Saturday, September 13, 2008


"When you see a sundial or a water-clock, you see that it tells the time by design and not by chance. How then can you imagine that the universe as a whole is devoid of purpose and intelligence, when it embraces everything, including these artifacts themselves and their artificers?" (Cicero, De Natura Deorum, ii. 34)


  1. Proponents of Darwinian reasoning use the term “selection” so often that for some it seems to be a way of attributing intelligent choice to inanimate matter. It’s interesting that those who believe in things coming about by “chance” often use language implies intelligence. It seems to me that using such language allows a mind that cannot really think itself the result of random chaos and chance to rest on bits of intelligence which it argues actually do not exist. Note that they don’t really need to refer to label rather simple processes of culling, screening and filtering “selection.” Darwin himself noted that it would be more accurate to call the so-called process of “selection” natural preservation. I’d suggest “natural happenstance” myself because if variation and the environment come about “randomly” then despite the tendency of modern Darwinists to argue that “natural selection” isn’t a random process that doesn’t really matter given that it’s filtering through “random” mutations that come about by chance in an environment ultimately created by chance.

    Ironically the notion of chance is a science/knowledge stopper, it is an argument which stops the study of cause and effect. A scientific view rooted in the study of cause and effect would be that chance is an illusion brought about by an absence of knowledge. Even the examples that people use to argue for the creative power of “chance” combined with a process of filtering like natural selection can be surrounded by knowledge based on an actual scientific view. For instance, some use a coin toss to illustrate the concept of chance. Yet since chance is actually just an illusion brought about by the absence of knowledge it is easy to point out that if the trajectory of the coin, its mass, the force it was flipped with, etc., was all known then “chance” disappears as one advances toward a knowledge of how the coin will come to rest. Chance is ignorance, chance is ultimately nothing, yet it’s typical for proponents of Darwinism to argue as if it something which explains all there is to know.

    If our perceptual capacities are the result of variation then the real issue is not “natural selection” but what actually produces the variations and adaptations which it filters. Is your argument ultimately rooted in our perception of chance?

  2. …we would have to have a way of stepping outside of ourselves, and I don’t see how that makes any sense at all.

    At all? This reminds me of the “nothing but” statements typical to reductionists who tend to argue that what we tend to think we are is actually nothing but an illusion generated by natural selection operating on genes and so on. I’d argue that the view that we can’t step outside of ourselves for a transcendent view of things is generally correct, an important view, etc. The problem is adding “at all” to it.

    For example, if we have no way of stepping outside of ourselves, observing ourselves, talking to ourselves and so on then why do we do such things all the time and further how would we have any knowledge of ourselves if we could not somehow get outside of ourselves enough to see ourselves? In contrast to the argument that immanence is all there it seems to me more likely that sense is in some sense always a union of transcendence and immanence in awareness:

    On the one hand there are the millions of neurons at work, the iris adjusting the pupil, the lens thinning or thickening to focus light on the retina and information being processed faster than in any super computer at the bat of an eyelid. On the other, we directly and constantly experience all that we see in our minds. The act of seeing allows us to get “in touch” with things. To see is to be aware and thereby to know what’s going on in the world around us. Acts of awareness are not simple optical processes. Optical processes enable us to be aware, but to identify being aware with the operation of optical processes is like saying that the images on TV screens are to be identified entirely with electron guns and screens. The enabling structure is one thing and the enabled experience another. Awareness is an ontological reality as fundamental as matter itself.
    But so far our discussions have remained at the level of physical sight. Let me pass on to the equally important theme of seeing on a purely mental plane. Here we are talking of the mind’s capacity to grasp meaning that is the exact counterpart on the conceptual plane of what takes place during the act of seeing at the perceptual level. When we “see the point” or “see something to be the case” or “know what you mean” or “realize” or “understand” or “comprehend” or “visualize,” then we are performing acts that, again, cannot be described and explained in physical terms, let alone by reference to evolution. All of these acts presuppose the mind coming to grips with something. When we say that a sense of integrity should prohibit us from taking a bribe, we’re not talking simply of physical actions but of irreducible ideas. When our reading of Mahatma Gandhi’s My Experiments With Truth moves us, it’s not the print marks on paper that stir our emotions. Our mind sees something that can’t be expressed in terms of molecules and particles.
    (The Wonder of the World
    by Roy Abraham Varghese :164)

    It’s interesting how symbolism seems to be timeless. For example he argues on the one hand and then on the other while dealing with themes of transcendence and immanence. The right hand is typically symbolic of transcendence while the left is more immanent, it seems that one might even be able to extend this ancient notion to the political notion of a Left and Right. Is it symbolism or reality? Interesting to note that at some point people really do tend to sit on one side of a room or another and then tradition develops while language unfolds as labels like “right wing” apparently emerge and so on. Of course in Christianity God’s right hand man is the Christ who sits on his right and so on while those to the sinister left are sent away. Perhaps it’s little wonder that Leftists seem to fear the Christian Right so much, yet at the same time those on the Right can be blinded by righteousness. They forget that God seems to be willing to cut off his own right hand symbolically speaking. Now I am meandering because it’s a political season.


  1. In the case of biological systems, the parameters are physical processes and the laws that govern them. It is not possible to rule out the possibility of a “intelligent designer,” but the argument from analogy cannot sustain the belief that there is, either.

    If one were to land on another planet and find it full of robotic-like technology which had the apparent purpose of self-replication, resource gathering, etc. then the statement “This planet is full of technology.” would be more of a basic aspect of pattern recognition and detection than an “analogy” or pattern comparison. Of course we typically recognize technology based on our own experience but that doesn’t necessarily mean that recognizing technology must always be rooted in analogies to our own. In fact, many of the technologies observed in biology may have no analogy* in our own yet, typically mankind’s technology lags behind and follows from technology already in use. The microscopes and telescopes by which science/knowledge progresses are designed with lenses which imitate the human eye while the simple fact is that such lenses couldn’t be designed in the absence of vast amounts of biological technology already in use and so on.


    One of the accomplishments of living systems which is, of course, quite without any analogy in the field of our own technology is their capacity for self-duplication. With the dawn of the age of computers and automation after the Second World War, the theoretical possibility of constructing self-replicating automata was considered seriously by mathematicians and engineers. Von Neumann discussed the problem at great length in his famous book Theory of Self-Reproducing Automata, but the practical difficulties of converting the dream into reality have proved too daunting. As Von Neumann pointed out, the construction of any sort of self-replicating automaton would neces sitate the solution to three fundamental problems: that of storing information; that of duplicating information; and that of designing an automatic factory which could be programmed from the infor mation store to construct all the other components of the machine as well as duplicating itself. The solution to all three problems is found in living things and their elucidation has been one of the triumphs of modern biology.
    So efficient is the mechanism of information storage and so elegant the mechanism of duplication of this remarkable molecule that it is hard to escape the feeling that the DNA molecule may be the one and only perfect solution to the twin problems of information storage and duplication for self-replicating automata.
    The solution to the problem of the automatic factory lies in the ribosome. Basically, the ribosome is a collection of some fifty or so large molecules, mainly proteins, which fit tightly together. Altogether the ribosome consists of a highly organized structure of more than one million atoms which can synthesise any protein that it is instructed to make by the DNA, including the particular proteins which compromise its own structure — so the ribosome can construct itself!
    The protein synthetic apparatus is also, however, the solution to an even deeper problem than that of self-replication. Proteins can be designed to perform structural, logical, and catalytic functions. For instance, they form the impervious materials of the skin, the contractile elements of muscles, the transparent substance of the lens of the eye: and, because of their practically unlimited potential, almost any conceivable biochemical object can be ultimately constructed using these remarkable molecules as basic structural and functional units. The choice of the protein synthetic apparatus as the solution to the problem of the automatic factory has deep implications. Not only does it represent a solution to one of the problems of designing a self- duplicating machine but it also represents a solution to an even deeper problem, that of constructing a universal automaton. The protein synthetic apparatus cannot only replicate itself but, in addition, if given the correct information, it can also construct any other biochemical machine, however great its complexity, just so long as its basic functional units are comprised of proteins, which, because of the near infinite number of uses to which they can be put, gives it almost limitless potential.
    It is astonishing to think that this remarkable piece of machinery, which possesses the ultimate capacity to construct every living thing that ever existed on Earth, from a giant redwood to the human brain, can construct all its own components in a matter of minutes and weigh less than 10^16 grams. It is of the order of several thousand million million times smaller than the smallest piece of functional machinery ever constructed by man.
    (Evolution: A Theory in Crisis by Michael Denton :337-338)

    In any event, the argument would only work if the analogy can be sustained between genetic and other intracellular mechanisms on the one hand and human-contrived codes and machines on the other. But it is far from clear to me how far this analogy can be pressed.

    I don’t agree that it’s analogy, instead I would argue that human technology is reliant on and is only a pale imitation of technology which can be recognized as already in use in Nature.

    Perhaps we describe the molecules as being “codes” and “machines” simply because those are systems with which we are more familiar?

    Or perhaps we describe them that way because that’s what they are. We’re along way from Darwin’s ideas of blobs of goo/”protoplasm” and so on. The irony of the hubris typical to us is that if a person designed a flying machine based on nano-technology which was half as efficient and elegant as that already in use in actual flies then such a structure would be looked at as one of the wonders of the world. Yet flies already exist, so why is it that human technology is a wonder of the world but technology already in use isn’t?


    How do insects fly and hover? Initially it might seem that the aerodynamics involved would work against flight. For instance, how is it possible for a bumblebee to fly given that its wings are too small to support the lift required by its weight? Moreover, insects, unlike airplanes, continually flap their wings—and this is hard to square with theoretical calculations. Michael Dickinson points out that fruit flies, which know nothing of aerodynamics, nevertheless utilize vortex production, delayed stall, rotational circulation and wake capture as they effortlessly stay aloft while flapping their wings about 200 times a second.
    (The Wonder of the World: A Journey from Modern Science to the Mind of God, by Roy Abraham Varghese :103-106)

    Note that the notion of flying isn’t drawn from “analogies” to mankind’s technology or knowledge of flight, it already existed as a fact of Life for millenia and we’re only just now getting around to imitating and understanding some aspects of it. If anything mankind’s technology is analogous to the technology already in use in Nature, not the other way around.

  2. I have to admit, I do find it amazing that, considered one way, we’re basically just apes that figured out to talk and make fire, and considered another way, we produced the magnificent works of Plato… works through which the human spirit does somehow touch something transcendent.

    You are still adhering to “nothing but” reasoning there. I may do it myself sometimes, it seems to be more tempting for men given its hidden disdain for immanence and the way that the human mind “naturally” seems to associate immanence with the feminine for many reasons. There are exceptions but women don’t seem to tend towards that type of reasoning as much.

    But anyway, why is it that “just” and “nothing but” seems to emerge when talking about the physical substrate of existence/immanence? For one thing it’s wrong anyway but there’s also little reason to think of immanent things as if they are “nothing but.” If a physicist says that we’re “nothing but” matter then they had best look a little deeper into the nature of matter. If a biologist says that we’re “nothing but” apes then they had best look a little deeper into the biological structure of apes. And so on. Biologists have a bad habit in this area, perhaps when biologists design a machine that can run on some plants and animal products, has teleological principles written into it which shape its being, self-reproduces in ways that approach an infinite diversity while maintaining typological unity which also sometimes apparently sings and dances in joy, writes Mozart, etc., then maybe they can engage in “nothing but” reasoning. But until they do they clearly don’t have some supposedly all encompassing knowledge to back up their ignorant and stupid “All there is to this, is this!” statements about immanent things.