Of course, you’re free to disagree. You apparently consider yourself a consummate authority on Aristotle…enough so, in fact, to disagree with the vast majority of scholars in your interpretation of his writings. If you can succeed in deriving personal gratification from this, I see no reason to interfere. On the other hand, I’m afraid that I regard your philosophical opinions as inflexible, unconvincing, unenlightened, and utterly irrelevant to the ID-neoDarwinism debate.

  38. 38
    DaveScot says:

    Dan S.,

    53,000 years might as well be last Tuesday on evolutionary timescales. The only interesting thing in evolution that’s happened in the last 53,000 years is a lot of species became extinct. No new species evolved during that time. In the horse evolution study it was possible to examine DNA from extinct horse “species”. I use quotes on the “species” thing because it’s not possible to categorically state they were different species from modern horses as the acid test for a different species is the genetic inability to interbreed and produce fertile offspring. How can we possibly test whether these extinct horses can interbreed to produce fertile offspring with modern horses? We can’t. Dead animals don’t breed.

  39. 39
    Ariston says:

    “I’m afraid that I regard your philosophical opinions as inflexible, unconvincing, unenlightened, and utterly irrelevant to the ID-neoDarwinism debate.”

    Yawn.

  40. 40
    Dan S. says:

    “53,000 years might as well be last Tuesday on evolutionary timescales.”
    More or less – though new species have evolved, and a host of changes have occurred. But that wasn’t the point.

    ” Dead animals don’t breed.”
    And here, at last, I can uncategorically agree with you.

    . . . .although they do breed other things . . .

  41. 41
    Dan S. says:

    “. No new species evolved during that time [last 53,000 years]” – DaveScot

    TalkOrigin’s Index to Creationist Claims insists that:

    1. New species have arisen in historical times. For example:
    A new species of mosquito, the molestus form isolated in London’s Underground, has speciated from Culex pipiens (Byrne and Nichols 1999; Nuttall 1998).
    Helacyton gartleri is the HeLa cell culture, which evolved from a human cervical carcinoma in 1951. The culture grows indefinitely and has become widespread (Van Valen and Maiorana 1991).
    Several new species of plants have arisen via polyploidy (when the chromosome count multiplies by two or more) (de Wet 1971). One example is Primula kewensis (Newton and Pellew 1929).

    [example 2, Helacyton – I don’t understand this; will check. And great, a new species of mosquito. We can’t have new species of cute floppy bunnies, apparently . . . ]

    4. Evidence of speciation occurs in the form of organisms that exist only in environments that did not exist a few hundreds or thousands of years ago. For example:
    In several Canadian lakes, which originated in the last 10,000 years following the last ice age, stickleback fish have diversified into separate species for shallow and deep water (Schilthuizen 2001, 146-151).
    Cichlids in Lake Malawi and Lake Victoria have diversified into hundreds of species. Lake Malawi in particular originated in the nineteenth century and has about 200 cichlid species (Schilthuizen 2001, 166-176).
    A Mimulus species adapted for soils high in copper exists only on the tailings of a copper mine that did not exist before 1859 (Macnair 1989).”

    And don’t forget – there is a heck of a lot we don’t know. There are still species of (more or less) large mammals being discovered by Western science (usually the people who actually live there go – oh, that? Of course we know that. Yeah, we have three different names for it depending on age, size and gender/sell it in the local market/have based a significant part of our local economy/mythology on it, etc . . . )

    Now bio I can almost barely understand. All this philosophy stuff is just Greek to me . . .
    *groans, sound of thrown fruit . . . *

  42. 42
    DaveScot says:

    Which new species have evolved in the last 53,000 years, Dan?

    Please provide experimental evidence that 1) unambiguously shows one lineage directly descends from the other and 2) that the new lineage is genetically incapable of producing fertile offspring when bred with the former.

    Good luck. And don’t slothfully throw me a link to talk.origins and think that will suffice.

  43. 43
    DaveScot says:

    Interesting, Dan. Your comment wasn’t there when I submitted my last. I knew you’d refer me to talk.origins. That’s the trite response. I can just refer you to a creationist website that says there aren’t any new species in historical times. Where does that leave us?

  44. 44
    DaveScot says:

    I did a few minutes of fisking on talk.origins’ first example – the mosquito.

    http://www.rednova.com/news/sc....._new_look/

    Though the two traditional Old World types of mosquitoes act differently and tend to live apart, they look alike to us. The bird biter, Culex pipiens, inhabits an extensive portion of Europe (as far south as the Mediterranean coast) and is dormant in winter; the people biter, C. molestus, dominates in the Mediterranean regions of North Africa and remains active year-round. During the 170Os, scientists gave these mosquitoes different names based on their biting preferences, but their physical similarities led many later researchers to view them as two varieties of a single species and to call them both by the older name, C. pipiens.

    Malcolm and Fonseca wanted to find out whether the human-biting underground dweller that had appeared in northern European cities in the 20th century had evolved independently out of the local pipiens population or represented a colonial extension of the North African molestus. Evolutionary biologists maintain that genetic differences increase along with the amount of time that has elapsed since divergence, so that the greater the similarity between the DNA of two types, the closer the two types’ kinship will be. In the case of pipiens and molestus, Fonseca found that, though the two species look alike on the outside, each has its own distinctive DNA signature or fingerprint. The DNA of the underground mosquitoes turned out to be so similar to that of the North African type that the underground mosquitoes must have come from molestus stock.

    —-

    You need to do your own due diligence and not rely on claims found in biased websites like talk.origins. Molestus was observed at least back as far as 1700’s in Africa. Do you figure in 1700 they did a DNA test on the specimens and somehow determined that it 1) could not interbreed with pipiens 2) was in the direct line of descent from pipiens and 3) was the result of a series of random mutations within the last 53,000 years?

    Try again.

  45. 45
    DaveScot says:

    Dan S.

    Worse, from the same Red Nova article…

    “new species of mosquito with a taste for both birds and humans may be responsible for the recent outbreaks of Went Nile virus. Not yet named, the mosquito is a hybrid of Culex pipiens (shown) and Culex molestus.”

    Someone’s playing fast and loose with the definition of species. By definition a fertile hybrid of pipiens and molestus proves that pipiens and molestus are not different species.

  46. 46
    DaveScot says:

    By the way – they’re all still mosquitos in any case. To avoid quibbling over whether finches with big beaks and finches with little beaks are or are not different species (or whether bird biting and human biting mosquitoes are different species) I ask for experimental evidence showing that RM+NS has created new cell types, tissue types, organs, and body plans. This is greatest claim made by NeoDarwinian evolutionary theory (other than abiogenesis). If it can’t provide experimental verification that RM+NS can produce this level of evolutionary change then it is a theoretical science and belongs in advanced biology classes not introductory courses in high school, to say nothing of EVER calling it as well tested as the law of gravity.

  47. 47
    dave says:

    “True, Aristotle’s system does involve a deity, but, at least from a physical standpoint, his account of teleology as it concerns terrestrial susbtances does not require it.”

    At the risk of beating a dead horse, Ariston, I think you’re wrong about Aristotle here. Aristotle argued that the motion towards final causes (which is his very definition of nature/physis) in natural substances demanded recourse to a first cause. Generative causes do not give a complete account of Aritotelian natural substances.

    If you want to claim that generative causes are sufficient in Aristotle’s system to account for natural substances, then you have to assert that things like trees and puppies are eternal and unchanging. The generative cause could only bring forth static, fully realised natural substances that contain no potentiality, no motion towards ends, and NO TELEOLOGY.

    The only possibility for your account of an atheistic Aristotlian teleology is for you to claim that the motion does not require recourse to a first cause. But if you reject this fundamental Aristotelian premise, then you find yourself outside of anything resembling an Aristotelian physics.

  48. 48

    […] DaveScot presents interesting examples at: Aristotle and ID […]

Leave a Reply