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At Evolution News: “Why Life?”: A Question Atheist Scientists Never Ask

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Stephen J. Iacoboni‘s article contains a profound question…

One cannot understand organisms — that is, life itself — without incorporating the concept of purpose within biology, the science of organisms. Such purpose is observable and measurable, and therefore well within the bounds of scientific inquiry.

In order to understand life, it is not sufficient to simply observe what is happening. The real question is why things are the way they are.

However, did we not just decide that animals eat because they are hungry and avoid danger to eschew harm? Yes, these are clearly purpose-driven activities, and they all have a biochemical or physiologic basis.

True enough. But the deeper question is, why are these physiologic stimuli there in the first place? Answer: to allow for life. But then… why life?

“Why life?” is the ultimate question. 

If, as the atheist scientists endlessly insist, we exist merely as an accidental collocation of molecules strewn together on some small planet in the backwater of an insignificant galaxy, then again, “Why life?”

Time, Energy, and Matter

The answer, finally, comes all the way back to where we started: purpose. Time, energy, and inanimate matter carry on ceaselessly with no apparent purpose. But arising out of the inorganic are living creatures, utterly purpose-driven. There is absolutely no reason for purpose-driven life to exist within this milieu, unless purpose itself exists at the fundamental core of reality itself.

Every religion has taught this, always. It is not a new revelation, however forgotten in modern times. 

Let us return to the wisdom of our elders.

Full article at Evolution News.

Humans have a tendency to want to keep living. Why? If we are an undirected, purposeless outcome of the forces of nature acting on various atoms, how could such an organism want anything?

Comments
JVL at 41, The last time I asked for the exact time (+/- 1,000 years) when the break from the ape-human common ancestor occurred, I got 'it doesn't work that way.' Evolution is not the right answer. By the way, unlike the real world where explanations actually explains things - evolution cannot explain anything. The trick is by providing a 'plausible sounding guess,' as opposed to facts. Examples: Evolution is fast except when it isn't. Evolution makes a lot of changes except when it doesn't. Evolution has an explanation for any contradictory discovery that amounts to fictional guesswork.relatd
December 24, 2022
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“Sir Giles December 24, 2022 at 11:11 am I hope everyone has a very merry Christmas and a happy and healthy new year.” Thank you and back atcha. Vividvividbleau
December 24, 2022
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Jerry: ID provides an explanation for a few origins. One of these origins is the origin of matter and energy and their properties to keep the other origins going. But it doesn't really 'explain' how those things came into existence. It just asserts that some undetected, undefined and unpredictable being did it. I don't consider that an explanation. Especially when most ID proponents cannot even come up with a time when, say, life was created on Earth. And, since most ID proponents believe that it's impossible for many lifeforms to have come about without intervention from the same mysterious designer, that designer must be 'poofing' species into existence fairly often.JVL
December 24, 2022
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I hope everyone has a very merry Christmas and a happy and healthy new year.Sir Giles
December 24, 2022
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Jerry: No, it does that but it also deals with what exists.
The universe is the “what”. The solar system is the “what”. Life is the “what.” Science deals with how what we observe works, how it originated, how it interacts with other “whats,” how it may proceed in the future. In researching the “how” we often discover additional “whats” that we can ask additional “hows” about. Science does not and cannot deal with “why.” Why implies purpose, motive and intent. ID purports to deal with the “how” life originated and diversified. But unlike other sciences, it has not tested this hypothesis in any way. A design requires a designer and a mechanism of “production”. What research has been conducted on either of these.? In another thread I keep seeing emergence being ridiculed as “poofery”. But, as it currently stands, ID is the ultimate “poofery”.Sir Giles
December 24, 2022
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Point out where the Intelligent Design approach has genuinely provided an answer to anything. Just one genuine example should be enough
Fine tuning of universe and solar system for starters. Inadequacy of OOL and Evolution theories for additional examples. They are incredibly more complex than ever thought possible and require extraordinary answers. If you don’t believe they were designed, these findings have forced scientists to look elsewhere. It has led to the nonsense of emergence which is highly touted by some but in actuality another dead end. It has led to self organization theories which are also a dead ends for life forms. If a real explanation for life and Evolution is ever found, thank ID for forcing the issue. I’m sure you realize how stupid your assertion is. You seem to want a theory of physics to explain the origin of physics and other origins, something that is on-going. When you obviously know the intelligence that created the universe did not work by some physical process. ID provides an explanation for a few origins. One of these origins is the origin of matter and energy and their properties to keep the other origins going. We witness each of these ongoing processes and try to understand them. These ongoing processes are the subject of nearly all science but science cannot explain these origins. So some other explanations are suggested. And as I just said above, drives science to find alternatives to failed theories. Merry Christmas to all from a very cold New Hampshire.jerry
December 24, 2022
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AF, sez who? Why should we take such assertions as you just made, with any seriousness? Kindly, show your working. KFkairosfocus
December 24, 2022
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In response to my remark: But where can I find answers that are “best”? “Intelligent Design” doesn’t provide them. Jerry
How do you know that? The answer is you do not know that but yet you make nonsense claims all the time.
Find a black swan, then, Jerry. Point out where the Intelligent Design approach has genuinely provided an answer to anything. Just one genuine example should be enough. Succumbing to cultural Christmas now. Merry Christmas to you, Jerry. Stay safe.Alan Fox
December 24, 2022
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Those who honestly desire true answers to such a question are sure to discover them.
Not sure about that. There's a discontinuity between arguing from fine tuning that our universe is divinely created and concluding the Christian God is the right candidate and biblical truths follow. I don't see any connection. I see Ross's book is 10€ on Kindle. If it addresses the (to my mind non-existent) link between fine tuning and the attributes of a creator, I'll give it a go. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all reading this comment.Alan Fox
December 24, 2022
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To Alan Fox @31: Those who honestly desire true answers to such a question are sure to discover them. To find answers to questions beyond what science can address, I would suggest reading a book like "Why the Universe is the Way it is," by astrophysicist Hugh Ross.Caspian
December 23, 2022
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AF, Well it's never too late in life to become a truth-seeker. But you have to cooperate in the endeavor. You cant sit around and wait for academic pinheads to lie to you and think you are accomplishing anything. Andrewasauber
December 23, 2022
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But where can I find answers that are “best”? “Intelligent Design” doesn’t provide them
An absurd comment. How do you know that? The answer is you do not know that but yet you make nonsense claims all the time. As far as I know, ID is constantly reassessing what is true based on the findings of science, other sources of information and logic. So what is ID today could be somewhat different from what ID will be tomorrow. But to say ID doesn’t provide the best explanation is based on nothing concrete. It is like a juvenile saying I don’t like that so I am taking my ball and go home. Fine, don’t like it but you can not offer anything better. That has been adequately demonstrated in recent months.jerry
December 23, 2022
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Science doesn’t answer all questions the best.
I agree that Science fails to answer many philosophical questions satisfactorily and some not at all. As Sir Giles remarked in the third comment of this thread, science tells us how but not why. But where can I find answers that are "best"? "Intelligent Design" doesn't provide them.Alan Fox
December 22, 2022
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PM1, Some people think Science is the thing that answers questions the best. As we discover again in this conversation, Science doesn't answer all questions the best. Some it cant attempt to answer at all. But some people use the stretched-out trappings of Science to pretend to answer the questions, instead of admitting Science has profound limitations. Andrewasauber
December 22, 2022
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that means taking the sciences seriously but also going beyond them
That is ID.     ID is science+
There’s a lot of evidence for self-organization
Nothing that is relevant to life. So to argue for it as an explanation for life is specious.
there’s no evidence that a supernatural intelligence was involved in the creation of life or its subsequent evolution
True. It’s not the essence of ID. Fine tuning is. It’s that people have used OOL and evolution of complex life to argue against an Intelligence. And that’s bogus from two points of view. One, there is no evidence of natural origins for life and complex life. Two, even if there were, this would not argue against ID since the source for each of these could be in the fine tuning. We don’t know all the specifics of the fine tuning.
Also, “arguing for it without justification” is nonsense: to argue for a claim is to provide a justification for it.
No. Providing evidence that it was real would be a justification. But you have not done that. You admitted none exists. Aside: philosophy can speculate till the cows come home, but no one accepts any of this speculation as true till there is evidence for it in the real world.jerry
December 22, 2022
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@27
Ok, we now have confirmation that emergence has no evidence to back it. It’s just speculation.
It's called philosophy, and there are ways of doing it better or worse. I'm trying to do it as well as I can, and for me, that means taking the sciences seriously but also going beyond them.
Aside: emergence is completely compatible with ID. So is self organization. So is Zeus. It’s just there is no evidence to accept any of these.
There's a lot of evidence for self-organization, and there's no evidence that a supernatural intelligence was involved in the creation of life or its subsequent evolution. What you call ID is just smoke and mirrors.
Aside2: when someone proposes something and then argues for it without justification, that is essentially begging the question.
That's just not what the phrase "begging the question" means. Also, "arguing for it without justification" is nonsense: to argue for a claim is to provide a justification for it.PyrrhoManiac1
December 22, 2022
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Ok, we now have confirmation that emergence has no evidence to back it. It’s just speculation. Aside: emergence is completely compatible with ID. So is self organization. So is Zeus. It’s just there is no evidence to accept any of these. Aside2: when someone proposes something and then argues for it without justification, that is essentially begging the question.jerry
December 22, 2022
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You have just said you endorse emergence because you like it.
Did you just fail to notice where I talked about metaphysical monism and the epistemic value of scientific methods?
It’s just an opinion but one with no justification. No evidence.
As I said, it's a philosophical concept, not a scientific one. Emergence is not itself something for which there's evidence; it's a philosophical concept that unifies the sciences without reducing them. You seem to be under the belief that I'm proposing emergentism as a rival to ID. I'm not. I think I've made it quite clear that in my view, the scientific rival to ID is complexity theory or theories of self-organizing systems. The science of self-organizing systems makes me more inclined to think that something like emergentism has to be right. But those are still distinct: one is a scientific theory (or more specifically, the mathematics that govern a specific class of phenomena) and the other is a scientific metaphysics. The job of scientific metaphysics is not the job of the sciences; scientific metaphysics unifies the sciences, to the extent that they can be. (In the SEP entry, O'Connor seemed to think that strong emergentism was compatible with the disunity of the sciences. That seems confused to me, so there's something I'm not understanding.)
So it obviously is not science. It’s no different than believing in some primitive religious fantasy or a magical force that’s yet to be discovered.
If everything that isn't science is primitive fantasy or belief in magic, that would have to include all of logic, mathematics, metaphysics, and theology. I had no idea you were such a hard-core empiricist!
The logical fallacy is begging the question.
"Begging the question" is when someone assumes the very same claim that they are trying to justify. In what way am I begging the question?PyrrhoManiac1
December 22, 2022
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Is that sufficient explanation for why I endorse emergence without any nefarious ulterior motives on my part?
You have just said you endorse emergence because you like it. It’s just an opinion but one with no justification. No evidence. So it obviously is not science or logical. It’s no different than believing in some primitive religious fantasy or a magical force that’s yet to be discovered. The logical fallacy is begging the question. You are certainly welcome to your beliefs but why should anyone pay attention to them if one cannot provide any justification for these beliefs. ID constantly justifies its claims with evidence. There’s a huge difference. Again, what you are claiming is in no way against ID. But until some evidence is brought forward it is no more than wishful speculation.jerry
December 22, 2022
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Origenes at 22, Next you're going to tell me that kids, when they start to talk, pick up whatever language their parents are speaking - automatically. No language class required.relatd
December 22, 2022
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Ba77, Truth - meaning viewing reality correctly - is obscured by a story - a fictional story - of random forces doing random things to arrive at living organisms with distinct purposes. in other words, from chaos order. From nothing to something. Bees know how to find flowers, tell other bees how to find them, make honeycombs and beehives. And human beings found out how to use the wax. No. The fictional stories will fall away and no longer obscure the truth.relatd
December 22, 2022
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Ok, suppose emergent consciousness. Imagine a brain forming and, at some point, its complexity is such that consciousness **poof** emerges. It's a MIRACLE. But. Ok. There it is. Now, the very next thing this newly emerged consciousness has to figure out is how to apply downward causation, IOW how to control the brain.. How can the new fundamental possibly know what to do? It needs a superior understanding of the brain to do so. Don't mess with the wrong neurons, please! The Stanford article glosses over the problem:
However, basic dynamical laws in contemporary physics have an open-ended character (Schrödinger’s equation, Hamiltonians or Lagrangians more generally), taking forces or energies as input. The notion of a strongly emergent force or energy is no more problematic than that of the standard physical forces or energies that physicists take to be input into the operative laws ...
Well, Stanford, how does the emergent consciousness know how to operate the brain at the quantum level where the "open-ended" laws apply? How does the freshly emerged consciousness know how to play this incredibly complex 'instrument' the brain, at the quantum level no less? Inquiring minds want to know.Origenes
December 22, 2022
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@17
Consciousness is not entirely dependent on its building blocks … That is ‘emergence’ for you. You can kinda think what you want. You are kinda free. A truly sickening concept. You have your consciousness kinda independent from the body, but it cannot exist without the body, so materialism still holds, God is dead and so will you be.
Picking up from our other conversation on Kant, I suggest something like "minimal doctrinal Christianity" or MDC (feel free to suggest another term) for the conjunction of the following three ideas: 1. There is a transcendent and personal God. (classical theism) 2. We have conrtra-causal, libertarian freedom of the will. (libertarianism) 3. Some aspect of our unique personal identity will persist after complete biological death. (personal immortality) Is your criticism that strongly emergent naturalism cannot accommodate MDC? If you want a metaphysics that can accommodate MDC, then we'd need to start having a very different conversation, focused (perhaps) on the following questions: 1. If our best metaphysics is based on science, then what scientific evidence is there for the claims of MDC? 2. If there's no or insufficient scientific evidence for MDC claims, should we reject science as the basis for our metaphysics? On what basis should we allow that personal experiences have probative weight greater than that of scientific methods? For what little it's worth, I have some ideas about (1) and (2) but it's pretty superficial. Just not my cup of tea.PyrrhoManiac1
December 22, 2022
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Asauber: we all do know that emergence is *poof-poof*ery dressed in a cardigan, smoking a pipe. If some versions of ID are correct . . . did not some species just POOF into existence at some point?JVL
December 22, 2022
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Sorry Asuaber, I accidentally said Origenes, when it was you who succinctly stated, "we all do know that emergence is *poof-poof*ery dressed in a cardigan, smoking a pipe." Not to take away from Origenes spot-on, “not a scintilla of evidence” for strong emergence, contribution at 17bornagain77
December 22, 2022
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@16
The concept has been discussed several times over the years and has been found wanting.
Based on what I've seen since I've joined UD last month, those discussions were not informed by actual understanding of the concept.
All of a sudden someone is pushing this apparently bogus concept without any justification.
Geez, if you wanted to know my justification, you could just ask. Have I ever simply refused to answer the question "what's your justification for this concept?"? No need to conjecture some ulterior motive! As to the question "why do I support strong emergence?", the answer is, because I think that's the most philosophically plausible way of understanding how the sciences are related. That's to say: I am drawn to some version of metaphysical monism -- it's possible for us to understand something important and true about the world as a unified whole -- and I think that the methods of science are the best tools we currently have for figuring out what the world is really like. Consequently, the question for me becomes, how to understand the systematic unity of physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, sociology, anthropology -- how to understand these sciences (and there many sub-disciplines) as being about one and the same universe? I think that strong emergence is the best concept we've yet come up with for understanding how the sciences are related. More specifically, I think that life strongly emerges from thermodynamics, that mind strongly emerges from life, and also that our rule-governed symbolic systems, social practices, and institutions (what Hegel called Geist, "spirit'") strongly emerges from mind. So we shouldn't expect biology to reduce to physics, or cognitive science to biology, or the social sciences to the natural sciences. Is that sufficient explanation for why I endorse emergence without any nefarious ulterior motives on my part?PyrrhoManiac1
December 22, 2022
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Stanford entry on **POOF** “Strong Emergence” — some initial comments:
Strong emergentists maintain that at least some higher-level phenomena exhibit a weaker dependence/stronger autonomy than weak emergence permits. This often takes the form of rejecting physical realization, affirming fundamental higher-level causal powers, or both.
What this boils down to is: consciousness exists (hooray!), but God does not, and when you are dead you are just dead. And BTW naturalism is still true; only with a slight modification.
Perhaps the most commonly cited phenomena offered as requiring strong emergentist treatment have to do with the nature and capacities of the conscious mind in relation to its neural substrate. (...) 4.1.1 Incoherence or inexplicability An initial worry about strong emergence is that there is a tension in the very idea of a feature that is both dependent and fundamental—a worry exacerbated by recent accounts of fundamentality according to which what it is to be fundamental is precisely to be independent (see Bennett 2017 and entry on fundamentality). This worry might be resolved by distinguishing two senses of “fundamental”: first, a sense applying to an ingredient of physical reality that is ubiquitous (or “basic” in a building-block sense), and so not even dependent on any arrangements of other entities; and second, a sense applying to an ingredient of reality that is not (entirely) constituted by or otherwise internally (as opposed to external-causally) related to the structured arrangement of some other same-category entities.
Consciousness is not entirely dependent on its building blocks … That is ‘emergence’ for you. You can kinda think what you want. You are kinda free. A truly sickening concept. You have your consciousness kinda independent from the body, but it cannot exist without the body, so materialism still holds, God is dead and so will you be.
We might then use the term “basic” for the first sense and reserve “fundamental” for the second sense, (...) So understood, there is no tension in the notion of an entity or feature that is fundamental but non-basic (O’Connor 2018). Granting that there is no incoherence in the idea of a non-basic, fundamental entity or feature, one might be concerned that such an entity or feature would introduce an inexplicable (since fundamental) addition to reality at an arbitrary juncture. Avoiding such inexplicability might give reason to prefer a panpsychist accommodation of the irreducibility of consciousness to physical properties, (...) (Nagel 1979 and Strawson 2006).
Panpsychism if you really must, but let’s keep dualism and God out as an option.
4.1.2 Anti-naturalism or evidential paucity A second initial worry with strong emergence is that it is inconsistent with a “naturalist” point of view, insofar as (on most accounts) strongly emergent properties are associated with fundamentally novel powers or laws that apparently would interfere with more basic physical laws or processes. However, basic dynamical laws in contemporary physics have an open-ended character (Schrödinger’s equation, Hamiltonians or Lagrangians more generally), taking forces or energies as input. The notion of a strongly emergent force or energy is no more problematic than that of the standard physical forces or energies that physicists take to be input into the operative laws (McLaughlin 1992).
Notice what they just did? I’m old enough to remember that the ‘impossibility’ of mental-physical interaction was their main reason to reject dualism. Remember those days too? But now that it suits them, the problem is solved. Emergent consciousness can interact with matter just fine — physical laws have an open-ended character. There you go.
The real problem here, if there is one, is not inconsistency with physics, but rather that there is at present a lack of clear empirical evidence for strong emergence. If there were strongly emergent causal powers, forces, or laws, we might expect to see, in candidate emergentist contexts, evidence for a hitherto unrecognized configurational interaction, much as occurred with the weak nuclear interaction. But, McLaughlin avers, “there is not a scintilla of evidence” in support of there being such fundamental novelty (1992: 91).
Oh, “not a scintilla of evidence”? Well, how about “consciousness”? That is somehow ‘proof’ of emergence, is it not?Origenes
December 22, 2022
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I have no problems with some asking intelligent questions about something they don’t understand. I do have problems with some dismissing out of hand something that they haven’t even tried to understand.
That absolutely does not describe the concept of "emergence." The concept has been discussed several times over the years and has been found wanting. All of a sudden someone is pushing this apparently bogus concept without any justification. Why won't you admit this? Because you don't, we have to assume there are ulterior motives. And they are not to increase understanding. No one is saying that something cannot emerge. There're just no examples of it except for maybe atomic physics. If there were, it would gain acceptability. Until that time, it is pie in the sky. ID is not against life arising naturally, just that everything screams against it. ID is not against complex life arising naturally, just that everything is against it.jerry
December 22, 2022
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@14 I have no problems with some asking intelligent questions about something they don't understand. I do have problems with some dismissing out of hand something that they haven't even tried to understand. Look, I won't deny that emergence is a philosophical concept, not a scientific one. One of the main reasons I keep bringing it up is that some people here act as if Rosenberg's reductive naturalism is the only game in town once we reject anything like supernatural theism. But reduction is also a philosophical concept, and not a scientific one. There's nothing in the sciences themselves that dictates that all sciences are reducible to quantum mechanics. That's Rosenberg's own philosophical interpretation of how the sciences are related to each other. In other words, emergentist naturalism is just as legitimate as a philosophical interpretation of the sciences as reductive naturalism is, and I think it makes more sense of what makes psychology distinct from biology and what makes biology distinct from chemistry and physics. I actually think that life is strongly emergent with regard to inanimate nature, and also that consciousness and intentionality are strongly emergent with regard to life. That doesn't mean that there can't also be borderline cases. Terry Deacon's hypothetical autogen is one example of a borderline case between non-life and life. I've been thinking about borderline cases between life and mind but would need to read more before committing myself to anything too definite.PyrrhoManiac1
December 22, 2022
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"the history of the idea" PM1, This is part of the problem. Emergence is just an idea. And looking through your link, the product of extensive mental acrobatics. Is there an emergence detector? Any metrics? Is it a force? Is it the mental state of an analyst? What's the problem with being skeptical of it? Andrewasauber
December 22, 2022
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