Kantian Naturalist writes a thought-provoking response to my Thomas Nagel and the “Quartum Quid” post and Eric Anderson responds.
The problem here is whether ‘naturalistic teleology’ collapses into reductive naturalism or design realism.
Rather than treat naturalistic teleology as a quartium quid, it is a tertium quid. The first two, “chance” and “necessity” are not different ontologies (contra Peirce, maybe?) but tightly integrated aspects of a single ontology, Epicureanism, or reductive naturalism.
(It must be remembered here that it was Epicurus’ addition of chance to the deterministic system of Democritus that saved atomism from many of Aristotle’s criticisms — just not all of them!)
So here, then, are the ontological options:
(1) reductive naturalism (Epicureanism, “chance” + “necessity”)
(2) design realism (that there exists some non-human intelligent agent whose intentions played a causal role in the emergence of (i)the universe; (ii) life; (ii) body-plans; (iv) consciousness; (v) rationality; (vi) all of the above.
[Three notes: (a) thus specified, design realism is fully consistent with naturalism and thus contributes no epistemic support to theism; (b) how exactly this causal role was played is not easily answered, if the causal role cannot be specified without specifying the capacities of the designer; (c) the open-endedness of that list, esp. (vi) there, is a real problem for design theory — the conjecture must be specified enough to permit refutation.]
(3) naturalistic teleology (self-organization theory, autopoeisis theory — cf. recent work by Stuart Kauffman, Francisco Varela, Kirschner and Gerhart’s The Plausibility of Life, Evan Thompson’s Mind in Life, etc.)
The contention: that (3) reduces to (2) or to (1).
The response: whether (2) reduces to (2) is a difficult question, and I’m not yet convinced I have a really good argument there. But here’s why (3) does not reduce to (1). (Aka “why I dislike Dawkins so much”.)
Reductive naturalism depicts nature as a system of laws. Laws are rampant in physics and in chemistry. But biology, since it is the study of living things, is therefore the science of immanent-purposive systems, systems that are teleologically organized. (Perhaps (3) reduces to (2) if immanently purposive systems are best explained by a transcendent purposive system?)
So the question, can (3) be reduced to (1), can be considered in terms of two different sub-questions: (a) are there laws of biology? and (b) can biology be reduced to physics and chemistry? But there are no laws of biology, because teleological systems have histories, and there cannot be law about history.
(Notice, also, that according to Darwinism, species are not generals but individuals, to use those terms in their Scholastic sense, since populations are individuals, metaphysically speaking. Here’s a difficult question I haven’t yet figured out how to answer: is it consistent to be a realist about teleology without being a realist about universals or generals? I think what I want to say here is that species are not kinds, but that life itself is a kind.)
So: there are no laws of biology. Does biology reduce to physics and chemistry? Here too I think we have every right to be completely skeptical, because all the successful cases of intertheoretic reduction (the reduction of one theory to another) that I can think of are part of the history of physics and chemistry themselves. To whatever extent intertheoretic reduction have been successful in chemistry and physics, there’s room to be dubious whether biology reduces to physics and chemistry. (Interestingly enough, it’s also not really clear that chemistry reduces to physics, and it may be that there’s actually very little, if any, reduction between theories in general.)
Of course, that biology does not reduce to physics-chemistry is precisely what (2) and (3) have in common. So the question there is whether the irreducibility of biology to physics/chemistry is best explained by the existence of some intelligent agent, or by something else. I suppose, where I’m coming from, it’s not really so much of a stretch to suppose that autopoietic systems could emerge by enclosing an autocatalytic set within a semi-permeable membrane
I suppose, where I’m coming from, it’s not really so much of a stretch to suppose that autopoietic systems could emerge by enclosing an autocatalytic set within a semi-permeable membrane.
It is a massive stretch. A stretch without empirical support and against all experience to date. Further, where did the so-called “autocatalytic set” come from? Crickets . . .
Further, if there is some ‘law’ that gives rise to biology, what accounts for the incredible diversity of biological form and function? It certainly can’t be determined by law. So is the ‘law’ for some inexplicable reason only applicable to the first cell, at which point the law ceases to operate and some other process takes over (pure chance or some kind of Darwinian evolution)? In addition, why would this ‘law’ have acted billions of years ago, but never be seen in operation today?
The idea that biology arises from either (i) physics and chemistry themselves, or (ii) some as-yet-undiscovered law (that, upon inspection, apparently only operates at some points in time and only at very specific stages of the life process) is without any empirical or logical justification. It most cases it seems to be a desparate leap away from a purposeful origin and its uncomfortable implications. And a leap away from the evidence.