Intelligent Design Naturalism Origin Of Life

Is a sense of purpose (agency) what makes life special?

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From J. Scott Turner’s Purpose and Desire:What Makes Something “Alive” and Why Modern Darwinism Has Failed to Explain It,Life’s distinctive is agency.

In a nutshell, this is where the crisis of biology looms, because our prevailing modes of thinking about life—the triumphant confluence of mechanism, materialism, and atomism that has made the twentieth century a golden age for biology—do not deal well with the concept of agency: that ineffable striving of living things to become something.

See also: Small group study guide:

See also: Homeostasis: Life’s balancing act as a challenge to unguided evolution

J. Scott Turner in the Chronicle of Higher Education — ID is asking the right questions! (2007)

16 Replies to “Is a sense of purpose (agency) what makes life special?

  1. 1
    polistra says:

    And after the materialists solve purpose (which of course they can’t)… the next problem is strategy. As I described earlier, the process of getting a population of stem cells from the primitive neural tube out into the correct neighborhoods of the cortex requires the same amount of logistics, and the same amount of time, as the D-Day landing in Normandy. Except that it lands several billion soldiers instead of several thousand.

  2. 2
    Seversky says:

    Insects or bacteria are far more numerous than we are. Can they be said to have a conscious sense of purpose? Or aren’t they alive by whatever definition you’re using? As for a crisis in biology, the field, like other sciences, positively thrives on crises.

  3. 3
    rvb8 says:

    Sorry, ‘purpose’ is explained far more clearly by evolutionary biology than tomes dedictaed to some ‘new age’, religious esoteric thought piffle.

    ‘Purpose’, is reproducing your genes, seeing that they are passed on. Beyond that, enjoy breathing, being with friends, eating, sex (see ‘purpose’), and sightseeing; not necessarily in that order.

    So, this genius wrote a couple of hundred pages on ‘purpose’ did he? I’ve just explained it in under 200 words.

  4. 4
    Rennie says:

    @ rvb8

    If “purpose” is merely to “pass on genes”, I can, theoretically then, (according to your definition) forcefully impregnate any woman and enjoy a “purposeful” life. Right?

  5. 5
    Seversky says:

    We should distinguish between purpose and function. Function is just what something does, purpose presupposes conscious intent. You could say that both a river and a canal enable water to move from one place to another. That is their function, it’s what they do. The canal however was built by people to perform that function. That was the purpose in the minds of the designers and engineers.

    Humans may have sex consciously in order to reproduce, though not always. Other creature, like insects, may also reproduce sexually but is there any reason to think that reproduction is their conscious intention when they do?

  6. 6
    Rennie says:

    5. Seversky

    This is exactly the point. Intelligent agents, we know act purposefully with a specific intent in mind. Henceforth we call it intelligence.

    To classify this intent under some animal instinct “function” shows you and rvb8’s obnoxious attempts to denounce your intelligibility.

    The reason we hold people morally accountable for their actions is because we know they act with purpose and with intent.

    Our purpose as intelligent beings are not just merely “passing on genes”. Its far more complicated than your materialistic explanations. And the best part is; you know it is more complicated.

    The “I’m-just-a-bag-of-chemicals” mantra you cling to is the reason you willingly engage yourself in such imprudent thinking.

  7. 7
    ET says:

    rvb8:

    Sorry, ‘purpose’ is explained far more clearly by evolutionary biology

    Yes, you are sorry and blind watchmaker evolutionary biology can only explain genetic diseases and deformities.

  8. 8
    Origenes says:

    Seversky: We should distinguish between purpose and function.

    Each organ of one’s body can be said to have a function, because it serves the whole. If an organ is defect, it no longer “functions” — it no longer serves the purpose of the whole.
    IOWs function must be understood in the context of an hierarchical part-whole relationship.
    So, the functional organ is subservient to the whole. It serves the purpose of the whole.

    Obviously, if there is no overarching whole, if there are just parts, as naturalism claims, then we cannot coherently speak of function or purpose.

  9. 9
    Seversky says:

    Rennie @ 6

    This is exactly the point. Intelligent agents, we know act purposefully with a specific intent in mind. Henceforth we call it intelligence.

    So we agree that only intelligent, conscious agents are capable of conceiving and acting on a purpose. Insects or bacteria are not conscious as far as we can tell, nor are they intelligent as that is commonly understood, so they have function but no purpose.

    To classify this intent under some animal instinct “function” shows you and rvb8’s obnoxious attempts to denounce your intelligibility.

    It sounds like you misunderstood what I wrote. I was trying to convey that function and purpose are two different things.

    The reason we hold people morally accountable for their actions is because we know they act with purpose and with intent

    … and we assume they have free will, that they could have acted otherwise if they had chosen.

    Our purpose as intelligent beings are not just merely “passing on genes”. Its far more complicated than your materialistic explanations. And the best part is; you know it is more complicated.

    One of our functions appears to be the passing on of our genes. Whether that is our purpose or we have some other purpose is known only to whatever intelligence conceived that purpose. If there is no ‘purposer’, however, there can be no purpose.

    The “I’m-just-a-bag-of-chemicals” mantra you cling to is the reason you willingly engage yourself in such imprudent thinking.

    A human being as no more than “bag of chemicals” mantra is a strawman used by ID/C proponents to mock the a/mat position. It is true at one level of description just as describing a PC as a box of plastic, metals and minerals is true at one level of description. But a/mats are fully aware that is far from all that human being or a computer is.

  10. 10
    Seversky says:

    Origenes @ 8

    Each organ of one’s body can be said to have a function, because it serves the whole. If an organ is defect, it no longer “functions” — it no longer serves the purpose of the whole.

    Careful, you are introducing purpose where we don’t know there is one.

    IOWs function must be understood in the context of an hierarchical part-whole relationship.
    So, the functional organ is subservient to the whole. It serves the purpose of the whole

    Not necessarily, the function of a part can serve or contribute to the function of a whole. There is no need to invoke purpose, unless you are surreptitiously trying invoke the need for a purpose.

    Obviously, if there is no overarching whole, if there are just parts, as naturalism claims, then we cannot coherently speak of function or purpose.

    We can speak coherently of a function because that is what we can observe. The difficulty with the concept of some overarching purpose is constructing a coherent model of a supreme intelligence having the need to form such a purpose.

  11. 11
    rvb8 says:

    Rennie @6,

    please learn to read!

    “forcefully impregnate a woman and then enjoy life”?

    No! That would be rape and against man’s laws. Perfectly acceptable in Biblical times, along with slavery, and genocide, but we’ve come a little way further.

    We now relegate God’s silly laws and promote man’s. Thus making the world a lot safer; we live longer in case you haven’t noticed.

    Of course most of God’s laws are still fastidiously practiced in great detail in Saudi Arabia. Why aren’t you there?

    Listen; be a good person, love your family, have a good time, and ignore all those who are religious and claim special knowledge: You can’t go wrong.

    Oh yeah, and have sex for the gene thing. But God? Give that devil a wide berth.:)

  12. 12
    rvb8 says:

    ET @7,

    I’m confused by your post. Are you suggesting deformities are a consequence of failed genetic duplication; that is errors in the genome?

    You are right of couse, that is exactly the reason we have genetic defects. Failure in the recombination process of the chromosomes. Do we agree with each other?

    My conclusion is that these errors are the result of physical laws, or in plain English dumb luck.

    What are you suggesting? God did it?

    For what reason? He was in a hurry and messed up the process? He was absent minded? He’s just nasty? He likes suffering? He’s mean? He’s bored?

    I’ll trust nature, you can put as much faith in your childish, capricious God you want; Nature’s a surer bet, and we have actual evidence.:)

  13. 13
    ET says:

    rvb8:

    I’m confused by your post. Are you suggesting deformities are a consequence of failed genetic duplication; that is errors in the genome?

    And just how did you determine duplications are blind watchmaker processes? How did you determine that recombination is a blind watchmaker process? How did you determine that all genetic change is an error, accident or mistake?

    Are programmers at every computer writing code as you use applications? If not then why does the Designer have to manipulate genomes?

    Your position doesn’t even have a methodology to test its claims. All you have is faith and it is blind faith at that

  14. 14
    ET says:

    We can tell a purpose exists due to the complexion of the function. For example ATP synthase is an irreducibly complex system that has a specific function. And from its complexity we can safe with all the confidence in the world that it has a purpose. And yes a purpose intended by an intelligent agency.

    And guess what? The anti-IDists don’t have a clue how to test the idea ATP synthase arose by means of blind and mindless processes.

  15. 15
    Origenes says:

    Seversky @10

    Origenes: Obviously, if there is no overarching whole, if there are just parts, as naturalism claims, then we cannot coherently speak of function or purpose.

    Seversky: We can speak coherently of a function because that is what we can observe.

    We only “observe” function in the context of an overarching whole. For instance, the heart has a function for the organism. A heart in isolation, without an organism, has no function.

  16. 16
    A_Thinker says:

    I commented on another thread about another undeniable agency which the universe appears to reflect. Moral agency, i.e. what is good and bad. Evolution, as typically described, requires a moral agency. How and why did the universe decide that life is good and death is bad? A universe without a Creator simply…doesn’t care. It doesn’t distinguish between life and death, as both are perfectly valid. Life propagating and life destroying arrangements of atoms and molecules are equally valid. A universe, by itself, has no concept of an organisms “fitness”, it applies no pressure to keep living, to propagate genes, reproduce, etc. On the other hand, a moral agent can do all those things. What is good and bad can be discerned by the things created (see Gen 1:11,12,21,25,31).

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