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“Do Life and Living Forms present a problem for materialism?”

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An essay contest from the Royal Institute of Philosophy and Cambridge University Press

Entrants could win £2,500, publication in Philosophy, and a half hour of fame.

No, but seriously, they could contribute to an increasingly significant discussion.

Old style vitalism, attributing an internal animating substance or force to living things gave way to the idea that life may yet be a property over and above physical and chemical ones. Subsequent to that it was widely thought that life is an organisational or functional feature of bodies instantiated by their physical properties. With ongoing debates about analogous issues relating to mind (especially consciousness and intentionality) still running, and renewed interest in anti-reductionist interpretations of emergence and of teleological description and explanation the question is posed: do life forms present a problem for materialism?

As origin of life studies seem to devolve into every-researcher-a-new-theorist and origin of mind hasn’t got past perceptronium or similar theories of consciousness, it may be past time for some fresh thinking about life itself.

Whether the philosophers listen or not, one can refine one’s own thoughts.

We are told,

In assessing entries priority will be given to originality, clarity of expression, breadth of interest, and potential for advancing discussion.

We’ll see how far that goes. The temptation to fall back into feeble naturalism must be overwhelming at times.

= “But I can’t say that. That would imply that Darwinism is a false explanation of evolution!”  Okay fine, then, buddy flower, you can’t say it. Some people will, though.

Submission guidelines. Final date: October 1, 2015.

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21 Replies to ““Do Life and Living Forms present a problem for materialism?”

  1. 1
    Silver Asiatic says:

    renewed interest in anti-reductionist interpretations of emergence and of teleological description and explanation

    There is?

    do life forms present a problem for materialism?

    Perhaps these philosophers have discovered that ‘life’ is merely a change in chemical properties – an epiphenomenon. Like soap bubbles.

    That’s only a problem for materialism if life actually is something more than that.

  2. 2
    harry says:

    Matter is an epiphenomenon of Mind, not the reverse. Max Planck had it right. A Mind is the matrix of all matter.

    That being the case, life then is essentially non-material and the matter associated with a living thing is an accidental, not its essential component.

    If it isn’t inanimate matter, it is animated by a non-material reality of one kind or another. There are obviously a variety of such realities, ranging from that which animates a tree to that which animated Thomas Aquinas, endowing him with rationality, consciousness and free will.

  3. 3
    Mung says:

    …renewed interest in anti-reductionist interpretations of emergence and of teleological description and explanation.

    There is?

    Yes.

  4. 4
    Axel says:

    Surely everything presents a problem for materialism, since it is beyond risible.

    To understand life, would we not need to understand the nature of God, of infinite love, and all his other immeasurable attributes?

  5. 5
    Mung says:

    To understand life, would we not need to understand the nature of God, of infinite love, and all his other immeasurable attributes?

    It is by looking at the world that even those who lack special revelation can come to a knowledge of God.

  6. 6
    groovamos says:

    … a change in chemical properties … Like soap bubbles.

    That’s only a problem for materialism if life actually is something more than that.

    Yep. It’s a problem for materialist explanatory stories if thoughts are no more than that.

  7. 7
    Axel says:

    Mung, it barely scratches the surface of God’s ‘nature’, his qualities – everything that is good. His thoughts are as high above ours as the heavens are above the earth, as the Psalmists put it.

    To imagine that science could get to grips with spirit is the height of presumption, too completely uncomprehending for words.

  8. 8
    Mapou says:

    Materialists do have a problem with life: they have no clue how it got here. Their insistence that it arose by chance chemistry is about as superstitious and as valid as carpeting your house with chicken feathers to ward off evil.

  9. 9
    Mung says:

    Mapou, so what should I replace the chicken feathers with?

  10. 10
    Mapou says:

    Mung @9,

    IMO, life on earth was designed and created by an advanced civilization of very powerful beings. It’s the same civilization that designed and created the entire universe. They probably went through a knowledge singularity eons ago and survived to create a universe. Many universes may have been created and destroyed before they settled on this one. The creation of life on earth, especially of humans, is a grand experiment, IMO. These beings are essentially lonely. They are forming a companion civilization (that’s us) that they can spend eternity with. They see our potential and they think we’re cool in spite of our shortcomings. This is our initiation/trial period.

  11. 11
    Box says:

    Mapou: life on earth was designed and created by an advanced civilization of very powerful beings. It’s the same civilization that designed and created the entire universe.

    You must have pondered this question before: Who created and designed this advanced civilization of very powerful beings and the universe they grew up in?

  12. 12
    Mapou says:

    Box:

    You must have pondered this question before: Who created and designed this advanced civilization of very powerful beings and the universe they grew up in?

    Yes I have. In my opinion, we live in a Yin-Yang reality. there are two opposite and complementary realms: the spiritual realm and the physical realm. Nothing in the spiritual realm can be created, destroyed or modified. Everything in the physical realm can be created, destroyed or modified. Some entities in the spiritual realm have the ability to create, destroy and modify entities in the physical realm.

    Yahweh means ‘I am that I am”. He’s also called ‘Yahweh of hosts’ because he is many. They are billions upon billions, IMO. But Yahweh is also ONE (Yin is always balanced with Yang). Unity is paramount to Yahweh. Yahweh’s goal (and this is the reason they created the earth in the first place) is to make humans become ONE with them.

    Yahweh did not always exist in the physical realm. Yahweh is the ancient of time (if you can be old, you can also be young). Yahweh said that he was the first and that the other Gods/civilizations came after. Being first is their claim to sovereignty.

    Just saying. Take it or leave it.

  13. 13
    Axel says:

    I hope You didn’t take my truculent tone to be directed even tangentially at you, mung. You were also echoing the Psalmist, in any case. I don’t think you did, or I’d have received a lacerating comment in reply, I’m sure!

  14. 14
    Box says:

    Mapou: In my opinion, we live in a Yin-Yang reality. there are two opposite and complementary realms: the spiritual realm and the physical realm. Nothing in the spiritual realm can be created, destroyed or modified.

    Not one single modification is possible, so the spiritual Yin realm is eternal and unchangeable. I don’t experience the spiritual realm as gridlocked at all, but okay let’s assume that all spiritual things are completely inert for some reason.

    Mapou: Everything in the physical realm can be created, destroyed or modified.

    So the physical realm is constantly changing. Spiritual vs physical; yin yang; opposites, got it.

    Mapou: Some entities in the spiritual realm have the ability to create, destroy and modify entities in the physical realm.

    Wait a minute, you just said that nothing ever changes in the spiritual realm, so how do we explain this sudden activity of “entities in the spiritual realm”? They are supposed to be completely passive / unchangeable right?
    Another problem is that these “entities in the spiritual realm” are intelligent designers without (material) brains. This is noteworthy since only a week ago you claimed that only the material brain can think.

    Mapou: Yahweh means ‘I am that I am”. He’s also called ‘Yahweh of hosts’ because he is many. They are billions upon billions, IMO. But Yahweh is also ONE (Yin is always balanced with Yang).

    Nope, if Yin (the spiritual realm) is unchangeable and Yang (the physical realm) is constantly changing they cannot be in a balance.

    Mapou: Unity is paramount to Yahweh. Yahweh’s goal (and this is the reason they created the earth in the first place) is to make humans become ONE with them.

    I don’t like that kind of talk, because I don’t want to be one with anything. It’s simply not my ambition to evaporate. I want to be me. Mutual respect is fine, but I don’t want to be a drop in the ocean called Yahweh. I’m sure Yahweh loves me a lot but I feel that I have to set boundaries.

    Mapou: Yahweh did not always exist in the physical realm.

    So there was a time that Yahweh was not able to think, because—according to you—only the brain can think.

    Mapou: Yahweh is the ancient of time (if you can be old, you can also be young). Yahweh said that he was the first and that the other Gods/civilizations came after.

    Did Yahweh happen to mention that he created them?

  15. 15
    Mung says:

    🙂

  16. 16
    Mapou says:

    Box:

    Wait a minute, you just said that nothing ever changes in the spiritual realm, so how do we explain this sudden activity of “entities in the spiritual realm”? They are supposed to be completely passive / unchangeable right?

    Not so fast. I did not say they were passive. I said they were not modifiable. They just are, i.e., they have properties or capabilities that never change. For example, the spirits that create are continually creating and those that destroys are continually destroying. In fact, lately, I have come to the understanding that the entire universe is being destroyed and recreated at every quantized instant.

    Here’s another example. There is no such thing as position in the spiritual realm because position is a physical concept. So spirits have no way to make distinctions between objects and types of objects other than to give everything a separate unique identity. The colors that you experience, for instance, exist in neither the environment nor the brain. They are from your spirit/soul. The spirit simply assigns a different qualia to each triplet signal as a way to distinguish them. You’re essentially seeing a part of your spirit when you look at an object.

    Another problem is that these “entities in the spiritual realm” are intelligent designers without (material) brains. This is noteworthy since only a week ago you claimed that only the material brain can think.

    No, they are not intelligent designers. There are zillions of basic spiritual entities with all sorts of different capabilities. They run in families. Your own spirit is a family of yin-yang “mini-spirits”, if you will. They each have their special function, be it a color, a flavor, a pain or a pleasure. And even individual human spirits are components within the much larger human Spirit.

    Mapou: Unity is paramount to Yahweh. Yahweh’s goal (and this is the reason they created the earth in the first place) is to make humans become ONE with them.

    I don’t like that kind of talk, because I don’t want to be one with anything. It’s simply not my ambition to evaporate. I want to be me. Mutual respect is fine, but I don’t want to be a drop in the ocean called Yahweh. I’m sure Yahweh loves me a lot but I feel that I have to set boundaries.

    I speak as a Christian. I believe there is no escaping unity. Jesus did say “Father, let them be ONE with us as we are ONE together.”

    Mapou: Yahweh did not always exist in the physical realm.

    So there was a time that Yahweh was not able to think, because—according to you—only the brain can think.

    Absolutely. Like I said, I’m Christian and I believe many things in the Bible that Christians deny. Yahweh said in Isaiah and elsewhere that he was the first among the Gods and he is called the ancient of days in many places.

    Mapou: Yahweh is the ancient of time (if you can be old, you can also be young). Yahweh said that he was the first and that the other Gods/civilizations came after.

    So, if I am to believe in this, I have to accept that Yahweh created their physical bodies from nothing, probably over eons.

    Yes, unlike other Christians, I believe that God has physical bodies, although their bodies are not made of normal matter. Of all the Gods, only humans are made of the dust of the earth.

    Did Yahweh happen to mention that he created them?

    We are told that Yahweh created the angels. But nobody knows where the other Gods came from. We do know that some of those Gods have the power and the technology to instantly change matter, e.g., a stick into a serpent.

  17. 17
    Box says:

    Mapou: Yahweh did not always exist in the physical realm.

    Box: So there was a time that Yahweh was not able to think, because—according to you—only the brain can think.

    Mapou: Absolutely.

    So, who provided Yahweh with the ability to think? Who designed Yahweh’s brain?
    Or did Yahweh’s brain pop into existence together with the “other Gods” in your story?

  18. 18
    Mapou says:

    Box:

    So, who provided Yahweh with the ability to think? Who designed Yahweh’s brain?
    Or did Yahweh’s brain pop into existence together with the “other Gods” in your story

    Here’s my hypothesis.

    Concepts like thinking or brain are impossible without the existence of concepts like order and disorder or even beauty. Order, disorder, beauty and ugliness are all spiritual concepts. Some spirits search for order and beauty while others look for disorder and ugliness. I believe Yahweh’s spirit is a spirit of order and beauty, not disorder. In fact, I believe it says so somewhere in the scriptures.

    The point I am driving at is this. Unlike Darwinian evolution which has no concept of order or beauty, a search for order and beauty will invariably lead to very interesting finds, including the discovery/invention of life and what I think is the most beautifully designed system in the universe: a brain.

    Of course, once you have brains and the ability to reason, things become orders of magnitude easier. Just a hypothesis for now but it explains a lot about the origin of certain things.

  19. 19
    Box says:

    Mapou,

    What do have so far?

    // Multiple Gods and universes popping into existence. (#16) //
    Such an (unexplained) addition of extra Gods would suggest an obvious change (addition) in the spiritual realm, however, you insist that nothing ever changes in the spiritual realm (#12). Care to explain?

    //On Yahweh being initially incapable of thought.//
    In #18 you seem to suggest that an irrational Yahweh can explain his own brain because he happen to find it due to his sense of order and beauty.
    So, contrary to materialism, which attempts to explain the brain by unintentional irrational material processes, you attempt to explain the brain (according to you the one source of rationality) by unintentional irrational spiritual processes. Do I understand you correctly?

    Mapou #16: They just are, i.e., they have properties or capabilities that never change. For example, the spirits that create are continually creating and those that destroys are continually destroying. In fact, lately, I have come to the understanding that the entire universe is being destroyed and recreated at every quantized instant.

    Those creative spirits—which continually create the physical realm and everything in it—do this with the help of a brain—which for some reason is not destroyed by the destructive spirits? Or do the creative spirits create the entire universe every quantized instant without any rationality whatsoever—according to you only a brain thinks? If so, that seems a little too far-fetched, wouldn’t you agree?

    Mapou # Yahweh means ‘I am that I am”. He’s also called ‘Yahweh of hosts’ because he is many. They are billions upon billions, IMO. But Yahweh is also ONE (Yin is always balanced with Yang). Unity is paramount to Yahweh.

    Is there one spirit in command in the conglomorate Yahweh—is it a dictatorship? Or do the billions upon billions sub-Yahwehs all happen to have the same goal? Or is Yahweh a democracy?

    Yahweh’s goal (and this is the reason they created the earth in the first place) is to make humans become ONE with them.

    Yahweh is already billions upon billions, but he is not satisfied and wants more—although nothing can ever change in the spiritual realm. Why more? Is Yahweh the Borg?

  20. 20
    Mapou says:

    See you around, Boxie.

  21. 21
    Box says:

    Mapou, you outdid yourself. You lasted for four rounds!

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