Metaphysics and ID
|May 14, 2010||Posted by Alfred Russel under Intelligent Design|
I have just been re-reading R. G. Collingwoods “Essay on Metaphysics”, and am now more that ever convinced that Collingwood’s perspective is incredibly important to the ID debate.
Collingwood was a mid-20th Century British Philosopher who was WaynFlete Professor of Metaphysical Sciences at Oxford University, and who worked himself to death. He published many works – all of them in style that is incredibly easy to read, but very challenging to the reader. Unlike many philosophers he was very interested in the natural sciences, and documented the course of Western science in his “Idea of Nature”. Yet, in his last days he warned that natural science, as now conceived in the West, will ultimately destroy Western Civilization. And this would be because of metaphysics.
Now, metaphysics has had a bad two centuries, and in the popular culture it is simply ridiculed. But there is no escape from it. Rather than argue about particular metaphysical ideas, Collingwood introduced the idea of metaphysics being absolute presuppositions. An absolute presupposition is a proposition that cannot be proven or disproven – it can only be accepted or rejected. Absolute propositions are the foundation of all of our thinking. If we even question one of them that we hold, then all our thinking collapses like a house of cards. For instance, the US Declaration of Independence says “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”. This is not anything that can be proven scientifically – you either accept it or reject it. It is an absolute presupposition. Don’t imagine you can prove – or disprove it – scientifically. You cannot – you accept it or reject it and build from there.
Collingwood, having established absolute presuppositions, went on to show how absolute presuppositions have varied with time in Western civilization (meaning there is no such thing as “human nature”), and how they probably vary across cultural lines. From this he referred metaphysics to history and said that the function of metaphysics is to discover the absolute presuppositions at any point in time in every culture. He then went on to say that the set of absolute presuppositions you hold will determine the questions you ask, and that in turn will determine the answers you get. And that, he said, will determine the answers you get from your science.
Collingwood was very big on science being the capacity to formulate questions for which you could get answers. In the Baconian tradition, he saw the scientist acting as the prosecutor would never be allowed to act – torturing Nature to get answers from her. But you will never ask questions that question your absolute presuppositions – the very act of doing so destroys them. Your absolute presuppositions dictate the answers you will get from your science because they constrain the questions you will ask.
From this we can see how evolutionary biology is moribund. You cannot ask why cockroaches have remained unchanged since the Carboniferous, or why dinosaurs have not evolved multiple times, or why men don’t have babies. Just to ask these questions calls into question the absolute presuppositions – the metaphysics – that underlie evolutionary biology. And not asking these questions guarantees the answers that evolutionary biology does give. Therefore, ID should boldly ask precise scientific questions that challenge the established orthodoxy. It is questions, far more than their answers, that matter.