A Critique of Biological Materialism

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A Critique of Biological Materialism

Post Number:#1  Postby Quotidian » September 28th, 2014, 1:13 am

This discussion has been split from this thread. The particular topic under discussion was a response to the comment:

Thumos11 wrote:you really can't have a logical conversation with someone who believes non-intelligent molecules can suddenly "decide" to build sophisticated biological machines just out of the blue for no apparent reason....


Quotidian wrote:I actually do agree... but the debate about evolution, creation, intelligent design and so on, has become very politically charged and is also extremely complicated and is full of competing agendas ...

I have been reading a counter-cultural critique of Darwinian materialism put forward by some little-known writers and journals:


Was Darwin Wrong?

Karl Popper and Owen Barfield And the Embattled Ideal of an ‘Open Society’

Hard Wired - How 'Mechanism' has Deceived the World


Fooloso4 wrote:Who is claiming that molecules “decide” anything? Who is claiming that molecules build? Who is claiming that out of the blue there is a jump from molecules to sophisticated biological machines? Certainly not scientists.


The idea that life began as a consequence of the combination of physical substances in the appropriate conditions is the meaning of 'a-bio-genesis', is it not? And from that basis, it is presumed that evolutionary processes take over - and gave rise to all living beings. This is an idea that has been subject to immense (and on-going) controversy, but that is nevertheless what the basic idea is, isn't it?

I referred previously to Betrand Russell's well-known essay A Free Man's Worship which says explicitly that mankind is 'the outcome of the accidental collocation of atoms', which at the time of its publication, in the early 20th Century, was thought to have been the decisive finding of science at that time, even though it was not strictly true.

Francis Crick, co-discoverer of DNA, said much more recently that

'you,' your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. as Lewis Carroll's Alice might have phrased it: 'You're nothing but a pack of neurons.'


There have been other 'doctrinal statements' of philosophical materialism, such as Jacques Monod's book Chance and Necessity which likewise says that:

It necessarily follows that chance alone is at the source of every innovation, and of all creation in the biosphere. Pure chance, absolutely free but blind, at the very root of the stupendous edifice of evolution: this central concept of modern biology is no longer one among many other possible or even conceivable hypotheses. It is today the sole conceivable hypothesis, the only one that squares with observed and tested fact. And nothing warrants the supposition - or the hope - that on this score our position is ever likely to be revised. There is no scientific concept, in any of the sciences, more destructive of anthropocentrism than this one.


Daniel Dennett:

through the microscope of molecular biology, we get to witness the birth of agency, in the first macromolecules that have enough complexity to ‘do things…..Love it or hate it, phenomena like this exhibit the heart of the power of the Darwinian idea. An impersonal, unreflective, robotic, mindless little scrap of molecular machinery is the ultimate basis of all the agency, and hence meaning, and hence consciousness, in the universe


From Darwin's Dangerous Idea.

Examples could be multiplied. So, please don't say that scientific materialism actually doesn't attribute agency to molecules. That is exactly what it does. Now it has started to become suspected that there are major problems with that idea, so there is a lot of hedging and hand-waving going on, around ideas like 'emergence' or 'self-organisation', and the like, but it's still all materialism: is says that living beings are the accidental outcome of chemical activities in dumb stuff, not to put too fine a point upon it. 'Philosophical materialism', which is the default philosophy of 'the secular academy' in our day and age, really does say that, and those who question it are subjected to intense criticism (which we will go into later.) But the underlying idea always is that 'matter' (nowadays often said to be 'matter~energy' due to the discovery of e=mc2) is all there is.


Fooloso4 wrote:Here are a few things I found [from the Cruse articles]

...
In Darwin’s worldview there still is physical ‘substance.’ In fact apart from ‘chance’ that is all that there is in the theory, and words, of course, lots and lots of words …


Since when does the use of words disqualify something from being true? No evolutionary biologist claims that Darwin figured it all out. Darwin's contribution was one of if not the most important paradigm shifts in the history of science. The author goes on to confirm that the evidence for evolution is overwhelming; but he does not pause to consider that prior to Darwin such overwhelming evidence was not seen. It was Darwin who opened our eyes.

The chemists that Darwin refers to, however, were not using metaphor in an attempt to dislodge the Designer God from nature, and so to deny the existence of divine Ideas in nature. Quite the opposite in fact, they still believed in a Designer God, so for them no problem in causal logic was created, like that which had arisen for Darwin himself, although he only barely noticed it. It is indeed subtle, yet a more total contradiction will not be found in all of logic.


Let’s look at this more closely because this is where he thinks Darwin’s logic was flawed. With the exception of mathematics all language is metaphorical. Whether or not the chemists in question believed in a Designer God is irrelevant to the fact that God is absent and finds no place in their explanations of chemical reactions. It is not Darwin but Cruse, the author of this article, whose logic is flawed. His argument appears to be that since the chemists believed in a creator their use of metaphor was not problematic, but since Darwin was attempting to dislodge the Designer God from nature and deny the existence of divine Ideas in nature his use of metaphor presents a logical contradiction. The irony is that the designer God was dislodged from chemistry, whether it was intentional or not. If evolution dislodges God from biology it makes no difference what Darwin’s intentions may have been.

But you will recall that ‘mechanism’ is a human idea involving a human designer, and that Descartes was only able to attribute this idea to nature because he had included God the Designer in his plan. When science took God out of the equation, as was the case in the final version of Darwin’s theory, then all of the language of design ought to have gone out with Him. It did not, because without it the Darwinian theory just could not be seen to work. Instead we enshrined the word ‘mechanism’ as a dictionary definition of scientific materialism, and continued on as if there was nothing wrong with what we were doing; but there was, and very much so.


Cruse claimed earlier in the article that Descartes was the first to attribute the idea of mechanism to nature. He claims that there cannot be mechanism without design and purpose. He seems unaware of pre-Socratic atomists whose mechanical explanation did not include design or purpose or creator. More importantly for his own argument he passes over the fact that Descartes explanation of biology was purely biological. Finally he wants to disallow Darwin the use of the term design if there is no designer. He takes it as a given that there cannot be design without a designer and thus disregards the very thing that evolution demonstrates, how structures structure.


I am reading a book by Cruse and Robert Zimmer called Evolution and the New Gnosis. It is not without its flaws, but the basic idea that the notion of 'purposeless purpose', 'designerless design' and the like, are very confused ideas which are nevertheless central to molecular biology, is quite a valid criticism in my view.

He points out the fact that Darwin acknowledges that the very term 'natural selection' is a metaphor, but then continues to use it, where it adopts the characteristics of an agency or a do-er, that 'scrutinizes' and 'selects' and 'adds up' and does many other things, that molecules don't actually do. So the fact that it is a metaphor, really ought not excuse it from scrutiny. What is it a metaphor, for? Do you notice that in nearly all debates about evolutionary science on this forum, people will quite spontaneously say that evolution 'does' this, and evolution 'does' that? But strictly speaking - and here we really should be speaking strictly - evolution doesn't 'do' anything.

So Cruse and Zimmer are arguing that there is an unconscious projection of the attributes of the human mind onto the whole process of evolution, which is then used to support the notion that matter itself 'does' things or is an active agency.
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A Critique of Biological Materialism



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Re: A Critique of Biological Materialism

Post Number:#2  Postby Fooloso4 » September 28th, 2014, 9:07 am

Quotidian:

So, please don't say that scientific materialism actually doesn't attribute agency to molecules.


Action and deciding are two different things. Molecules do not decide to act. Scientific materialism is too broad a term. What happens is that the label is attached and the specifics of what is actually claimed are ignored.

'purposeless purpose', 'designerless design' and the like, are very confused ideas which are nevertheless central to molecular biology, is quite a valid criticism in my view.


This is something specific that we can address. Purpose can refer to nothing more than the function of something, a thing's use, what part it plays. We may ask, for example, what the purpose of a vestigial organ. A snowflake is an example of a designerless design.

He points out the fact that Darwin acknowledges that the very term 'natural selection' is a metaphor, but then continues to use it, where it adopts the characteristics of an agency or a do-er, that 'scrutinizes' and 'selects' and 'adds up' and does many other things, that molecules don't actually do.


A sieve or membrane separates and divides on the basis of size. It acts as a selector. This is what it does. Do you want to attribute the ability to scrutinize and select and ‘add up’ to a sieve or a membrane?

The problem is that Cruse and Zimmer look at one example of what selection means, then claim this must apply to all examples, and conclude that this shows that natural selection must entail a deliberate act of selecting.
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Re: A Critique of Biological Materialism

Post Number:#3  Postby Quotidian » September 28th, 2014, 5:43 pm

Scientific materialism is too broad a term. What happens is that the label is attached and the specifics of what is actually claimed are ignored.


It is assumed by many people that the origin of life can be understood in purely molecular terms. This is essentially the same idea as the mind being able to be understood solely in terms of neuro-chemistry. Materialism of all forms makes the same essential claim in regards to everthing - there is only one substance, and that is matter. That claim is at the root of the whole debate.

In the aftermath of Cartesian dualism, there was a concerted effort to demonstrate that res cogitans was non-existent, and that every natural phenomenon could be understood solely in terms of res extensia. This is how modern materialism developed over the course of several centuries.

In the age of Newton, when the cosmic machine whirred and hummed with God-given efficiency, the apex of mechanical achievement was the miniaturized timepiece, a tribute to the power of human intelligence to impose form and order onto dumb matter, much as divine intelligence would have generated living creatures from water and sand. When theologian William Paley likened the organism to a watch, his intention wasn’t so much to diminish the glory of living things but to augment that of the Almighty, now portrayed as not only a loving father but a skilled mechanic laboring to realize pre-envisioned plans.

The chief innovation on this model offered by neo-Darwinism is to ditch the mechanic but keep the mechanism. If the machines crafted by our own terrestrial genius can run on auto-pilot, why not the universe? Even if the stars and galaxies are indeed the handiwork of a deity, once we know the program, we have no use for the programmer. In the logic circuits of the celestial apparatus, divinity doesn’t compute. God turns out to be the ghost in his own machine. 1


The False Dilemma between Neo-Darwinism and Intelligent Design Ted Dace

Do you want to attribute the ability to scrutinize and select and ‘add up’ to a sieve or a membrane?


That is the point! That is what is done every time it is said that natural selection 'does' this or 'does' that; it is the conceptual confusion that lies at the heart of the problem. So the question is, what drives the process; what pushes it, so to speak. I suppose the answer is 'the survival instinct'; is it reasonable to ask why or how that came into existence in the first place?

Charles Darwin complained quite crossly in his autobiography that, despite many denials, people still kept saying he thought natural selection was the sole cause of evolutionary development. "Great is the force of misrepresentation," he grumbled. Had he known that, a century later, his alleged followers would be promoting that very doctrine as central to his teaching, and extending it into the wilder reaches of psychology and physics, he might have got even crosser. Darwin's objection was surely not just that he could see other possible causes. He saw that the doctrine itself did not make sense. No filter, however powerful, can be the only cause of what flows out of it. Questions about what comes into that filter have to be just as important.2


Review of What Darwin Got Wrong by Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli Palmarini; Mary Midgley; emphasis added.

Purpose can refer to nothing more than the function of something, a thing's use, what part it plays. We may ask, for example, what the purpose of a vestigial organ. A snowflake is an example of a designerless design.


The debate about 'purpose' is also one of the central arguments in this whole debate. I think what happened, historically, is that Aristotelean notions of 'telos' were basic to Aristotelean physics and were very much part of scholastic philosophy. Aritotelean physics was overthrown by Galileo and Newton, and meanwhile the early modern philosophers and nominalists set out to free themselves from scholasticism. I think this is why telos and teleology effectively became taboo in modern discourse. But biology can't actually be done at all without some concept of 'purpose', as every aspect of organisms is purposeful. It is still an unresolved topic, in my view. You will notice on this very forum, there is vast confusion about the question of purpose; I think that mirrors the confusion about it in our culture generally.

The point about the snowflake (and the same can be said for crystals) is that their form really is the outcome of chemical necessity. Such things can indeed be understood purely in terms of the interaction of molecules. But they are very different to organisms, in that they don't seek homeostasis, breed, feed or adapt. Nor do they embody information in the form of DNA. It is those higher-order attributes that I believe cannot be explained solely in terms of bio-chemical and physical laws.
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Re: A Critique of Biological Materialism

Post Number:#4  Postby Fooloso4 » September 28th, 2014, 8:56 pm

Quotidian:

That is the point! That is what is done every time it is said that natural selection 'does' this or 'does' that; it is the conceptual confusion that lies at the heart of the problem.


If there is any conceptual confusion it is on your part. In this case the term ‘does’ refers to a function.

So the question is, what drives the process; what pushes it, so to speak. I suppose the answer is 'the survival instinct'; is it reasonable to ask why or how that came into existence in the first place?


I do not think the survival instinct is a good answer. I do not think that primitive organisms have instincts. I do not think that insects that develop immunity to pesticides or bacteria to antibiotics do so as the result of instinct. A better answer is fitness to environment, the inheritance of traits, and genetic mutation from that just happen to confer some benefit in that environment. Organisms that are robust and develop behaviors that give them some advantage in their environment will live to pass those traits on. We may call this a survival instinct, but that same instinct may result in quick death in a different environment. For example, it might be said that an animal that remains frozen in place is displaying a survival instinct, but that same behavior could lead to quick death if there were different predators.

I think this is why telos and teleology effectively became taboo in modern discourse.


But Newton set out to demonstrate the hand of God in the movement of physical bodies. The problem was not that this was too much like teleology but simply that when all was said and done, there was no hand of God to be found. The same has followed for all physical systems. It was not that there was a deliberate attempt to banish teleology, it simply played no role.

But biology can't actually be done at all without some concept of 'purpose', as every aspect of organisms is purposeful.


In what sense are the parts and whole of an organism purposeful?

The point about the snowflake (and the same can be said for crystals) is that their form really is the outcome of chemical necessity.


There you go: design without a designer. Molecules doing what they do.

But they are very different to organisms … that I believe cannot be explained solely in terms of bio-chemical and physical laws.


The same was said of the motions of the stars and planets and of chemical reactions. We are making significant progress understanding biological processes. That there must be something outside these processes that make them work is simply an unwarranted assumption based on our inability at this time to explain how they work,fear that there will be no place left for God in the physical world, and of equal if not greater importance, we will once again find ourselves displaced from the center. But we recovered before and we will recover again when that day comes.
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Re: A Critique of Biological Materialism

Post Number:#5  Postby Quotidian » September 28th, 2014, 9:20 pm

I do not think the survival instinct is a good answer.


If it isn't a good answer, do you have any suggestions?

You say that bacteria don't manifest instincts, but I think that is debatable; but in any case, you're simply assuming that life arises seamlessly out of inorganic matter: making the very assumption that is subject to the criticism, with no additional argumentation. How is it that an autonomous organism appears in the first place, and then proceeds to develop intentionality and purpose? What 'law of science' does that happen in accordance with? That is what is at issue.

At this point, you are not defending the dogma, you are simply repeating it.

A better answer is fitness to environment...


Which means what, exactly? Do you know about the tautological argument with regards to 'fitness' - that to say 'the fittest survive' really just says 'the survivors survive', which actually says nothing whatever. What common factor can be described in terms of 'fitness' with respect to slime moulds, sloths, or seagulls? (There's a more detailed discussion here.)

That there must be something outside these processes that make them work is simply an unwarranted assumption based on our inability at this time to explain how they work...


Patently and demonstrably incorrect. Even the science of physics is beset by immense explanatory problems, which are discussed frequently on this forum; for instance, the best and brightest of physicists finding it necessary to invoke the existence of parallel dimensions and multiple universes, simply to explain the outcome of experiments with particles.

The reductionist approach to biology is continually being changed and updated via such devices as 'emergentism' and 'self-organisation' precisely because the original formulation in completely physicalist terms has been found deficient. But even so, there is still a large conceptual gap between the purported explanations and what is being explained, which appears most noticeably in the insistence on the part of evolutionary materialists (the 'eliminativists', to be specific), that humans don't actually have minds!

In what sense are the parts and whole of an organism purposeful?


In what sense are they not purposeful? You do know that the cellular apparatus are continually engaged in intricate operations such as mitosis and absorption of nutrients, and so on. Every organ in the body is constantly engaged in these intricate processes, excreting hormones, regulating, adjusting, to serve the purposes of survival. Nature everywhere is shot through with purposefulness.

design without a designer. Molecules doing what they do.


Right - resulting in snowflakes! As I said, I think it is quite true that the characteristics of snowflakes can be accounted for on the basis of molecules. But what if you saw a snowman? There would be no way to explain that on the basis of water molecules.

we recovered before...


From what? What parallels do you have in mind?
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Re: A Critique of Biological Materialism

Post Number:#6  Postby Neopolitan » September 28th, 2014, 9:28 pm

Kettle wrote:The debate about 'purpose' is also one of the central arguments in this whole debate. I think what happened, historically, is that Aristotelean notions of 'telos' were basic to Aristotelean physics and were very much part of scholastic philosophy. Aritotelean physics was overthrown by Galileo and Newton, and meanwhile the early modern philosophers and nominalists set out to free themselves from scholasticism. I think this is why telos and teleology effectively became taboo in modern discourse. But biology can't actually be done at all without some concept of 'purpose', as every aspect of organisms is purposeful. It is still an unresolved topic, in my view. You will notice on this very forum, there is vast confusion about the question of purpose; I think that mirrors the confusion about it in our culture generally.

You reveal an aspect of your thinking that you share with common and garden-variety theists, namely an almost slavish devotion to ancient and pre-modern authorities. (Not that devoting yourself to modern authorities is going to be much better.)

The history really doesn't matter terribly much with regard to considerations of "purpose" and I think in some cases it actually confuses the issue, because some people assume that since one definition is associated with a famous name such as Aristotle or Newton, then that definition must be right.

In your case though, Kettle, with your definition you are blurring two different concepts - namely the post hoc "purpose" used in biological descriptions (the purpose of the heart is to pump blood around the organism's body in order to deliver oxygenated blood to cells and return oxygen-depleted blood to the lungs) and pre hoc "purpose" used in engineering design (the purpose of the governor is to regulate the running speed of the engine). We really should have two different words for these concepts and then our magical thinkers would struggle less.

So long as you presuppose that (natural) biological systems are, to some extent, designed, you and your fellow proto-creationists will want to hang onto your hopelessly vague definition of "purpose". But if so, your tail will be wagging your god.
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Re: A Critique of Biological Materialism

Post Number:#7  Postby Quotidian » September 28th, 2014, 9:32 pm

Neopolitan - I am open to debate, but I am not open to your routine of sarcasm, derision and scorn. Until you change your approach to discussion, you will not get any replies out of me.

Fooloso4 wrote:But Newton set out to demonstrate the hand of God in the movement of physical bodies. The problem was not that this was too much like teleology but simply that when all was said and done, there was no hand of God to be found...


Not actually an accurate summation. Newton, and the others of his age, assumed the divine order. Their deist belief was that God had set everything in motion, but that the subsequent motion could be understood in entirely mechanical terms. That was actually in keeping with Cartesianism, which also said that the observed order of things was entirely mechanical, but was set in motion by mind - the individual mind, in the case of humans, and the divine intelligence in the case of the Universe as a whole.

However, Newton was plagued by his inability to account for or explain the nature of gravity, for which he famously said 'I feign no hypothesis'. He spent decades after the publication of Principia, trying to account for this mysterious 'action at a distance' (among other questions) by studying occult, hermetic, and alchemical ideas 3. And oddly enough, the idea of 'spooky action at a distance' also plagued Albert Einstein, who likewise spent many of his Princeton years engaged in an ultimately futile quest to show that the 'spooky' characteristics of quantum mechanics could be made subject to some realistic explanation. It is no co-incidence that, rightly or wrongly, the spooky manifestations of quantum mechanics, such as entanglement, have become the basis for all manner of New Age theories about consciousness and the nature of mind.

-- Updated September 29th, 2014, 12:39 pm to add the following --

The following says something important about the inherent purposiveness of living organisms.

Think first of a living dog, then of a decomposing corpse. At the moment of death, all the living processes normally studied by the biologist rapidly disintegrate. The corpse remains subject to the same laws of physics and chemistry as the live dog, but now, with the cessation of life, we see those laws strictly in their own terms, without anything the life scientist is distinctively concerned about. The dramatic change in his descriptive language as he moves between the living and the dead tells us just about everything we need to know.

No biologist who had been speaking of the behavior of the living dog will now speak in the same way of the corpse’s “behavior.” Nor will he refer to certain physical changes in the corpse as reflexes, just as he will never mention the corpse’s responses to stimuli, or the functions of its organs, or the processes of development being undergone by the decomposing tissues.

Virtually the same collection of molecules exists in the canine cells during the moments immediately before and after death. But after the fateful transition no one will any longer think of genes as being regulated, nor will anyone refer to normal or proper chromosome functioning. No molecules will be said to guide other molecules to specific targets, and no molecules will be carrying signals, which is just as well because there will be no structures recognizing signals. Code, information, and communication, in their biological sense, will have disappeared from the scientist’s vocabulary.

The corpse will not produce errors in chromosome replication or in any other processes, and neither will it attempt error correction or the repairof damaged parts. More generally, the ideas of injury and healing will be absent. Molecules will not recruit other molecules in order to achieve particular tasks. No structures will inherit features from parent structures in the way that daughter cells inherit traits or tendencies from their parents, and no one will cite the plasticity or context-dependence of the corpse’s adaptation to its environment.

It is a worthwhile exercise: try to think in all these ways about the corpse. You will immediately come up against your experience of the distinction between the dog and its remains, between a strictly physical process and a living performance.


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Re: A Critique of Biological Materialism

Post Number:#8  Postby Bohm2 » September 28th, 2014, 10:21 pm

Can you define what you mean by the term "biological materialism"? I've never come across the term. A google search didn't come up with anything useful either.
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Re: A Critique of Biological Materialism

Post Number:#9  Postby Neopolitan » September 28th, 2014, 10:23 pm

Kettle wrote:neopolitan - I am open to debate, but I am not open to your routine of sarcasm, derision and scorn. Until you change your approach to discussion, you will not get any replies out of me.

Understood. I am not after a response from you, Kettle. I am more than happy to point out the problems in your thinking without any response, defensive of otherwise, from you.
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Re: A Critique of Biological Materialism

Post Number:#10  Postby Quotidian » September 28th, 2014, 10:53 pm

Bohm2 wrote:Can you define what you mean by the term "biological materialism"? I've never come across the term. A google search didn't come up with anything useful either.


See the quotations in the original post. They are taken from some of the canonical texts of biological materialism, specifically:

Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul, Francis Crick:

this speculative study argues that our minds can be explained, without recourse to religious concepts of a soul, in terms of the interactions of a vast assembly of nerve cells and associated molecules. Crick delves into the nature of consciousness by focusing on visual awareness, an active, constructive process in which the brain selectively combines discrete elements into meaningful images. Early chapters include numerous interactive illustrations to demonstrate the brain's shortcuts, tricks and habits of visual perception. In later chapters Crick discusses neural networks--electronic pathways that can "remember" patterns or produce spoken language--and outlines research strategies designed to pinpoint the brain's "awareness neurons" that enable us to see.


Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology, Jacques Monod

Jacques Monod, the Nobel Prize winning biochemist, allies himself, in the title of this admirable treatise, to the atomist Democritus, who held that the whole universe is but the fruit of two qualities, chance and necessity. Interpreting the laws of natural selection along purely naturalistic lines, he succeeds in presenting a powerful case that takes into account the ethical, political and philosophical undercurrents of the synthesis in modern biology. Above all, he stresses that science must commit itself to the postulate of objectivity by casting aside delusive ideological and moral props, even though he enjoins, at the same time, that the postulate of objectivity itself is a moral injunction. He launches a bitter polemic against metaphysical and scientific vitalisms, dismissing them as obscurantist, as well as the animist projection in history and evolution


DARWIN'S DANGEROUS IDEA: EVOLUTION AND THE MEANINGS OF LIFE, Daniel Dennett

Darwin's idea is very very simple; it goes like this.

1. Organisms pass their characteristics on to their descendants, which are mostly but not completely identical to their parent organisms. 2. Organisms breed more descendants than can possibly survive. 3. Descendants with beneficial variations have a better chance of surviving and reproducing, however slight, than those with non-beneficial variations. 4. These slightly modified descendants are themselves organisms, so repeat from step 1. (There is no stopping condition.)

That's it. That's all there is to Natural Selection: a simple four step loop; a mindless algorithm that displays no intent, no design, no purpose, no goal, no deeper meaning. This simple algorithm has been running on Earth for four billion years to produce every living thing, and everything made by every living thing, from the oxygen atmosphere generated by plants to the skyscrapers and music created by man.


You can throw in anything by Richard Dawkins, also.

That makes it reasonably clear, doesn't it?
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Re: A Critique of Biological Materialism

Post Number:#11  Postby Fooloso4 » September 28th, 2014, 11:09 pm

Quotidian:

If it isn't a good answer, do you have any suggestions?


I did make a suggestion but it is hardly an explanation. It is instinctual behavior that serves to promote survival but it is not a survival instinct. It has simply proven to be effective, but might not be if conditions were different.

you're simply assuming that life arises seamlessly out of inorganic matter: making the very assumption that is subject to the criticism, with no additional argumentation.


I do make that assumption. The criticism I responded to was specific. I gave my reasons why I thought the criticism was weak.

How is it that an autonomous organism appears in the first place, and then proceeds to develop intentionality and purpose? What 'law of science' does that happen in accordance with? That is what is at issue.


I don’t know how life developed or organisms with intentionality and purpose. I am not an evolutionary biologist and really do not know any of the science. I do not, however, think there is a law of science that explains this. I think that order is bottom up and that properties are emergent. if you are really interested study biology. Join biology discussion boards Ask your questions to people with advanced understanding of these things,

At this point, you are not defending the dogma, you are simply repeating it.


What dogma? Some people around here seem to think that dogma means any position contrary to what they want to convince other to believe. My position is that science has done a good job of explaining the natural world naturally. I do not see any reason to think it will continue to do this successfully. This is not dogma. To say they are not going to be able to solve these problems is dogma.

The truth is that scientists are completely indifferent to your theological concerns. They continue to do their work and do not get caught up in arguments about what they will not be able to do without a supernatural non-explanation.

Which means what, exactly? Do you know about the tautological argument with regards to 'fitness' - that to say 'the fittest survive' really just says 'the survivors survive', which actually says nothing whatever.


No, it says more than that. It says they survive because they are fit for their environment. The survivors might not survive in a different environment. It is not simply a matter of the organism but its environment.

What common factor can be described in terms of 'fitness' with respect to slime moulds, sloths, or seagulls?


They all exist in a niche that is suited to what they are. Why should they have a common factor when their environments are so different?

Even the science of physics is beset by immense explanatory problems, which are discussed frequently on this forum; for instance, the best and brightest of physicists finding it necessary to invoke the existence of parallel dimensions and multiple universes, simply to explain the outcome of experiments with particles.


Well if there are people on this forum who are physicists then they would be better able to address these issues than I. Otherwise you would be best served leaning physics and going to a physics discussion board frequented by those who know what they are talking about. I am pretty sure what you are describing is a misrepresentation. But even if it is not, it simply means that there is a lot of stuff we don’t know. It may be that the more we know the more we find that we do not know.

I am also pretty sure that you are not really interested in understanding these things but rather your interest is in arguing about what science cannot and will not be able to do without really understanding what it is they do.

The reductionist approach to biology is continually being changed and updated via such devices as 'emergentism' and 'self-organisation' precisely because the original formulation in completely physicalist terms has been found deficient. But even so, there is still a large conceptual gap between the purported explanations and what is being explained, which appears most noticeably in the insistence on the part of evolutionary materialists (the 'eliminativists', to be specific), that humans don't actually have minds!


Here is a good example of attacking labels.

Nature everywhere is shot through with purposefulness.


But you point to processes without a single purpose.

But what if you saw a snowman? There would be no way to explain that on the basis of water molecules.


No, but I am pretty sure that there are no scientists working on the snowman problem.

From what? What parallels do you have in mind?


Heliocentrism.
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Re: A Critique of Biological Materialism

Post Number:#12  Postby Quotidian » September 29th, 2014, 12:12 am

Fooloso4 wrote:My position is that science has done a good job of explaining the natural world naturally.


And my position is that it has not, on account of leaving fundamental things out of its explanations, the foremost being an account of the nature of mind.
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Re: A Critique of Biological Materialism

Post Number:#13  Postby Neopolitan » September 29th, 2014, 12:22 am

Kettle wrote:
Fooloso4 wrote:My position is that science has done a good job of explaining the natural world naturally.

And my position is that it has not, on account of leaving fundamental things out of its explanations, the foremost being an account of the nature of mind.

This would be a reasonable position if the most important subject in this universe were "the nature of the mind". Do you have any rational arguments in support of that position? While you present any such arguments, could you be so kind as to explain precisely what you mean by "the nature of the mind", just so we can make sure that you aren't begging any questions.

Is your basic argument that "biological materialism" is flawed because it doesn't address mind? Is geology equally flawed because it doesn't address mind? What about nuclear physics? Astronomy? If so, could you explain why?

I do rather suspect that you have a rather large begged question buried in your argument.
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Re: A Critique of Biological Materialism

Post Number:#14  Postby Quotidian » September 29th, 2014, 12:42 am

Glad to. The subjects of geology, nuclear physics, and astronomy are the Earth, the compositions of atoms, and the nature of stars and galaxies, respectively. One would not expect to look to those for an explanation of the nature of mind.

I notice above that I was advised to join a biology forum, if I have questions about biology. This response assumes that the issue at hand is a biological one, but it's not - it is a philosophical issue. Understanding why it is a philosophical issue, and not a scientific issue, is the issue.

Before we proceed, I should ask the question, do the readers here know what the meaning of terms such as 'materialism' or 'reductionism' is - who promotes such ideas, what problems they say they are addressing, and what the criticisms of them are?

As it happens, I have done quite a bit of study of this issue, for instance by way of the books and authors above, and also of their various critics. But it's possible that other posters here are not that conversant with the issues.

-- Updated September 29th, 2014, 3:58 pm to add the following --

Fooloso4 wrote:I am also pretty sure that you are not really interested in understanding these things but rather your interest is in arguing about what science cannot and will not be able to do without really understanding what it is they do.


That is neither true, nor fair. I am very interested in science, and read a lot about it, via the popular media, New Scientist, books, and so on. This question is not about science, so much as the application of science to the nature of human identity. I do hope you are able to make that distinction. Science itself has become inordinately powerful in regards to many questions over which it has no particular expertise. The nature of the human is the key such question. Whenever scientists attempt to tackle the question, they usually do so by reducing the question to the kinds of questions that science can tackle. That is what is 'reductionist' about it.

Were I on a medical or a biological forum, of course I would be interested in different questions, and probably many questions which scientists and doctors of medicine can throw light on. But I don't think the nature of the mind, and the basics of human identity, are amongst those questions; and that is why I am raising them on a philosophy forum. Really it ought not to be too hard to see why that is the case, but I am continually dismayed by the difficulty that people seem to have in regards to the idea.

My basic view is that science very easily becomes 'scientism' which is the point where it begins to assume the role that would in earlier times have been attributed to religion - it becomes, as it were, a source of moral authority. And I deny that science is or can be a source of moral authority, for the very reason that it rejects any notion of meaning or purpose as incomprehensible. The reasons why science have to do that are perfectly legitimate, within the domain of scientific enquiry; but 'the nature of human nature' is not within that domain, for the simple but profound reason that human beings are subjects, rather than objects.
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Re: A Critique of Biological Materialism

Post Number:#15  Postby Neopolitan » September 29th, 2014, 1:04 am

Personally, I prefer not to rely on my own interpretation of terms, or the widely accepted interpretation of terms, when someone else is arguing with respect to those terms. If you want to argue about materialism and/or reductionism, I suggest that you either define those terms, or settle on an agreed specific definition.

But, for the purposes of the argument, when you use the terms, I think you mean:
  • materialism - the idea that that nothing exists except matter and its movements and modifications, that there is no (hidden) supernatural or spiritual element to nature
  • reductionism - the idea that as you break down something into its elements, the whole will be continue to be sufficiently explained by the sum of those elements
There's no real point trying to argue "reductionism" with me, since I don't consider that to be true. I hold that emergent features are not sufficiently described by the constituent elements. This does not, however, mean that I think that an additional constituent element has to be added (ie the supernatural or something spiritual). Thus I am, as far as my definition above goes, a "materialist". Note that if there are additional (and hidden) truth claims associated with "materialism", beyond what I've written into my definition, then I may not actually be a "materialist" after all.

You do seem to be making out that one cannot hold materialism to be true without simultaneously holding reductionism to be true. It's certainly not the case as far as I am concerned.

Unless, of course, you define the terms differently.

I think I would be reasonably comfortable with being defined as an "emergentist" with respect to the philosophy of mind and considerations of what it is to be alive (although I would not rush to tie myself to a particular school that falls within the broad umbrella of "emergentism").
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