Naturalism vs Supernaturalism w/ Newton and Evolution Debate on another board

Insidium Profundis
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Naturalism vs Supernaturalism w/ Newton and Evolution Debate on another board

Here is the link. I am posting as Insidium, arguing against Macrobius. I have trouble understanding some of his objections, and he gave me a hefty reply. I wonder if any of you have any comment. I am formulating my reply right now.

Macrobius wrote:
It might be helpful to define a few terms here -- by 'nature' and the 'nature of something' we mean an explanation for change that refers to some sort of internal principle or dynamic law that explains change. We see change (motion) all around us, and sometimes this change is do to 'the nature of the thing in question' and sometimes it is do to an external agent acting *on* the thing in question.

Naturalism seeks to explain all change, ultimately, as resulting from the internal nature of things (their 'inner principle of change' or governing law, whatever that might be). It supposes that the Natural World (the part of the world subject to nature) can be explained by natural laws entirely, without reference to an external agent or creator.

'Physics' is just the Greek word that gets translated 'Natura' in Latin and Nature in English. In its older sense, it comprehends the subjects of living natures (biology), elemental nature (chemistry), and their basis in what we now call Physics. The division of Physics (and its final separation from Medicine), dates from the early 19th century German university. The new terminology caught on in Anglo-American universities, and is part of the world view in which the modern world in its most proper sense (post 1820 and thus the world in which Marx and Darwin are directly fundamental), i.e., of post-revolutionary America and Europe, and especially post-Napoleonic Europe.

The contrast between inner action of the thing (motion of a particle as inert object; function of an autonomous mechanism), and the external application of force by an external agent -- whether Divine, intelligent, or simply a 'force center' acting on a particle at a distance -- is precisely the contrast between Naturalism and whatever its opposite is. This latter includes, of course, all Traditional and Theistic thought.

Originally Posted by Insidium How would one go about demonstrating "grace?"

Exactly the same way one demonstrates (if it is possible), force action at a distance. Of course, what happens is that one 'posits' a law, and then notes that the observations accord with that law. There is no reason that 'influences' cannot be properly mathematical in their behaviour, or have explanations as complex and engrossing to the intellect as the inverse square law and the 'two body' problem.

Of course, in the case of a 'system' of particles interacting through force at a distance, we might be inclined to say the force is not a true 'external influence' or 'grace' (and thus a violation of nature), since considered as a whole the system has a dynamical evolution we describe mathematically, and the 'force' is just part of the construct used to get to the right mathematical description. But look where this approach leads: we have lost both the individual entities as true objects [the system alone really exists], and we have lost the 'understanding' of what causes motion -- the force of one particle on another -- in favour of mere description, such as a dynamical law, or the curved geometry of space, or whatever more or less complex description we adopt. We lose the noumena and the principles that explain, in order to gain descriptive (and thus predictive) power.

I am not at all familiar with the subject (aside from its presence in a good deal of ancient literature). You have not really answered my questions; you've merely restated more verbosely the point that was originally at stake.

The only question I see in your post is in reference to what the author of the article might have meant at a certain point. I'm afraid I don't know. Did you have a question specifically for me?

How is it possible to differentiate "grace" from some natural effect that we do not yet comprehend? Did the terrorist attacks of 9/11 happen because god was angry at our country for decriminalizing homosexuality, or is it because a group of Muslim zealots were sent by an anti-American rogue to strike fear into America's hearts? Did Katrina happen due to climate effects, or because god wanted to punish us?

You chose deliberately crude applications of grace as a principle, to score rhetorical points. Traditional beliefs are by no means so crude as these modern ruminations about how much the Divinity might want to punish us (which are, more in the nature of taunts uttered against what you believe is no threat at all, thus, taunts lacking any courage, than actual attempts to understand what grace or influence might amount to, metaphysically).

Modern science holds to the realization that if we allow for miracles, or metaphysical interventions, we will have no explanatory power whatsoever because any phenomenon we do not understand can simply be waved off as a miracle.

As far as I understand, Newton's theories ended the idea of a final cause in physics. He viewed god as having had started the whole process (which was understandable at that point: no theory for the natural development of life had been proposed yet). Since god was perfect, however, any intervention would be illogical.

This is a paraphrase of some Deistic beliefs, which are certainly not Newton, have no basis in science, and of course are not theistic either. They may be an interesting intellectual step between late medieval traditional natural philosophy (like Newton and to a lesser extent Descartes), and towards atheist hypothesising such as Laplace in the time of Napoleon, or the age of Lamarck to Dalton (1790-1820), i.e., the formative period immediately proceeding the rise of metaphysical naturalism, positivism, and the world view you are calling 'Science' -- however, this development is much later than you seem to think, and much less relevant to the course of Science.

Newton believed in the continuous intervention of God in chemical phenomena, and certainly in life. He believed that minerals deep in the earth were alive, and we only obtain the dead ones; however, if we could extract the 'mineral spirit' we could synthesise gold. He pursued researches to this end what directing the Royal Mint and developing techniques for assaying gold and coinage, and pursuing counterfeiters (counterfeiting 'alchemists' would have spoiled a true demonstration of alchemy).

I am not a physicist. However, I read popular literature (Brian Greene, Stephen Hawking), and I have never seen the sentiment expressed that some phenomena are "intrinsically non-explainable." Singularities are currently unexplained, but I don't think that makes them eternally mysterious. What phenomena are you referring to in your last sentence - that is, the well-documented ones, which are "miraculous?"

That miracles (not to mention the full plenitude of religious and mystical experience) are well-documented hardly needs to be argued. The only question is the *exclusion* of the mass of human writing, on the grounds it does not fit the paradigm of a self-select group of 'peers'.

However, rather than arguing *that* (whether *all* the religious production of ages is superstition or ignorance or delusion) -- let's take a well-documented case, UFOs. Now, I doubt you believe in space aliens and certainly I don't, however it should be evident that here we have a well-attested and large body of phenomena that are not amenable in toto to dismissal as physical phenomena -- there can only be so many weather balloons and swamp gas emissions -- or psychological disturbances. There are the group sightings and experiences, for one.

One of the goals of 'Modern Science' (inits positivistic, naturalistic avatar), is to reduce as much as possible the Intelligible (understandable), in favour of the Sensible. Science *understands* nothing, and knows only what it senses. The cost of this is that when we confront experiences that -- and they are certainly more psychological than physical -- are nevertheless not sensible, but merely more or less intelligible, we are at a loss.

Now I myself have no doubt that the way to understand such phenomena is to understand them as daemonic (with whatever valuation one assigns to daemons). A psychologist such as Jung would concur -- daemons for him being, scientifically, archetype complexes in the unconscious approaching the subliminal consciousness (subconscious). In other words I would give the experience a 'religious' valuation, and he would approach it as psychological and reducible -- but both of us would invoke daemons as a true explanation, and not just as a nominal term chose for suggestiveness but as a way of unifying a large body of human experience, which positivism would exclude entirely.

The cost of methodological naturalism may be to give up understanding. Now, it might be argued that Jung's daemons are, by virtue of being 'inside' us, are *part* of our nature, and that his explanation is more naturalistic than the traditional one. However, Jung was at great pains to indicate his archetypes are 'not us' -- they are not fully developed personalities, and they are not necessary constituents of any of ours, or if so only as ingredients, and not complete givens. That is to say, the whole of the Intelligible order that we 'intuit', to which they belong, is both objective and in a certain sense bigger than us and outside us, even if our contact or participation in it is internal.

All consciously willed actions? I believe this is incorrect. While neurology is a fairly young science, arguing that the human consciousness or will is supernatural is a god-of-the-gaps fallacy. We have found which portions of the brain ... I'd say we've progressed a great deal since the 17th century.

I await a more complete demonstration before accepting your optimism.

Darwin's theory of evolution was probably the single greatest accomplishment in explaining "why" we are here and eliminated the final cause in biology.

Darwin is much closer to Aristotle, and teleology, than you may think. He is far from Plato. Plato argued for a 'demiurge' -- a designer-craftsman, who built the universe by consulting certain patterns or blueprints. Aristotle's teleology explains how immanent species-in-the-thing can act *as if* their were a demiurge. In other words, Aristotle was a Naturalist, or Physicist, in part. He married 'final cause' to the 'substantial form' (species) of the object. So did Darwin -- his 'inner principle of change' governing the dynamics of the organism [really, a population of them] is survival.

Where the 'teleology' ends up in modern thought (not just Biological) is in the notion of 'function'. Mathematically, function is entirely an 'extensional' concept; however, it either is or takes the place of 'intension' or if you like 'intention', depending on your metaphysics.

The key step (away from Aristotle, who was himself a step away from Tradition) isn't evolution, but the peculiarly modern sense of the *function* of things, of this or that. Modernism tries hard to make that concept purely descriptive and extensional, but ends up rolling in a bit of what the *intended* (intentional) interpretation of its descriptive formalism is. Descartes notion of matter-as-extension (not really elaborated fully until Einstein!) is the heart of Mechanism, but it is never an achieved ideal. The cost for getting closer to it is invariably giving up just a bit more -- no objects to intend, holistic systems not interacting parts, formalism not true causation, etc.

Newton may have been a devout Christian, but his theories took god out of the picture almost entirely, leaving him only the role of original creation. Einstein, the next great physicist, was a deist: he did not believe in a personal god at all. The latest great physicist, Stephen Hawking, is an atheist (and a self-admitted positivist). It's interesting how this trend proceeds...

Ah, you predict and Eternal Recurrence then.
Bottom line: while theism may not have hampered Newton, it was certainly absent in his theories.

You seem obliged to repeat this falsehood. I deduce it is important to you. Let's at least correct it a bit until it is true: Newton's beliefs about physics and chemistry were entirely and almost completely motivated by his religious suppositions. However, some atheist materialists, living about 100 years after he did his primary work, found his discoveries sufficiently convenient that they were able to entirely subvert his program, by incorporating selected parts of his formalism into a system having nearly the opposite philosophical interpretation, and marrying that theory (analytical mechanics) to the new atomic theory of chemistry and the newly invented subject of biology, to create an entirely novel and counter-Newtonian (counter-Enlightenment, counter-Medieval Christian) pursuit, that they immediately named 'Science'. Having done so, they married this new subject with a strain of philosophy popularised by Comte, Schelling, and so forth, and after another few decades 'scientific' evidence was found to confirm the philosophical presuppositions of the new movement. After that, it became a sort of religious belief attached to the new scientific movement, long after its metaphysical and physical foundations were destroyed by relativity, quantum mechanics, and similar revolutions in thought. However, it remains today as a sort of retro pose.

He and Darwin pretty much annihilated the idea of a final cause in science, leaving little but a god of the deists compatible with scientific knowledge.

As I said, this is arguable. The purpose of things is to survive and reproduce. That is the 'final cause' of them, insofar as the biological function of the organism is capable of attaining it. Evolution (and the principle of inertia in physics) do not so much 'annihilate the idea of a final cause' as evade it, by restricting the scope of attention.

What is the difference between prediction and understanding?

Understanding aims to give the principle of things.

Perhaps you are implying that prediction is understanding how, and understanding is understanding why. But the problem is that this presupposes a final cause in nature.

No. I might know how to electrolyse water to make Hydrogen and Oxygen. Understanding in this case is knowing that water is composed of molecules, who have the composition of two hydrogens bonded to a single oxygen. This is a *formal* principle, which gives understanding -- there are more 'whys' than final cause.

Say you understand (in the conventional sense) the binary fission process that bacteria utilize for reproduction. You understand the cellular machinery that goes into DNA replication, chromosomal segregation, and cytokinesis. You understand that the bacteria we see now have been under natural selection for the last few billion years. What other possible understanding (in your sense of the term) can be obtained here?

I'm with you until the third sentence on bacteria. If I 'understand' that, I accept Naturalism in its entirety, so you have defined the situation so I can't understand more (because naturalism is true, by supposition).

Are you kidding me? Supernaturalism has essentially no predictive power, it is compatible with every bit of evidence, and assumes a great number of superfluous entities.

This is a bit hysterical. Supernatural means above the natural order -- it just means 'some explanation from outside the entity itself'. There is the entity's nature, and supernatural explanation. Newtonian action-at-a-distance is supernatural. Jung's archetypes are supernatural. Both theories had or have experimental support, and were substantive scientific progress in their time.

It presumes explanations for questions that have no basis in reality. Naturalism is a far simpler model (in terms of unsubstantiated assumptions), and when faced with some sort of mystery, is capable of admitting ignorance. By saying that the universe was created by a conscious entity begs all sorts of questions. Worse yet, it is not really a model since it does not provide any explanation for how it occurred. However, theologians - who will gladly answer the why, when it does not even apply. It is ignorance masked by complete certainty.

Naturalism attains its 'power' by a move very similar to 'ignorance masked by complete certainly' -- it just chooses a different place to make that move. It throws away the intuitive, intelligible realm of data, both interior observation of other than sense data, and occurrences that seem to be above/outside us, but have a similar character to the interior states. It removes 'explanation' and 'understanding' and 'principles' of certain definite kinds from scope. It favours prediction and mere description over these things -- and thus does not really merit the term 'science' at all.

Anyway, my primary objections are that it is impossible to differentiate between a miracle and an as of yet unexplained natural phenomenon. If we allow for the existence of miracles, science will stop making any sense. It is also impossible to non-arbitrarily determine if a miracle (presuming it has occurred) is in support of the Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or pagan theology. What is interesting, though, is that miracles occur fairly regularly - in temporal and geographic locations which lack any sort of recording equipment or unbiased, impartial observers... The natural explanation for them is parsimonious and perfectly satisfying. It has been demonstrated that psychoactive drugs can cause experiences that are subjectively described as essentially identical to religious experiences, and all miracles are unconfirmed. Some are stranger than others, but I see no reason to believe that all the properties of matter and energy were suddenly suspended rather than a number of people experiencing delusion.

In light of what I said above, it should be clear this needs to be sharpened before we can accept it as having value -- sense data, thoughts, hallucinations, various psychological data from the analyst's couch, dreams, etc. are indeed a catalogue of interior phenomena. However, sorting them out requires more work than assuming sense data are ok and the rest problematic. What needs to be proven is the successfulness of science in explaining the totality of data, not just a pre-selected portion of it (if science is to have metaphysical presumption, that is).

But honestly, in 50 years no one will 'believe' in science the way we do today unless it can solve two problems: first, to make civilised man psychologically healthy in a stable way, within technological society; to not make any drastic miscalculation about man's physical health, due to omitted factors. These two issues were first raised 200 years ago, when we embarked on our current path, and have become acute in the last 100 years. There is little sign that Science will be able to continue its 'therapeutic charade' much longer -- a Nature that demands survival can be a harsh mistress.

 I appreciate any suggestions.

An open mind is like a fortress with its gates unbarred and unguarded.

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I only skimmed it but I have

I only skimmed it but I have two recommendations:
Although Newton's discoveries made progress for naturalism, he himself was very religious. Only a small part of his work is relevent today as most of it was mystical and superstitious.
(For instance, he used the Bible to be sure that the world certainly wouldn't end before 2060!)

Using Newton's name probably doesn't help things.

I've got a recommendation on that strange test for grace.
The guy said that grace could be tested like a natural law.
However, it can't.
A law is simple - it behaves as it's supposed to or doesn't exist.
With 'grace' there is always a billion possible ad hoc excuses for why grace didn't go as predicted.
"It's part of a grander plan"
"You didn't really believe"
So grace cannot be tested or falsified like a normal law.

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Regarding Newton, anyone

Regarding Newton, anyone want to guess which media, CNN or Cobert Report actually showed the full quote about Newton's supposided prediction?

It comes across in it's full context as saying, "Hey guys, I am picking an arbitrary date way in the future beyond our lifespans so maybe in the intrest of me reaching old age you'll leave me alone so I wont meet some premature death due to your sky daddy war". Thats the way it came across to me.

It is so funny how theists jump on a contributor of science without taking into account the full context of their lives. Newton certainly contributed to modern math. But he also was superstitios and also had bad ideas that failed. He litterally believed that you could take any base metal and somehow combine it with other material to turn it into gold.

So how would "predicting" the end times be any more credible than claiming you can turn silver into gold?

Being a contrubutor to what future generations expond on as far as scientific discovery does not constitute people kidnapping the intire history of science and claiming it as belonging to their sky daddy(incert label here).

Sure, Newton got some things right and today we are benifiting from his discoveries. But as I mentioned above as smart as he was, he also made some very bad guesses as well. Do not use his "hits" as justification for hocus pocus.

Muslims like to assert that their ancient cultures contributed to algebra as well. So? Do Christians blindly believe in Allah because of some non-magical contribution made?

If a Scientologist just happens to stumble on the sorce of black holes do we blindly as a result assume that Jesus is a result of little green men from another planet?

Newton's quote is not a prediction at all and is just a bad a claim as turning silver into gold or water into wine. He got some things right, certainly, but that doesnt default to human flesh surviving rigor mortis anymore than getting 72 virgins in an afterlife or Peter Pan flying.

"We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- and nonbelievers."Obama
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