Friday, April 30, 2010

Reply to Dr Torley

Dr Torley has responded to my series on Intelligent Design theory once more, and very graciously. I have to note how impressed I am at the politeness of someone who's been pondering these topics for many years to my reflections and objections, when by my own admission I've only begun thinking about the subject in earnest in the last few weeks. It's always irritating for an expert or an old hand to deal with upstarts who think they know everything, and I appreciate everyone's patience with me.

Criticizing some of my comments under the heading "The perils of Aristotelian science", Dr Torley writes:

(1) Sullivan writes: “When a rock falls down, it’s acting naturally. It falls down all by itself. When it flies up, this is contrary to its nature.” I am sorry to say that this is incorrect. It’s based on 2,300-year-old Aristotelian physics (as opposed to metaphysics). A rock falls because the Earth’s gravity attracts it, and it flies up because someone or something throws it up in the air. A rock traveling in zero gravity in the far reaches of outer space is still a rock. . . . A rock falls when the force of gravity causes it to fall, and it rises up in the air when another force (e.g. an explosion) hurls it up in the air. A force is a force. Both motions of the rock are equally natural, and they are both explicable in terms of the laws of physics.

I'm sorry that Dr Torley believes that I've never heard of Newtonian physics, but I still wonder if this is right. Is the motion of a rock being hurled upward just as natural as the motion of a rock falling down? If what you mean is "they are both explicable in terms of the laws of physics," then yes, of course. But, as I think the context of my earlier remarks would show, that's not what I meant. What I meant is that in the first case the source of the rock's motion is to a certain extent intrinsic to itself, while in the second case the rock's motion is because it is moved extrinsically. "A rock falls because Earth's gravity attracts it" - this is true, and it is just my point. The Earth attracts the rock because of something in the rock, something which makes the rock inclined to move towards the Earth, i.e. its mass. Nothing has to be added to make the rock fall except the properties of the rock and its environment, its near proximity to the Earth. But to make the rock fly upward some extra force has to be added from outside. Whether this tendency of the rock to move towards the Earth rather than away from it is explained in terms of Aristotelian "natural resting places" or Newtonian forces is, I think, irrelevant to this point. The point is that the natural properties of the rock incline it go towards the Earth (or whatever the nearest massive body is), while something outside the rock is required to overcome this natural attraction and go away from the nearest gravity well.

Dr Torley continues:

(2) Sullivan supposes that a process as simple as passing a spark through goo could generate life. To Aristotle, this would have seemed plausible; but in the light of what we now know, it is scientifically incredible.

I did not suppose this. I was and am in principle agnostic as to whether this is possible in theory. I believe I said that I doubt that it is possible, but if one believed otherwise the thing to do is to try and see. If detailed empirical investigations have shown that passing a spark through goo cannot generate life, then that's that. If the question is "what are the laws of nature and what are they capable of?" the thing to do is to observe nature.

Over at Siris it was recently suggested that Cartesianism may be more sympathetic to ID than other forms of scholasticism. This seems penetrating to me, partly because it strikes me that there may be a similarity in ID to the way Descartes' scientific speculation dictated the laws of nature, and what they could and could not accomplish in the corporeal realm, from a priori considerations.

A bit later Dr Torley suggests that Dr Feser and I are in disagreement about immanent causality, but I think Dr Feser has explained here that there's no real disagreement on this point. He then repeats his definition "A living thing is a thing with a good of its own," and says "I hope Sullivan would agree with this finalistic definition of life." I've already mentioned my hesitations about this definition, however, so I won't repeat them.

About natural substances, Dr Torley writes:

At the same time, though, I do think it is rather odd to speak of raindrops, lakes and mountains as “natural substances”, as Sullivan does. For none of these things exhibits “an innate tendency to sustain itself in being” which Sullivan considers to be the hallmark of a natural substance. If a take a raindrop on a leaf and shake it, it may divide in two. If I want to scoop a cup of water from a lake, all I have to do is lower my cup into the lake and then take it out. And I can cart a whole mountain away, shovelful by shovelful, if I have an army of workers to help me.

A crystal, on the other hand, is another matter; according to chemists, it is really a giant molecule, so I’d be happy to call that a substance. A rock I’m not so sure about.

Earlier I wrote a little about this. It seems to me that it's not always easy to say exactly the degree to which a thing is one and therefore a substance, even if it is correct to call a thing substantial. It seems to me that raindrops, lakes, and mountains are each one, but to different degrees, and so are more and less substantial. My feeling is that a raindrop is less substantial than a lake, and a lake less substantial than a mountain. But teasing out these distinctions is matter for a different discussion.

I'm not sure that the fragility of nonliving natural things, the fact that they can be easily destroyed, is relevant to the substantiality. The lake acts in a lakelike fashion, which is different than how a river or a droplet acts, and to that extent has its own form and is one in a different way. The fact that it can be drained doesn't change that. On the other hand, to allude to a question asked by commenter David on earlier post, there is no "lake-and-a-rock-on-the-moon"-like fashion of acting. The mind can bring them together in thought, but in themselves there is no unity between them at all, as opposed to the properties that the lake as a whole, singular thing.

And I'm very unsure about the claim that a crystal is a substance while a mere rock is not. It seems very odd to me to say that because the parts of a diamond have more internal order therefore the diamond is a substance and lump of coal is - what? Not a substance, anyway. Furthermore, this position seems to imply that the lake is not a substance in summer when it's liquid, but when it crystallizes into an ice block in the winter it is a substance, which seems wrong to me.

Later Dr Torley writes:

I must say that I am somewhat perplexed by Sullivan’s claim (which echoes a similar claim by Professor Feser) that ID proponents conflate the question of what a thing is with the question of how a thing came to be. This, it seems to me, is precisely the mistake made by ID critics, including some who are of an Aristotelian persuasion. For instance, some Thomistic critics of ID have maintained that because the parts of a living thing have a natural tendency to be together, they must have had a natural tendency to come together, when the first bacterial cell came into existence. This is a complete non sequitur.

I do agree that this is a non sequitur. I make no claim whatsoever about whether there are natural laws explaining how the first living thing came to be. As I've said, this is a matter for empirical enquiry. What I do say is that I am not sure that one can tell, from the properties of a presently-existing organism, either that such laws of nature exist or that they do not. Dr Torley wants to insist that one can.

However, the point at issue here is: how was the first living thing produced? No-one has ever observed a living thing being produced from non-living matter. All observation to date supports the conclusion that this cannot happen. As far as we know, abiogenesis is scientifically impossible.

As I've said before, if there are no natural laws which can explain how life arose, then that's that. But I don't think it's such an easy step to go from "there is no scientific explanation for the origin of life" to "a living thing is an artifact with a recipe containing semantic content", etc.

At this point I don't think I have anything to add to the rest of Dr Torley's post beyond what I've said in previous entries. I am glad that he, Dr Dembski, Dr Feser, and others began this discussion. It's been very thought-provoking for me, and the fact that Dr Torley has been willing to engage with me as a novice has given me the opportunity to begin to think some of the issues out, for which I'm very grateful.

Franciscus de Mayronis, De quatuor signis naturae

This post will be continually updated as I transcribe this treatise of Francis of Meyronnes and as Michael translates it. In this particular redaction it is followed by an abbreviation of Petrus Thomae's De distinctione praedicamentorum redaction A. In the Krakow ms. it is attributed to Petrus Thomae, though this is clearly incorrect.

The treatise is also contained in the following mss. according to O. Weijers ["le travail intellectuel... textes et maitries" vol. 2 p. 98] and various others such as the Hannes Mohle and the Scotist commission:

Bologna, Archig. lat. 96 f. 80v
Erfurt, Amploniana, F 94 ff. 236-238
Krakow, BJ, Cod. 2130, ff. 1ra-4vb(?)
Milano, Biblioteca Ambrosiana, I 148 inf.
Oxford, Bodleian library, Canon. Misc. 371 f. 236
Oxford, Merton College Library, Ms. 260, ff. 60r-61v
Praha, KMK, Ms. 1439, ff. 1-10

[Franciscus de Mayronis, De quatuor signis naturae]

K= Krakow, Bib. Jag., Ms. 2130

In creatura sunt quatuor signa principalia. Primum signum est quidditas.
Quidditas enim habet 7 signa que per ordinem hic assignantur: primum est ens, secundum absolutum, tertium est substantia, quartum corpus, quintum corpus animatum, sextum animal, septimum homo.

Secundum signum creature est modus intrinsecus qui distinguitur tam a formalitate cuius est modus quam a formalitate eius que non variat rationem formalem. Modus intrinsecus habet septem signa: primum est realitas, secundum est existentia, tertium est actualitas, quartum est contingentia, quintum est finitas, 6 est vita, 7 est heceitas.

Tertium signum principale creature est per se passionum et corrucorrespondet(?) primo signo nature, ideo tot habet signa quia de quolibet est aliqua passio ut patet intuenti. Passio habet 7 signa. In primo signo sunt passiones entis. In secundo signo sunt passiones modorum intrinsecorum. In tertio gnao4(?). In quarto passiones subiectorum. In sexto passiones mediorum proximorum vel propinquorum. In alio passiones specialissimorum.

Quartum signum principale nature est eorum que accidentaliter insunt rei. Et istud distinguitur in novem signa secundum quod sunt novem predicamenta accidentium eorum que accidentaliter insunt rei. Primum est relatio, secundum quantitas, tertium ubi, quartum quando, quintum situs, 6 actio, septima passio, 8 qualitas, nonum habitus.

Primum signum est entitas que habet passiones quarum alique sunt modi intrinseci. Alie sunt divisiones et passiones sunt quidem(?) scilicet veritas, bonitas, unitas, realitas, aliqualitas; realitas est passio et modus intrinsecus entis. Divisiones autem sunt iste: prima est per respectivum et absolutum. Secunda est per potenciam et actum. Tertia est per dependens et independens. Quarta est per creatum et increatum. Quinta est per finitum et infinitum. 6 est per decem predicamenta. | [K 1rb]

Iste sunt distinctiones quia arguunt distinctas seu diversas realitates et inter diversas realitates oritur distinctio realis.

Secunda est quidditas sci3(?) absolutum habet suas passiones que de ipsa concluduntur demonstrative nam omnes entitates absolute(iter. K) concluduntur de suo subiecto passio autem absoluti est esse a se passio respectivi est esse ad aliud passio autem concluditur de suo subiecto sicut omnis entitas absoluta est ad se absolutum autem est quedam entitas absoluta ergo absolutum est a se idem dico per contrarium(?) de relativo.

Tertia quidditas sci3(?) substantia habet passiones suas que de se ipsa cooncluduntur demonstrative per conceptum superiorem si subiectum non habet diffinitionem ideo passio primo concluditur de ipsa per conceptum superiorem.

Quarta quidditas est corpus de quo passio eius concluditur eodem modo sicut dictum est de aliis quidditatibus et ceteris inferioribus.

Quinta quidditas est corpus animatum et habet passiones suas que de ipso concluduntur demonstrative nam omnis passio concluditur de suo subiecto demonstrative.

Sexta quidditas est animatis et habet passiones suas que de ipso concluduntur demonstrative

[7 quidditas i.m. K]

Secundum signum principale est modorum intrinsecorum qui(?) in septem signa distinguitur. In primo est realitas de quo primo est notandum quod realitas est fundamentum immediatum realis distinctionis nam inter duas formalitates semper cadit distinctio formalis sicut inter duas realtates distinctio realis. Nota quod inter modos intrinsecos creature realitas est communior quia in pluribus reperitur. In secundo est existentia. Circa quam notandum est quod realitas et existentia non causant distinctionem realem nec formalem set modalem solum, verbi gratia anima rationalis alium modum existendi habet extra corpus | [K 1va] et alium(sup. lin. K) in corpore et nichilominus(e. n. sup. lin. K). Iste modus non causat diversitatem in anima cum sit una realitas anime in corpore et extra corpus. Est autem modalis distinctio que oritur inter duos modos intrinsecos eiusdem vel alterius rationis sicut inter existentiam et realitatem. Nota quod existentia non distinguitur a realitate realiter nec formaliter set sicut modus intrinsecus ab alio modo alterius rationis.

In tertio est actualias. Circa quod notandum quod actualitas prout est modus intrinsecus non est actualitas forme set actus essendi cuiuscumque rei in esse reali et actuali. Nota quod actualitas ut actualitas est non causat cum alia actualitate distinctionem realem nec utique actualitati assit alia realitas verbi gratia actualitas forme et actualitas materie non causant distinctionem realem nec pro tanto materie et forme assunt diverse realitates.

In quarto contingentia. circa quod est notandum quod continegentia ut est modus intrinsecus modus est modus accidentis(accit’) vel contingentia possibilis ad esse vel ad non esse set illud quo res contingenter ponitur in esse et non necessario ideo contingentia universi est modus intrinsecus ipsius Dei. Nota etiam quod contingentia creature non distinguitur realiter a creatura set distinguitur ab ea ex natura reisicut modus intrinsecus a formalitate.

In quinto est finitas creata. Circa quod(sup. lin. K) notandum quod finitas et infinitas ut sunt modi intrinseci creatorum vel creature non sunt finitas vel infinitas extensiva quia secundum Philosophum primo Phisicorum quantitati congruunt set ut sunt intrinseci sunt quantitates virtuales(i.m. K) que essentialiter rei conveniunt. Nota etiam quod quantitas virtutis non distinguitur realiter ab esse cuius est modus intrinsecus set disitnguitur ex natura rei sicut est de aliis modis intrinsecis.

In sexto vita. Circa quod est notandum quod vivere est modus intrinsecus non est actus secundus set est actus primus rei viventis quia vivere ut actus secundus realiter | [K 1vb] distinctus a vivente ut autem est actus prmus sive modus intrinsecus non distinguitur realiter a vivente.

In septimo est heceitas ubi notandum est quod heceitas non est quiditas individua quia si esset quidditas individua que distinguuntur per heceitatem distinguerentur quidditative et tunc etiam individua possent diffiniri quod est contra Philosophum. Ex quo relinquitur quod heceitas sit modus intrinsecus cum non variet rationem formalem seu quidditatem.

Tertium signum principale est passio et corvudet(?) primo signo nature etiam tot habet signa quot primum signum quidditatum quia de qualibet quidditate est demonstrabilis aliqua passio ut patet intuenti. Illud ergo signum dividitur seu distinguitur in septem. In primo sunt passiones entis que superius sunt generalissimorum(? i.m. K) posite. In secundo sunt passiones modorum intrinsecorum sive diversorum. In tertio passiones generalissimorum(?) . In quarto sunt passiones subalnatorum(!) positorum remotorum. In quinto sunt passiones subalternorum mediorum. In sexto sunt passiones subalternatorum propinquorum. In alio sunt passiones specialissimorum unde quod cuilibet quidditati corvundet(?) aliqua passio per se et est demonstrabilis demonstratione propter quid. Nota etiam quod secundus modus passionis quidditatum convenit mathematice(?) non distinguitur a suis subicibibus(? sup. lin.) realiter quia maioris abstractionis sunt quam materialies que etiam realiter distinguuntur a suis subiectis sole enim passiones materiales secundum doctorem nostrum scilicet Scotum realiter distinguuntur a suis subiectis. Sunt enim predicte passiones idem realiter cum suis subiectis set distincte ab eis formaliter.

Quartum signum principale est eorum que accidentaliter insunt rei qualia sunt predicamenta accidentis. Et illud distinguitur in novem signa set quod sunt novem predicamenta | [K 2ra] accidentis. In primo est relatio quia relatio creature ad deum immediate fundatur in substantia et relatio idemptitatis secundum Philosophum fundatur super unum in substantia sicut est relatio quantitatis super unum in quantitate. In secundo est quantitas. Circa quod est notandum quod quantitas secundum suas species per accidens inest substantie et idem dico de quolibet predicamento accidentis. Et ideo omnia predicamenta realiter distinguuntur a substantia etiam contra se invicem quia que per accidens insunt alicui distinguuntur ab eo. In tertio est predicamentum ubi quod est ordo parcium in toto ubi vero est circumscrptio corporis locati a loci circumscriptione procedens. Item ex alio differunt quia ubi est secundus modus extrinsecus adveniens potentia autem est in predicamento quantitatis ut est species. In quarto signo est quando. Circa quod est notandum quod quando est illud quod derelinquitur ex adiacencia temporum(i.m. K) et habet habitudinem ad tempus sicut passio quantitatis ad quantitatem. Nota etiam quod predicamentum ubi precedit quando quia ubi est(sup.lin. K) respectus extrinsecus qui innascitur(?) ex habitudinem permanentis ad permanens quando est respectus qui innascitur ex habitudine successivi. In quinto est situs. Circa quod est notandum quod situs est respectus extrinsecus qui innascitur ex habitudine corporis situantis ad situatum. Et differt situs a poe(?) quia situs est habitudo tocius ad totum secundum omnes suas partes. Po(?) est habitudo parcium secundum partes secundum habitudinem tocius ad totum. In sexto est actio que est respectus extrinsecus causatus ex habitudine activi ad passum facta debita approximatione quia agens phisicum(?) non agit nisi in debite approximatum. In septimo est passio qui est respectus extrinsecus causatus ex habitudini activi ad passum et habet se modo opposito quo effectus ad causam. Nam passio est effectus illatio(?) que actionis. In octavo est qualitas que est predicamentum absolutum. Qualitas oritur a substantia. Post istos omnes respectus | [K 2rb] In nono est habitus qui est respectus extrinsecus ex habitudine habentis ad habitum quia habitus alienum predicamentum est et maxime extrinsecum.

[Petrus Thomae, Parve formalitates = abbreviatio questionis de distinctione predicamentorum redactionis A]

In presenti materia declaranda servabitur sequens ordo: in primo tractabitur quot sunt modi distinctionum a doctoribus, secundo qui sit unaqueque illarum distinctionum, tertio ad evidenciam formalitatum plura dicta declarabuntur, quarto ad quesitum principale respondebitur.

Quantum ad primum articulum primo ponam tria dicta, secundo de qualibet distinctione in speciali videbitur.

De primo sit primum istud dictum quod septem sunt modi distinctionum. Prima est distinctio rationis, secunda est ex natura rei, tertia formalis, quarta realis, quinta essencialis, sexta se totum subiective, septima se totum obiective quod omnia que distinguuntur in mundo distinguuntur aliqua istarum distinctionum.

Tertium dictum est quod tot modis dicitur unum oppositorum quot modis et reliquum ut habetur per Philosophum primo Thopicorum. Idem et distinctio sunt opposita ideo quot modis dicitur distinctio sive diversitas tot modis dicitur idemptitas et ergo sicut septem sunt modi distinctionum per oppositum septem sunt ideptitates.

Tertium dictum est quod predicti modi aliter se inferunt cum idemptitate et aliter cum distinctione aliter autem affirmative aliter negative. Ubi est sciendum quod quecumque distinguuntur distinctione(i.m. K) sex precedentibus vel quecumque distinguitur aliis quecumque set non oportet de septima et sic de aliis eodem modo procedendo. Cum idemptitate vero est per oppositum.

Quantum ad secundum dictum principale est sciendum quid sit distinctio rationis, secundo quid sit distinctio ex natura rei, tertio quid sit distinctio formalis | [K 2va] quarto realis quinto essentialis sexto se totum subiective septimo se totum obiective iuxta primum dico quod distinctio rationis est illa que habet esse per actum comparativuum vel collativuum quod idem ipsius intellectus ita quod non habet ex se actum intellectus circumscriptus ideo dependet precise ab opere rationis verbi gratia dicendo sic Petrus est petrus una entitas et una realitas est in subiecto et co(?) et predicato. Ipsa auatem in subiecto ut subiectum est existens. Ubi est notandum quod actus est duplex: primus est rectus seu primus alius est comparativus seu collativus actus primus seu rectus est vel dicitur esse quo fertur intellectus in obiectum non alterum comparando nec etiam componendo et est actus ille qui appellatur ab Aristotele simplicium intelligentia. Actus secundarius sedu collativus vel comparativus est ille quo intellectus fertitur in subiectum ad alterum comparando. Tunc ergo dicitur distinctio rationis quando aliquid disitnguitur ab alio non quidam primo modo sive directo actu intellectus set tantum secundo modo videlicet actu reflexivo ipsius intellectus. Sciendum tamen quod ut dicit quidam doctor distinctio rationis non solum causatur ab actu intelllectus set eciam ab actu collativo cuiuslibet potentie collative cuiusmodi sive(?) voluntas ymago et fantasia utraque enim illarum ponit aliquid aliud comparare.

Sequitur secunda distinctio que est ex natura rei et dicitur quod est quando aliqua duo sic se habent quod unum contradictionis extremorum competit uni et non alteri ex qua distinctione infero aliqua correlaria. Primum est quod genus et differentia differunt ex natura rei. Hoc correlarium primo probo quia genus et | [K 2vb] differentia sic se habent quod unum extremum contradictionis competit uni et non alteri ergo differunt ex natura rei. Consequentia est formalis quia arguitur a diffinitione ad diffinitum. Antecedens probatur quia(?) differentia ex natura rei competit quod sit determinans quia determinat genus et contrahit ipsum et cum termino est deterimnans. Tum etiam generi competit ex natura rei quod sit determinabile et non est semper determinans et sic competutnt extrema contradictionis quia determinans et non determinans determinabile et non determinabile que sunt contradictoria et unum extremorum dicitur de uno et non de alio. Et si aliquis diceret ergo distinguuntur ex natura rei formaliter ex natura ut iam probatum est set formaliter quia diffinitiones sunt diverse etiam etiam quod non valet consequentia quia diffinitiones sunt quid nominis et quod non differant formaliter sic probatur illa distinguuntur formaliter que constituunt unam rationem formalem set genus et differentia sunt huiusmodi ergo etc. Maior est nota set minor probatur quia animal et rationale constituunt rationem formalem hominis. Secundum correlarium est est quod partes diffinitionis et diffinitum differunt ex natura rei. Consequentia est formalis quia arguitur sicut in preterdicti. Et antecedens prbo quia competit partibus diffinitionis quod constituunt diffinitum quia ex animali et rationali constituitur homo et sic competit partibus quod sunt constituentes et quod quelibet sit constituens et non constituta nec constitute et diffinitionem quod sit constitutum et non constituens set constituens et non constituens constitutum et non constitutum sunt contradictoria et unum extremorum de uno sequitur et on dicitur de alio ergo differunt ex natura rei.

Nunc restat declare quid sit distincito formalis. Distinctio formalis est distinctio formalium | [K 3ra] rationum distinctarum ita quod illa que habent distinctas rationes formales dicuntur distincta formaliter set oportet videre quot modis investigatur presens distinctio. Et dicitur quod tripliciter primo modo per viam diffinitionis quia quando aliquid ponitur in diffinitione alicuius quod ponitur in diffinitione alterius talia distinguuntur formaliter ex quo infero aliqua correlaria primo quod homo et asinus distinguuntur formaliter quia aliquid ponitur in diffinitione hominis quod non ponitur in diffinitione asini et sic de aliis speciebus. Secundum corellarium quod attributa in divinis disitnguuntur formaliter quia aliquid ponitur in diffinitione unius quod non ponitur in diffinitione alterius. Secundo modo investigatur per viam divisionis per aliquas differentias et unum cadit sub una et aliud sub alia distinguuntur formaliter sicut animal dividitur per rationale et irrationale et ideo dicit illud quod cadit sub rationali distinguitur formaliter ab illo quod cadit sub irrationali sicut etiam de omnibus predicabilibus et predicamentis et consequentia formali et materiali et ens dividitur per absolutum et respectivum et illud quod cadit sub absoluto distinguitur formaliter ab illo quod cadit sub respectivo et ideo dicamus quod differentia que est absoluta distinguitur formaliter a proprietate que est ad aliud. 3o investigatur per viam reduplicationis ut si aliquid conveniat alicui cum reduplicatione quod quod non convenit alteri illa distinguuntur formaliter ut homo inquantum homo est rationalis ex quo squitur quod homo et lapis distinguuntur formaliter.

Sequitur quarta distinctio scilicet realis. Est ergo notandum quod illa distinguuntur realiter que sic se habent quod quodlibet est aliqua entitas positiva et | [K 3rb] realis et unum ab alio non potest de eo predicari nec ipsum includit propter hoc quod dicitur quod quodlibet sit entitas positiva excludunt negationes et privationes quia cum non dicant aliquam entitatem positive non distinguuntur realiter quanvis connotant aliquid positivuum et aliquam entitatem realem positivam proprie non distinguuntur realiter per hoc quod dicit realis excluduntur encia rationis que tamen non sint encia realia nec inter se nec ab aliquo alio realiter distinguuntur ut sumatur res communiter et transcendenter et dicitur in diffinitione unum aba lio ultimate abstrahunt. Pro evidentia huius partis abstrahitur notandum quid sit ultima abstractio dicitur quod ultima abstractio est secundum quam aliquid abstrahitur in omni eo quod in eius ratione quidditativa nullo modo includitur. Et est sciendum quod quatuor modis investagatur huius abstractionis. Distinctio primo modo via originis quia quandocumque aliquid originatur ab aliquo illud realiter distinguuntur ab illo quia per beatum augustinum primo de trinitate idem non gignit seipsum et sic investigatur ista distinctio inter personas divinas. Secundo via generationis quia quecumque sic se habent quod uno generato reliquum non generatur talia distinguuntur realiter et isto modo investigatur inter materiam et formam forma autem generatur materia autem minime. Tertio modo investigatur via corruptionis quia quando aliquid corrumpitur alio non corrupto taliam realiter distinguujntur quia idem non potest simul esse et non esse ideo quodlibet individuum realiter distinguitur ab alio et fundamentum et relatio quia corrupta relatione fundamentum non corrumpitur quarto modo via separationis quia quandocumque | [K 3va] aliquid separatur vel potest separari ab alio realiter distinguuntur et quod separatur realiter distinguitur ab illo a quo separatur quia idem non separatur a seipso ideo ratio quare accidentia separatur a substantia in sacramento altaris est quia distinguitur a subiecto realiter. Sequitur quinta distinctio que dicitur essencialis et est quando aliqua duo sic se habent quod actuali existentia per aloiquam potentiam possunt separari sicut accidens et substantia materia et forma et sic de aliis. Et est sciendum quod quatuoru modis investigatur predicta distinctio primo modo ex predicamentali coordinatione quia quandocumque aliqua predicantur in diversis predicamentis talia distinguuntur essncialiter quia ut habetur per Philosophum primo Posteriorum essencie predicamentorum sunt impermixte. Secundo investigatur ex diversitate specifica nam diverse species essentialiter distinguuntur illo modo investigatur diversitas essentialis essenciali dependencia etiam isto modo dicimus quod causa distinguitur essencialiter a suo effectu saltem de causis extrinsecis etiam deus a creatura quarto modo investigatur via existencie quia quando aliqua sic se habent quod unum existit in rerum natura et aliud non talia distinguuntur essencialiter. Et isto modo investigatur et diversitas essencialis inter creaturas creatorum ordine essenciali sequitur distinctio que dicitur se totum subiective et sunt ista que sic se habent quod eorum realitates sunt distincti numeri vel indistincti vel eciam actuali existencia vel quando realiter sunt divisa vel particularizata a realitate alterius sic Plato, sortes et alia individua eisudem speciei. Sequitur septima distinctio que est se totum obiective et dicitur quod illa distinguuntur se totis obiective que non conveniunt in aliqua realitate vel | [K 3vb] quidditativa ratio vel a quibus non potest abstrahi aliquis conceptus realis et unus [inser. ? i.m. K] cuius seu prime intentionis sicut dicere ultime individuales. Unde secundum mentem Scoti differe ultime sunt heceitas que sunt distincte se totis obiective quia in nullo conceptu quidditativo conveniunt conceptus enim earum sunt simplices ex quibus concludo tale corellarium quod deus et creatura se totis subiective distinguuntur non autem obiective hec omnia patent ex 6 et septima et hec de secundo principali.

Nunc autem ponitur tertius modus principalis ubi sunt aliqua dicta declaranda ad evidenciam formalitatum. Primo est sciendum quod omnis distinctio aut est rationis aut ex natura ex natura rei tamquam universale quod dividitur in distinctionem formalem realem se totis subiective et se totis obiective. Secuno notandum quod forma dicitur multis modis uno modo dicitur forma prout est altera pars compositi et sic vocatur forma principalis. Secundo modo dicitur forma pro forma tocius puta pro tota ipsa natura ut humanitas dicitur forma tocius non pro informacione ipsius materie set ex qua ext suppositum ipsius quidditative tertio modo dicitur forma omnis substantia immaterialis sicut deus et intelligencie dicuntur forme quarto modo pro ratione contractum(?) quidditativam et ab ista forma ultimo dicta sumitur formalitas de qua intendimus hic. Tertio est notandum quod una et eadem res civersimodi potest movere intellectum spacium quod inter sursum et deorsum potest movere intellectum diversimode uno modo ut est deorsum in sursum alio modo ut est assu(?) deorsum et iste sunt diverse rationes tenentes se | [K 4ra] ex parte obiecti cum eadem res possit apprehendi diversimodi ab intellectu convenit consequenter eadem quidditas per diversas rationes dico ergo quod licet una et eadem et res habeat diversas rationes non tamen habet diversas quidditates sermo eadem quidditas potest assignari per diversas rationes que quidem quidditas diversimode apprehensa ab intellectu et hec de tertio articulo.

Nota quod aliquid potest esse magis notum alio dupliciter uno modo simpliciter et secundum suam essenciam et hoc modo simplicissimus et principia sunt nociora et magis nota compositis et posterioribus et quanto sunt simpliciora et priora tantum secundum se sunt nociora et quia deus est simplicissimus et primus omnium ideo de se est maxime notus alio modo potest aliquid esse magis notum eciam quo ad nos et isto modo composita sunt nociora simplicibus et prioribus et quanto sunt magis composita posteriora tanto nobis nociora sicut ait Aristotiles in primo phisicorum innata est nobis via a nocioribus nobis ad ignociora nature procedere.

Expliciun formalitates parve petri thome provincie sancti iacobi

Nota quod in fia sequenti quando discendimus cum distinctione dicimus quod omnia illa que distinguuntur se totis obiective si fas est dicere disitnguuntur se totis obiective essencialiter realiter formaliter ex natura rei et ratione | [K 4rb] nota quod quando ascendimus cum ideptitate sunt omnibus aliis ydeptitatibus idem scilicet rationis etiam ex natura rei et sic de aliis.


In creatures there are four principle signs. The first sign is quiddity.

For quiddity has seven signs which are are assigned here.

The first is being; the second is the absolute; the third is substance; the fourth, body; the fifth, animate body; the sixth, animal; the seventh, man.

The second sign of a creature is the intrinsic mode, which is distinguished both from the formality of which it is the mode and from the formality which does not vary its formal ratio. The intrinsic mode has seven signs. The first is reality; the second is existence; the third is actuality; the fourth is contingency; the fifth is finitude; the sixth is life; the seventh is haecceity.

The third principle sign of a creature is the per se property, and it corresponds to the firth sign of nature; therefore it has the same number of signs, because everything has some property, as is clear if you look. The property has seven signs. In the first sign are the properties of being. In the second sign are the properties of intrinsic modes. In the third is [. . . ?] In the fourth, the properties of the subject. In the sixth, the properties of the proximate or neighboring means. In the other [seventh] the properties of the most special species.

The fourth principle sign of nature is that of those things which are in a thing accidentally. And this is distinguished in nine signs, according to the fact that there are nine predicaments of accidents of those things which are in a thing accidentally. The first is relation; the second, quantity; the third, place; the fourth, time; the fifth, position; the sixth, action; the seventh, passion; the eighth, quality; the ninth, habit.

The first sign is entity, which has properties, some of which are intrinsic modes. There are [also] some other divisions and properties, namely, truth, goodness, unity, reality, precision [? aliqualitas ?], reality. And these are the divisions of the intrinsic modes of being. The first is by relative and absolute; the second is by potency and act; the third is by dependent and independent; the fourth is by created and uncreated; the fifth is by finite and infinite; the sixth is by the ten predicaments.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

New at The Smithy

Francis of Meyronnes was an early Scotist who was once famous but now is familiar pretty much only to the sorts of people who pursue doctorates so that they can learn to read fourteenth-century metaphysics for fun. He was recently mentioned by our resident mediaevalist Lee Faber and there was some discussion on this post. Now, thanks to a media exposure blitz, he's about to take his place in limelight once again. Faber, who unlike me has expertise in working with manuscripts, has found tucked away in his treasure trove a copy of Francis' treatise De quatuor signis naturae, or On the Four Signs of Nature. Here at the Smithy we're going to try something that I'm not sure has been done before: Faber is going to transcribe the treatise and put the transcription up here for public viewing, while I will provide a translation as the transcription goes along, as well as some comment, if I have anything worthwhile to say about it. So our readers will be able to see a rudimentary edition with translation being formed in real time. Hopefully it will be of some interest.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Nature, Artifacts, Meaning and Providence

Dr Torley has composed a long and gracious response to my last series of posts, in which he continues to discuss the nature of life and why he believes life must be regarded as an artifact.

Dr Torley distinguishes living things from other natural substances by defining them as things which have a good of their own. He writes that the natural tendencies of nonliving things are not sufficient to satisfy this definition:

The effect they tend towards can be called their telos. Additionally, these things possess an internal unity, and may resist being taken apart. The atoms in crystals, for instance, are bound together by strong chemical bonds. However, this internal unity of natural objects does not mean that we can speak of anything as being good for them. For example, soil, water and sunlight are good for a plant; but it simply makes no sense to say that anything is “good for” soil, good for water, or good for sunlight. These things are not the sort of things that can meaningfully be said to benefit from anything. Only living things can properly be said to benefit, because they possess a good of their own.

I'm not sure about this definition of life as what has a good of its own. It's not completely clear to me that it's always wrong to speak of the good of nonliving things. I note that Dr Torley's examples - soil, water, and sunlight - are not substances but substantial kinds (at least the first two). Soil and water are stuff that come in amounts: we don't talk about a soil or a water. People do, however, talk about the good of things like the Chesapeake Bay, which is not far from me. Pollution is bad for the bay. Moisture is bad for books. Acid rain is bad for limestone rock formations. To the extent that favorable conditions are necessary for even nonliving things to remain in being, I'm not sure that it's impossible to speak of what's good or bad for them. However, I'm not very committed to this point.

When Dr Torley goes on to further define a living thing in terms of its form, I am both more and less satisfied. He says that a living thing as such contains the following feature:

a master program controlling the organism’s internal parts and their internal interactions from the top down, and also governing the organism’s vital processes and biological functions – especially nutrition, growth and reproduction

My concern is that speaking of the substantial form in terms of a "program" or "code" seems extremely metaphorical to me. Words like this already presuppose meaning and intentionality, but it's just the presence of meaning and intentionality in the natural processes of non-intelligent living things that ID is trying to show. It's the same with his later description of the master program as "a single, unified set of instructions". Now I agree that the substantial form is one thing which governs both the operation of the whole organism and the forms and operations of its parts; but to speak of it as a set of instructions seems to 1) presuppose semantic content, and 2) fail to distinguish between the essence as "information" in the sense of conveyable and conceivable abstract semantic content, and the essence as the presently existing and operating concrete form. While it seems clear to me that the parts of a living thing work together to serve the good of the whole, it's not clear to me that this must be understood in terms of intentionality and meaning; but Dr Torley's definition seems to presuppose this. Later on in his post he writes that the "program" in the organism is a recipe, and that "Recipes have meanings: they have a very highly specific semantic content." But I must admit that it's not clear to me that what happens in the generation of an organism is the application of meaning, according to grammatical rules, to transmit semantic content. Dr Torley writes "a living organism isn’t merely a kind of thing, like water: it actually embodies a message in its master program. The laws of nature are not directed at the production of messages." And, again, this appears to beg the question. Simply because a thing is very, very complex does not mean that it isn't "a thing like water", in the sense of a naturally occurring thing, nor does great complexity necessarily entail the presence of messages, which implies minds and communication. I am not convinced that in the production of a cell or of a chicken anything is expressed to anyone. The generation of a living thing is not ordered to produce an act of understanding in an intellectual subject, but to produce a subject capable of performing a complex but non-intellectual operation.

On the other hand, when he speaks of a "nested hierarchy of organization" in a living thing, "whose formation and maintenance is governed" by the whole, I am much more on board. It seems to me that being able to recognize the "nested hierarchy of organization" in natural substances is a big advantage that Scotism has over Thomism. Scotists accept a plurality of substantial forms in some substances, whereby we do not have to insist, as Dr Feser does, that there is precisely one and only one simple form per substance, and that generation and corruption happens only by prime matter "losing" the form that it has and acquiring a new one to replace it. It seems to me that recognizing that a new form can incorporate and integrate lower forms into a new and higher unity without necessarily destroying them is a big advantage, and comports much better with empirical observation. In the What's Wrong With the World discussions there was a lot of complaining about the fact that for Dr Feser and Thomists generally one must say that carbon or water or cells or whatever in an organism don't exist except potentially and virtually, since what exists is just the one complete substance, even though empirically the lower-level objects are obviously there. But this is a bit of a digression.

To return to the point, I accept that there is a nest hierarchy of organization in a living thing, but am much less sure that the ordered operations of the thing are necessarily and empirically explicable only in terms of "programming" and "encoding", the characterization of which seems to beg the question.

Now I move on the Dr Torley's discussion of the nature of artifacts. He defines an artifact as "a thing whose form is such that it could only have been reliably made through the application of skill, and not as a result of any other process."

I compare this with my own earlier discussion of what it is to be an artifact. I called an artifact in the narrow sense something without a nature, that is, a whole the principle of whose operation is given only extrinsically and whose parts are related to each other and to it only extrinsically or accidentally. In a wider sense I admitted that God could be called the artificer of the universe, in the sense that the universe was intentionally made, not generated, and its properties chosen by God, not intrinsic to the nature of being or of all possible universes. But the sense in which the world as a whole is an artifact is very different from the distinction between natural and artificial forms within the parameters of the universe as it now exists. Dr Torley's definitions of an artifact does not seem to take this distinction into account. For him an artifact is distinguished from a natural substance by appealing to the conditions of its origin, not to its essential properties. This seems wrong to me.

In saying that the first living thing was an artifact, I mean that it was an artifact in the narrow sense. Because it was the first living thing, it could not have been generated naturally from another living thing. Thus it must have either been generated from non-living matter, without the application of skill, or it must have been generated (somehow) through the application of skill. However, I would contend that the form of the first living thing was such that it could only have been made through the application of skill, and not as a result of any other process.

Dr Torley wants to exclude the possibility of life arising naturally as a matter of principle. For me it seems to be an empirical question. Our ancestors believed that life could be spontaneously generated from nonliving matter by the application of sunlight and other appropriate conditions. Is this true? It seems to me that the way to find out is to look and see if it ever happens. Is the production of life built into the laws of nature? Let's see if the laws of nature do in fact inexorably produce life the way they produce stars and rocks. If evolution from chance variation and natural selection happens, then it should be empirically demonstrable. If it isn't empirically demonstrable, then evolutionary theory has difficulties. But for a metaphysician the question of whether or not the laws of nature can produce life has no bearing whatsoever on the question of whether an intelligent God created the universe. If the laws of nature produce life, that is an astonishing fact about the natural world and the complexity and intelligibility embedded deep within its structure which must be accounted for. If the laws of nature cannot produce life, then the presence of life nonetheless is an astonishing fact about the world that must be accounted for. Either way, it seems to me, the order of the universe is an inescapable fact which cannot be accounted for by appealing to the contents of the universe itself.

For Dr Torley, on the other hand, this sort of consideration is again excluded in principle. Unfortunately his reasons for excluding the possibility that God created the universe in which life could arise naturally are not convincing:

However, what many ID proponents find offensive about the proposal that the laws of nature alone, operating on inanimate matter, could have accounted for the origin of the first living organism is that laws, being general in scope, cannot be said to be aimed at the production of any particular individual. Thus if the above proposal were correct, the first living thing would have been generated without any skill. Sure, God would have used His skills to “set up the show” by creating the universe with its laws, and continuing to conserve everything in existence. But the actual generation of the first living thing would have been accomplished via automatic processes (laws) that were not specifically aimed at the production of that particular thing. Thus no extra input of intelligence would have been required to create the first living organism that came into existence. I have to say that sounds rather godless to me. It just doesn’t smell right. It’s too “hands-off” – not much better than Deism. [emphasis in the original]

To say that this account of the origins of life is "offensive", "godless", "doesn't smell right", etc., does not seem rationally compelling. It seems to lend credence to the accusation that ID is question-begging, that it sets up its definitions and premises to lead inexorably to the desired conclusion, rather than being a dispassionate and rational examination of nature and the conditions of nature's existence which finds contemporary scientific accounts lacking.

Furthermore, this account seems to confuse the distinction with God's direct interference in the operations of the world - miracles - with God's providential governance of the world. God normally governs the world from outside the world, ordering every event in the whole from the perspective of eternity, so that what is rightly called chance from the perspective of the laws of physics, or of history, or whatever, are rightly called providentially ordained by God from the perspective of eternity. In that respect the fact that the laws of nature weren't combined with the initial conditions of the universe to necessarily lead to the production of any particular individual is just irrelevant to whether God willed the production of that individual.

To take an analogy, there are no natural laws which can explain just why I came to exist rather than millions of other possible children my parents might have had. For me to come into being one particular sperm had to unite with one particular egg at one particular time, when so far as the laws of nature were concerned any number of other combinations might have occurred. Naturally speaking, the fact that I was produced and not some possible brother is due only to chance. And from the perspective of the physicus, so far as natural laws are concerned, the fact that my parents met at all is also due to chance, and so forth for a vast of array of conditions that were necessary for my particular existence. Does all of this pose a threat to the theological notion that God in his providence willed that I in particular come to be, that he loves me in particular and desires my salvation and beatitude? Not at all, for the providential ordering of the world takes place on a different plane of reality than the laws of physics, so that what is chance from the perspective of physics is willed and chosen from the perspective of providence.

What actually seems Deist is the dichotomy that God is either the blind watchmaker that winds up the universe at the big bang and then lets it unspool according to blind laws, or that he has to enter into the world and tinker around with particles in order to make things come out as he likes. It seems to me that this is poor theology - and, either way, irrelevant to determining just what the laws of physics and biology are, and what are their possible effects.

To conclude, I am not convinced that Dr Torley has demonstrated that a living thing is naturally and evidently best understood as an expression of meaning, or that the complexity of life is semantic complexity such that any apprehension of its nature whatsoever leads us to recognize in the genesis of that nature a message which demands that we infer an act of intelligence above and beyond what is required to account for the laws of nature or the general intelligibility of the cosmos. I think it should be clear that I'm not stumping for Darwinian evolution or any other account of the origins of life in physical terms; nor am I rejecting any such account. What I am objecting to is the metaphysical presuppositions behind Dr Torley's account of Intelligent Design theory, which seem to include a petitio principii.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

"Intelligent Design" and Scotism

Now that I've prepared the ground a little bit, I feel more prepared to consider Dr Torley's claim that ID proponents are Scotists, or at least that Scotism is more sympathetic to their position than Thomism is.

I find little to complain about in Dr Torley's account of univocity and intelligence as a pure perfection in Scotus. It's accurate enough for his purposes. I'm less sure, however, about his attempts to apply these notions to ID.

First of all, the ID definitions of "intelligence" seem very unscotistic and unscholastic to me. Consider the following:

Intelligent Design. The study of patterns in nature that are best explained as the product of intelligence.

Intelligence. Any cause, agent, or process that achieves and end or goal by employing suitable means or instruments.

Design. An event, object, or structure that an intelligence brought about by matching means to ends.

These definitions seem to be designed to lead to the desired conclusion from the outset, but they're very odd. On the one hand, since any pattern in nature whatsoever is, insofar as it is patterned, intelligible, one might use a metaphysical argument to infer an intelligence: any intelligible in potency, the argument might go, implies a prior intelligible in act, that is, an understanding intelligence. But this applies as much to non-living things as to living ones. The ancients argued to God from the regularity of the motion of the heavenly bodies without examining their structure for complex specified functional information.

Furthermore, I'm not at all sure about the definition of intelligence as something that achieves ends by employing means. I suspect that one could argue that computers and elephants and Venus flytraps are intelligent by this standard. But traditionally intelligence is defined in terms of the act of understanding, that is, in the particular way that the forms of intelligible things are objectively apprehended by the intelligent thing, and in terms of intentionality. My computer neither understands nor intends, but it matches means to end in accordance with its programming - doesn't it?

By the way, every "scientific" attempt at defining intelligence in terms of some marker-activity like the use of tools, communication, problem-solving, etc., has always seemed wildly off the mark to me. These all may or may not be intelligent activity. But unless the activity is also intentional and objectively apprehensive, it's not indicative of intelligence per se. In my estimation the best marker for intelligence is still the capacity for abstraction.

Similarly, the definition of "Design" seems much too broad. When an angry monkey throws feces at me to make me go away or a hungry monkey throws a rock at a banana clump, isn't this matching means to ends? When a bird looks for twigs to build a nest, isn't it matching means to ends? But I don't think we want to call either the feces-volley or the nest indications that the monkey or the bird are designers. And, as I indicated earlier, when looking at the world of nature I'm not sure how the intelligibility and order in the world of physics is either more or less indicative of "design" than that in the world of life: both non-living physical objects and living things exist and come to be by nature, which exhibits a marvelous order and intelligibility.

Because of this I'm not sure the attempt to bring in Scotus does any good. Dr Torley writes:

Duns Scotus distinguished God’s intelligence from ours on the grounds that God’s is essentially infinite, while ours is finite. . . . The underlying idea here is that an intelligent enough Designer can create any effect, no matter how complex. That does not mean that the difference between God and humans is merely one of degree; it simply means that the term “intelligent” has the same meaning when predicated of God and ourselves, notwithstanding the infinite disparity between God’s intellectual capacities and ours, and the utter dissimilarity between the way God thinks and the way we do.

This is fine, but when we're talking about the ability to create any effect, we have to take into account what sort of thing the effect is, and a created tree, whether created in toto and ex nihilo, or put together out of pre-existing parts, or evolved over millions of years, or whatever, is still as much a natural thing as a star or a rock, and a created jet plane or laptop computer or water-driven mill is an artifact. And since the tree is natural, and since the parts of the tree are formed by the tree as a whole, therefore all its parts are natural, and the existence of all its parts is accounted for by the existence of the whole. It seems to me that any discussion of the origins of the tree must recognize this.

Anyway, the notion that we can think about God as a designer in the way that we can think of men as designers, because there is a univocal conception of intelligence as a pure perfection, seems to be the only actual attempt to use specifically Scotistic notions in Dr Torley's long post. It doesn't seem to me that it's very successful, not because I think he's necessarily distorting Scotus so far as univocity or pure perfections go, but because, as it seems to me, the notion of a living thing, or a part of a living thing, as machine-like in the relevant sense, is misguided. And if living things are not machine-like, then we cannot infer machine-like origins for them.

So what would a Scotist say about the origins of life? For myself, I would say nothing. As I said before, I'm no biologist. So far as I know there may well be natural laws which can be discovered scientifically which account for the origin of life on their own. Or perhaps there are no such laws and only a non-natural origin of these natural things can be posited. That seems to be an empirical question. If scientists can show life arising from non-life naturally, let them! If they can't, then don't take their stories for granted.

As a metaphysician, I would insist that act is absolutely prior to potency, and that being does not arise from non-being. So any account of life's origins would have to cope with that. From my layman's understanding it appears that naturalistic Darwinism fails in this regard. But to say that doesn't automatically mean embracing ID as Torley presents it. It seems to me that one can admit as a point of metaphysics and theology that God is the creator and architect of the world without taking any stance whatsoever on the manner in which the first instances of certain kinds in the world came to be. God is the first cause of all that is, and in his Providence governs every event in the universe without exception; but does this mean that a given living cell was made by natural forces, like Mt Sinai, or by the immediate writing of the finger of God, like the tables of the commandments? Or neither? In any case it's not clear to me that a thing that, if it is to be at all, is a natural kind, like a tree and not like a jet, must be understood as having been (at least in its first instance) assembled, as Dr Torley says.

None of this is to say that I side with everything Dr Feser says in this debate. I do not admit, for instance, that when God makes something this is to be understood as God "conjoining an essence with an act of existence", since I have severe doubts about the real distinction and composition of essence and existence. Perhaps more germane to the subject at hand, I have a lot of sympathy for interlocutors like Lydia McGrew who object to the Thomistic account of generation, in which the new thing annihilates and replaces the substantial form of the old. It seems to me that there is a real case to be made here that the Thomistic doctrine of the unicity of substantial form is difficult to reconcile with many facts about the natural world; I would argue that a Scotistic plurality of substantial forms is much more consistent with both observation and common sense. That's a metaphysics debate for another day, however, and doesn't seem to have any bearing on the critiques presented either by Dr Feser or myself here.

Finally I want to emphasize once more that I am a novice to this debate and have been working out my thoughts in these posts for the first time. I've never read an ID book and can't claim to be conversant with the range of positions. This is a response to Dr Torley's recent post alone. My views on ID, evolution, etc., are subject to refinement and revision. Just today I was at the local used bookstore and picked up a copy of Mere Creation: Science Faith & Intelligent Design, a collection of essays on ID by various contributors and edited by William Dembski. So I may read it and have something more intelligent to say about the subject in the future. Or perhaps not!

Nature, Artifacts, and Machines 2

Later in the post I discussed in Part 1, Dr Torley appears to admit at least some of what I've been saying about the difference between natural things and artifacts. I quote:

Should living things be modeled on ships and statues, the products of techne or “art,”?
That depends. If you’re trying to explain what it means to be alive, then ships won’t help you; they have no intrinsic finality. . .

Here I distinguish. The parts of living things have intrinsic biological functions. A living thing would not be what it is without these functions. The parts of ships do not have intrinsic functions. A ship’s finality is extrinsic; it is an assemblage of parts. We are agreed so far.

However, it doesn’t follow from this that the parts of a living thing have a natural tendency to come together in the first place. On the available evidence, I would say that the parts that went into the making of the first living cell on Earth were indeed arranged to serve an end they have no tendency otherwise to serve. In that respect, the analogy with a ship is perfect. A ship has to be assembled, and so did the first living thing.

The difference is that having been put together, the parts of a living thing tend to hang together in such a way that we can indeed speak of them as serving the good of the whole. For instance, the parts of a living thing exhibit “dedicated functionality,” right down to the tiniest molecule: every part of a living thing subserves the good of the whole. Also, living things have a master program that controls not only their operations, but their reproduction as well. And in their design, living things exhibit a nested hierarchy all the way down to the smallest piece. Ships are not built like that.

I agree with what Dr Torley says here about the differences between how the parts are related to the whole in a ship and in a living thing. Where I disagree is in his additional assumption, which is that despite these differences living things are built. The problem I see here is that things like ships are the kinds of things that are built, whereas living things are not the kinds of things that are built but the kinds of things which grow. The marvelous interrelation of parts of to whole which he recognizes is intimately bound up with the fact that the parts of a living things are not collected and then assembled; rather the living thing itself produces them. When I first began to exist, I had no bones or skin or hair or blood, but I grew them. And this is the way that the parts of all living things come to be: not by being assembled but by being grown, produced by the form of the whole after the initial act of generation.

I therefore see no reason to assume that "the parts that went into the making of the first living cell on Earth were indeed arranged to serve an end they have no tendency otherwise to serve." This way of putting it already assumes that the first living cell on Earth was produced by making an arrangement of parts. But all observation tells us that, while artifacts are produced this way, living things are not.

By the way, what are we taking to be the "parts" here? There's a long way to go from prime matter to proximate matter. Is Dr Torley thinking of an assemblage out of quarks, out of atoms, out of proteins, or what? In any case, he seems to presume rather than argue that the first cell was manufactured out of parts rather than produced in some other way, despite the fact that there is apparently no evidence for any living thing ever being produced this way, and despite the fact of behaving completely unlike a manufactured object once produced.

(Having said all this and falling, so far, on Dr Feser's side, I should note here that it seems perfectly legitimate to note how Aquinas and others have likened God to an architect, a craftsman, etc., in talking about God's production of the universe. However, I think there's an important distinction to be made between thinking of God as the craftsman or architect of the entire universe, whereby he chooses to make, rather than generate, something other than himself by exemplary and efficient causality, and thinking of God as being inside an already-existing world of natural substances and using their materials to cobble together artifacts. It's one thing to say that in a sense the cosmos, the ordered whole of the world, is an artifact of God's; it's another thing to say that the structure of the cell is an artifact in the way that the divinely-inscribed tables of the ten commandments are an artifact, while Mt Sinai is not.)

Dr Torley writes:

But God can indeed take raw materials with no inherent tendency to form a living thing, and assemble them together, as an artificer might. He could have made Adam from the dust of the ground, even if He did not in fact. And doesn’t the Bible say that He could make children of Abraham from stones, if He wished?

Now I don't deny at all that God could make things in this way. After all, he could also directly inscribe the ten commandments. For Scotus it follows from the notion of omnipotence that whatever God could do through a secondary cause he could do without that secondary cause, immediately. So usually God creates a tree by providentially sustaining the whole ordered and law-governed cosmos whereby the seed falls from its parent, is planted in the ground, and through the operation of its intrinsic substantial form grows to full flourishing. But he certainly could also create a tree ex nihilo, or turn a stone into a tree, or whatever.

Did God make the first living thing like that? I don’t know. ID says nothing about the modus operandi of the creator. But He might have done it that way.

But it seems that Dr Torley did say something about the modus operandi of the creator a little while ago when he said, "A ship has to be assembled, and so did the first living thing."

Monday, April 26, 2010

Nature, Artifacts, and Machines 1

Dr Torley discusses one of the points which has been important in the fight between Dr Feser and ID, namely the difference between natural substances and artifacts. Feser has been insisting that living substances are different in kind from artifacts and cannot be reduced to them, and that God should not be understood as an artificer. This gave rise to some discussion about whether God could make something readily recognizable as an artifact, like a 747 jet, and conversely, whether man could in principle produce life out of non-living materials. Torley here wants to distinguish between different kinds of substances according to whether or not they contain "complex specified information", and compares (1) a water molecule, (2) a bacterial cell, and (3) a mousetrap.

About (1) and (2) he writes: "This is a natural object, or substance. It is more than the sum of its parts. A water molecule has certain properties which cannot be reduced to those of its constituents."

I have to say that I'm not sure what the second and third sentence have to do with the first. Is a natural object defined as something which is more than the sum of its parts? Not for A-T, not for Scotus, not for Aristotle, and not for me. Recall that Aristotle defines nature as that which has the principle of its motion within itself. That is, the reason that a natural thing behaves as it does is because of something intrinsic to it that makes it act that way, rather than being moved extrinsically. When a rock falls down, it's acting naturally. It falls down all by itself. When it flies up, this is contrary to its nature. For a rock to go up something has to throw it, whether a person acting intentionally or a volcano or tornado or tsunami acting on it by chance.

Now about (3) Torley writes, "This is not a natural object. It is an assemblage of parts, and there are no “higher-level” holistic properties of a mousetrap which cannot be reduced to those of its constituents."

Again I must say that I don't see what the first and second sentences have to do with each other, though both are true. But lacking ""higher-level" holistic properties" is not what makes the mousetrap artificial.

Let's look at that rock again. Torley takes a single water molecule as his paradigm of a non-living natural substances, but most natural substances we deal with are things like raindrops, lakes, mountains, and rocks, rather than free-floating single molecules. But a rock is not natural because of higher-level holistic properties. It doesn't have any. A rock more or less is the sum of its parts. It's not an assemblage, like the mousetrap, but it is an aggregate. Whatever properties it has which cannot be reduced to those of its constituents are due to its bulk or shape, but these are accidental to its substantial form, which I will call rockness or "silexity". Now silexity certainly adds something over and above the forms of the bare elements and the subatomic constituents of the elements, but on an immediate level the rock is not an aggregate unity of elemental atoms, but of rock-parts. Similarly a lake is a lot of water collected in a large natural basin. It forms a kind of unity - for instance, we rightly speak of the depth or temperature or animal population of *the* lake - and it would be wrong to say that what really exists are the trillions of individual water molecules, which, as constituting the lake, are not individual at all, except potentially. Nevertheless the substantial form of the lake is that of water, not of lakeness, and if you scoop out a cup you still get water.

I don't want to go into the question of grades of unity for natural non-living substances, though it is to me a very interesting one. My point is that naturalness cannot be defined simply as whether a thing is more than the sum of its parts, where "more" means "having higher-order holistic properties" rather than "there's more of it". The rock is just as natural as the carbon atom.

Moving on. Torley goes on to write:

"[1]There are laws of nature that tend to produce water molecules, under certain circumstances. . . .[2] However, as far as we know, there are no laws of nature that tend to produce a bacterial cell, under any circumstances. . . . [3] There are no laws of nature that tend to produce a mousetrap, under any circumstances." [My numbering]

There seems to be something wrong with these three sentences. I agree with [1] and [3], but not [2], which makes me suspect that Torley doesn't mean at least [1] in the sense I would mean it either. It seems to me perfectly clear that there are in fact laws of nature that tend to produce bacteria, in all sorts of circumstances. This process is called "generation". According to Aristotelianism of all stripes, when a natural substance comes to be in a natural way, this is natural generation, whether the object is living or non-living. Water is generated from other elements just as animals are generated from other animals, and so forth. Now I realize that Torley is speaking in the context of producing something "in the lab", but his statement sounds awfully general. It just is the case that bacteria are generated naturally according to laws of nature, in this case biological laws.

Torley goes on to apply his principles to the case at hand:

"Scientists can take advantage of these laws to produce water molecules. For example, hydrogen and oxygen do not ordinarily combine at room temperature to produce water, but if scientists pass a spark through them, they will combine. . . . Hence, scientists cannot take advantage of any laws of nature to produce a bacterial cell. If they were to make one, they’d have to put it together, piece by piece, like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle where every part has to be in the right place. . . . Hence, scientists cannot take advantage of any laws to produce a mousetrap. If they wanted to make one, they’d have to assemble the parts together, one at a time."

It's not at all clear to me that this shows in any way that the bacterial cell is machine-like in the way that a mousetrap is. Torley seems to be doing what Feser has several times accused ID proponents in general of doing, which is to conflate what a thing is with how a thing came to be. Now whether a living thing can be put together in a lab piece by piece seems to me an empirical question. Presumably if one stuck a bunch of non-living goo in a dish it would ordinarily not come to life, just as hydrogen and oxygen do not normally combine to produce water. But what if you passed a spark through the goo, just like Dr Frankenstein did? Would it come to life or not? Is there a certain type or types of goo one could combine in the right proportions, and then pass a spark through, or perform some other operation on, to produce life? Personally I doubt it, but by all means try and see. But if it did come to life the operation of its origin would not in itself make it a machine. More on this in a moment.

First I'd also like to point out that it seems false to say that scientists "cannot take advantage of any laws to produce a mousetrap". Surely they take advantage of the laws of physics and mechanics? Is this merely quibbling? I'm not sure what is the relevance of "assembling the parts together, one at a time" to whether or not the laws of nature enter into the thing's construction. As I will say in a moment, I'm also not sure what the relevance is to whether the end-result is natural or artificial.

Torley writes: "A water molecule has no “good of its own”; it is not alive. Thus it has no immanent final causality. . . . A bacterial cell does have a “good of its own”; it is alive. Thus it has immanent final causality. . . . A mousetrap does not have a “good of its own”; it is not alive. Thus it has no immanent final causality."

I suspect that Dr Feser would agree with me when I say that being alive and having immanent final causality are not necessarily one and the same thing. For an Aristotelian, every natural substance whatever has an innate tendency to sustain itself in being and perform its natural operation. It's just that living things are by and large better at overcoming impediments to doing so.

Torley writes: "Is a water molecule made in a laboratory an artifact? That depends on how it’s made."

This seems to me to be a misunderstanding of what distinguishes natural from artificial things. Just as a natural thing is not defined as "being more than the sum of its parts", a natural thing is not characterized as "having come to be without an external agent". It seems wrong to say that you can show me two cups of water, indistinguishable from each other, and claim that one is natural and the other is artificial just because one cupful was harvested from a mountain stream and the other made in a lab. They're not two different kinds of things, they're both water! At least it's wrong for the purposes of the present discussion, because we're not asking about things' origins right now but about their being. Right now we're interested in what makes something an artificial machine, and whether something is an artificial machine is a fact about its essence, not about its origin.

If God were to create ex nihilo a tree and a 747 jet, in one and the same act of creation, still the tree would be natural and the 747 jet would be an artificial machine. This is because, no matter how they were created, the tree has its principle of motion intrinsic to itself, but the jet doesn't. The jet doesn't build itself, fly itself, or maintain itself, and left to itself it will act as though it is nothing but the sum of its parts, a bunch of metal and other pieces in a complicated heap. What is natural in the jet is its parts, not their configuration. And this is true about the jet whether it was built piece-by-piece from the ground up or created as a whole.

In apparent contradiction to this, Torley writes, "What’s the upshot of all this? A thing can be alive (with a good of its own) and yet still be a true artifact, because its parts have no natural tendency to come together. A bacterial cell is unquestionably alive, but if it has been produced by scientists in a laboratory, then it is an artifact."

Again, Torley is talking about the origin of a thing, when its origin appears to be irrelevant to what it is. If the bacterial cell is truly alive, then its parts have a natural tendency to be together. What distinguishes a living form is that it governs all of its parts from the top down - when the living thing is healthy the operations of all its parts are subordinated to the operations of the whole by the form of the whole. Jets or computers don't work that way. Each part operates according to the laws of physics or chemistry, and only work together to produce a result beyond any of them individually because of the way they have been connected externally.

If you object that the whole point of ID is to inquire precisely into how things arose, not to dispute about their essence once they already exist, I say that the only evidence being used to inquire into the origins of living things is to look at their essences - what they are and how they naturally behave. And it seems to me that if their essences are not machine-like then we cannot infer a machine-like origin for them. It seems, though, that Dr Torley is not in this post anyway talking about the essences of things, that is, of organisms, but about the essences of parts of these things, namely, the machine-like parts. Is this relevant? Stay tuned for the thrilling sequel!

Is "Intelligent Design" Scotistic?

I've been following the recent series of posts comparing "Aristotelianism-Thomism" (A-T) and "Intelligent Design" (ID) by Edward Feser and opponents, together with the (sometimes very lengthy) discussions following them, on Feser's blog, What's Wrong With the World, and Uncommon Descent, with considerable interest. I hadn't meant to weigh in, but now I (or at least someone here at The Smithy) have been invited twice, including by Dr Feser himself, to comment on a recent post by V. J. Torley suggesting that, rather than naturalistic mechanists, Intelligent Design advocates are Scotists, or at least closer in inspiration to Scotism than to Thomism, and that this is a legitimate and laudable stance.

I'm reluctant to stick my oar in this debate, since I know comparatively little about biology and less about ID theory. I mean, I've poked my head into a few of their books and glanced at a few of their blogs, but I couldn't say that I'm thoroughly conversant with even the leading ID proponents. So what business do have commenting on the matter? I hope that at this point I've achieved at least the minimum modicum of wisdom which is knowing when I don't know anything about the matter.

Since I've been asked, however, I'll give a few comments on Dr Torley's post and on the discussion in general from my more or less Scotist perspective. Since the discussion up to now has been vast, and since Dr Torley's post is itself very long and deals with a lot of issues, and since I don't have a long and synthetic essay to write about this, I'll distribute my points among a couple of posts, one for each point.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Panaccio on Mental Representation

The following is fromf Claude Panaccio's article "Mental Representation" in the new Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy. It took a while, but my local library finally got a copy. Shockinly, Petrus Thomae actually made it into the lengthy bio section at the end of volume 2, as did Antonius Andreae, a definite improvement on the Noone-Gracia volume (though, since we already have the Noone-Gracia volume, I am not convinced we needed another set of bio-bibliographical summaries). But, no Peter of Navarre or Anfredus Gonteri (unless they used a different spelling), and indeed, there seems to be very little on early scotism in the volume, and nothing at all on the neoplatonist rhineland dominicans. But what can one do, when the main inspiration is still the analytic style of studying medieval philosophy. At least there was some interesting material on early ockhamism/terminism. There was even a brief paragraph on intelligible being, which I reproduce below. Oddly, however, the author does not mention esse subiectivum, without which no discussion of esse obiectivum is complete. Nor does he refer to more than the first question of Alnwick's treatise (these volumes go out of their way to point out translations...Alnwick's q.1 has been translated by Pasnau), nor does he refer to Petrus Thomae's treatise on the topic, perhaps unsurprisingly as neither do Dominik Perler nor L.M. De Rijk both of whom have written on intelligible being.

p. 352: "...the conformality thesis: the reduction of intentionality to some identity of form between the knower and the known."


p. 354: "Another medieval idea that is sometimes connected with the conformality thesis is that of "objective being" (esse objectivum), as it is found, saliently, in the work of Scotus. Scotus's writings on this topic are notoriously difficult, yet on one plausible reading - suggested, for instance, by Scotus's close disciple William of Alnwick - the idea of objective being neither depends upon nor favors the conformality thesis. An object x, on this terminology, is said to be objectively in a mind y if and only if x is the object of a cognitive state of y - if and only if, in other words, x is represented in y somehow. Think of a book about Julius Caesar. It could be correctly said, in the relevant sense, that Caesar is objectively in the book, not because he is hidden in the pages in some ghostly way, but simply because he is referred to in the book. Thus understood, the idea of 'objective being' presupposes that of being an object for a cognitive state, and can hardly serve, consequently, as the basis for a satisfactory account of intentionality."

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Doctor Novus

Congratulations to my fellow blogger Michael on successfully defending his dissertation yesterday. euge, euge.