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.