The Reintegration of the Sciences|
Introduction to this Document
This document is the output, so far, of the primary intellectual effort of my life. It should have been finished and published thirty years ago and I am surprised that the material in it still seems relevant and seminal to me. It attempts to lay a philosophy of science basis for a general reintegration of the sciences around the concept of emergence. Such reintegration constitutes a fundamental challenge to reductionistic thinking as the primary, sometimes underlying, current integration of the sciences. The reintegration I propose also places the empirical doing of science in a much more comfortable relationship with the construction and reinterpretation of scientific theories. The pivotal thought revolves the question "What is actually seen in an empirical experiment?"
Unfortunately, the reader will discover that, despite the 100 pages of text that follow, the work is decidedly unfinished. I'm putting this work out prematurely on this website because it is unclear how much finishing up I will do with the rest of my life. (I'm 67 with health problems and some significant alternative commitments and callings.) The lure for you is that the thinking is distinctive. The analytic thinking concerning the philosophy of science is grounded in the philosophy of Richard McKeon, former Chair of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Chicago. The core work of McKeon is found in his short, but difficult, book: Thought, Action, and Passion.
This document contains some personal information about me that some of you may choose to skip by. I'm keeping the personal information in as a response to post-modern philosophers who want to desconstruct such texts. For such post-modernists, the personal information constitutes a quick guide to my biases and background.
The first two chapters deal with philosophical presuppositions, my personal information, an exemplification of my philosophcal thinking using the subject of the human body and the place of science in the larger context of Western thought. For those who want to jump straight to the proposal for the reintegration of the sciences you might wish to jump straight to Chapter Three. The Fourth Chapter is an application of my thinking to evolution and creation.
This document also addresses the challenges in relating scientific thinking to theological thinking. The basic contribution to this discussion is that there are solutions to some of the old arguments that are made possible by my proposals for a reintegration of the sciences. This is not about reshaping science to fit theological preconceptions and it is not based on speculative thinking.
May 25, 2005 (plus numerous additions)
First 3 chapters after initial editing, July 20, 2005, then general editing, major insert 11/11/05
4th Chapter Preliminary Draft begun September 12th, 2005, continued November 28
First Draft of Rewrite as a start to a 3 volume presentation, December 23, 2005
Revisions and Formatting for the patconover.com website, February, 2008
The Reintegration of the Sciences
Chapter One: Philosophical Preface
This book is the first volume of a planned three volume writing project. It offers a logical reintegration of the sciences that builds on previous developments in scientific logic. It is aimed more at the synthetic logic that connects the sciences than at the logic within any particular science, but it deals with the overall logic of science and therefore has implications for the conduct of research within a science.
My expertise is much more within the human sciences than within the natural sciences and I originally aimed only at a reintegration of the human sciences. This book represents my understanding that I need to address fundamental scientific logic first and then draw out the implications for the separate sciences and for the cross-boundary conversations between the sciences.
The headline is that I fully respect and appreciate the empirical research tradition in the sciences that have made it possible to learn so many things but that we can do a better job of linking the many things we have learned together. As part of the linking together, however, it is necessary to also reconsider the logic of empirical research to clarify just what is learned and what is not learned from observation.
The synthetic reintegration I aim at appreciates what has been learned by a reductionistic focus on things but balances such appreciation with an equal appreciation of things in relationship. Part of what is at stake here is the distinction between being and becoming. To study a thing in itself is to study its being, what the thing is like in itself as if it were at rest and unrelated to other things. Such consideration is necessarily analytic and reductionistic. The focus is just on the thing that is of interest. Analysis literally means to cut so the analysis of a thing is to understand that thing in terms of its parts, both the smaller things and the forces that bind them together to make the whole thing.
To study a thing as if it were at rest is to intentionally ignore one of the observable aspects of a thing: its motion. To consider a thing in motion is intrinsically to consider what is becoming as the thing changes its relationship to other things, as the whole thing is itself a part of something larger. The logic becomes synthetic rather than just analytic. The observational process has to consider what is emergent and not merely what is present in the thing by itself. It is critical to the logic of this book to notice that what is emergent cannot be observed in the thing by itself as if it were at rest. In a thing by itself, that which is emergent is only potential and does not yet have existence. The synthetic logic of this book is built around the concept of emergent potential. Such synthetic effort is intended to balance the long established logic of reductionistic analysis of the being of things, the existence of a thing at any single moment. And yes I am well aware that Newton studied things in motion, but the laws of motion were synthesized into a reductionistic understanding of things.
Being and becoming are equally valuable as conceptions for guiding thinking. Observation and thinking are equally important for making sense of the world and of our experience. Analysis and synthesis are equally valuable logical approaches that help us to see and to understand.
A Ridiculously Brief History of Science
>p>This historical note is brief because the reintegrative focus is logical rather than historical and, besides, there is a lot of good writing about scientific history. All that is intended here is to provide reference for those who are historically grounded so that they can place this work in perspective.
The first reasoning about things that shows some kinship to scientific thought goes back to the Greek philosophers of the Sixth Century, b.c.e. In those early centuries the core of the logical issues addressed in this book were first stated. Following the philosophical typology of Richard McKeon, as summarized and interpreted by Widwick Schroeder, I will present the logical issues in terms of four philosophical traditions. The four traditions are those of Democritus, the Sophists, Plato and Aristotle. I regard each tradition as having important things to contribute to the reintegrative logic found in this book. The important thing is not to memorize another typology but to gain enough grounding to follow the interplay of ideas. The ideas are not prisoners of the typology but it is important to note that any one take on an idea, such as the logic of observation, is related to other takes on other issues as indicated in the typology.
The Aristotelians initially won philosophical dominance in the area of science-like thinking and Aristotle's thinking and his relevant books were the basis of science-like thinking until the Enlightenment and then the beginnings of science, as we currently understand science, in the Seventeenth Century, c.e. Some of the early logical heroes were Descarte, Leibnitz, Locke, and especially Newton. They focused on closed loop materialistic thinking with metaphors like the "clockwork universe." This is inherently reductionistic thinking in the tradition of Democritus, the first atomistic thinker. I regard the logical core of the emergence of science as the wedding of Aristotelian empirical method, observational analysis, with the summarization of learning in a reductionistic format. Atomistic thinking, in turn, guided what was looked for.
Alternatively stated, the emergence of science had two main logical breakthroughs. The first was the rejection of Aristotle's "natural forms" theory for synthesis while retaining Aristotle's emphasis on observation of phenomena as the basis for research and proof. In place of Aristotle's natural forms, empirical research was initially wedded to Democritean atomism with outstanding results, such as Newton's physics.
The second breakthrough was the dismissal to Aristotle's notion of the final cause, or the teleological cause, as a basis for scientific explanation. That left science with three other kinds of causes to work with: formal, material, and efficient. Research methodology usually focuses on the efficient cause, looking at the forces that join things together to make up things. However, the material cause was also basic but now interpreted in terms of Democritean atomistic thinking. In this reintegrative effort attention will also be given to formal causes as an aspect of material causes rather than Aristotle's conception of natural forms.
In the Nineteenth century, c.e., Science began to break out of the limits of Democritean mechanism and reductionism with Darwin's theory of the evolution of life on Earth, a transition that is still not fully appreciated as explicated in the Fourth Chapter. It was the breakout in physics of relativity theory and quantum mechanics in the early Twentieth Century that began to dramatically call into question the limits of Democritean logic. The least things sub-atomic particle) don't behave like mere mechanisms and observation becomes challenging in several regards.
By the mid-Twentieth Century, c.e., the logic of emergence was beginning to find grounding in biology in the study of such creatures as slime molds and ants and in the breakout logic of computer programming and artificial intelligence, breakout thinking that has been applied to diverse topics from the organization of neurones in the brain to the formation of cities. Such logic can be thought of as a bottom-up engagement of systems thinking and is useful for explaining some behaviors, like the flocking of birds, that was previously thought of as random, and can now be thought of as randomness with feedback interpreted with very simple rules. The logic of emergence that comes from studying birds in interaction, as contrasted to the static study of birds in terms of their structures, is a good illustration of the integrative logic of emergent potential. This book simply steps deeper into fundamental logical issues so that all of science can seemlessly work with both reductionistic and emergent synthetic thinking. In one sense, the reintegration is simply a matter of keeping track of the questions that are being asked..
This volume presents the logical reintegration of the sciences. Some of the fundamental logic is presented in the discussion of physics and chemistry in the first three chapters. The Fourth Chapter considers Biology as a bridge science and demonstrates the value of reintegrative thinking by presenting a reintegrated understanding of the origin and development of life on Earth. The Fifth and Sixth Chapters present the use of reintegration theme in more detail and includes both mid-range integration issues in a reintegration of social class theories and a detailed and complex reintegration logic in the formation of a complex multivariate causal model in which specific become particular paths through the causal model. The multivariate causal model is based on the integration of several approaches to systems theory and is exemplified by the integrations of several hundred analytic research studies in the area of the sociology of what is commonly called mental illness.
The complex logical model draws upon contributions from all four historical logical traditions, as brought up to date in modern science. The guide to using the complex logical model is based on clarifying the logic of the scientific question being asked. Properly clarified questions lead to the logical paths through the integrated model. One value of learning the logic of this model is that, whatever one's most comfortable logical mode of thinking, alternative forms of related questions become more obvious. For example, as already indicated, those comfortable with reductionistic thinking derived from Democritus can consider synthetic thinking drawn from the dialectic method of Platonic thinking, and consider both in terms of issues in observation, the Aristotelian focus on patterns in natural phenomena and the Sophistic focus on the creation of concepts and the matching of concepts to observation.
That's enough for Volume One. Volume Two considers what the cross-boundary conversations between such a reintegrated science and various areas of praxis (the intellectual logics of various kinds of practice). Technology, economics, and politics will be considered. Volume Three considers the cross-boundary conversation between a reintegrated science and theology, specifically Christian theology. This includes consideration of what non-speculative theology looks like.
This writing project arises from my scientific, philosophical and theological interests; from my political, social, and cultural engagements; and from my personal journey, my life passions. It values both subjectivity and objectivity as ways of knowing the world. It values the contributions of others whether they are focused on what can be known through the senses, on God, on philosophical concepts, or on the search for an integrated world view that gives full weight to the contribution of the sciences.
For any readers who are suspicious of efforts that link science, philosophy and theology; as I am often suspicious, I want to be clear from the beginning that my initial focus on the reintegration of the sciences is intended to stand on its own as a logical improvement in understanding what we have learned through the sciences. The reintegration is grounded in a reconsideration of the formative logical constructions that made the emergence of modern science possible. It affirms science as a distinct discipline to be entered and assessed on its own terms. The first three chapters present the basic reintegrative logic for science. In the Fourth Chapter, after demonstrating the value of reintegrative logic for freshly understanding and appreciating the origin and development of life on Earth, I will provide a taste of the cross-boundary conversation with theology. I reject creationism as both bad science and bad theology, both the "young Earth" options and intelligent design. Read on to see what I affirm
The headline of this book is that reintegrative scientific logic, based in a proper understanding of material, formal and efficient causation, need not be materialistic, in the sense of not being intrinsically mechanistic, and particularly not atomistic. This is not merely about catching up with the open system and dynamic logic of such things as quantum physics, evolution, and the relationships between brain and mind. The reintegration I propose links the multiple sciences with a smooth logical flow that appreciates that many phenomena that are the proper subjects of scientific concern can provisionally use mechanistic logic so long as the larger integrative logical structure is remembered. For example, Newtonian physics is true and extremely useful so long as we remember that it is true within the limits that were discovered with the advent of relativity theory.
In the interest of as much simplicity as I can master, I am not going to write about all the intellectual sources that have contributed to such understanding as I possess. For an example of that kind of writing on a specific substantive topic, you might look at my first book, Transgender Good News. I do feel, however, the need to tell you that I am quite aware that I am building on the work of others and have no illusions that I am creating these ideas for the first time. I nonetheless hope that you will find this effort fresh and engaging.
The first door into the logic presented in this book is the concept of humility, beginning with understanding several kinds of standpoint dependence and then other aspects of humility. Humility is the door to understanding the relationship between thinking as a process in an individual and logic in a general sense.
Even though over the course of the three volumes I will be working with scientific research and theory, with broad meanings as people organize their lives, and with eternal concepts and values, I understand that my perspectives are shaped by my idiosyncratic life experience.i I can only tell you about what I think, what I see, and how I feel from the standpoint of my specific life. Part of humility is appreciating standpoint dependence, appreciating that what I think and see and feel has been substantially influenced by my specific life experience. This understanding sets up the discussion of the relationship between my subjectivity and the objectivity needed for doing good scientific work which depends on a shared understanding of objective logic. So, both as an act of personal humility and as a beginning to the concept of standpoint dependence, I will begin with an autobiographic note.
A Bit of My Life
I was born in 1940 in Washington, DC, to liberal parents who gave their lives to teaching and service. They had moved to Washington from their lives in Minnesota and Chicago to do their part in the effort to win the Second World War. My father, Edward Conover, was a free thinker with Christian and Universalist perspectives. He had a brief seminary career and got his Ph.D in Social Work from Ohio State University. My mother, Margaretha Friese Conover, got her Bachelors Degree from the University of Minnesota at a time when it was the only Big Ten school admitting women. She had careers as a high school English teacher, a social worker, and as a secretary/bookkeeper. She had Episcopalian and philosophical interests, and an intense love of Shakespeare. My older brother, John, rebelled against this family background and became a fundamentalist with a lifelong obsession about the end of the world.
My childhood was in Washington, D.C.; Raleigh, North Carolina; Columbia, South Carolina; Columbus and Cleveland, Ohio; and Tallahassee, Florida. My father died when I was 14, shortly after the family had moved to Tallahassee for Dad to begin his career as a Social Work professor. John lived apart from the family from the time I was 12, so from 8th grade through college my family unit was my mother and myself. She was depressed after Dad's death and I was largely on my own emotionally. We lived on mother's modest income and I hurried through my adolescent years. At 20, I had graduated from Florida State University with a B.S. in psychology, had completed my military obligation, and married Joyce Nuckolls whom I met in college. After 17 years Joyce and I were divorced and a year later I married Lois Stovall. After 13 years Lois and I were divorced and a year later I married Patricia Nemore. I am thankful for all three marriages. I particularly thank Trish for bearing with me for the time demands of writing Transgender Good News and for the many aspects of support as I worked out my transgender growth and centering.
My spiritual and intellectual interests were active early. I was baptized as a young teenager in First Presbyterian Church in Tallahassee. Dub Martin was the minister at that time and I remembered him as a positive thoughtful pastor who shocked the congregation by committing suicide. I was critical of the church for being totally sidelined on the race issues though it thought of itself as the most progressive church in Tallahassee, and probably was. The good news of that period for me was learning a little about alternative Christian expressions, particularly about Koinonia Partners just a few hundred miles North of Tallahassee, but also about the Church of the Savior, the Austin Christian Faith and Life Community, and Reba Place Fellowship. They were all small communities which blessed me by holding up images of Christianity that were far more meaningful to me than the institutional Christendom of all the churches I knew anything about in my area.
I was a good high school student at the demonstration school of Florida State University. I won the Math section of a State of Florida Science Fair in my Junior Year. But I had a lot of conflict with other students because of my cultural distance, particularly my refusals of racism. I went to the Principal's Office a lot for fighting, and Dr. Boyce took the initiative of getting me out of high school early and into college at Florida State to help me escape that environment. Despite our relative poverty, I could attend Florida State because tuition was low, because I lived at home, and because I could commute by walking or riding my bike. After one semester I joined the Army Reserves and did 6 months of active duty, an absurd time in an Army in disarray. My main military accomplishment was to learn to write free-hand Old English lettering.
I developed a clear intellectual goal during my high school years. I wanted to master the core intellectual disciplines about human beings which I considered to be psychology, sociology, and theology. After getting my undergraduate degree in psychology in six semesters I went to Chicago Theological Seminary. In addition to my theological studies I studied psychological theory and my 1964 Master's thesis, titled Emergence and Crisis, was the first step towards my goal of writing an integrated theory of the human sciences. My next major step on this path was a Ph.D in sociology from Florida State University where I broke the tradition of that era and was allowed to write a 1971 theoretical dissertation, titled Necessity and Conflict, that mirrored my Master's Thesis but with regard to the science of sociology.
The core of my academic career was six years at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. I lost an ugly tenure battle despite producing twenty-five professional papers, book chapters, and articles in refereed scientific journals in my first five years. I twice chaired sections on theory at national meetings of the American Sociological Association. The battle is more story than I want to put here. Buy me a beer sometime and maybe we can talk about it. The intellectual development point is that I had set myself the task of publishing an article in the Aristotelian, Sophistic, and Democritean traditions in a juried professional journal and met that goal before being thrown out. Because of commitments I had made to living in Shalom Community, a Christian intentional community, I chose not to change living locations and effectively decided not to finish the work I had begun on integrated theory at that time.
My strong Christian commitments became shaped and focused when I went to Chicago Theological Seminary at twenty-one, shaped both by my classes, my involvement in The Woodlawn Organization (the most powerful black community organization of its era), and in house churches I initiated as part of my ministry within Essex Community Church, a small racially integrated neighborhood congregation of the United Church of Christ that is now long gone.
During my teen-age years and my twenties I was struggling with being a transgender person, long before we had such a word available or any of the transgender support groups that would have been so helpful for me at that time. Readers who are interested in this part of my story can get a bit more of it in my book, Transgender Good News.
My formative intellectual grounding had three major elements and all three were part of me by the time I was twenty-four. In college I became interested in existentialism in the persons of Camus, Kafka, and Sartre. In seminary I spent about half of my total study time in careful reading of the three volumes of Systematic Theology by Paul Tillich. I also learned the philosophical analytic structure of Richard McKeon from Widwick Schroeder. McKeon was then the Chair of the Philosophy Department at the University of Chicago. He wrote the difficult book, Thought, Action, and Passion, and though I have read this book it is the summary of McKeon's analytic structure by Schroeder that I found most compelling.
McKeon, an Aristotelian, divides the history of Western philosophy into four basic perspectives: two phenomenological schools initially shaped by the Sophists and Aristotle, and two ontological schools initially shaped by Democritus and Plato. I applied this analytic approach to the history of psychology for my M. Div. thesis and to the history of sociology for my Ph.D. thesis.
The third major source of my personal intellectual grounding is Christian theology, particularly the work of Tillich, but many other sources as well, including a life-long study of the Bible. I bring an existentialist set of questions to my biblical and theological work, repeatedly asking the questions of guilt, meaninglessness, and death. Personal salvation, to me, amounts to salvation from giving up in the face of the challenges of guilt, meaninglessness, and death. Inter-personal salvation, to me, amounts to salvation from anonymity, anomie, and alienation. I agree with several existentialists that salvation as going to heaven after death, or waiting for the end of the world, is mostly escapism from facing up to the questions we have as part of life. I add that such escapism fails to celebrate and fully value the most precious and engageable gifts of God: life and the human relationships and the world we live in.
The above is enough of my story to let you know that I am aware of my standpoint dependence, aware that my concerns, identity, and intellectual interests are related to my life experiences. Awareness of standpoint dependence is one kind of thoughtful humility. This book will give attention to several additional kinds of thoughtful humility. For me, the reason to embrace my awareness of standpoint dependence as a landmark for my personal intellectual discipline is that my interest in searching for truth leads me to want to do what I can to cope with the limits of my subjectivity, my language, my habits of thought, and my circumstances.
There is a lot of philosophical writing that emphasizes the limits to objectivity that follow from the fact that the activity of human thinking is done by people one-at-a-time. In that sense all thinking is subjective. While I honor some of that work, it is always balanced for me by my interest in the world around me. While I understand that I cannot get beyond the limits of being an individual, I also know that I can communicate with others and that I can form relationships with others. Such interpersonal interactions provide input to my awareness that I did not initiate. I know that I have been influenced by society and culture, the joint construction of many people. Recognizing the limits of my subjectivity balances the awareness that while I am an individual I am not isolated. I am always in relationships. I know I make my choices within the contingencies other people have shaped and continue to shape. Still, I have some choices. I know my efforts at communication have to be decoded by others within their standpoint dependence. While communication is imperfect, it is still valuable, useful.
Claiming my standpoint dependence is not merely a matter of intellectual honesty. It leads me to a thankfulness for what other people have created and offered to me. While I feel lured to pursue personal authenticity and integrity, I am well aware that any such authenticity or integrity that I manage to embrace can only be understood within the social, cultural, and biospheric relationships that I am part of. Reflective awareness of standpoint dependence is one effort, among many, to obtain some objectivity, some qualifications to personal subjectivity. But standpoint dependence also leads me to appreciate my need for others, my need for relationships, my need for the many kinds of support that makes my individual life possible. My Christian grounding leads me to celebrate and to be thankful for the gift of my life as a creature, for the opportunity to co-create myself as a person. Co-creating myself as person, as a human being and not merely a homo sapien, is an opportunity by my subjective experience of the world and by the countless gifts from many people who give me language, images, and relationships that help me thoughtfully and appreciatively engage my experience, help me make the many choices about where I direct my attention. I also celebrate the opportunity to contribute to the co-creation of numerous aspects and events of the world I share in, that I live in.
Thankfulness, properly understood, is another kind of humility. It might be called emotional humility or appreciative humility. It is grounded both in subjective feeling and in awareness of the gifts that have come to me from outside myself, from outside my control. Thankfulness links me emotionally across my subjective limits, my limits of being only one person, one individual, to feeling that my sense of self is not isolated but connected to other people in interpersonal, social, and cultural relationships. I can intellectually and emotionally focus on myself during reflective moments. I can remember the challenges I face in the choices I have to make as an individual. But, standpoint dependence and thankfulness remind me that such an individualistic focus carries only part of my truth. (By emphasizing such thankfulness I do not mean to suggest that I regard human relationships as essentially benign or friendly. I'm well aware of various kinds of competition, hostility, and war. Still, human beings have managed enough cooperation to create languages and other features of culture so that minds and people have developed in a spiral of increasingly complex interaction with ever challenging opportunities for cooperation and conflict.)
Reflection, as distinguished from perception, is one of the powerful capacities that human beings have been given. We not only focus and sort as we relate to the information that comes through our senses, we also reflect on and order such information. Such reflection and ordering is made possible by our amazing brains, but the reflection and ordering exists as aspects of mind. A functioning brain is a necessary but insufficient basis for having a mind. Brains are the material basis for minds. We have to think, to care, to imagine, and do much more to have a mind. Civilization gives us a lot to work with. We don't create our minds solely by ourselves. We use what civilization gives us to co-create a mind. Reflection gives us reflective distance, time to think about and feel about what we are aware of from our subjective individuality and from communication with others. An important part of our subjective individuality is awareness of being bodies, not just being embodied, but being bodies. We are creatures and not gods and that is a crucial guide for spiritual humility. While it is important to never forget our material being as bodies it is equally important to remember that we become human in interaction with others, to remember that the potentials in our material brains emerge in relationships.
Reflective distance and the opportunity to co-create our minds are fundamental sources of personal freedom. Reflection provides momentary freedom to consider the needs of our bodies, the constraints of our standpoint dependent individuality, the constraints of our social and cultural circumstances. We can take all such things into account, and more, either just for appreciation and thankfulness or for thoughtful and intentional choice-making. Understanding that our choices are influenced and constrained, that we make our choices as creatures and not as gods, does not mean that they are not choices. A big part of being human, and not merely homo sapien, is taking responsibility for the choices we make. Such taking of responsibility is a function of our minds, not merely of our brains. At any one moment our co-created minds are differently prepared, because of individual and collective contributions that have shaped our minds, to recognize and claim our intrinsic personal freedom to make thoughtful personal choices. A major motive for writing a book like this is to encourage and assist readers in both claiming freedom from various constraints and influences and then to invest such freedom in constructive, positive, and loving choices.
In addition to all the information and feelings we have to work with in the co-creation of our minds, we are also aware of values and concepts that help us order our stock of information and feelings. Our amazing brains make possible the awareness of such values and concepts and are therefore perceptual organs and not merely cognitive organs. Perceptions through the eyes, ears, etc., cannot, by themselves, generate values and concepts. Rather, values and concepts have been collectively shaped by the activity of mediated and imperfect communication between people made possible by people having brains. In the sharing of language, images, and relationships, the individual awareness of concepts and values shares in the objectivity that comes with engaging such concepts in interaction and not merely in individual thinking and feeling. Yes, individuals have to engage and decode what comes to them in interaction. The interaction would be meaningless if a person could not engage it and decode it. But interaction necessarily includes awareness of others and the understanding that concepts and values are not merely personal constructions. Becoming reflective about such awareness is at the heart of gaining some objectivity.
Over the generations, civilizations have shaped values and concepts into partly standardized packages of communication. I say "partly standardized" because such communication packages are always up for reevaluation. Whether constitutions, doctrines, mathematical proofs, or love letters, in the co-creation of our minds we have to understand and appreciate such communications within our own reflective space and match up what we hear in communication with our own subjective experience of values and concepts. Our minds make possible not merely the matching up of subjective experience and communications from others, but also make possible choices, curiosity, and caring.
Thinking of ourselves, and of other people, as both individuals and as co-creators of minds and civilization, is a fundamentally humble stance which embraces the responsibility that comes with being choosing creatures while recognizing and appreciating that we work only with what we have been given as bodies, as sharers of civilization, and as minds that can know and appreciate concepts and values. We sense concepts and values but we do not create them. Our brains make such sensing possible and, in interaction, we are able to co-create our minds and use concepts and values in conversations and in shaping our activities and relationships. We provisionally define concepts and values for the purposes of communication but we do not generate them. We receive them as gifts just as all of life is a gift. We receive the sunshine that makes life possible on Earth. We receive the concept of unity, the value of justice, and so much more, that let us live as persons and as people-in-relationship, that let us have a glimpse of what is eternal and beyond our control.
We don't control Planck's Constant, but knowing about Planck's Constant is a crucial part of being able to shape the physical world we share.ii We don't need to know Planck's Constant as individuals to socially benefit from the use of Planck's Constant by people who do know it and who use it to shape the physical environment we live in. Such dependencies, and our complex third millennium world is filled with such dependencies, raises important political, social, and cultural issues of trust. Those people who can see special dimensions of such issues have special responsibility to act in the common interest and the rest of us have to hope that they will so act. Such hope is a crucial social form of humility. When such hope and trust is injured our cultural, social, and political fabric is injured.
Social relationships can't work without trust. It might even be fair to say that social relationships are an expression of trust. Trust allows us to have social expectations that shape our relationships. I trust that someone will read what I am writing and that encourages me to make the effort of offering this package of communication. I am not naively arguing that everyone is trustworthy or that we should give up critical assessments for blind trust. Rather, I am pointing out the sociological "law" that social relationships are made up of, are made possible, by the communicated exchange of expectations. Without some degree of trust we are left with negative or hostile expectations, with personal and social alienation that weaken or destroy social relationships.
One last clarification based on humility is needed before moving on to unpack the importance of witness as a guiding concept. I have written above that I think human beings have brains that can perceive concepts and then use those concepts both to order perceptual experiences and then to reflect on those experiences and organize them in various ways. That might lead readers to think that I am an idealist. I will formally compare and contrast some of the issues in idealism versus realism in the third chapter. Here I merely wish to note I am opposed to speculative idealism except as a form of mental recreation or art.
I do not argue for direct knowledge of a world-behind-the-world as experienced. In suggesting that human beings have the capacity to experience concepts through their brains I mean to point out that we have only that experience to work with. That is different than arguing for a speculative window on a world-behind-the-experienced-world. People have ideas and concepts to work with and people use those ideas and concepts in interaction with other people and the rest of the world. In such use we evaluate both our understanding of our ideas and the accuracy of our ideas as measured against ordered personal and inter-personal experience. Science is one organized kind of thinking that tests the adequacy of ideas against structured observation and multiple angles of inquiry.
Humility makes me, at most, a qualified idealist. Another version of such humility is critique of the perspective that individuals (or groups for that matter) somehow impose order on the world that isn't otherwise there. I do not emphasize individual power in the way that Sophists do but I nonetheless realize that individuals have to process and reflect on what they get through sensory perceptions and through reflection.iii I agree with empiricists that our concepts must be measured against the patterns of data gathered by perception to get an increasingly accurate understanding of the world,. I note, however, that as we move toward the perception of least things we move closer to pure mathematics to make sense of limited data. What we are able to see through observation depends in part on what we are looking for and what we are looking with. Observation, as opposed to mere sensory reception, is a mediated activity. Observation is aware of the opportunities and limits of using observational tools such as microscopes and sample surveys. Furthermore, observation, in contrast to mere sensory reception, is focused. Such focus includes what to look for, where to look, and what to look with. The power to focus is crucial to science and to other activities but focus always comes with an intrinsic cost: less attention to things and activities not within the focus. The opportunities and limits of observation are not merely the structures of our sensory organs and the instruments that expand our observational power, but also the facility and directing concerns of our minds that focus our perceptual organs and instruments. Good scientific communication includes communication about the opportunities and limits of the relevant observational strategies.
Scientific thinking is a powerful corrective to magical thinking and speculation. Science requires the application of logic to the concepts we use to order sensory experience. The biblical view that the earth is flat fits well with immediate experience but is nonetheless wrong. Fortunately, the view that the earth is flat is not important to the saving truth to be found in the Bible. Theological humility directs those who care about the Bible to look elsewhere than flat earth metaphysics for why the Bible matters so much.
While science is a powerful correction to speculation, particularly to the rejection of erroneous hypotheses, it gains its power from setting intellectual limits to its focus. Science has no grounding for example, for addressing the question, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" Science can tell us a lot about how the world has developed but has nothing to say about why the world we experience has some potentials that have become manifest rather than others. Without speculation, theology can nonetheless do a lot to clarify the questions we live with as creatures. Humility thus helps us step outside the long traditions of religious speculation and philosophical speculation as well as offering critique whenever science oversteps its bounds and drifts into speculation. Humble clarifications give us a meeting ground where we can gather to work with what we know and don't know, to pursue hope and trust and caring as ways of living together, and to share in supporting the ongoing search for truth.
If humility i
s crucial for understanding how I am shaped as a person, shaped in intellectual, social, and spiritual terms, the understanding of witness as a form of communication is crucial for understanding what we have to offer in shaping the world we live in.
A witness in a legal trial speaks about what the witness has perceived. The judge and jury have the task of evaluating what they hear. There is the presumption that the witness has seen something relevant to the case under consideration. Such a presumption is tested by the prosecuting and defense attorneys through the questions they ask. There are rules and conventions for shaping what a witness says, enforced by the judge.
Lectures, sermons, books, and everyday conversations also have a mix of rules and conventions that shape what is said. To be well-educated is to have some awareness not only of the content of what was communicated in classes or books, but also some awareness of the rules and conventions of various kinds of speech and writing. An intellectual discipline, a commercial transaction, the sharing of a poem, all have rules and conventions. To become a critical thinker, to be smart in buying a car, to see what an artist is drawing, requires some awareness of various rules and conventions. We can think of such rules and conventions as the co-created structures of minds and of civilization. Social and cultural change occurs when such rules and conventions are changed. A careful analysis of the social construction of gender can be found in Transgender Good News, and serves as an example of the process I am discussing in this paragraph.
,P.With this in mind, I offer you this writing as a witness about some things that matter to me and that I hope matter to you. I write with my awareness of various rules and conventions and expect that you will read with your awareness of various rules and conventions. But my offering arises from my individuality as well as from my education. As a single thinking person I bring not only my distinct experiences but also my distinctive reflections to this writing effort. You get to work at understanding what I have written in terms of your individuality, your education, your interests.
The spiritual aspect of our meeting is about what matters. What matters to me may not have much of an intersection with what matters to you. In which case I would expect you to lose interest quickly in my witness and turn to other concerns. But I hope that there is some overlap of caring about what matters. That is what sustains my effort at writing and may sustain your effort at reading.
If you find you do care about what I'm writing then there is at least a provisional one-way spiritual relationship between us. If you are reflective when you read this then such a one-way spiritual relationship can develop. If you contact me and share your response to reading what I'm now writing, then we have the potential for a two-way spiritual relationship. How much is that worth? Quite a lot, I say. I say quite a lot because I feel passionate about this writing effort. I want to be heard as a person and I want to give away what seems precious to me.
But I can't give you what I have. Knowing that is a form of existential humility. I can write what I know and care about to the best of my ability. But it is only yours if you take it. The taking requires your own processing, evaluating, caring. And what you will have is what you have taken which will inevitably be somewhat different than what I have offered.
Instead of despairing about the limits of human communication, I choose to celebrate that we can communicate at all, that we can discover/create relationships, that conversation can improve our understanding of each other and of the subjects being discussed. And since I am thankful for my life as a person, thankful for the work of understanding and appreciating and caring, I am bold to hope that in your life and work as a person I might contribute in some small way to what you understand, appreciate, and care about.
I offer you my witness as an act of overcoming despair, as an act of sharing in the face of so much that feels broken and absurd, so much that divides, confuses, and makes us alien to each other. I offer you my witness to reduce my anonymity and I offer you the opportunity, to the extent you understand and appreciate what I am writing, to feel that some of what you are carrying makes sense to me as well. To the extent that we get to deeply know each other, I believe that God knows us. We are but creatures, but we are created with the capacity to become persons and when we co-create with each other through communication we make manifest some of the most precious things God has created. Paul writes in the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians, "Now I see in a mirror dimly but then I shall see face-to-face. Now I know in part but then I shall understand fully just as I have been fully understood." He shaped that thought in a different philosophical and theological context than mine, but his poetry still points to hope unconstrained by our limits as creatures. Paul points out how much even our dim awareness matters. When we know each other as full-bodied creatures it is my witness, among many more witnesses, that ecstasy comes, sexual ecstasy in some cases, but other dimensions of ecstasy as well. At that point we graduate from intellectually known truth to fully lived truth, truth that is a starting point rather than a conclusion.
I have intentionally written this section in the first person. "I" statements have a different grounding than "the" statements. Some might see "I" statements as an expression of arrogance. In this situation it is meant as an act of humility. My witness comes from my subjectivity, my personal grouping of symbols, images, thoughts and experiences. My personal mind is co-created with important inputs from society and culture but it is still my personal mind with all the limits previously discussed as standpoint dependence. Declarative statements tend to lead to arguments, and that can be a good thing from my point of view. However, when I signal my standpoint dependence with "I" statements I hope that it invites an inter-subjective exploration of a subject. That is, I hope it invites an "I" statement from my conversational partner.
Attention to using the language of witnessing is particularly important for me as a Christian minister because it is easy for a hearer to think that I am either trying to speak as a god or, almost the same thing, for a god, to be claiming a privileged position in the conversation. In this book I do not claim such privilege. I offer conversation and not revealed doctrine. Witness as a form of conversation recognizes the subjectivity of our thinking and caring as individuals and constitutes as offering for the thinking and caring of others.
It seems to me that there are appropriate times for declaration but, even in such moments, we will do well to remember that such declarations are the witness of those who make the declarations. No human creature has the authority of God. Even the statements of doctrine that I most revere, such as the Constitution of the United States and the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights are ultimately just the witness of those who wrote them. It is our choice how much we will value such declarations, how much we will guide our personal choices by such declarations, how much we will support the construction of social and legal authority based on such declaration. As we ourselves speak, particularly when we have some degree of social or legal authority as philosophers, scientists, medical doctors, lawyers, politicians, or other professionals, it is a value of mine that we should encourage critical thinking in our listeners so that they are encouraged and empowered to respond out of their own strengthened personhood. And, when we listen, it is my feeling that we should not be intimidated by the authority claims of others, whether found in conversation or in documents. We can be respectful, thankful, hopeful, without being intimidated or marginalized by the declarations of others.
Declarative statements, when pressed, are actually statements of witness by those involved in creating the statement. "We hold these truths to be self-evident..." sounds like a collective "I" statement in the first part of the phrase, but the declaration "to be self evident" is a bid to claim unquestioned support for the document. "We believe these truths to be self-evident..." on the other hand, invites an inter-subjective discussion of whether the truths are self-evident or not. So my self-imposed writing rule for this book, and I hope I can stay within the rule, is that I will use declarative statements for following out the logic of a point and "I" statements when I am pointing to the grounding from which I come. In either case, I am aware that all my statements, however framed, are ultimately a witness from my subjective personal mind.
In case anyone is misled into thinking that I am a relativist because I emphasize the limits of any personal construction of thought, I remind you that this book witnesses to eternal concepts and values as I have perceived them. But I do so as a creature and this intrinsic humility leads me to repeat that I am but witnessing when I write and speak.
Philosophy and Theology
Writing about spirituality will seem to many philosophers to be a rupturing of the discipline of philosophy and so, if you are a philosopher and have not already put this book down, I want to take a turn at bridge-building between philosophy and theology.
One starting point for such a bridge comes in a lecture by Professor David Roochnik who sought to compare and contrast the poetry of Hesiod with the philosphy of Thales, two Greek writers in the seventh century before the common era.iv In Theogony, Hesiod offers a creation myth. Professor Roochnik argues that Hesiod's offering is not philosophy because it attempts no rational explanation of creation and because it makes the non-rational assertion that before the creation of the world there was nothing. Professor Roochnik also asserts that Hesiod's work is not philosophy because he attributes the creativity of his writing to the muses, to the gods. While praising Hesiod's work as story, as myth, he draws a bright line between such story and philosophy.
What Professor Roochnik has missed is that Hesiod, in attributing the creativity of his poetry to the gods, is claiming "divine" generativity and that therefore the abyss before creation is not nothingness. What may look like emptiness to human beings is space for the gods. Without trying to unravel Hesiod's theology, a task far beyond my competence, I simply point out that whatever else gods are conceived to be, they are images that are ultimately unconstrained by human conceptions of reality.
Why is there something rather than nothing? That's about as basic a philosophical question as there is. Theological and philosophical humility tells us that we must leave the question unanswered. We are only creatures and do not have a standpoint, either individually or collectively, to address that question. What we can know and discuss is our lives and the created world we experience, and the values and concepts that our minds can perceive. We are stuck with mystery at some of our points of highest curiosity. This theme will be unpacked more carefully in the theological section of this book.
But both philosophers and theologians have repeatedly written as if they had overcome such mystery and that they know the things that only a god could know. We will need to consider both kinds of mistakes to prepare the ground for the foundations of a workable bridge of mutual respect.
Theologians first. Philosophers are quite right to challenge the claims of special revelation used to justify many theological writings. I respect revelation as one basis of knowing, but I reject the use of revelation as an alternate path to establishing and communicating important spiritual or other kinds of premises that are fundamental to intellectual argument. Those theologians who claim a privileged access to public discourse based on their special revelations deserve to be cut down to size for their lack of spiritual and theological humility. Their claims generate endless amounts of useless argument about whether their special revelations are right or wrong and that is a major distraction from helpful public discourse. And I mean this critique whether the source of revelation is in the form of a personal experience or in a book regarded as holy scripture. I believe that both personal experience and scriptural reflection can be revelatory, but that such revelation does not give a privileged place in public discourse for those who have been gifted with revelation.
Whatever revelation a person may receive is received as a person. It is received in a body, a brain, and a mind that can be no more than the mind of a creature. Whatever a person communicates has to be put into words and images and are only relevant when heard by other people, people who have to respond to such words and images as best they can as creatures. Such communication can be important, useful, and valuable, but it is always within the limits of being mere creatures. Good theology starts with humility and discipline about both witnessing and hearing. Further unpacking of revelation as a kind of knowing will be attempted in the last chapter.
When a witness is put in poetic form, as in the works of Hesiod or Paul, we have communication that points rather than declares. The hearer is invited to look at what is being pointed to and invited to experience the concepts and images as they have meaning and relevance to the hearer. It's a very good way to communicate spiritual truth, in part because it humbly respects the right, in fact the necessity, of the hearer to work with the communication they have received.
Good theology in a poetic form has various implications and can be useful intellectual work to consider. Let me provide a most basic example.
I believe that God created the world. I think that is why there is something rather than nothing. I can't prove that because I do not have the standpoint of God. I also think that there are implications of believing that God created the world and some of those implications are very much worth discussion and caring. I do not expect you to join me in my belief simply because I might be forceful in my argumentation, or because I might be skilled in appealing to your emotions, or because there are social or political implications in joining me in my belief. My observation is that many spiritual discussions break down into such distractions. What I hope for is that when you exercise your full personal freedom to the best of your ability, we will find a meeting place, form a relationship that embodies the things I care about so that we can live out important truths together. Then we can have an inter-subjective kind of communication that embodies the truth we have lived into. Knowing about things can be interesting but it is lived truth that really matters to me. I hope it matters to you.
I come to such spiritual conversation from my grounding and history in Christianity. That has pluses and minuses that I will discuss later. For now, I just want to signal that I treasure conversations within a Christian framework of understanding and that I also appreciate conversations that lack such grounding, as I hope this book will demonstrate.
Which brings us to philosophers that over-reach both by ruling out theology as intrinsically anti-rational and by then acting as theologians in the space they think they have cleared away with their critiques. For example, Professor Roochnik, believing he has cleared away Hesiod, asserts that it is impossible to imagine nothingness, that philosophy has the right to simply deal with what is. But philosophers step over the line into theology when they speak as if their perceptions or insights about creation, or the lack thereof, are rationally based, or otherwise philosophically based, and that they are able to tell us what creation is all about. From my point of view such a common error violates philosophical discourse by speaking theology, and offers arrogant rather than humble theology, the very kind of arrogance that philosophers are properly quick to criticize in theologians.
I don't have any trouble imagining nothingness. For example, relativity theory and quantum mechanics has a lot of nothingness in it and considers the least things to be fully convertible to energy with only a probability of being somewhere at a particular time. Realizing that my sense of the solidness of material things is based in my standpoint dependence as a big creature forces me toward reevaluating the data that my senses bring to me. To get outside of such standpoint dependence requires a lot of appreciation for nothingness with quanta of energy moving through it and invisible forces shaping their relationships. For another example, the concept of zero revolutionized arithmetic from mere counting.
The more important concern is that choosing a philosophical starting point that just takes the world as given, that takes the world for granted rather than as granted, dodges the question of why there is something rather than nothing instead of answering it. It may, on first reading, seem contentless to witness to God as creator when, admittedly, we don't know much about God, when we point to mystery at the point that where we would like to know. What we do know is that the question of God is a recurring question to human consciousness, broadly attested and differently engaged in diverse cultures. Perhaps that is enough motive to examine the question, even to take up the question seriously.
To examine the question is to head toward agnosticism, the humility of admitting we cannot know what is mystery. To take up the question, to live into the question, calls out a heightening of awareness of your own subjectivity rather than an attempt to know about god which would require standing in the place of a god, an impossibility for mere creatures. This approach takes the following path. Perhaps the world (universes, etc.) was created by God. That would make me a creature created by God. What can I as a creature know of God from knowing myself. What can I as a person-in-relationship be part of that shows me something of God in the in-between of relationships. With such a grounding we can engage in inter-subjective conversation. A disciplined version of such a conversation leads to good theology. (Bad theology amounts to a short-circuiting of such a conversation with authoritarian claims of revelation that deny the intrinsic humility of being but mere creatures. Again, more of this in the later section on theology.) Said alternatively, good theology is the logic of inter-subjective sharing and inquiry while bad theology is declarative, doctrinal, a claiming of answers without celebrating the depth of the questions.
Now you have the packed summary of what I am about in this writing. The rest is unpacking in several ways. There will be a little more of my story and, later, more of the ongoing Christian story in which my story is just a tiny part. You will find something of my caring about scientific work, about political work, about inter-personal integrity, about social creativity and responsibility, about personal spiritual development and about artistically creative work. I will do what I can to make each section stand on its own so you can read what most interests you first. But the several parts are integrated in my mind as part of a unified whole. I suspect that it will be hard to fully appreciate any part until the part is seen in relationship to the whole.
I am glad if any questing Christians read this, but I am intentionally writing so that what I have to offer is accessible to people who get a bad taste in their mouth when any sentence with the word Christian shows up. Christendom has fairly earned a lot of disrespect and hostility. So much that is horrid has been done in the name of Jesus, my Christ. It breaks my heart.
Humility and witness become particular and content filled when I turn to the Christian story of which I am a small part. I'm going to put the focused Christian witness at the end so that you wont have to skip over it to get to other sections that are interesting to you. I hope there is good news for you in this book even if you don't want to hear anything about how Christianity is important to me. But perhaps, if you find some earlier part of the book worthy, you will be curious about how anything worthwhile can come from a confessing Christian.
Chapter Two: Being a Body and Becoming a Person
If we understand that we do our thinking, feeling, and reflecting as creatures, as bodies, then we need to understand as much as we can about being, and becoming, bodies. A scientist is a person, a body, who works and thinks, at least in part within a scientific discipline. The collective activity of science is created, revised, and practiced by people, by bodies. We are standpoint dependent as bodies and it is an important part of humility to remember that. All our observations, all our thinking, all our lives, is as bodies. So what?
If I were to say, "I have a body," I would be speaking in the context of a rationalism going back to Descarte in the 17th century and before. Descarte's famous dictum, "I think therefore I am," places being in the mind rather than in the body. A more accurate statement is that I am a body and I think with my brain. Similarly, in more modern language, we might say, I am a body and I construct a self-concept, a self-understanding with my mind, and, I would add, in interaction with others. There are several things loaded into Descarte's dictum, most importantly the individualistic epistemology (reasoning about the construction of knowledge) that has been dominant in the West during the construction of modern science. The individualistic epistemology focuses on the "I" in "I think therefore I am." My addition is that while we certainly do our thinking as individuals we are always individuals-in-relationships. Science is a construction of many contributors and new scientists do their thinking and communicating within the scientific disciplines, including the reintegrative work in this book that is aimed at reunderstanding the basic logic used to construct modern science.
Remembering that we are as standpoint dependent as bodies, and remembering that our theories and observations and communications are mutually constructed in the sense of taking account of the basis in the disciplines and the focus on communicating to the scientific audience, are important sources of humility in the sense of remembering that we never can claim a pure and independent logic that is somehow above or beyond our limits as living bodies who do what we can and that our communication with each other is always limited by the specifics of each persons individuality, the differences in each persons construction of self, each persons understanding of concepts and language. Discipline is critical and of great value, but ultimately provisional, in the pursuit of objectivity.
But I'm not quite willing to say "I am a body." That would equally support a dualistic sense of a split between mind and body. Part of being a body includes my amazing brain, a brain from which my mind can emerge and share in the mutual construction of relationships, languages, society, and culture. My brain allows me to perceive concepts and values and to use them to order sensory data, to communicate with others, and to imagine what is not and yet might be.v I'm heading toward the assertion that challenges "I" as the most fundamentally known reality. I believe that "I" is fundamental, but point out that the individuality of the "I" is an abstraction of part of the fundamental subjectively knowable reality, myself as a person-in-relationship. This comment also makes sense developmentally (chronologically) because people have relationships as infants before they develop reflective capacity as children.
To remember that I am a body, and to remember that I am also a person-in-relationship, leads to an existential humility about my identity. I remember not to put myself at the center, or at the highest part, of my sense of existence. To say, "I think therefore I am," is troublesome not merely because it locates existence without reference to the body but also because it gives priority to the "I." Existential humility steps back from making "I" the center or pinnacle of existence. Certainly I am the center of my perceptions and thinking and feeling and acting. But that doesn't make me the center of the world. I perceive and think and feel and act in relationship to other people and the wider world. I not only have agency and affect the wider world, the wider world affects me, is part of me.
In this chapter I offer more focused attention to the implications of being a body. A good place to start is to be thankful for being alive as a body, or at least to recognize and claim one's life as a body. Such reflection claims a personal relationship with one's body. (So many structures of the English language push toward the dualism of "having a body" that it is difficult to write simply and be accurate. Sometimes it comes out better in the first person.) I am thankful that I am a body and that my body is able to have awareness as a person. I am thankful that as a body I can gain reflective distance from all the signals to my brain that invite my attention. All the parts of my body carry and express their potentials for being part of me. I gather these potentials and invests them in reflection and relationships. This way of thinking counters a mechanistic understanding of my personal reality without forgetting for a moment that I have my reality as a body. My reality is not reduced to the sum of my body parts because, taken together, my body parts, and particularly my brain, have the capacity for interaction with the world and with other people and that not only shapes my subjectivity of being a person-in-relationship it also has impact on the shape and substance of my body, and particularly my brain. My brain is not merely anatomy. It is also understandable as physiological activity and such activity is affected both by reflection and by interaction with other people and the world. Furthermore, when I speak of reflection here I am thinking about reflection as self-ordering of the brain. The self part of self-ordering is co-created in interaction with other people and the world.
My experience of being a particular and transitory integration of sub-atomic particles and energies creates a sense of awe in me. Somehow these gadzillions of little things and empty space are gathered to be me. Science helps us understand how the gadzillions are gathered together. Science also helps me appreciate that the littlest things are convertible to energy and that at any particular moment such littlest things have only a probability of being present at a point of imaginable measurement. While it is hard to see the littlest things of which I am made, it is impossible to observe the potentials that I gather to be me. Such potentials only become observable as they are gathered together in larger and more complex ways. Furthermore, since a potential is only potential it is probably best to think of a potential not merely as not manifest but also as not existent. For example, a boulder high up on a mountainside has potential energy that could be expressed in rolling down the mountain. But the boulder may never roll down the mountain and the valley may rise and reduce or eliminate some or all of the potential energy. The potential energy of the boulder is an expression of a natural law, which is well and good. But such natural law actually exists as a contingency for the actual events of natural history. If the boulder rolls down the mountain it expresses its potential energy. If it is still sitting on the mountain side its energy and mass are simply part of the mountain.
The above little logical excursion may seem to abstract to feel relevant to anything, but consider. I have my life as a creature, as a body, not merely as a collection of body parts. My body parts provide limits and opportunities to my life as a whole body. I was born club-footed in both feet. Fortunately, by 1940, there were good therapies available and my feet were corrected. I was an athlete as a youth and have been able to pick that part of my life up again upon retirement.
My body is not just anatomic opportunity and limits. My body is living, acting, perceiving, appreciating, reflecting, and more. My body is a particular expression of natural history, of physiological activity that is interactive with the world, including in my case a distinct improvement in physiological opportunity because of the corrections to my feet. My particular physiological limits and opportunity make the natural history aspect of my life not merely an expression of natural laws though I never exist or change or act apart from the full impact of natural laws. Within the limits and opportunities of the natural laws that shape my anatomy and physiology, and that shape the world around me including other human bodies, I have the capacities to shape my understanding and activity in interaction with others, to direct my bit of natural history, to share in collectively creating society, culture, and language, and so much more; and to collectively change the natural world we live in. True, we can only change the physical world we live in within the limits of natural laws, but what awesome capacity we have within such limits. Such human engagement and direction shapes some of natural history with intention and, through reflection on eternal concepts and values, leads to the particularities of human history and biography, and, with imagination, to human story. Science helps us appreciate the natural laws that give our lives shape, limits, and opportunity. All the boundary conversations that include science consider what is being done, and what can be done, within such shapes, limits, and opportunity.
Appreciating that we are both bodies and people-in-relationships is one way of way of appreciating the intrinsic dialectic of being and becoming. My body summarizes the potentials of the matter and energy that it is and the only thing I can do with the potentials is live until I die. I subjectively experience life potentials as awesome and fascinating: thinking, feeling, observing, appreciating, noticing, reflecting, organizing, acting. For this book I am particularly thankful for what I can know of the eternal concepts. We will return to this territory in the next chapter.
My particular gadzillions are changing all the time and that doesn't change my sense of being me. My wholeness as a body isn't the same as keeping a particular inventory of cells alive. Some of my cells are always dying and other cells form and help me carry on being me. I'm like a river that is every moment the same and every moment new.
When I say that I am a body carrying various potentials, I am making a snapshot comment about my consciousness as a body that is always changing at the cellular and sub-atomic levels. Such constant changing is outside by awareness and yet also is my awareness. When I reflect about my body processes that I can sense, I note that my body is always becoming: growing, changing, diminishing. In my being aspect I have potentials. In my becoming aspect I live out some of my potentials over time. In my becoming aspect, some, but not all, of my potentials become actual and manifest as an aspect of my life. In my becoming aspect I change the generality of my potentials into my specific bit of natural history including the living out of my potentials to be a person, to co-create my mind and sense of self, to enter relationships, to reflect, to live out my autobiography.
As a body I have possibilities and limits, wants and needs, habits and curiosity, reflexes and intentions, feelings and thoughts, and more. To be conscious, and particularly to reflect, I passively or actively focus on different aspects and elements of such things. A lot of pain management, for example, is about redirecting attention so that the feeling of pain does not dominate awareness. Habits of attention have a lot to do with whether I report to myself, and sometimes to others, that I am happy or unhappy. At any one moment, upon a wide ranging reflection, there are things I feel happy about and other things I feel unhappy about. I am not happy that I picked up a significant shin bruise in our last softball game but I am quite happy that our team has shown improvement over the last half of our season as we head into the tournament.
In my book, Transgender Good News, my second chapter contains an extended discussion of how the sexual aspects of my body relate to the gender aspects of my sense of self. I provide an extended and integrated understanding of genetics, physiology, brain anatomy, hormones, human development, evolution, and more to discuss the limits, possibilities, and influences of being bodies for the construction of gender identity as part of a sense of self.
In doing so I make the following points. I challenge a mechanistic understanding of the body that leads to the unconsidered assumption that people born with male bodies always become men and that people with female bodies always become women. Instead, I develop the concept that bodies make gender development possible and influence such development but that the social constructions of gender roles, and the personal decisions responding to such social constructions, have many contingencies which I examined further in later chapters. The book honors diverse contributions of our bodies to the formation of gender identity while showing why, through a detailed assessment of relevant research, physiological determinism is not able to explain transgender experience and expression.
While affirming evolution as a biological process in interaction with multiple aspects of environments, I challenged the arguments of Social Darwinism concerning gender experience and expression.
I spent considerable attention in Transgender Good News on the concepts of traits and choices. While accepting and appreciating that the body influences habits, my larger point is that people make a variety of choices with more or less awareness of a variety of costs. This territory has a lot of cultural and political implications since significant elements of contemporary culture and society in the United States demagogically assert what other people should suppress, regardless of personal costs, to support the culture of oppression for the oppressors. In a later chapter I also dealt with the implications of such matters for the organization and accessability of gender related health care. This limited recapitulation of Transgender Good News is intended to show that the perspective I bring can be drawn out in fine detail, can integrate diverse bodies of scientific research, and has practical and political implications.
Our bodies can be thought of as things in themselves and that is useful for some purposes. But that is not a fully adequate frame of reference for at least three reasons.
First of all our bodies are biological source and environment for interaction with a variety of bacteria that live within us and help us with digestive processes. Such symbiotic creatures evolve with us and we tend to take them for granted. Furthermore, the mitochondria in each of our cells, which turn food into energy at the cellular level, have their own set of genes independent of the chromosomes in each cell. Our mitochondria tell of a complex evolution over the hundreds of millions of years of single cell development.
Secondly, our bodies are influenced by the physical, social, and cultural environments we live in. Some of these influences, such as air quality, can usually be satisfactorily understood as having a one-way influence. Our bodies change in response to changes in air quality, sometimes including death. But there are also two-way interactions, sometimes in complex patterns, that are mediated by conscious intentions. For example, I practice my hitting to improve as a softball player. Such practice is aimed at changing my body in several ways and is also aimed at better hitting as I anticipate the defenses other teams are likely to use against me. I practice hitting to the opposite field so other teams will not play me as a pull-hitter. Then, when other teams play me straight away, I try to pull my hits because I usually hit the ball harder that way. It is not merely my brain but also my mind that becomes involved in such calculations and practices. My body not only has existence as a gathering of potentials from my several body parts, my body is also changing in response to my interests, perceptions, and beliefs. In is reasonable to discuss my body as the body of a softball player, an adaption of my body in response to my goal to be a softball player, to take on the social role of being a softball player, my goal to interact more gracefully and effectively with others as a softball player. I carry a few aches and pains that remind my of the differences between being in shape for softball in contrast to being in shape for basketball but my larger point is that my body is not only a mechanistic body. I embody various interests and values. I've lost 33 pounds because I value being a trimmer more athletic body/person and that value makes sense when I bring in the body-in-relationships and person-in-relationships aspects of being alive and aware.
An important part of embodying has to do with the effects on brain physiology of interactive experience with the world. With the advent of non-invasive techniques for studying brains while they are alive and functioning, a lot of new research is blooming. One learning is that parts of the brain that are stimulated regularly grow larger, just like muscles that are used a lot grow larger. The becoming aspect of my brain is about the activities of physiology changing the anatomy of the brain. This has at least two highly significant implications.
The first implication is that in comparative studies of brains a finding of differences between two brains does not necessarily reflect genetically based differences between two individuals or two groups of individuals. Differences may reflect practice rather than initial (genetic) potentials. This is highly relevant, for example, in comparing male and female brains. That in turn is highly relevant for reasoning about genetically based differences between males and females. Another way of saying this is that the physiological study of brains study the brains of people, individual humans who have different brains because they have done different things with the brains they were born with in response to their perceived interests, opportunities, and limits. Another way to say this is that physiological structures in the brain are intermediate variables and not merely, or necessarily most relevantly, first variables in researching differences in the mental functioning of human beings.vi
The second implication of knowing that practice affects brain capacities is to understand that attending to concepts and values, and not merely to sensory input, give such ideas embodied place in the world of creatures. Such location balances the notion that the world of ideas is some kind of blurry elsewhere beyond what is knowable through the senses. Ideas have place and effect in the brain just as input from the external senses have place and effect. Minds are embodied in the brain. Brains are the material basis for minds but minds, through choices and habits, contribute to the shape of the brain in which they exist. In this way minds co-create themselves and civilizations act through minds to shape brains. This kind of thinking fills out the challenge to an over-stated individuality, fills out the assertion that the fundamental known reality is subjective awareness of being a person-in-relationship and is not just the subjective experience of an individual person. This in turn affects the common philosophical discussions about freedom, power, and initiative.
The third way my body is more than a mechanistic gathering of potentials to be directed by my mind has to do with my mind listening to my body, reflecting (as a body) about my body. We typically think of thinking and wisdom as being focused in the brain as a body organ and that is a valuable and useful way to think. But, going back to John Watson and the behaviorists, it is also clear that we carry information in our bodies as well, or perhaps better said, different parts of our bodies influence our brains without conscious or intentional mediation. But we can also direct our attention to the information carried in our body parts. I might, for example, ask myself, "Why is my foot twitching?" I might voicelessly say to my foot, "Why are you twitching?" I might rub my foot to help it find its "voice." And this thought process may help me call to mind a particular anxiety that was making my foot twitch even though I previously wasn't thinking about it. This raises the possibility of learning from the body instead of merely directing the body.
One of the big payoffs for the time and effort I have put into reclaiming a more athletic body and self, after several decades of neglect, is that I generally feel terrific. Just moving around through my day feels so much better. My sense of bodily well-being improves my disposition and general sense of happiness.
Most of the time when I am not writing this section of my book, my body happiness is an unreflective but nonetheless satisfying aspect of myself. Turning meditative reflection to my body in centering prayer or Tai Chi, by attending to my breathing and moving, releases (quiets) the organizing and control aspects of my mind. At least two things happen. I usually get a disconnected stream of consciousness, sometimes a dreamlike state. This shows what is going on in my mind outside of my focused awareness. Sometimes, if I take on an extended period of silence and meditation, I get to moments of very little stream of consciousness and have time just to be aware of being alive in my body and world without reflection and without organizing for action of some kind. This can have positive health potentials, as in stress relief, but it is also a moment of simple awareness and appreciation of being alive. This points toward an appreciation of body spirituality which is prominent in some religious practices but is not common in the Christian spiritual practices that I grew up with. More of this will be found in the later chapter on theology.
This book is a manifestation of the potentials that my body carries. Many aspects of this book are based in intellectual work I did forty and thirty years ago and then put down. Now, with the potentials released by retirement from demanding employment, I have found that decades old memory, indeed the formative structures of my mind, are still available to me. Writing this book is, in large part, writing out what my brain and body have been carrying for me. My attention to the tasks of writing this book gather these decades old potentials and make the results available to others. The book will have existence as paper and ink, etc., but the pattern of symbols that organize the ink carries the once-hidden potentials of my mind. If I had died from my episodes of prostate cancer or cardiovascular disease this book would not be coming into existence as I sit at my computer. Once the book is in your hands, and if you reflectively engage the symbolic content, you are thinking and feeling about the mediated expression of my body potentials. In this mediated sense we have a body-to-body relationship. You are gathering the potentials of your body to engage the manifested potentials of my body. We have at least this much of a link as a community of embodied creatures. Lets see where this goes.
Our amazing brains have a mind boggling complexity, multiple and flexible neuronic pathways. Multiple activities go on at the same time and only some of them are part of the focused awareness we call thinking. I think it helps to talk about focused awareness rather than consciousness, because the concepts of consciousness and unconsciousness point to two states of brain/mind activity. To talk about focused awareness reminds us that many things can go on in the brain at the same time with some of them having our full or partial attention. This in turn further challenges mind/body dualism. I will pick up the theme of the evolutionary emergence of human intelligence in my later chapter on psychology. At that point I will consider the focal work of scientific collaboration that studies emergence as a natural phenomena observed in slime molds, ant colonies, the flocking of birds, and the organization of neuronic pathways in the brain. My use of the concept of emergent possibility as a logical key to the reintegration of the sciences is in harmony with such study of certain kinds of emergence but is grounded in more basic issues of scientific meta-theory, a fancy name for organizing and reorganizing the logic of science.
When we talk about minds we are talking about the activities of focal awareness, of thinking and readily available memory, of ideas at least potentially linked to intention for action. But our brains are processing a lot of information that is not part of mind at any given moment. For example, I can, and just did, redirect my attention from writing this book to considering my sense of the degree of humidity of the air I am breathing. Now that I am back into writing I have turned my attention away from my sense of humidity. My sense of humidity is not very important or interesting for my chosen work of writing this book. While the brain keeps many possible thoughts available, the mind shapes and directs what will receive focal awareness.
We now understand that even while we are asleep our brains are active. We have dreams that we sometimes remember upon waking up. Dreams often are made up of linked symbols or images that do not line up the way they do when we order symbols and images with focal awareness. On the other hand, I report waking up with a solution to a problem I had been working with in my focused awareness that was not resolved when I went to sleep. It seems better to talk about multiple aspects of consciousness that are diversely accessible to focal awareness.
What we choose to focus our awareness on reflects our interests and curiosities, including the contributions of other people. Conversation can be an interchange between two or more people who are focusing their awarenesses on a common subject. Conversation can also be inter-subjective, in the sense of sharing subjective reflections rather than declarative comments. Our choosing and focusing are activities of the mind that order brain activities and affect brain structures. Physiology affects anatomy. To the extent that we do our choosing and focusing in interactive relationships with other people the other people affect our thinking and choosing, which in turn affects our brain physiology, the material aspects of out brain doing their things, and the physiological activity affects brain structure. Furthermore, when our ready memory (and perhaps our deep memory as well) includes images and concepts that have developed in interaction with other people, then our brain activity is shaped by the residue of interaction with others even when we are actively interacting. These two social causes of mind activity are called differential association (activity) and reference group theory (memory). This paragraph foreshadows the logic used later in this book for the differentiation and reintegration of the general human sciences: human physiology, psychology, and sociology. As for the reintegration of the natural sciences, the core logic is about emergent potential organized by systems theory in feedback loops.
My larger point is that all the brain is functioning when we are awake and a fair amount is functioning even when we are asleep. This last line of development suggests that the dualistic notion that the brain and mind are sharply distinct from each other needs reconsideration and also dismisses the argument that the activities of mind are epiphenomenol. The activities of the mind are activities of the brain but understanding the activities of the mind cannot be reduced to understanding the activities of the brain. I'm holding up the notion that the brain offers many possibilities for focused awareness. To focus is not to be independent of the brain but to navigate within the brain. Furthermore, the brain is also shaped by mental activity that includes interaction with other people and other multiple aspects of the environment.
If you follow the thought that the brain is also a perceptual organ for perceiving eternal concepts,vii then it is such perceptual capacity that provides the concepts for organizing the perceptions from the external senses, including organizing all the images and symbols that are received in communication with other people. Our bodies, our brains in particular, thus gather and order the resources and possibilities for thinking. The mind focuses brain activity to direct itself into its multiple activities, including reflection.
The brain is not only the primary organ for thinking, it is also the primary organ for feeling. I mean feeling first of all as the receiving of messages from the sensory organs and evaluating some of them, for example, as pain. I also mean mental pain, the feeling accompanying the reception through human interaction of news that leads one to feelings of loss or threat or sympathy, etc. The processes of thinking and feeling are not distinct. Feelings give emotional weight to thoughts, including feelings that we can label emotionally neutral, just like much of our breathing is unremarkable. This means that reflection, the creation of mental space for reassessing thoughts, has both cognitive and emotional aspects, requires cognitive and emotional focusing.
This leads me to restate that human being are creatures not gods. We can take advantage of the possibilities that our amazing brains gather for us, including reflection and intentional participation in the mutual building up of civilization. Our possibilities are great and diverse but they are all just the possibilities we have as creatures. Remembering this is the most fundamental humility mentioned in this book.
I will continue to use the word mind to refer to a particular organization and activity of the brain, an organization and activity that can give intentional direction to action; an organization and activity that embodies both information from the external senses, information from interaction with other minds and with societies and cultures; and the direct sensing of eternal concepts and values.viii In the next chapter you and I can use our minds to think about science.
Chapter Three - Science
My primary purpose for writing this chapter is to present my understanding of science and to suggest how science, and particularly the human sciences, can be better grounded through logical reintegration. This is aimed at contributing to the understanding of science, at strengthening science in a modest way, and at preparing for a better understanding of the contributions of science to other intellectual conversations. Reintegration is not aimed at changing the methods of science nor is it aimed at changing the bits of knowledge gained from experiments and scientific observations. It is aimed at reintegrating the particular bits of knowledge learned from experiments and scientific observations in new syntheses within a particular science and new syntheses across scientific boundaries. The core logical transition is between syntheses based on form and mechanistic logic to syntheses based on the concept of emerging potentials of things in relationship to each other. By mechanistic logic I mean logical constructions in which a whole is broken down into its constituent parts, and then explained as a whole by the combination of the parts by causal forces acting under described conditions. Following Whitehead, but only in part, I emphasize that scientific experiments and observations consider things in relationship to other things and that what is actually observed is events of natural history.
To focus on the form of a thing, to describe a thing primarily in terms of its form and its constituent parts is to focus on the being of a thing. That can be a very valuable focus and science has done a lot of wonderful things with such a focus. This kind of scientific thinking takes great advantage of analytic observations which break a whole into its constituent parts. This is a great primary focus, for example, for the study of anatomy, a study usually done on dead or at least immobilized creatures.
To focus on things in relationships is to focus on the becoming aspect of things. It is to focus on things in motion, things changing in time and space and in other ways in relationship to each other. To focus on things in relationships to each other breaks out of mechanistic logical constructions in the sense that things are understood in interaction with their environments and not just in terms of their parts. What is being explained is not only form but activity. Activity is studied as events in the sense that an event is analytically bounded by concerns (designations) of time and space and other relationships of interest.
My approach to the reintegration of the sciences does not give priority to the focus or being or to the focus on becoming but assumes a permanent dialectic tension between the two. It is useful to think of things at any one moment and it is useful to think of things as related to other things in processes. To emphasize this inherent dialectic tension separates my approach slightly from the process philosophy of Whitehead but that seems mostly irrelevant to the main work to be done in this book. That work is to contribute to the modern direction of science as it moves away from the limits of Democritean atomistic thinking that is overwhelmingly focused on the static or being aspects of things. While this is important for the synthetic work to be done within any particular science this book is particularly interested in cross-boundary considerations between the sciences and in the implications for conversations between reintegrated science and various practical concerns and finally for the conversations between science and theology.
Science as an intellectual product is a combination of several kinds of learning. By learning I mean placing perceptions and concepts into relationship with the organized ideas that form minds and civilization. As an ongoing human activity, such learning can include mistakes. Perceptions can be misunderstood or inaccurately reported. Concepts-as-held can be unclear or misapplied or inadequate for a specific conversation. An important part of ongoing human learning is unlearning old ideas that come to be understood as wrong or inadequate. Another important part of ongoing human learning is fitting together bits of learning from the several kinds of learning. Such fitting together is needed to avoid talking past each other, of missing points because a contribution from one kind of learning doesn't fit smoothly with the structures of another kind of learning. In this context we will take a closer look at the relationships between theory, research, and the standards for what constitutes scientific explanation. Science is an end-in-itself, both as a correction of mislearnings about the natural, psychological and social aspects of the world and as an extension into new learning. Science also is important in Western culture for its contribution to social, economic, and political praxis, and for its contribution to culture, including conversation about the relationships of science and religion.
Science as an intellectual discipline is focused on understanding how the world is put together so that there can be better explanation of how things happen, develop and change. In one sense it is organized curiosity. In a deeper sense it is part of a collective pursuing of truth. By curiosity I mean a person's interest in wanting to understand an individual engagement of individual experience. Pursuing truth includes curiosity and also includes an effort to overcome the limits of one's standpoint dependence through the practice, in this chapter, of scientific discipline.
Science is a collective process. To make a contribution to science requires both understanding the current state of a particular science and then offering new scientific evidence or reasoning about available evidence. Scientific evidence is more than mere personal opinion. It requires the application of scientific methods including organized observations, rational reasoning about such observations, and an organized reporting practice that makes the evidence available to others for consideration. Scientific disciplines involve using language in orderly ways to discuss structured experiences. Such order and structure involves both careful statements of theory and careful development and adherence to scientific research practices for testing theories. Science also involves, for scientific theorists, reflective engagement according to logic about both theory and research methodology.
The collective structure of science is an important step toward overcoming standpoint dependence in two ways. On the one hand it overcomes pure individuality by requiring participation in the ordered relationships of science. On the other hand, an individual can make a contribution not only of additional evidence in response to a particular scientific theory, but also offer new theory for the reconsideration of available evidence. New or recast theory, in turn, invites new research or the reconsideration of old research, an ongoing process of overcoming any collective standpoint dependence or logical limitations.
With reflection, scientific theories can specifically aim at overcoming standpoint dependence understood as habits of thought related to personal experience. For example, people used to think that the sun goes around the earth, which makes immediate experiential sense, just as belief in a flat earth makes immediate experiential sense. We see the sun move across the sky every day. But scientific evidence showed that the earth is round and moves around the sun and that is now broadly accepted as obvious. Similarly, we feel gravity as a powerful force because we are large creatures compared to the small entities found with sub-atomic scale observations. Now we know, from scientific studies, that gravity is the weakest of the basic forces at the sub-atomic levels. That is why things hold together as distinct things instead of just collapsing into each other because of gravity, except in black holes where very high gravity overcomes the other forces. Even though we exist because of the strong and weak forces in every atom that is part of our bodies we have no direct subjective sense of such forces. Science challenges the limitations of our immediate unreflective subjectivity and that is a major human challenge to the learning required to become a scientist.
At the macro scale of physics, the study of the universe, Einstein's theories of specific and general relativity requires us to think about things moving at the speed of light even though our experiential base is so much slower. The universe looks different when we expand our consciousness with this kind of reasoning. Similarly, in sub-atomic physics using theories of quantum mechanics, there are forces at work that are not part of our direct subjective experience. Both disciplines require the scientist to overcome the standpoint dependence of being a "medium sized" creture.
Science thus calls for two kinds of organized humility. For those interested in making a contribution to a subject addressed by a science, one has to enter into the practice of that science, a socially organized relationship. We have to play by the rules, including rules for challenging rules. Even those who just want to understand the current state of what is being taught in a science need some appreciation of what science as an intellectual discipline is and is not. We will examine creationism in this regard in the next chapter.
The second aspect of science as organized humility welcomes well-constructed challenges to collective thinking on a particular scientific concern. In personal terms, this means willingness to reconsider one's experience and a willingness to look for new experience. Such reconsideration requires claiming enough reflective distance from currently held concepts, from immediately experienced subjectivity, to gain a qualified subjectivity, called objectivity. Such objectivity is being willing to reconsider what one knows because of new evidence or because of dissatisfactions with old collections of theory and evidence. Such dissatisfaction may initially be subjectively present as a feeling of dissatisfaction. To be useful for scientific purposes, there must be sufficient reflection so that such feelings can be articulated with reference to scientific standards of theory and methodology so that the dissatisfaction can be communicated and heard in a manner that builds the collective conversation. While we never escape being individual creatures, we can reflectively appreciate that we are individuals and that such individuality includes the limits and habits of thought that come with being an individual. When we aim at overcoming some of our limits and habits as individuals we achieve some objectivity and become willing to consider additional practices that strengthen objectivity. In one sense, collective objectivity boils down to listening seriously and respectfully to each other and framing our comments to maximize the opportunity for others to receive and critically reflect on what we have to say. That is scientific humility. The collectivism of science as a discipline is one structured example of people-in-relationship working together.
This section presents four considerations that are particularly relevant for the philosophical reconsiderations that begin formally in the next section. In the next section I present my summary introduction of the Democritean, Platonic, Aristotelian, and Sophistic traditions that have dominated Western thought. I will then move on to build on contributions from all four traditions to present a philosophical strategy for the reintegration of the sciences around the concept of the emergence of possibility. The four considerations presented in this section are intended to prepare the reader for understanding why the four philosophical traditions each have something to contribute.
One of the standards of science is that any theory can be challenged with new evidence or improved logic. This means that individual freedom and the power to argue is preserved. But such freedom and power is constrained by the disciplines of scientific conversation. For example, science requires that theories, however initially appealing or attractive to hearers, have to be tested by properly constructed research. This means that theories have to correctly predict observable patterns of experience using operationalized observations.ix An operationalized observation clarifies the methods and mechanisms of observation so that others can repeat the process to check on the reported research. This means that Science builds on both freedom of inquiry, a Sophistic concern; and empirical research, the analysis of patterns in observed data, an Aristotelian concern. This preserves the two basic forms of phenomenology as grounding for scientific discourse.x However, Sophistic freedom of inquiry is qualified since the freedom to argue in science as a discipline requires playing by the rules of science.
Scientific research methods are usually analytic. Analysis means to cut, to distinguish a whole into its parts. Explanation in scientific theory traditionally amounts to correctly identifying the parts of the whole that is to be explained and then demonstrating how the parts function and fit together to make up the whole. For example, if we wanted to understand a human muscle we would look at the muscle fibers in a muscle and the cells that make up such muscle fibers and describe how they function and fit together. Analytic methods have great scientific power for two primary reasons. Analytic methods works well with Democritean theory because parts can be identified and observed. Secondly, analytic methods are comparatively simple because they are aimed at predicting the outcomes of activities in terms of the forms of the things being observed. This means that scientists can apply laboratory controls, or their approximations, to better focus on single processes leading to specific outcomes. By eliminating causes and activities that are not the focus of a specific research project research can consider theories one bit at a time. The aim is the identification of universal laws, or their approximations, that occur in all situations. The controls cut out the contingencies that occur all the time in the actual natural histories of things in interaction with each other. Focusing on the relationship of parts and wholes is to focus on forms such as describing water as H20. Such water is controlled pure water, not the same at all as an analysis of water collected from any old lake which has many things in it other than hydrogen and oxygen. To update the tradition, instead of speaking of atoms I will use the phrase least parts. The core thing to remember about the Democritean tradition is that there is an ontological reality, a reality behind the observable world of phenomena, that is made of least parts gathered into particular forms. This is an intrinsically materialistic tradition.
Sophistic, Democritean, and Aristotelian kinds of thinking are different in multiple ways. The three traditions have dominated modern science up to the contribution of Alfred North Whitehead who regards his philosophy as a footnote to Plato. The balance and contributions of the three separate kinds of thinking are different for the different sciences, with Sophistic thinking becoming more important in the human sciences for reasons I will explain in the chapter on the human sciences.
The third consideration concerns the role of mathematics in science. To apply mathematics in science requires identifying units to which the numbers can be applied.xi Identifying units is compatible with Democritean logic, with analytic scientific theory, because it looks at lesser parts of an identified whole, such as a human muscle. Physiologists can dissect and count the number of muscle fibers in one muscle. Mathematics also fits well with Aristotelian research methodology that looks at data (reports of operationalized observations) for patterns. A lot of scientific work is about the fit between research identified patterns in data and analytic theories. Do the data match up with the theories of what is being observed?
Mathematics is a logic built around eternal concepts, including the concept of unity. A unit is the application of the concept of unity to a particular observational experience. Such a concept is a Platonic form. To think that the world is ordered in ways that can be expressed in terms of mathematical relations of units is to think that we live in a world shaped by eternal concepts. (I like of talk about eternal concepts instead of eternal forms.xii) In this regard, science has a fourth kind of thinking that has to be integrated with the other three.
My intention of reintegrating science, and particularly the human sciences, involves reunderstanding the relationships between these four kinds of thinking. One more excursion seems likely to be useful before directly taking on the reintegrating presentation. It's about understanding science as a personal activity.
There are limits on what we can know as human creatures but there is also a lot of room to consider ourselves and the world we engage in a scientific manner. There are lifetimes of scientific work still to be done. Taking up that work as a human being puts us in a structured relationship with other human beings while encouraging each of us to make personal contributions to the common effort. Furthermore, science gives each of us a chance to constructively focus life energy in pursuit of aspects of truth. Such truth has practical and political implications but it also an end in itself and a basic scientist is someone who is willing to pursue scientific truth as an end in itself and to let the practical and political implications arise from collective response to what is scientifically known. A scientist becomes an ethicist when he or she contributes to the conversation about the uses and implications of scientific based truth. Taking that step and changing discourses is an important consideration in later chapters.
The larger point for this book is that science, as an end in itself for human endeavor, is one way to give life meaning. When we align ourselves with the search for truth and humbly try to change and grow in our thinking and observing to accomplish that purpose, we participate in appreciating one of the eternals, Truth with a capitol T. We don't define such scientific truth. We search for such truth with an understanding of our limits in observation and thinking and do the best we can as the limited human beings we are.
When I wrote my book, Transgender Good News, I did a lot of scientific work and I feel I have made a significant scientific contribution through that writing. That contribution involved reassessing the scientific work of others and offering an alternative scientific approach to understanding transgender experience and expression. When the book was done and was available to others I felt good about having done something that honors my scientific interests and commitments and hopeful that my book will help advance a common understanding of this important area of life experience and expression. In short, I experienced my participation in science as much more than a contribution to technological aspects of society, more than an experience of instrumental rationality, more than a personal curiosity.
The Path to Scientific Reintegration
According to Widick Schroeder's presentation of the philosophical work of Richard McKeon, there are four schools of thought that dominate all Western intellectual discourse: two kinds of ontology, Platonic and Democritean; and two kinds of phenomenology, Sophistic and Aristotelian.xiii This typology of Western thought has the strengths and weaknesses of any typology. It is good for drawing distinctions but users need to beware of concretizing their own thinking to fit the typology. Furthermore, any one thinker, Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx come to mind, may mix two or more schools together in their writing. When that happens, the typology is useful for deconstructing and reintegrating their work, and perhaps more usefully, suggests where the creative tensions within a single book may reside. McKeon was an Aristotelian and what he has presented in his typology is an analysis of four kinds of Western thinking.
My aim here is to present and use the typology to assess the current state of scientific integration and then to use Platonic dialectical thinking for the task of reintegration. From my version of a Platonic grounding I wish to fully respect the significance and utility of each of the other three schools of thought, so that my use of the typology is for the purpose of fully appreciating each of the other schools rather than for attacking them. A major strategy for a later part o f the reintegration task is to appreciate the kinds of questions that are best taken to the different schools.
There are two kinds of phenomenology. Each kind start from the philosophical posture that what can be known of the world is known from the mind's interpretation of sensory data. I begin with the Sophistic, a school going back at least to Protagorus and known to a large degree as opponents of Socrates in the Platonic dialogues. Leading modern examples of Sophistry include Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx, though both are not pure examples of the school. Sophists with less interest in scientific subjects include existentialists, such as Sartre, and postmodernists.
Sophistic presuppositions are the actions and thinking of great people. Alternately stated, a Sophist trying to be such a great person chooses the presuppositions he or she will work with and justifies the choice by demonstrating their power in the arguments to be made. Sophists argue that everyone, consciously or unconsciously, chooses their presuppositions.
The theme of the Sophists is freedom (power). As this relates to science, Sophists would point out that individual scientists choose (freedom) to use their cognitive and observational capacities (power) to construct rational arguments about the world they are studying. Taking on a scientific discipline to engage in such work is a freely made choice and the goal is to make a contribution to science that changes science. A good scientist has excellent capacities to express agency (power) by changing science. Learning theories and methods is valuable insofar as it increases the power of the individual scientist, but the human reality is that each bit of science is constructed by one person at a time making use of their innate capacities and what they have learned.
The method of Sophists is rhetoric, the construction of powerful arguments. Sophists express their freedom by choosing how to construct their arguments with the dominant criteria being that of persuasive effectiveness (power). In the current scientific milieu that would commonly lead a Sophistic scientist to play by the scientific rules of the game for theory construction and methods of observation and standards of communication, not out of an intrinsic commitment to the rules, but because that is where power lies in the disciplines as constructed.. Classic Greek rhetoric starts from the presuppositions of the audience and then makes arguments to move the audience to a different place. In traditional scientific writing this is accomplished by an early focus on the history of the scientific literature on a specific subject. Such a review also shows that the writer is in command of the subject.
The purpose of Sophists is history, to make a contribution that changes the course of human events. In this context a Sophistic scientist sets out to change scientific history, to change science. While it is very well and good to play by the scientific rules, where that is effective, the goal is to use one's power to change the content or rules of science. In this regard, Sophists value creativity more than technical proficiency.
The technique of Sophists is particular in that they choose their technique to give them the most power in a particular situation. A Sophist physiologist studying muscles would be likely to choose current state-of-the-art scientific techniques for studying muscles but would also feel free to create additional techniques to help increase his or her understanding of muscles.
The exposition of Sophists is character centered. This makes Sophists strong on the history of science and in responding to the work of a great scientist, such as the currently leading muscle physiologist.
The presentation of Sophist history tends to be narrative, focusing on such things as the story of muscle physiology as exemplified by the great moments in muscle physiology and the great muscle physiologists who made the breakthroughs.
I am choosing to leave out McKeon's typological category of objects of imitation because I dont' think it helps much with the task I have set before myself. I will, however, add a category of my own I call focus which is sort of like exposition and might be thought of as an extension of exposition.
The focus of Sophists is action: what is going on, what has been done and what the writer is doing.xiv Sophistic exposition is character centered, and the focus of such exposition is what the characters did or are doing. The focus on action is a good way to show how freedom and power are playing out in a particular circumstance. Focusing on action is a good way to escape from mere description of the playing out of patterns in data, to get underneath pattern analysis without adopting an ontological philosophical posture.
Now that I have presented one application of the typology I think it could be helpful to point out that the categories are not independent like softballs in a bucket. They are more like eight lenses to bring light to the analysis of a particular writing, or other effort at communication. Sophists, in particular, use their freedom to adapt their writing to a situation. They usually at least begin by mimicking other styles. This means that it takes some practice to become skillful in using the McKeon typology. Indeed, there is nothing to stop a Sophist from utilizing the Aristotelian based McKeon typology if it gives the writer power in developing an argument. In fact, there is nothing to stop a person who ultimately holds to a Sophistic position from provisionally adopting a purely Aristotelian approach in a particular research effort and scrupulously play by the Aristotelian version of scientific rules to gain power and credibility in a particular science.
A particular part of scientific discipline fits particularly well with Sophistic thought. It is the guideline that the very act of scientific observation can affect the object being studied. This can be an important qualification to always taking the results of Aristotelian analysis of data patterns at face value.
The Aristotelian theme is truth, truth with a Capital T, truth as an end in itself. This tends to make it a powerful posture for doing scientific work and it is perhaps not surprising that the Aristotelian method came to dominate the development of science. Aristotle attempted scientific analysis himself, using the kinds of observations then accessible, and early developers of science often referred directly to Aristotle's work as guidance for their own effort.
However, science was only one of Aristotle's many concerns, a way to know the truth about things in the world. His presuppositions are problematic in the sense of being a good fit for the scientific problems to be addressed.xv Aristotle's presuppositions for science are phenomenological in that he wanted to base his thinking about things in the observation of things, using the information that comes to the brain from the external senses that are aware of things. Aristotle used other presuppositions for other intellectual work that he engaged in, such as in his discussion of God.
Aristotelian method is historical in the sense that the brain organizes the information it receives into patterns and sequences. For example, I might walk around a tree to get information about the tree from different sides of the tree. I might climb the tree, collect and compare leaves from the tree, compare one tree to another tree and note the similarities and differences. I might observe a tree over time and watch its development. Such observations are fit into mental constructs or categories to facilitate conversation about trees. When different people use the same categories to share information about trees there is more opportunity for collective development of knowledge about trees. Aristotelian theory has two levels or activities. One is to provide testable theories that have specific predictive hypotheses that are suitable for testing with operationalized observation. The other is to integrate the results of research as more likely statements of the truth of things, such as what trees are and how they live. This includes significant attention to the challenges of interpreting data in terms of what it tells and does not tell about the thing observed. Though science has traditionally relied heavily on Democritean thinking for generating theories, such thinking has to be shaped as testable theory before it can be pursued with Aristotelian based empirical observations as a basis for testing the adequacy of the theory.
Aristotelian purpose is philosophy in the sense that anything learned in science contributes to the larger goal of understanding truth with a Capital T. The fundamental goal of doing scientific work is simply to increase understanding. This approach is fundamentally self-corrective in that one scientific theory can be supplanted if it becomes understood as offering better explanations.
Like the Sophists, Aristotelian technique is particular to a specific subject. The difference is that there are external referents for Aristotelian technique. This has to do with the rigorous and collective testing of theories, whereas Sophists are more focused on constructing a strong argument to get the most powerful answer. Research, such testing of theory, holds that if a theory is good it will predict relevant future observations. Aristotelians are concerned with developing ever more revealing methodologies for knowing more and more about things. It is the rigorous use of scientific method, more than the content of the answers at any moment in scientific conversations that most defines what science is as an intellectual discipline, and that comes from the Aristotelian tradition. Science is not so much about the breakthrough insights of powerful individual scientists as it is about the gradual collection of knowledge from repeated and diverse observations of many scientists that are fit together in increasingly satisfying ways.
Aristotelian exposition is multilateral in that it should be appropriate to the subject. The pursuit through science of an understanding of things requires adherence to particular writing forms to facilitate the comparison of observations. One important aspect of such exposition, think of a scientific article in a refereed journal, is the clear explanation of how the relevant observations were made. What operations of observation were made? Did you climb the tree or walk around it? If the subject was, for example, a tree disease, perhaps the theory of concern is that the disease is affected by sunlight and so it would matter whether you walked around the tree or not to make an observation. To make collaborative work possible it is not only important to walk around the tree but to tell others that you walked around the tree so that they can assess the value of your observation.
History, in Aristotelian science, is disciplinary. There is a history of physics and a separate history of geology. Each history has different subjects and different methods for compiling relevant information that becomes part of such a history. This approach to doing history accounts for the division of universities into various departments, each with its own history, methods, and techniques. One of the obvious challenges to organizing science in this way is to figure out how to do interdisciplinary work when presuppositions are problematic and techniques are particular. The universally reductionistic theory of Democritus is a major contributor to meeting this challenge.
One of the obvious advantages of Aristotelian science is that it sets up scientific questions in ways so that answers are easily translated into technology. This advantage comes with the operationalization of observations, with the clear reporting about the make up of things, and with the specification of how such things are affected by various forces in different circumstances. If the theory that a tree disease is affected by sunlight then that theory points toward paths to reducing or eliminating the disease. Practical application of such knowledge to forest management then constitutes additional testing of the sunlight hypothesis. In this sense, functional applications of science to technology provide additional confirmations of the scientific theory under additional circumstances.
The focus (not the method) of Aristotelian science is argument, arguments about specific things: what they are made up of, how they behave, and why they behave that way. Such argument is stylized to fit a particular subject, stylized by limiting arguments to logic and empirical observation of observable phenomena. Such stylization focuses the freedom inherent in the Sophistic tradition. Such focus contributes importantly to the building up of science as a collective discipline.
Testable theories include specifying not only the several causes but the relationships among the causes, usually presented in the time sequence: initial causes, intermediate causes, and outcomes. One of the important 20th century expansions of empirical logic is systems theory, specifically the addition of the concept of feedback. The logic becomes: input, throughput, output, and feedback. Input and throughput can include several initial and intermediate causes leading to more than one output. This allow for more complex theorization, with specific (focused) theories amounting to the specification of a particular path through a complex system, focused on some, but not all causes, and some, but not all, outcomes.
While systems theory allows for more complex theorization, the real breakout concept in systems theory is the addition of the concept of feedback. Feedback brings theorization back to additional runs through the system under the changed circumstances caused by the feedback. The feedback may be a closed loop within a system, such as the analysis of the efficacy of a mental health treatment regimen within a closed institution. After an evaluation of efficacy the treatment might be continued or changed and, in turn, the continuation or change would be evaluated. This adds an extended time sequencing to theorization.
The breakout logical advantage of systems theory comes into play when feedback involves one or more environments outside of the system. In the example of the evaluating the efficacy of a mental health treatment regimen feedback might include the input of family or friends, perhaps backed up with a court order. The breakout aspect is that, with feedback from outside the system, a thing is being analyzed not only as a whole in terms of the sum of its parts but also as a thing in relationship to its environment(s). This kind of thinking will be a crucial as part of the reintegration of evolutionary theory that is offered in the next chapter. This kind of thinking is still materialistic but is no longer mechanistic, and particularly is no longer atomistic in the Democritean tradition.
Whether using Democritean atomistic theory or contemporary systems theory, the specification of variables and outcomes (independent and dependent variables in terms of empirical observation; initial causes, intermediate causes, and results at the theoretical level of what is happening in the things being observed) supports a family of research efforts in which variables are changed one at a time.xvi
McKeon names the theme of Democritus as imitation in the sense that "atoms," which I have been calling least things, fit together in orderly ways to make up the broad diversity of reality. The notion that there are least things, and that these least things are indivisible, is a stunning anticipation of modern quantum physics in which both matter and energy come in packets of limited specific sizes. All the bits of protons, neutrons and electrons are held together by less than a handful of basic forces and do indeed make up the diversity of material things. The analytic work that has gotten us quantum physics is a huge intellectual achievement that has supported the dramatic breakthrough technologies that have so changed life at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st. Equally as dramatic, the unpacking of DNA and RNA to get to the four "letters" of the "language" of genetics has shown us the least things that shape living creatures. The same approach has also given us the psychological theories of the behaviorists and the sociological theory of Talcott Parsons. It is hard to imagine how a philosophical approach could have more prestige.
This theme of imitation can be stated in the following way. Anything is made up of parts until you get down to the level of least things. To understand, to explain, a thing amounts to knowing all the parts, including the energy or forces as well as the smaller things, and how they fit together to make up the larger things. This analytic way of understanding the world is amenable to observation because it generates operationalizable hypothesis that can be tested using Aristotelian empirical techniques. The complexity and sophistication of that work at the level of "least things" is quite stunning and counterintuitive because the least things do not act in ways that seem usual to us medium sized creatures who have no subjective consciousness of the forces that affect least things. But, with sophisticated mathematics, including probability theory, it fits together in dramatic ways. The job isn't done yet because the fit between quantum mechanics and the theories of general and special relativity has not yet been fully understood.
For all this dramatic intellectual work in theory, mathematics, and empirical research, the theme of imitation for the Democriteans can be summarized as a downward looking mechanistic posture. It is an ontological posture which is amenable to exploration with Aristotelian empirical research techniques. The world behind the observable world is the concept of units, and ultimately least things. Such Democritean thinking seems to have little room for seeing or appreciating other concepts and perhaps no room at all for meaningful thinking about human purposes or God. The added complexities of modern physics appear to me to make no more such room than simpler, and still relevant, Newtonian physics, though some have argued in that direction. Including the logic of probability at the level of least things may challenge a simplistic understanding of a clockwork universe, but is perhaps even less amenable to several branches of philosophy and theology.
Democritean presuppositions are scientific. Democritean philosophy is about things and welcomes the analysis of things.
McKeon names the method of Democritean thinking as poetry. This interesting phrasing points to an esthetic standard for what makes good theory, namely simplicity. Simple theories that explain a great deal are the elegant and desirable theories for Democritean analysis. Alternatively said, pure mathematics can be thought of as graceful logical conceptions that link numbers (ultimately conceptual units) together. Such elegance shows up in mathematical "proofs" which demonstrate logical relationships between various mathematical constructions. Particularly at the level of least things, where even indirect observation is tenuous but not impossible, the discipline of physics is almost completely an exposition of mathematical relationships.
The Democritean purpose is rhetoric, in the sense of making things happen. For Democritean science, making things happen is to construct (make) a theory with simplicity and broad explanatory power. Additionally, in our technologically alert culture, even basic science is largely funded in the hope that such explanatory power will lead to new technologies which will provide economic advantages, the opportunity to stay ahead of competitors. Sometimes the scientific strength of a country is described in terms of its intellectual capital, and Democritean theory coupled with Aristotelian empiricism has delivered breakthrough after breakthrough.
The technique of Democritean thought is universal. It is universally reductionistic in the sense that any whole to be studied is analyzed into its constituent parts. Such universalism continues to hold out the hope for an integration of the currently divided disciplines in which the physics of least things explaining larger scale physics which explains chemistry which explains biology which explains humanity. The assumption that this is the inexorable path of science is materialism. This book aims at making a contribution to the breaking down of such materialism, a work initiated by numerous recent and contemporary scientists and philosophers. I argue that breaking down materialism , particularly mechanism and atomism, is both good science and good for the boundary conversations of science with praxis and theology.xvii
Democritean exposition follows the action. In science it explains how the parts of things and the relevant forces come together to make up the thing to be explained. When hydrogen and oxygen are brought together under certain conditions it always makes water.
History, then, for Democritean science, is the history of explanation, the following of causal lines to see what can be consistently explained so as to identify what has not been explained and is in need of further work. Instead of a history of great scientists, which a Sophist might write, or the history of a scientific discipline which an Aristotelian might write, Democriteans update the basic textbooks.
I see the focus of Democritean theory as creation. This is somewhat like saying that the purpose of Democritean is construction. By naming the focus as creation I aim at pointing out that the human work of doing the construction is a creative process. Such creativity may have a mechanistic motif, but it is still creativity. Analyzing the viscosity of sand to make a better sand castle is still creativity.
The picture I have built so far of science and the four philosophical traditions emphasizes the dominant contributions of Aristotelian and Democritean thinking, with a little room for Sophistic thought particularly in the human sciences. My goal for offering a reintegration of the sciences is not to tear down what has been accomplished but rather to appreciate what has been accomplished in a somewhat different way so that the accomplishments of science will be more useful for larger human purposes. This approach assumes that science has its own justifications as a search for the truth about things and as a basis for technology to serve human purposes. But science is only one of several territories of human intellectual work, a position held by Aristotle, and the proposed reintegration is intended both to increase an appreciation of the sciences themselves and to understand the sciences better as they relate to other intellectual conversations. The reintegration I seek is not Aristotelian interdiscplinary integration, not Democritean materialistic integration, but rather Platonic dialectic integration.xviii Such dialectic integration is not a scientific super-theory that explains everything, but rather the holding of multiple truths in tension with each other as an approach to further strengthening of scientific work, both theoretical and empirical work. After presenting the Platonic perspective I will bring it into dialogue first with Aristotelian empiricism and then into dialogue with Democritean analytic reductionism.
My own engagement of Platonic thought emphasizes an intrinsic ontological humility that comes from engaging universal or eternal concepts as a creature and not as a god. We have a sense of eternal concepts but we do not define them. They define us. We do not and cannot have a standing point above or outside of creation from which to survey reality and make our pronouncements. Rather, at our best as creatures, we experience life as quests in the context of mystery. Instead of trying to fully know the eternal concepts and then apply them, an approach that led toward totalitarianism in Plato's Republic, the Spanish inquisition, and the Salem witch trials; I stand in awe of what we can sense of the eternals and am lured to work and talk with other people to build a better life, a better civilization. The goal of such conversations is not so much winning arguments by applying superior intellectual power, but building up common understanding by working together. Furthermore, though my focus is not the strengthening of testable theory construction or empirical methodology, I think the reintegration I propose can have some salutary impact on both these central aspects of research.
One additional note may be helpful for any philosophers among my readers. As McKeon and his student Schroeder, I am not so interested in the original detailed thinking of the philosopher for whom the tradition, or school, or perspective is named. While I occasionally make reference to the originating philosopher as a handy expositional tactic, the substantial utilization is bringing the perspective into relationship with modern issues. So, for example, when Emmanuel Kant, proposes to limit the use of pure reason to discussions of experience, rather than for speculation about things beyond human experience, we are drawn to considering the comparing and contrasting of Platonic method and Aristotelian method. What is the relationship of a priori cognitive constructions to sensory data?
Presenting the Platonic Perspective
The key to the Platonic reintegration of the sciences that I am proposing, directly stated, is appreciation of the different kinds of questions that each of the four families of thought are best suited to address with resultant valuing of each approach for what it can do and clarification of what each approach is not as well suited for. The Platonic contribution is to value all the other contributions, to hold them in dialectic tension with each other, and to direct thinkers to better shaping of questions in response to the interests of the questioner. In this regard, Platonic reintegration holds up good science, holds up good scientific questions and good theories and methodologies for answering such questions, and challenges bad science, science that strays from its proper questions or overstates its findings in non-scientific contexts.
To move deeper into the reintegration it is time to present McKeon's assessment of Platonic thinking in parallel to the earlier presentations.
For McKeon, Plato's theme is love, or, alternatively stated, the Good. Plato loved the search for truth and shaped that search by writing dialogues which point toward the good, pointed toward what is to be loved above all else. What is virtue, he might ask, or justice, or beauty. For Plato such eternal concepts were ontological, a world-behind-the-world in the sense of not being fully and directly knowable.
Plato's presuppositions were dialectic, the holding of truths in tension with one another. His method was philosophy, the application of logic to discussions about what is true and what is good. The purpose of Plato was poetry, pointing toward the truth so that others might learn the truth, engage the truth.
Plato's technique was universal in the sense of being applicable to all conversations. As it applied to material things the technique was formal. That is, material things were representative of universal forms. A particular bed would be the manifestation of one kind of the form beds, a construction intended to aid sleeping. Alternatively stated, Plato was not directing his attention to the stuff out of which beds are made, or how beds are made, but why people make beds. From my point of view, Plato's interest in universal forms is not very helpful for the sciences but the related idea of universal concepts carries the power of this kind of thinking forward into contemporary scientific dialogue.
All of Plato's known writing is in dialogues, structured conversations that present alternative points of view. Socrates is the dominant figure in these dialogues but the dialogues also make room for alternative points of view and invite the reader into the process of argumentation. What would you have said.....? His exposition through dialogues is poetic and, since his method is philosophy, this makes possible a different kind of integration of diverse kinds of intellectual conversations.
History, for Plato, is epochal. Epochs are separated by the dominant ideas of a culture at a particular time. Within an epoch human beings live out the implications of one set of ideals and the epoch changes when a different set of ideals becomes dominant.
It seems to me that the focus of Plato is inspiration. He aims at the catalytic moment when a set of ideas resolve into a different relationship. Part of inspiration is emotional in the sense that people pay attention to what matters to them. Part of inspiration is a reconsideration, through reflection, of what an eternal concept (or value) means. For example, no one can ever fully define justice, but people can get some insight into what justice means in a particular social context and they can, with some challenges, generalize from one social context to another. In the last chapter I will return to this point with some comments about ecstasy.
Given the above exposition of Plato, like all the other presentations too brief and too typological, it isn't hard to see why Platonic thought has not been a part of Western science in a direct and significant way. Every aspect presented above does not fit very well with scientific purposes or disciplines. So, it may seem a stretch to suggest that Platonic thinking has anything to offer for a reintegration of the sciences, but I'll try anyhow.
To start off with, Plato was not hostile to the purposes or activities of science. He just focused on his own interests and left scientific work to others, such as his student Aristotle. Secondly, Plato offers a major crystallization of philosophy as method, he uses philosophy for various purposes.
It is my third point that seems like the crucial one to me. When Platonic thinking asks what science is good for, why does science matter, we get a hard, but useful, question for scientists. It is a hard question for scientists, thinking within scientific frameworks, because there is not much to say in reply. Invariably, scientists, when asked such a question, step outside their disciplinary structures and make an appeal to some kind of human values.
A scientist might answer Plato's question pragmatically, science is good because it makes possible useful technologies that help people. That leads to an endless conversation about what help is and how much science and technology help or hurt some people as contrasted with helping or hurting other people. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with such answers and ensuing conversations. I think our society needs more of this kind of conversation. But it is not a scientific answer, just an answer of scientists in a non-scientifically structured conversation.
A scientist might also try a Sophist response. Science matters because it is a way to increase the intellectual power of individuals and to strengthen society as a whole. Certainly science has demonstrated a great deal of intellectual power. Still, like the pragmatic answer, answers of power and freedom lead to an endless conversation about what should be done with power and freedom, both individual and collective power and freedom.
A more engaging answer for Plato would be that science is one aspect of the search for truth with a capital T. It wasn't Plato's favorite search path but I think such a search honors Platonic thinking as well as Aristotelian and Democritean thinking. Truth in itself may not be Plato's highest goal but it certainly is an aspect of his search for what is good.
Platonic Response to Aristotelian Methodology
The first step is to reconsider what is seen and what is not seen in traditional scientific research using Democritean theory and Aristotelian methodology. While we know that combining hydrogen and oxygen under certain conditions always makes water, the properties of water cannot be observed in the hydrogen or oxygen by themselves. Hydrogen and oxygen have the potential to become water but that potential is invisible (not manifest) until the hydrogen and oxygen have actually been appropriately brought together. It is easy to skip over this point because we consistently experience water and drink water and use water. But the "skipping over" allows the Democritean reductionistic materialistic logic to go unchallenged. To point that in the appropriate coming together of hydrogen and oxygen something new is released challenges reductionism. It points to a "building up" line of thinking instead of a "cutting down" line of thinking. Both lines of thinking account for the relationship of hydrogen and oxygen to water and both lines of thinking can be integrated with Aristotelian methodology.
Later I will return to the question of whether "not manifest" is the same as "not real." This consideration takes an additional important turn when we move from the natural sciences to the human sciences. In this section I am considering the implications for doing and understanding empirical research in the tradition of Aristotle.
The reintegration of the sciences that I am aiming at requires more than responding to the limits of Democritean or mechanistic thinking. It also requires us to reconsider what seeing means in empirical search. The discipline of operationalizing observations is a good thing but it isn't enough.xix Indeed, to the extent that operationalizing is thought of as overcoming human subjectivity in the interests of objectivity, valuable as that is, it directs attention away from the key insight needed for reintegration.
When Aristotle looked at something he saw it in terms of forms and considered that the forms were in the nature of the exterior things being observed. For example, dogs were one species of animal and cats another.
Two kinds of basic corrections are needed to scientific seeing in terms of Aristotelian forms, to seeing in terms of typologies or models or operational definitions. The first is a Sophistic kind of thought, that all such forms are human creations and are an attempt to impose order on a world that is not so orderly, that such formal seeing blinds one to things that don't fit the form, or distorts the acts of perception to fit things into a form. This is an important criticism, particularly when the object of study of human beings. For example, in my book, Transgender Good News, I spend some significant effort to deconstruct the concept of gender as a concept appropriately divided into men and women so that transgender experience and expression can be observed more accurately. I see this Sophistic critique as useful, but limited in value, the kind of challenge that can be systematically addressed with good Aristotelian and Democritean disciplines.
The more important thing is that the forms we use in seeing are in us rather than in the things we look at. For example, if we are counting raccoons, we are using arithmetic. There are no numbers painted on the sides of any raccoons I have seen. We have the concept of number in our heads, building out from our perception of the eternal concept unity, organized and taught in societies as arithmetic and applied to perception by organizing parts of sensory input as units to be counted. The accuracy of our constructed forms for organizing our perceptions involves the fitting together of universal concepts and perceptions. Attention to any lack of fit calls for improved operationalization, if possible. Particularly in non-laboratory uncontrolled observations, operationalization is necessarily provisional. We see what we can see without controlling the subject.
Said alternatively, our external senses bring us information through the optic nerve and other intermediaries. When the nerve impulses get to the brain the brain cells respond in complex ways that provides input that is available to the mind that the mind as information. The mind then either focuses on the information or does not. If noticed, the information is fit together into concepts such as the concept raccoon. I don't find it helpful to talk about individual raccoons meeting the requirements of an eternal form called raccoons, but it does seem relevant to me to talk about people creating and using concepts, such as raccoon, using both sensory data and various kinds of logic and language. Take size and weight for example. Both concepts use numbers and the number part derives from the universal concept of unity. If we see a creature that is brown and furry like a raccoon, but we estimate that it ways 500 pounds, we think, "That's not a raccoon and it's time for me to get out of here."
Aristotle not only saw things that are appropriately named with nouns, he also reasoned about how causes create or change things. Aristotle's concept of material causes fits fairly easily with Democritean atomistic thinking about what material is. The point is that things are made out of other things.
Aristotle's concept of formal cause also fits fairly easily with modern science. A contemporary version of formal cause thinking would be holding up some of the basic discoveries of the forms of things such as Einstein's theory that energy equals mass times the speed of light squared, or, more simply, that the speed of light is a constant number.
Aristotle's efficient cause is the concept of cause most commonly focused on in scientific thinking. The bat striking the ball causes the ball to move. If the bat is moving faster the ball will move faster away from the bat when struck.
It is Aristotle's concept of final cause that seems most out of place in relation to modern science. Do things, by nature, have a purpose? Does nature as a whole have a purpose? In theological context, did God create nature with a purpose in mind? We will revisit such questions in the discussion of creationism and also in the final theological chapter of this book. At this point, within the boundaries of scientific discussion as framed by Democritean theory and Aristotelian empiricism, there is no room for an inherent purpose in things or in natural events. Furthermore, discovery after discovery has moved toward framing a mechanistic picture of things based on probability and the mechanistic relationships of things and forces.xx These discoveries show that many things that seemed to be purposeful can be explained in terms of probability and mechanistic relationships. The part of Christendom that has not progressed beyond old theologies has fought battle after battle against science because, from their point of view, God was being written out of the picture when purpose was written out of natural explanations.
The Platonic reintegration I am presenting has no need to argue for purpose within the natural sciences. Participating in purpose is one of the latent potentials in things that is not realized, not knowable, until we get to the level of purposeful creatures. While I could push my thinking about purpose to argue that some animals display purposeful behavior, for this book I will simply argue that human beings can be, and sometimes are, purposeful in their behavior. This boils down to asserting that human being can reflectively consider numerous opportunities, motives, costs, and limits, can also consider their awareness of eternal concepts, and then make choices that are at least partially based on their valuing of their conceptions of eternal concepts. For the study of the human sciences it is important to distinguish between values-as-held and values-in-themselves, yet one more example of the humility that comes from doing our thinking as creatures and not as a god. While we can only communicate values-as-held, we can reflectively consider values-in-themselves as an influence on our values-as-held.
With Aristotle's concepts of causation in mind we can return to the question of what is seen and not seen with Aristotelian empiricism. While it is usual to focus on questions about what is seen, the work of integration requires attention to the consideration of what is not seen. The first thing to clear away is the technical or tactical concerns about observational technologies. We cannot see bacteria with the naked eye but we can see them with a microscope. We then say that bacteria are manifest and can be seen with the aid of a particular instrument. Sometimes in science it is important to pay attention to the limits of observational mechanisms.
The more interesting question has been mentioned already, the non-manifest potentials in things, for example the potential of hydrogen and oxygen to become water. We know the potentials are there because we see the results when hydrogen and oxygen are brought together under certain conditions. It is our reasoning and not our observation that convinces us that hydrogen and oxygen have the potential to become water under certain conditions.
So what is the reality of non-manifest potentials? A potential is not merely something that is not manifest, that is not observable, it is non-actualized. Alternatively stated, we reason that there are some things that are not observable because they are not actualized. They are only potential. The next question in this progression of thinking is the consideration of whether things that are not actualized are not real.
To work this out requires more attention to the concepts of real and things. The concept of things has its meaning in the context of Democritean thinking where we consider things to be made up of parts and ultimately of least things. Things, in Democritean thinking, are bits of material. While a thing is observable the understanding that a thing is made up of parts comes from reasoning. This kind of Democritean thinking considers reality as being. A thing simply is. A thing simply exists. To use the language "simply" points to the non-changing aspect of being a thing. Of course a thing can change and become something else, or part of something else. In itself, however, a thing just is. Notice that in addition to no intrinsic sense of change there is also no intrinsic sense of time related to being a thing. This is all pointing out the ontological quality of Democritean thinking. It is things, in and of themselves, that are real. Of course Democritean thinking can recognize change but it is things that change because they are acted on by forces under a variety of conditions. Such thing thinking is the freezing of time in a cognitive "snap-shot" in which the manifest and being aspects of reality provide the reasoning for concept formation.
Process philosophy in the tradition of Alfred North Whitehead thinks about reality in terms of events that are linked by processes. Things are part of events, interactive things whose natural state is motion and change. Observation, with reflection, tells us that things are always in motion in some sense, always changing. Physics is about things in motion and the things that are in motion are just momentary concepts. Things are what they are until they change. For process philosophy the key consideration is the becoming aspect of things. Things are always becoming, always in relationship, always moving. Observation collects information from one moment of an event.
Process philosophy based science depends on observation just as much as Democritean based science. The concepts of causes are roughly the same. But observations are more like motion pictures that snap shots. They expect time and change and try to report such time and change and then reason about it.
The question of what is not actualized has a different context within process philosophy. First of all it is not a surprising question. Actualization is one of many processes that are going on all the time. Becoming is the usual aspect of reality rather than merely being transitional between two states of being. The fact that the potential of hydrogen and oxygen to become water cannot be observe until after the potential is realized (made real) is non-problematic.
My perspective is that we do not have to ultimtely choose between Democritean and process philosophy perspectives. We can use whichever is most helpful for the kind of question we are addressing. Following Paul Tillich, my perspective is that being and becoming are in permanent dialectic tension. Both understandings are true and valuable and intrinsically related. They are valuable perspectives that assist concept construction.
With a dialectic understanding of being and becoming it is perfectly reasonable to say that something that is only potential at any one moment doe not exist in the sense of having being in that moment. On the other hand, at any one moment, a potential is a non-actualized, and therefore non-manifest, and therefore non-observable part of a thing.
This understanding leads me to disagree with Leibnitz that all things (monads) have consciousness, and to disagree with Whitehead that all things have some kind of awareness. Many things have the potential to participate in the lives of creatures that have awareness or consciousness, but until such involvement actually occurs the potential is only potential and not actual, not manifest, not observable. This is a critical understanding for distinguishing the natural and the human sciences with biology cast as a bridge science. Life is a necessary condition for consciousness and awareness to begin to become manifest because it is being actualized.
The conclusion reached in the previous paragraph has the implication that materialistic thinking should be adequate for the natural sciences. My refinement for that conclusion is that materialistic thinking is fine for the natural sciences but not atomistic (reductionistic, mechanistic) thinking. Analyzing things in terms of their parts has great power and is useful but it is even more useful to also be able to reason about things in relationship to other things, about things in motion, about things constantly changing. Materialistic thinking using systems theory is more complex, more sophisticated, more complete and satisfying, more amenable to utilization for observing natural history and less dependent on laboratory controls, than the mechanistic and atomistic forms of materialistic thinking. Furthermore, materialistic thinking using systems theory in the natural sciences is logically compatible with the necessity of using systems theory, with little in the way of laboratory controls, in the human sciences.
I believe that the questions around what is observable and what is real have particular relevance for considering some of the conundrums of quantum mechanics. That is my testimony but I am not capable of putting forward a fully worked out argument on the relationship of my thinking to quantum mechanics. As an alternative I will put some tentative thinking in a footnote.xxi It seems to me that my main line of reasoning is unaffected by the details of quantum mechanics. The overriding point is that the least things and basic forces considered in quantum mechanics carry potentials that are not manifested until additional layers of relationship are established. Instead of looking for ultimate truth, for ultimate explanatory power, in least things, which is the directional logic of Democritean theory, my focus on the emergence of possibilities as things come into relationship with each other creates equal explanatory power for each science and sub-science. That is, in general, explanation of a thing or of an event involves both part-to-whole relationships and whole-to-environment relationships.
Platonic Response to Democritean Thinking
In the previous chapter on human bodies I briefly demonstrated some of the problems of trying to explain human experience and expression with Democritean atomistic theory because it cannot account for the relationships between brains and minds. I affirmed the concept that "I am a body" and balanced it with the equally true and relevant concept "I am a person-in-relationship." The link between the two concepts is that bodies are not just anatomy, not just form, not just being; but are also constantly and necessarily interacting with their environments. As part of that interaction, utilizing the emergent potential of symbolic conceptualization and conversation, minds are formed. Brains are the anatomic bases for minds, and minds are the self-organizing, self-directing, actualizations of brain-environment interactive potentials.
Minds are repeatable patterns of brain activity, patterns that include self consciousness and awareness of universal concepts such as unity, difference, relatedness, and values such as goodness, truth, and beauty. Such patterns are made possible and limited by brain potentials but their shape and sequencing are influenced by interaction with the several aspects of a person's environment, including other individuals. Through such interactions people participate in, and continually recreate and change: language, culture, social relationships, and civilization. This interactional aspect of becoming a mind means that minds cannot be fully explained by reference to brain parts. But minds are not mere passive receivers. Self-consciousness, reflection, focus are examples of initiatives of the mind of an individual. In this regard I am balancing the notion that external information is important and internal organizing and feelings are important. Both have to be taken into account. Remembering that minds are interactively formed is an important corrective to reductionist logic that tries to understand the mind as an epiphenomenal distraction from focusing on the measurable realities of brain activity. The activity of a mind is measured differently, by a spelling test for example. The key thing to remember here is that the mental activity of an individual is not at the pinnacle of scientific interest. A mind can be understood as a whole but it is also just one part of interactive relationships with aspects of an individual's environment. A mind, a person, is just one part of various social constructions.
Here I take the understanding of brain and mind relationships a step further. Modern research shows that some sections of the brain get bigger when they are used more. An analysis of various sections of the brain that are affected by practice brings in considerations that cannot be observed or accounted for no matter how long the observation, or with what sophistication. Once you examine a brain part to show the effects of practice you are no longer studying the brain part in and of itself. You are studying the brain part in interaction, in this case a multi-faceted complex interaction, with things outside the body. The finding that practice affect the brain part does not fully explain the interaction it merely shows that the change in the brain part is one intermediate variable in a complex process. But, if the scientist is primarily interested in the brain part itself and is thinking like a good reductionist and empiricist, then the scientific article will have a title like, "The Effects of Practice on Neuronic Multiplication." Thinking that such an analysis of a brain part is an explanation of the formation of mind, instead of an explanation for the potential of mind, is one of the misunderstandings I aim at correcting with a Platonic reintegration. Alternative stated, I am aiming at correcting the dismissal of the concept of mind as epiphenomenol. That is minds are not a false concretization of brain patterns. The concept of mind recognizes that brain patterns are an important reality that are made possible by brain potentials but not defined by brain structures and limitations. .
A different path into this same discussion is to point out that material is not materialistic. Even the least things, like quarks and mesons, carry potentials to participate in the complex intellectual processes of human beings, they carry the potential of consciousness. Such potential is unobservable until such least things are organized into the complex reality of brain neurons and participate in complex interactions with environments, including other people and civilization. A failure to appreciate the importance of this fact, even though it is unmistakably apparent, is the limitation of a science grounded only in Democritean atomism and Aristotelian empiricism. Alternatively stated, until potentials are accounted for, traditional science asserts that one plus one equals two, when in fact one plus one equals "three," (more than two). Democritean atomistic theory leads to a focus on countable units that are parts of a whole. When married to Aristotelian empiricism, the unit is defined for research purposes as what is manifest and observable in the unit, when in fact any unit also is carrying unobservable and non-manifest potentials. This theoretical blindness and limitation has been noted by other scientific philosophers. My approach to the task of scientific reintegration builds on the concept of emergent potential linked to a refocusing on things in relationship to other things and not just things in themselves, not just things analyzed in and of themselves, analyzed primarily in terms of their parts and the forces connecting the parts.
The theoretical limitations of atomistic theory married to empiricism do not show up in classical Newtonian physics, nor in reductionistic chemistry with an emphasis on such things as the periodic table of the elements, nor in reductionistic biology such as the classical physiology of Cannon, nor in behaviorist psychology, nor in the structural functionalism of Parsonian sociology. But Newtonian physics are now understood as a limited part of a physics grounded in quantum mechanics and the theories of special and general relativity. The above analysis of the relationship of brain and mind show the inadequacy of such thinking as a grounding for the human sciences. Atomism married to empiricism still appropriately dominate huge areas of science and technology. A great deal of what has been discovered in quantum mechanics or special and general relativity can safely be forgotten, on never learned, for building bridges, growing gardens, or surgically repairing brains. It is hardly surprising that science-as-materialism dominates popular conceptions of science and dominates many conversations about the relationships of science and praxis and science and theology.
Regrounding scientific logic in the Platonic method accepts and appreciates the contributions of Democritean atomism and Aristotelian empiricism, and then goes on to hold such contributions in dialectic tension with other truths. One critical example of thinking with such dialectical tension is the appreciation of descriptions of the reality of a thing in terms of both being and becoming. Such logic makes room for the reality that is manifest in the being of a thing at any snap shot moment, and amenable in that moment to Aristotelian empiricism. Such logic also makes room for the reality of the unobservable potentials that are part of the becoming aspect of a thing, a becoming aspect that requires consideration of the thing in relationship to other things and not just in and of itself.
Alternatively stated, it is intellectually useful to consider a thing in and of itself as if it were at rest. Such focusing of observation and such simplification of logic has led to dramatic scientific learning. Reintegration just goes back to the everyday experience of observing things in motion and thinking about things in relationship to each other. Such seeing and thinking considers things as they move and change over time and utilizes more complex synthetic logics such as quantum mechanics, special and general relativity theory, and multi-variable systems theory (modeling).
At the level of quantum mechanics we have learned that it is practically and theoretically impossible to observe the being and becoming aspects of reality at the same time. The location and velocity of a particle cannot be accurately observed at the same time. Location is a momentary (snap shot) appreciation of reality and tells something about the being of a thing such as a photon of light. The velocity of a thing occurs over time as a thing becomes present from location to location.
Similarly, when we switch attention to the wave aspects of energy and matter, we can calculate the frequency and magnitude of waves as they occur over time. But the observation of a wave requires a motion picture rather than a snap shot. At any single moment in a wave, frequency is unobservable and magnitude is an observation of the measured impact of a particles on the recording device in that moment. Waves are calculable as they momentarily and sequentially become manifest to recording devices as particles. The peaks of waves represent the clustering of many particles and the troughs represent the clustering of fewer particles. The important thing is that waves are calculable over time, as they constantly and repeatedly become themselves.
Quantum physicists regard wave and particle aspects of quantum reality as equally valid and useful, as complementary understandings of a single reality. Waves constantly and repeatedly actualize their sequential potential to cluster many or few particles. The energy of a wave can be calculated as an average of peaks and troughs but, at any single moment of peak or trough, it is more or less than the average. While quantum mechanics cannot be fit within Democritean theory married to Aristotelian empiricism, it fits easily within Platonic dialectical thinking that appreciates both being and becoming as valid and useful understandings of what it means to say that something is real. The interesting reality of a wave cannot be observed in a moment, cannot be fully manifest in a moment, but is manifest and observable only in repeated and sequential observations over time.
In another example of the same point, the reality of light is a constantly and sequential alternation of electrical fields and magnetic fields. At any moment only the electrical fiend or magnetic field is manifest. The alternation is so fast that for all practical and mechanical understandings of light the alternation can be ignored.
I draw out these examples to underline the point that the reintegration of the sciences I propose is consonant with contemporary scientific theories, including physics the ultimate reference point for atomistic thinking. Perhaps the reintegration will have some value to physicists. My scientific competence is so far removed from physics that I can't say more than I have already said. The value of doing such reintegrative work, from my point of view, lies not within physics (or chemistry) but for the reintegration of the sciences with a smooth logic that grounds each science, that restates the terms for cross-boundary reasoning between sciences, that has constructive theoretical impact in the human sciences with biology seen as a bridge science, and that regrounds the conversations between science and praxis and science and theology.
Before closing this chapter it seems important to me to consider the concept of the emergence of potential as it relates to the roles of mechanism and chance in causal explanation. Democritean thinking present an atomistic understanding of mechanistic explanation. If you are analyzing air pressure in a tire the behavior of individual air molecules can be treated as random. But, at least as thought experiment, at the level of analysis of single air molecules, directionality and force is deterministic as the single molecule interacts with other air molecules, the limits of its space, the level of heat, etc. In this way the Democritean chain of atomistic logic is preserved. For the practice of research, the behavior within the units can be considered as if they were random. We don't need to analyze individual air molecules to study air pressure in a tire.
Given the above understanding of Democritean logic as a prominent part of current scientific logic, it would be expected that some degree of variability would show up in the results of empirical (Aristotelian) research. Such an understanding of chance gives some flexibility to Democritean thinking without giving up a basically mechanistic and atomistic logic. The mechanistic integration of units sequentially cancels out the randomness within the parts of wholes. Safety testing for tires on an automobile can focus on tread design or other considerations without worrying about the "random" behavior of air molecules within the tire. In the case of a tire and air pressure, any air pressure variations arising from the "random" behavior of air molecules is so minuscule as to be easily forgotten.
In a larger scale example, if you did simple Newtonian physics analysis of billiard balls being knocked around you would usually forget about variations in wind as a factor. But, in fact, variations in wind do have minute effects on billiard balls and it would be possible to create a strong enough fan to have an observable impact on the behavior of the balls. The whole point of laboratory conditions is to limit such factors that are extraneous to the interest of the scientist. In field observations, instead of observations under laboratory controls, observers report on disruptive factors, say wind, as an approximation of laboratory controls. Disruptive factors are any factor that complicate an observation of things and events from the point of view of a testable hypothesis.
Lifting our gaze from physics may help some of you, my readers, to follow what I am saying. Darwin's theory of evolution focused on continuity and change in species of organisms. What counts for such evolutionary theory is what biological features of form and behavior are passed down the generations. With such a focus the concern about which individual organisms survive to pass on their features to the next generation is probablistic. The better adapted individual organisms are more likely to survive. However, looked at from the point of view of the individual organism, the contingencies in the environment, such as the presence of predators, are not probablistic. From the point of view of the antelope the tiger is present or not present. An antelope may change its behavior in the hopes of avoiding tigers, or heighten its attention to the potential presence of tigers in a particular moment, but the tiger is still present or not present. This may not matter to the evolutionary theorist, but it matters to the antelope (and to the tiger).
A meeting of an antelope and a tiger will affect the natural history of the antelope and the tiger, a particular and contingent path, without necessarily affecting evolution based on the principle of natural selection in a dramatic way. It is the presumed fact that faster antelopes are more likely to survive such meetings, and faster tigers are more likely to get a meal, that matters scientifically from the point of view of evolutionary theory. Natural law is general and natural history is particular.
Platonic reintegration of Democritean thinking can affirm that much Democritean materialistic thinking is highly valuable because it allows theoretical focus while challenging Democritean thinking around what is left out by such focusing. By bring in whole-to-environment relationships as a balancing to whole-to-parts relationships two things are achieved. First of all, a materialistic but non-atomistic, non-reductionist, is validated as the most satisfactory line of thinking in some scientific considerations. For example, hydrogen and oxygen join up to become water under some conditions and do not join up to become water under other conditions. Maybe sulphur gets involved and what is formed is sulphuric acid.
Secondly, when we get to the human sciences, with biology as a transitional science in logical terms, the emergence of full-blown symbolic consciousness becomes logically non-problematic. Arguments about the mind as epiphenomenal go away, for example. Purpose and intention become part of logical explanations of why humans act the way they do. This becomes crucial to theory construction in the human sciences. The transition is as radical as the transition from chemistry to biology in which the units under consideration actualize previously unobservable potentials for the numerous activities of living. Platonic reintegration is additive in the sense of including more considerations in scientific analyses. More importantly, Platonic reintegration is complex in being concerned about multiple dimensions of analysis and systematic integration. Particular testable scientific hypotheses are treated as specific paths within larger, more complex, systematic models that integrate multiple contingencies. Platonic reintegration values the advantages of focus, but treats all focusing as provisional and contingent, as highly useful but limited and potentially distracting in the sense of drawing attention away from other factors.
My larger point is that we humans think differently when we are doing scientific research and when we are estimating costs and benefits of our behavior as individuals in diverse circumstances. For a great many decisions many considerations are more or less knowable, or knowable at varying levels of cost. Furthermore, when we move to the human sciences, particularly when we bring an individualistic focus to the human sciences, the line of logic shifts substantially. It is one thing to consider the things that are conceptually parts of ourselves and parts of the world we interact with and quite another thing to consider ourselves as parts of relationships, groups, institutions, societies, and cultures. Issues such as intentionality, curiosity, interests, the relevance of concepts-as-held, the utility of various aspects of symbolic speech, bring multiple complexities into play as mediating factors in human decision making. Such factors are emergent in non-human entities. In fully functioning people they are fully present and that makes the interactions of fully functioning people with their environments far more complex, by multiple orders of complexity, than simpler organisms, parts of organisms, or of cells within human bodies.
It is usual to discuss the distance between the natural sciences and he human sciences in terms of freedom. That is a relevant discussion but it is not one of the concerns I am addressing at this point. All the mechanistic causal forces in the natural world are present in the human world. Humans are biologically part of the species homo sapiens. We have the limits and opportunities intrinsic to homo sapiens. It is just that homo sapiens, in comparison to other specie, have many more possibilities for development, as evidenced by our history. Specifically human capacities, such as symbolic communication, do not separate us from being creatures, they are just the emergence of possibilities that are unobservable but present even in the least things we know about.
This discussion presents the basic bridge between the natural sciences and the human sciences. On the one hand it is a caution to theorists who want to apply machanistic, and particularly atomistic, theories to human behavior. On the other hand it is a caution to theorists who want to ignore the natural sciences as if the above distinctive factors freed people from the forces of nature. Remember, for example, that we all die.
The second aspect of the above discussion that I want to hold up is the shift in focus from considering things that are part of homo sapiens and their environments, things that we often treat as if they were random but traditionally theorize as deterministic, and our individualistic experience of contingencies and limits that might be treated as random from the point of view of societies and cultures. The fact that I may be fired and replaced in my job may not matter much to the institution or society I am part of, but it matters to me. Job performance standards may be intended by an institution to reduce randomness in continuity of employment, but the application of job performance standards to me are often felt as irrelevant or arbitrary because they do not take consideration of factors that are not in the standards, such as the capacity and biases of my bosses and fellow workers.
I can choose to eat salad or steak or both. If I am reflective about such choices I expect a usual result from such choices. I assume a mechanistic understanding of digestion and am usually not interested in variable factors, such as the secretion of varying levels of digestive juices in my stomach. But my choosing, my intentionality, doesn't change the results of my choices. My choices, my intentionality, merely set different causal sequences in motion. The more I understand the alternative causal sequences the more potential I have for successfully obtaining the goals of my intentions. Such cognitive power, however, doesn't change the causal sequences once they initiated.
Fully functioning human beings, as above, live in a world filled with opportunities and contingencies, a world shared with other human beings. As a practical matter we assume some mechanistic causation and some freedom. Asking the question, "Are human beings truly free?" is to oversimplify the human situation. We have some capacities that give us some choices. In various circumstances our choices are more or less constrained, but we never choices beyond the limits of being creatures, of being homo sapiens in particular.
For the reintegration of the sciences it is important to note that simpler things that are part of homo sapiens and part of the environments of homo sapiens, such as molecules, can be appropriately analyzed as units in and of themselves with the application of Democritean logic. There is great power in such thinking. But molecules, when they become part of more complex entities, such as liver cells in human beings, manifest a previously unobservable potential to be part of life, to be part of human life. Such potential is in the molecule only in the sense that the molecule has the potential to interact with other molecules. It is in the interaction that previously unobservable potentials become realized. Molecules-in-relationship manifest potentials that are unobservable in molecules by themselves. The coming together into relationship releases the previously unobservable potential. Explanation in science can be reunderstood as identification of released potentials of entities in interaction within specific conditions. It is a different way of discussing the same content commonly discussed with Democritean language and assumptions. The advantage of the reintegration, and the restatement of explanations, comes from escaping the inadequate mechanistic, specifically atomistic, line of thought. Democritean language appears adequate to the scientific tasks when we are conceptually looking down the orders of complexity using analytic lines of thought. But the above discussion of mechanism and chance relative to various levels of analysis points to a core problem in Democritean conceptions. Democritean analysis looks for the mechanisms within the parts of any particular unit whereas what is observed is the release of unobservable potentials in the parts of a unit as the parts come into interaction with one another. This distinction is critical to the reintegration of evolutionary theory that is considered in the next chapter. It is also critical for the bridge discussed above for the reintegration of the natural sciences and the human sciences. It is additionally critical for the use of scientific findings and conceptions as a basis for social and cultural constructions, as demonstrated in the construction of gender found in my book Transgender Good News.
While Plato did not emphasize his thinking with regard to the natural world outside of human beings, if we slightly adjust his interest in eternal forms to an interest in eternal concepts, we can begin the reintegration. Eternal concepts include the concept of unity which is at the heart of units and therefore arithmetic and then all mathematics. Mathematics is a central part of science and advanced physics cannot be thought without advanced mathematics.
The first reintegrative thought begins with the simple question, what or where is a unit? One can argue that there are units in the natural world and that to see the world is to see units. Our senses distinguish one tree from another. I responded to this approach by saying that our sensory organs, such as our eyes, are only part of seeing, that sensory input is organized by the brain. I argued that the brain also has a sensory capacity and that what it senses is eternal concepts like the concept of unity, which leads to the number one, etc. Now I add the corollary that nature does have numerical qualities. People can count trees. What the brain sees when it sees units is out there. The eternal concepts which the brain can sense, an awareness developed by minds and civilization, serve as an intrinsic cognitive bridge to the world out there.
The Sophists are right in arguing that individual human beings are centers of perception and cognition but wrong if they radicalize that thought in a way that denies the independence and coherence of the world that is engaged through perception. Sophists are strong when they bring the challenge of standpoint dependence as a critique of the work of empiricists but empiricists can take standpoint dependence into account and chug along with their work, the better off for the Sophistic cautionary note.
When I talk about eternal concepts I mean, to begin with, concepts that are known by the brain but not made up by the brain anymore than a tree is made up by the eye. Eternal concepts, as part of our subjectivity, link us to the outside world through our individual experience, perception, and thinking. They also link us to each other through conversations that use language that includes such eternal concepts in little words like: the, one, similar, young, etc. In interaction, the constructions of minds and civilizations are spectacular, including the construction of the sciences.
Following this line of thinking, I repeat that material is not materialistic and add that seeing units and comprehending that what we are seeing is units-plus-potentials, means that the kind of things addressed when we discuss the activities of mind and soul are not epiphenomenal, are not mere by-products or mirages of active brains. This has implications for the last chapter of this book but it also has implications for this chapter. The first is that in theory construction, when we are seeking to explain a change in the activity of some unit being observed, we can think not merely in terms of efficient causes, such as the external impact of a bat on a softball, but also about the potentials in the ball and in the complex act of swinging the bat to hit the ball. This allows us to theorize not merely about the resultant speed of the ball but also about the probability of base hits. We see the mechanistic transfer of energy from the bat to the ball as merely an intermediate variable in a complex activity, not as an explanatory end-in-itself. Raising our sight beyond the mere mechanistic part of the explanation avoids limiting oneself to the highly useful, seductively useful, focus on the mechanical explanation.
Playing softball as a game with numerous human players involves motives and goals and values, etc. When we are not seduced by the powerful utility of mechanistic explanations for mechanistic activities we can affirm both the value of bat and ball physics, which facilitates rule making about bats and balls, without feeling that we have crossed the line into fuzzy or second-best thinking when we seek to analyze softball games in all their human complexity. The human sciences are not a denial of natural sciences they are just harder because there are more difficult things to consider at work in human processes. For example, bat and ball physics is taken into account as part of the basis for soft ball rule-making. Knowing why there are rules about legal bats and balls can help an analyst of softball games compare and contrast various softball leagues with different rules intended to better serve different kinds of players. Older players like to play with softer softballs to minimize injury and to create better defensive chances for people with slower reflexes. Softer softballs come off the bat more slowly. In this case, the knowledge of bat and ball physics, a mind held and socially shared knowledge, can be thought of as a background variable for analyzing softball games as well as an intermediate variable for analyzing specific plays.
A first fruit of the reintegration project is the above discussed reintegration of the natural and the human sciences. A later discussion will focus on reintegration within the human sciences.
A second general science reintegration has to do with the relationship between probablistic and mechanistic processes within the natural sciences. At first blush it would seem that the concepts of probability and determinism are opposite concepts. If something is fully determined there is no room for probability. If something is only probable it is not fully determined.
There is a simple resolution to this issue for most, perhaps all, physical and chemical activities. What is probablistic at one level of analysis can be treated as constant at a higher level. Individual air molecules or atoms may have random activity within a car tire but the air pressure for the tire as a whole is constant. We don't need to follow the activity of individual molecules of air to accurately predict air pressure under various conditions. A tighter analysis asserts that any tiny variation in air pressure because of probablistic variability of the air molecules and atoms in the tire is too small and momentary to be measured by fluctuations in gross tire pressure. There might be a logical or mathematical question to be asked but it is of such small scope as not to be worth the intellectual effort. Thus the logical distinction is allowed but the scientific impact can be forgotten.
An alternate path into this same intellectual territory can focus on the concept of degree of consistency as a dialectical connecting thought between random probability and total determinism. Restated, random probability and total determinism are two poles for the concept of degree of consistency. Then we can ask questions such as how do we reason when an activity is neither random nor fully determined. Reasoning from both polar thoughts can make a contribution to answering the question. What generates whatever there is of randomness and what limits such randomness? This is the kind of question faced in evolutionary genetic biology.
This line of thinking pushes towards the limits of Demcritean atomistic conceptions. At the level of least things, as currently understood through the theory of quantum mechanics, we come to limits of observability for two reasons. One is the probablilistic behavior of the quarks (least things) which has already been discussed. This leaves us with the question of what are quarks doing or what is the state of quarks when they are unobserved? Such a question stretches particle physics past the limits of observability, past the limits of empiricism. The question confronts mystery. The second limit is that observation of quark activity, is intrisically distorting. For example, to observe place requires not being able to observe speed. The intrusion of observation out of a desire to see in itself limits the capacity to see. This is the kind of challenge that Sophists should find intriguing.
The more fundamental Platonic challenge to the adequacy of Democritean theory at the level of particle physics is not observability but the role of mathematics. It is one thing to count trees. A tree is a unity and it isn't disturbing to attach the concept of one to one tree. But, with Einstein's breakthrough theoretical discovery, now thoroughly confirmed with observations, that matter is convertible to energy according to the formula energy equals mass times the speed of light squared, least things are not solid anymore. A least quanta (measure) is a measure of energy of a sub-atomic particle. A key quantum physics discovery was that such particles move at a small number of specific speeds under different conditions as opposed to generally speeding up or slowing down. The specific speeds are another example of a constant form at the heart of the structure of least things.
These specific constant quantum speeds, the constant speed of light, and the constant small number that is Planck's constant, all put mathematical concepts at the heart of understanding least things, least things that are convertible to pure energy. How does one conceive of pure energy that isn't a something moving? The role of mathematics at this level is no longer glorified counting, because the things to be counted are elusive. The math itself becomes the method of research. Can string theory be developed so that it fits with some observations within particle physics? Without prejudging this question about string theory I merely point out that we have come into the territory of Plato's universal concepts as the object of study. The hope is to discover a formal conception that can explain some observations. Restated, the hope is to develop a formal conception that can explain some observations. This work makes more room for Sophistic initiative and freedom of the mind, for the importance of initiative and cognitive power.
There is an important difference between the concept of discovery and the concept of development. Development is pure cognitive invention, an exploration of the relationships of concepts as concepts, as opposed to discovery which is interactive mental activity that begins by linking concepts to observed things. At the end of a very long sequence of materialistic reductions in the search for least things we come to Platonic concepts and methods.
From this point we can freshly turn the corner into asking what is the reality of concepts in contrast to the reality of things. Democritean atomistic theory and Aristotelian empiricism use concepts, here we are discussing mathematical concepts, but the goal is explaining things. There is no need to consider concepts in themselves and this in turn has lured some theorists into arguing that concepts have no independent reality, that they are epiphenomenal byproducts of the physiological activities of neurones in the brain. The reintegration proposed here argues that concepts are a reality perceived through the activity of neurones in the brain. Just as the brain has the capacity to organize sensory data from the eyes using concepts, it has the capacity to organize its own direct awareness of concepts.
To think of concepts as having reality does not mean that human beings create or control concepts. Rather, they perceive and use concepts. The matching up of concepts in a mind with perceptions of trees and other external objects builds a conceptual bridge between the subjective and objective world. The critique of Sophists that people do their thinking one at a time and that there is no absolute overcoming of subjectivity seem valid to me, but this only constitutes a limit to the process of understanding the external world. Our knowledge of the external world is not direct and perfect, but it can still be substantial and can be progressively and collectively improved through science.
To understand the status of concepts as real is not to devalue what can be learned through empirical observation, indeed the use of concepts is a key part of observing, a key part of structured and operationalized observing. Recognizes the existence of concepts is complementary, not antagonistic, to recognizing the existence of things. Furthermore, at the most reductionary level, the physics of least things, the distinction between concepts and things begins to melt. Perhaps we could justify the equation things (t) equal concepts (p) plus matter (m). t = p+m Perhaps, since matter is convertible into energy, a better equation would be things equal concepts plus energy (e). t = p+e
Mathematics is not the only critical concept for doing the work of science. I've also begun to discuss the concept of cause beginning with Aristotle's divisions of the concept of cause into four kinds of causes. A cause explains how something comes into existence or changes. For a thing to come into existence involves gathering and reordering the smaller things that are parts into a new unity. Hydrogen and oxygen atoms can be brought together to make a water molecule.
It's time to notice that is not the potentials in hydrogen and oxygen that bring them together to make water. There is no need for positing some kind of longing or purpose in water molecules to explain there coming together to make water. It is enough to notice that if they come together under certain conditions the potential to be water is released. The conditions (causes) explain the changes in the hydrogen and oxygen atoms that force them to bond together as water.
The role of released potential in this reasoning better accomplishes the kind of explanation that Aristotle was seeking when he posited final or teleological causes. Material, formal, and efficient causes do not explain why the oxygen and hydrogen atoms come together. Alternatively stated, it would be possible to think of expanding material causes to contain both manifest and potential aspects, to modify formal cause thinking to consider transitional and not just stable forms, and to modify efficient cause thinking to include both the immediately precipitating activity in itself plus the catalytic activity of releasing potential. Instead of modifying the simpler notions of cause it seems to me more useful for communication to just talk about released potential as a fourth cause.
The question of whether the concept of released potential makes room for purpose (teleology) for the explanation of the world as known by purposeful creatures will be picked up in several aspects in the next two chapters and then in the final chapter. My intention in this chapter has been to show that eliminating the concept of purpose for the study of the natural sciences is justified and useful. In this regard I am following Aristotle who specified his presuppositions to fit the conversation under consideration. The reintegration I seek is merely that the natural sciences do not need to deny purpose to pursue their chosen goals. They are just well-served by ignoring purpose as part of their causal analysis.
Natural Law and Natural History
Considering the distinction and the relationships between natural law and natural history provides an opportunity for both resummarizing the above thinking and showing some of the value of the above thinking for the reintegration of the sciences. The core logical distinction is between the concepts of generality and particularity. The distinction of generality and particularity can be applied to science as a whole, or on a science by science basis, or on a sub-science by sub-science basis.
A scientific law, like the law of gravity, is present in all events and affects all things. There are a small number of laws of physics that are general to all science. Chemistry, in turn, is governed by the laws of physics and has some of its own laws that affect all chemical interactions. They apply to relationships between atoms. Biology, in turn, is governed by the laws of physics and chemistry and has some of its own laws that affect all living things. For example all living organisms, over time, will die. This line of thinking makes people comfortable with Democritean thinking and I have shown above that scientists can be equally comfortable with this progression of laws within reintegrated scientific theory with its emphasis on emergent potential. The laws that are added with the study of biology are laws about the constitution and behavior of organisms that relate to the potentials that have become actual with the emergence of living creatures.
It is common in science to focus on the general, to look for laws that apply to a wide range of things and provide consistent understandings for explaining observed phenomena.xxii A big part of the power of such focus is the logic of control in experiments and the approximation of controls in field observations. Such controls strain out distracting particularities. For example, a scientist might take a pail of lake water, boil it and collect the steam to get pure water, well purer water anyway. Pure water can then be analyzed to see if it behaves according to relevant physical and chemical laws.
The control process of boiling and collecting steam throws away a lot of information in the collected lake water to allow focus on the physical or chemical laws of interest to the scientist. The thrown away information would be useful for comparing the water found in Lake A with the water found in Lake B, and also useful for contrasting lake water with ocean water. In fact, scientists interested in comparing the waters in Lakes A and B are uninterested in the pure water, the H2O molecules, and take the pure water part of the comparison for granted. In turn, their focus is on everything else in the waters of Lake A and B. Careful reordering of focus is a key part of the power of science.
Natural history can be understood, at least in part, as the playing out of natural laws in the actuality of existence. Different interactions of different things create different events. Because everything that has causal impact in an uncontrolled natural event shapes the event the purity of reasoning that comes with controls breaks down. This is a different kind of breakdown in predictability of events than comes with any assumed ontological randomness. This is a breakdown in predictability because there are too many causes involved to take into account. My earlier softball game example shows the implications of this line of thinking.
One important implication of the distinction between natural law and natural history comes with thinking about biological evolution. The emergence and development of life on Earth is one grand path of natural history. It is influenced by whatever laws of evolution exist but it is also influenced by contingencies such as big meteor impacts or ice ages and such contingencies give shape to the particularity of the development of life on Earth, such as the end of the Age of Dinosaurs and the beginning of the Age of Mammals. Knowing the laws of evolution is necessary but not sufficient for understanding the evolution of life on Earth. Furthermore, since we have very little data about life from anywhere other than Earth it is going to be intrinsically hard for scientists to generalize about evolutionary theory. For example, are carbon based life forms the only possible kinds of life forms? The study of life in extreme conditions, such as in deep ocean vents where hot gases interact with ocean water, is a partial step toward overcoming such a limitation, but the oxygen in ocean water is the result, most likely, of plant life in the oceans and on land and so the environment of deep ocean vents is not an entirely independent evolutionary path.
Natural laws are good for explaining the being aspect of things, the substance and form of a thing, a snap shot of a thing without being concerned about how a thing changes over time. To understand a thing is to understand the substance and form of a thing as if it were unchanging, as if it were at rest. The powerful focus of science on the being aspect of a thing takes advantage of the marriage between Aristotelian empiricism and Democritean theory building. To focus on the being aspect of a thing is to be unconcerned for the duration of such focus on such things as contingency and randomness or limitations and opportunities. In pre-modern times such a focus on being led to the assertion, or at least the assumption, that the natural state of a thing was to be at rest. Throw a ball into the air and it lands on the ground and rolls to a stop. In the Democritean tradition, since a thing is considered in and of itself it is perfectly reasonable to explain a thing as the sum of its parts.
The reintegrative approach I am presenting merely points out that, however useful it is to focus on being, it is also useful to focus on becoming, to focus on things in motion, to focus on things as they change. I am not asserting that events or activities or interactions are somehow more fundamental than things. I am not asserting that things are ontologically in motion rather than at rest. What I am asserting is that when we do focus on things in motion, things in interaction with other things, that it is at least sometimes the case that a potential in a thing becomes actual, becomes manifest (theoretically observable), and, if our human capacity with technological support is up to the task, becomes (actually) observable. I include the fine point about becoming manifest (theoretically observable) as contrasted to becoming actually observable, to hold onto a humility that comes with the standpoint dependence of being a homo sapien creature. We will pickup this thread again in the chapters on the human sciences. For the sciences of physics, chemistry, and biology, it seems to be quite satisfactory to do scientific work with an empiricism limited to reasoning from data that comes to the brain from the external senses. Noting the fine point about what is manifest now is a reminder that the sciences of physics, chemistry, and biology provide an understanding of the capacities, opportunities, limits, and contingencies that become actual in fully developed humans. Physics, chemistry, and biology help us understand the natural history of life on earth that made possible the emergence of the potential of homo sapiens to become fully human. The human sciences then do what they can to help us understand ourselves.
For me, one of the values of doing the work of providing a reintegrated understanding of the sciences is to improve the quality of cross boundary conversations between science and praxis and the cross boundary conversations between science and theology. In the interests of full disclosure for any of my readers who are quite reasonably suspicious about scientific theoretical work that is done by an active Christian, a suspicion I tend to share about other active Christians, I offer this closing note to my first three chapters. Feel free to skip the note. It isn't critical to the rest of the book. I will pick up the cross-boundary discussion between science and theology in a thorough way in the last chapter and you can skip that too if it seems distasteful to you.
My approach to causal analysis seems to me to make room for God as the source of released potentials that are revealed in the progressively more complex organization of things. This comment is an extension of the possibility of God, not the proof of God, that comes with the basic question why is there something rather than nothing? This comment simply follows out the notion that if God is the creator of the Earth and the Universe then such creative activity is ongoing as possibilities arise.
The premise of God is not necessary for scientific explanation. It is enough to remember that we do science as creatures and not as a god. We do what we can with what we are, however created, including making use of what we can perceive and what we can think. My understanding and appreciation of God can be ignored for the benefit of scientific focus. It is attempts to use science to confirm or deny the existence of God that is objectionable.
While there is good reason and good evidence for natural scientists to argue against intrinsic purpose as a final cause in scientific explanations, there is no good reason to argue against emergent potentials that become actualized in the interactions between whole things and other things in the environment. Indeed, research in the natural sciences repeatedly shows such emergence. Water keeps showing up when hydrogen and oxygen are combined under certain conditions even though that potential cannot be observed in the hydrogen and oxygen studied by themselves. The potential of hydrogen and oxygen to become water repeatedly and regularly shows up even though it cannot be observed in hydrogen and oxygen by themselves. What is observed is the form of hydrogen and oxygen atoms that make it possible for them to join with other atoms to make water or other molecules. It is in their chemical bonding that water molecules are formed.
The logic of emergent possibility makes possible a more friendly and mutually valuable conversation between good science and good theology, good Christian theology in particular.
The next step is to illustrate the usefulness of the reintegrative logic developed in the first three chapters in the next chapter on evolution and creation. As an illustration of cross-boundary conversation with theology, a critique of creationism will be offered. Following the exemplification in Chapter Four, the implications of the groundwork in this chapter will then be demonstrated in two chapters on the reintegration of the human sciences, ending in a summary of the reintegrated relationship between the human and the natural sciences.
Philosophical Note: One Plus One Equals Three
The link between being and becoming is potential. Being and becoming are not the opposite of each other. Being carries non-observable potentials which only become manifest at a more complex level of integration. We know about these potentials by observing them in the more complete manifestation and cannot observe them in their constituent parts by themselves.
Things become more complex and less complex. When a thing breaks down (literally), as when a body dies, it does not disintegrate to non-being. The constituent parts go back to carrying more complex possibilities as potential rather than as an actualization.
This truth is obscured in Western thought by at least two strong thinking traditions. One is empirical science which analyzes a thing in term of its constituent parts and accomplishes an explanation when the parts are accurately identified and the assembly process is accurately identified. This scientific thinking process is integral with mathematics, the second strong tradition. In mathematics, one plus one equals two. In science a "one" is an identifiable unit, such as an atom or a molecule or a body organ. Science is very strong in requiring operational definitions of what is observed. This is at the heart of the empirical approach which depends on observation for the data to be considered.
The cognitive structure for observation which sees units is valuable and powerful. But, in looking at units, what is empirically observable, it does not look as the unobservable potentials in the units. The body is made up of water plus many other molecules. One can observe water indefinitely and never see the potential to be part of a thinking creature like a human being. We know the potential is there because we see it manifest in human beings and water is a major component part of human beings. When a person dies, the thinking creature is usually considered to be gone and in one sense that is true. The specific thinking creature is no more, but it isn't fully gone. The component parts of a thinking creature, when disorganized from that creature, have the potential to participate in other creatures.
To think synthetically, rather than analytically, about the same information, is to include the potential in assessing the unit. While we cannot observe such potentials in less complexly formed creatures, we can subjectively observe potentials in ourselves. For example, we can notice that we become parts of social relationships which are more than ourselves. Particularly, we can subjectively observe the factors within ourselves that make social relationships possible and the factors that lure us into such relationships.
Regarding our individual selves, and our individual thinking activities, as not the "highest" aspect of creation, but rather as a part of a larger social and cultural whole, is another aspect of humility that I will call existential humility. I am not trying to deny individuality and I am not trying to qualify the responsibility for the choices we make. I am merely observing that we shape our thinking in response not only of our observations, not only by our access to concepts and values through the perceiving of our brains, but also we are shaped by out interactions with others. In reflection we can claim some thinking and feeling space to free ourselves from such influences to a greater or lesser extent, but we make all our choices, including the choice to be reflective, in the presence of both exterior constraints and influences, the constraints and influences of being a body, and the constraints and influences we have internalized from living in relationships.
One way of restating this point is to say that the most fundamental personal aspect of being human is not self (an isolated center of feeling, thinking, choosing and acting) but the single word (concept) self-in-relationship. I don't mean that individuality disappears. I don't mean that there is no such thing as individuality. I just mean that the shaping of our individuality has multiple inputs and constraints, that we reflect, choose, and act in the midst of multiple contingencies. We may me more or less aware of such contingencies. We may be more habitual than reflective.
Yet another way to say this is that to be a person is not quite the same as being an individual. To be a person is to be socially and culturally engaged. If were the last person alive after some holocaust, we would still be persons because we carry the collective memories and they would continue to influence us. If we are alive but our brain capacity has deteriorated so that we can no longer communicate, can no longer sense the presence of others, we would have lost our personhood and be reduced to mere individuality.
What I'm talking about is existential humility. This is an existential stance that does not flaunt a hyper-individuality, does not emphasize freedom from constraint, but recognizes that any freedom from constraint and influence that we achieve must either be invested in relationships and cultural or social activities. The work of freeing ourselves from the limits of our experiences, from the limits of our concepts, from the limits of existing relationships, can be important and valuable work. To think a new philosophical or scientific thought, to imagine a new picture or a new soup, to reassess a political position, are important disciplines that draw strength from the realization that what we already know or imagine is not all there is to know or imagine. But if we don't cook the new soup it doesn't become part of our relational world. It is merely an intellectual or imaginary potential. When we pursue a potential, whether creative or merely generative, we in our turn influence relationships, and the larger social and cultural aspects of our world, of the world. The values and concepts we manifest, the physical materials we manipulate, are influences and constraints for others. The basic personal reality, self-in-relationship, is intrinsically dialogical, an ongoing interactional reality from an individual point of view.
Section on Ethics
Ethical humility, like other forms of humility, cuts against arrogant uses of either ontology or phenomenology. When we push ontology (either a formal version of a world behind the world as in Plato, or an atomistic version as in Democritus) we come to mystery. Our brains are perceptual organs as relating to some eternal concepts such as unity, and here I add love, justice, freedom, and equity; but such concepts define us as human beings rather than the other way around. We do not know such concepts as gods and we find them to be qualifying of each other, and to be complex in application when followed in human action. Such values for the world of ethics, that is as guidance for human, thus need to be followed out with humility.
Humility is not the same as moral relativism which comes with a phenomenological grounding for ethics, whether with an emphasis on sustaining various patterns as in Aristotole or an emphasis on freedom and power as in Protagorus and the Sophists. The strong side of both phenomenological approaches is the recognition that ethics are created by people acting within multiple constraints and acting with a mix of interests. The multiple constraints awareness leads to an emphasis on looking for patterns, as in Claude Levi-Strauss following Aristotle, and as a theme in post-modernism, and the mix of interests leads to an emphasis on freedom, responsibility, and individual power, as in Sartre, Marx, and Freud. But appeals to such universals as freedom and responsibility head back into rationalism and ontology. The interpretation of patterns also leads back into rationalism and ontology. Another way of saying this is that focusing on the questions of what and how, good questions for phenomenologists, pick up questions of why when we discuss ethics as guides to human action. Some have tried to deny or rule out ethics as a reasonable human discourse, but such denial avoids looking at the reality that humans make choices, whatever the mix of opportunities, constraints, and motives, and with whatever levels of awareness or habit. Even if people choose to feed themselves because they are hungry, and even if such a choice is habitual (without reflection), they are still choosing towards life rather than death. The fact that they are acting habitually does not deny that they could choose to act with reflection, to ask themselves whether or not they want to live. Some people, faced with such a question choose to die, suggesting that such a question is a real question even though it may seem obvious to many who ask it.
In short, phenomenologists are faced with the mystery of what kinds of habits to adopt or change, what patterns of behavior to comply or rebel against, or what to do with one's freedom.
To note that human beings act with a mix of motives, that they act within a mix of opportunities and constraints, and that they act with a mix or awareness or habits, does not require moral relativism. One can choose to consider such eternal concepts as love, justice, equity, freedom, responsibility, etc., in looking for guidance about what to do. But to choose to consider such concepts is to choose as a creature not as a god. Ontic humility is to let God be God and to make the best choices one can make as a creature in circumstances of mixed motives, and multiple opportunities and constraints.
Here is a point at which theology qualifies philosophy as a basis for ethics. This is a comparable qualification of philosophy and the search for truth, as in, "Why bother to search for truth?"
I worked for eighteen years as a policy advocate and then as a legislative director for the Washington DC Office of the United Church of Christ. My strongest foci were economic justice and health issues, but I also worked on human and civil rights, sex and gender, peace, international development, environment, and science related issues. I'll draw on this background in the world of politics to exemplify my ethical interests and concerns. In other sections I'll discuss ethics in the context of stewardship, personal relationships, social and cultural integrity, and care of one's body.
Sometimes my work was focused on direct communication with the Congress or Administration, as in direct face-to-face advocacy, and almost always involved communicating with the grass-roots advocates of the United Church of Christ and, commonly, with ecumenical, inter-religious, and secular partners. My work was guided by the written advocacy policies of the United Church of Christ, usually resolutions and pronouncements of the General Synods of the United Church of Christ. A General Synod is an every two years meeting of delegates of the United Church of Christ and is the most representative gathering of the 6000 plus congregations and 1.4 million members of the denomination. The United Church of Christ is generally considered to be the most liberal of the mainline Christian denominations, particularly in the current context on issues of sex and gender.
In personal terms I do not regard myself as a Liberal, though many of my policy commitments would be considered liberal. I did the best I could to analyze each issue on its merits and to offer my advocacy with regard to such merits. Sometimes my advocacy was to the UCC in the sense of trying to get either new or revised policy. With a very few exceptions I agreed with the written advocacy policies of the denomination.
My basic work as a policy advocate was to interpret the written policies as they applied to specific pieces of legislation and then to communicate about this interpretation to others. I offered a witness to shared Christian faith as it was relevant for policies being discussed by the Congress. (I'll focus on my congressional advocacy since my work with the Administrations and the Courts was more limited. I'll focus on my responses though there were a few cases when I was part of various "teams" that were proactively trying to set the agenda.) After an institutional reorganization the instrumentality of the United Church of Christ that I worked for was called Justice and Witness Ministries.
When my witness was to the grass roots of the United Church of Christ my primary concern was to explain the issue of the moment so that grass root advocates could offer their own witness. Such witnessing usually contained a recommendation for action, such as writing a letter that would make a number of advocacy points. This allowed, and was intended to allow, for grass roots people to make up their own minds on the issue of the moment. Particularly when there were opportunities for interaction and not just one-way communication, I often explained both sides of an issue and various trade-offs. I occasionally advised grass roots advocates how best to advocate for points of view different from the one I was presenting. In short, I was trying both to strengthen the conversation as well as advance a particular point of view. Said alternatively, I was witnessing to my faith in the long range process of democracy and the enhancement of trust within our sector of the Christian community and was not merely focused on short range political goals.
I was pleased to take a job as policy advocate for the United Church of Christ because it was an opportunity to work full time in keeping with my sense of calling to work for justice. I will return to the concept of calling in the theological section of this book. For this section I simply note that my subjective and personal dominant motive was to work for justice. I have a sense of the eternal value/concept of justice, enough sense of justice to use it in my reflections that guided my witnessing activity. I can offer definitions of such justice but I consider such attempts at definition provisional. My subjective sense was that in reflection I tried to let my sense of justice influence me. Said alternatively, my sense of eternal justice served as a lure to attempt to act justly, and my actions were intended as witness to justice as that was relevant to the issue of the moment.
I do not claim a privileged position in political conversations because I reflect and act in response to my sense of eternal justice. I regard such a subjective sense as a prosaic form of revelation and I will return to the concept of revelation in the theological section of this book. At this point I simply want to note that I recognize three things. The first is that I understand that my subjective sense of eternal justice may be flawed and the second is that my thinking about how justice is relevant for a particular issue may be flawed. The third point, perhaps the most important point, is that I recognize that even if my subjective sense of eternal justice is superb and my analytic application of justice to a particular issue is brilliant, my advocacy from such a perspective has at least two significant problems.
The first of these problems is that I offer my witness (advocacy) into a complex political situation that is usually filled with compromises and with deals that differentially strengthen various political teams which has political implications beyond the brackets of a focus on the issue of the moment. As one Washington slogan goes, "I hope to be measured by the integrity of my compromises more than by the purity of my intentions." Such integrity is hard to come by in situations where so many complex political factors are at work and where many players are skilled at keeping motives and factors hidden.
The second of these problems is that whatever I intend with the language I use for communicating my witness, that language is problematic. For example, suppose I appeal to the concept of basic human rights to express my perspective on rights for the elderly in relationship to the Medicare program. Such appeals are a "red flag" to some sectors of the conservative community. It angers them and they want to debate the issue of human rights as opposed to looking for a solution to a particular problem around, say, a specific expansion of Medicare with regard to the formulary of approved prescriptions. There are reasons to spend energy on defending the concept of human rights but choosing to do that may close an opportunity to reach a constructive compromise on a particular issue. Alternatively, I might be trying to make a point about urban housing in which the challenge revolves around the definition of the word urban in the law. Using urban in one way may help the low-income people I am trying to help out of a sense of economic justice. However, my favored definition of urban might hurt the same low-income people if applied in the area of, say, education, and legislation is filled with such cross-references. Trying to coordinate federal programs is a good idea but it often is at cross-purposes with incremental improvements in a particular sector.
For these, and for numerous other reasons, such as personal friendships and the building of trust with various partners, political advocacy is a complex matter when people stop to reflect about it. It is my experience that many of my advocacy partners do not spend much time and attention on such reflection. They just do he best they can with whatever levels of awareness they can manage. Such unreflective advocacy can be very helpful, even quite skillful, because the ongoing political debates on a sector-by-sector basis, such as advocacy around air quality, keeps coming around no matter what was, or was not, achieved in the last session of Congress.
If one conceives of political advocacy as contributions to a multi-centered, multi-layered, conversation about shaping the best possible society, it is important not only to make the best possible contributions one can make, it is also important to listen, not merely listen in pursuit of tactical advantage, but listen to learn more about what is at stake, what the relevant factors are. Another Washington slogan is, "I often learn more from my enemies than my friends and I am more often led astray by my friends than my enemies."
It is this kind of awareness that leads me to value the concept of dialogue over the concept of rhetoric. Rhetoric, going back to the Sophists, is about being skilled in argumentation without regard to which side of the argument one takes. I recognize that understanding the guidelines for persuasive rhetoric can strengthen an individual's power to influence public policy, among other things. But the desire simply to win an argument, to be a winner as an individual, takes one out of honest conversation about how to shape the best possible society.
I recognize that some thinkers oppose the notion that there is such a best society. I have already written in previous sections about such philosophical challenges. To recapitulate for this section of the book, I am arguing in favor of pursuing such a best society, in favor of making the best possible arguments in pursuit of such a society, and for sustaining a humility that leads one to spend energy on strengthening the integrity of the conversation and not just on trying to win a point. Such an approach turns an "enemy" into a conversational partner. Awareness of this point is captured in yet another Washington slogan, "No permanent friends, no permanent enemies." Said alternatively, any good witness to the value of eternal values/concepts in political conversations, requires political humility in pursuit of a healthy (good) conversation that is larger than any one speaker can sustain alone. The reason to adopt such humility, to become disciplined to such humility, is a trust that the values one has subjectively become aware of really are eternal and present to other people. Such trust is an act of faith and is another point at which theology offers a grounding beyond mere reason alone.
Chapter 4 - Evolution and Creation
There are three reasons for writing this chapter. The basic reason for this book is to illustrate the utility of my efforts to reintegrate the sciences by reconsidering the scientific understanding of the origin and development of life on Earth. The second is to illustrate the utility of the reintegration I present for the cross-boundary conversation of science with theology, moving the conversation toward more constructive and less hostile formulations. The third purpose for this chapter is that I regard the Science of Biology as a transitional between what has been called the natural sciences and the human sciences. In working through the logical implications of natural selection as scientific theory, partially anticipated in the second chapter, I seek to demonstrate the seamlessness of my reintegrative perspective in contrast to the problems found in reductionsitic approaches. This third purpose sets up not only the internal reintegration of the sciences but also the cross-boundary conversations of science with praxis and with theology.
My view is that the current cultural clash between the several versions of creationism and evolutionism are a clash of ideologies, a clash between bad theology and bad science. The resolution I propose emphasizes appropriate humility for both science and theology, offers the theme of emergent possibility as a way to respect both relevant scientific and theological concerns, and makes space for Christian witness (as well as for non-Christian theologies) that is not shaped by efforts to fill in the gaps of what science does not yet know. It is also my hope that scientists working with evolutionary theory will find formulations and points-of-view (theoretical lenses) that will strengthen their ongoing work.
Good Science and Bad Scientism
A lot of excellent scientific work in three important scientific areas has been done with regard to the origin and development of life on earth. No contributions to the analysis of how life began on Earth, or how life has developed on Earth, deserve any intellectual respect if they do not acknowledge the good scientific work already done. Ideological disrespect of science and of scientists tears the fabric of a society and culture that respects truth. On the other hand, there are more than a few scientists who have spoken out on theological issues as if their understanding of scientific concerns was an adequate grounding for such comments. That is what I mean by scientism.
Scientists appropriately point out that the hypotheses of several kinds of creationists do not fit with what is already known through science. As guardians of their disciplines it is appropriate for scientists to point out that creationists are putting forward bad science. But, in their zeal to protect the disciplines of science, and to gather appropriate social and political support for their work, some scientists slip into overstating the rejection of bad scientific hypotheses and also assert that there is no room for the theology of God as Creator.
What We Have Learned About Evolution
Modern scientific work on evolution began in the 19th century. Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection in 1859. This work did not occur in an intellectual vacuum. There were forerunner and parallel developments. But Darwin provided the founding thought and initiated a round of critiques and investigations that put the basic theory of evolution on the intellectual map.
Darwin was a naturalist. He observed and compared organisms in their natural habitats. This is one of the three kinds of research that supports current evolutionary theory. Though grounded in multiple kinds of observation, I will summarize in terms of Darwin's classic observation of species of Finches on the Galapagos Islands which focused on the shape of the bills of these birds.xxiii In contrast to mainland species of Finches the bills shapes of Galapagos Finches made it possible for these Finches to be more successful in eating a wider variety of kinds of food.
The young Darwin was not yet an accomplished naturalist, and it took him years to sort out his specimens. A friend, an ornithologist named John Gould, helped him with the specimins and was the one to suggest that the beaks were adaptations to differing food sources. This collaboration produced the strong example that helped interpret Darwin's arguments to thelearned and to the masses. The several species of Galapagos Finches had evolved to take advantage of the different kinds of food in a location where no other birds had filled these niches in the environment. They evolved, said Darwin, by natural selection. The different kinds of bills were adaptations to the Galapagos environment. The different kinds of bills gave the birds an adaptive advantage so that birds with such bills were likely to reproduce their kind. This was what led to new species.
Multiple Scientific Confirmations and Contributions
Two other kinds of observations of living organisms filled out and strengthened Darwin's naturalist approach to evolutionary thinking. One is comparative anatomy in which it became clear that creatures of many diverse kinds nonetheless share many common features. For example, diverse kinds of animals have similar bone structures in their arms and legs, wings and fins. The other is developmental biology, especially as applied to humans and other mammals. A close analysis of fetal development shows that mammal fetuses go through several stages before assuming the form they have at birth. These stages show the contributions of various ancestor species to current species. Further development as juveniles move toward adulthood show some of the considerations that need to be understood in the relationships of adaptation between species and their environments that influence successful reproduction.
The observations of naturalists, anatomists, and developmentalists are all current time observations of living organisms. (Paleontology, to be discussed shortly, also applies comparative anatomy to fossils.) This has at least two implications. First of all, there is no time frame involved other than the period of development for the developmentalists. This means that argumentation about the adequacy of evolutionary theory, which occurs over many generations, can only be inferred from the work of the naturalist sub-disciplines. Darwin's theory was thus largely based on inference rather than deduction.
Secondly, an analysis of organisms is not the same as an analysis of the parts of organisms. Issues in the evolution of beak structure may require a different kind of analysis than the analysis of whole organisms. The study of comparative anatomy shows how various body parts relate to whole organisms but does not in itself show how the similarities and differences came into existence.
As a naturalist, Darwin began his intellectual development within a tradition going back to Aristotle, a tradition regathered and restated by Carolus Linnaeaus in 1735. Linnaean taxonomy presents an orderly comparison of all life forms and is still broadly used. The contrasts between Linnaean taxonomy and a biological species concept that emphasizes sexual reproduction presents one of the common challenges within current evolutionary theory, a challenge but not a basic logical problem.
Linnaean taxonomy is based on comparisons of living and extinct creatures in terms of observable similarities and differences. It is not based on theories of how these similarities and differences came into existence. Linnaeaus set out major distinctions in living creature and the naturalists of the 18th and 19th centuries filled out the several categories with their observations and added more categories. To illustrate: human beings (homo sapiens) are part of Kingdom Animalia because they are animals, part of the Chordata Phylum because they have spinal cords, part of the Subphylum Vertebrata because they have segmented backbones, part or the Superclass Tetrapoda because they have four limbs, part of the Class Mammalia because they suckle their young, part of the subclass theria because they have life births, part of the Infraclass Eutheria because they have placenta, part of the Order Primates because they are highly mentally developed, part of the Superfamily Hominoidea because they are humanlike, part of the Family Hominidae because they are two-legged, part of the Genus Homo because they are human, part of the Species Sapien because they are modern humans with advanced intellectual capacities.
Because Linnaean taxonomy is applied to both living and extinct creatures there is some sense of time in the typological analysis. But it is intrinsically, at the observational level, a cross sectional analysis as if time doesn't matter. The Linnaean taxonomy invites theories about how the similarities and differences came to be but it does not itself supply those theories. Part of the invitation to theory is that Linnaean taxonomy can be applied to living and extinct species.
While Darwin as a naturalist focused his observations on living organisms, he was aware of early work in paleontology, the study of fossils of extinct (and currently living) organisms. Paleontology also stretches back to Aristotle, but in the 19th and 20th centuries it gained enormous observational capacity. It also gained intellectual focus with the advent of Darwinian evolutionary theory. Like Linnaean taxonomy, contemporary paleontology freed itself from the theoretical structures of Aristotle while retaining Aristotle's empirical commitment to developing logical reasoning based on observable data.
Paleontology, the second basic contributing science to evolutionary theory, is also an observational based discipline like the naturalists, taxonomists, comparative anatomists, and developmentalists. With the advent of modern dating techniques, paleontology greatly clarified the time dimension of fossil analysis and the analysis of early human artifacts. With the advent of modern observational technologies many more kinds of fossils could be observed. These developments allowed scientists to say a lot more about "natural history." Putting fossil data into time ordered patterns restructures the data for assessing theories of developmental sequence.
The fossil record of life on earth goes back 3.5 billion years to the oldest rocks that currently exist.xxiv For the first 1.1 billion years the surface of earth was molten. This means that life came into existence very quickly in the geological time span, found in the first rocks available for analysis. The Young Earth Creationists, who believe the world is only a few thousand years, old have no scientific data to support their theory. They ignore the findings of science and assert that their non-scientific approach is better for assessing the beginning of life on Earth. Their thinking is not so much bad science as non-science. That is, they believe in a theory which is not in accord with the results of logical analysis of observable data. The core theological impulse of the Young Earth Creationists may be worthy, but they have not been able to develop their thinking about the origin and development of life on Earth in scientific theories and testable hypotheses that deserves any scientific respect.xxv
A Brief Natural History
The first living things were prokaryotic cells that lacked many of the features of modern cells, such as genes of DNA gathered in a cell nucleus and mitochondria that provide the energy dynamics of modern cell life. It took a long time for the first modern cells (bacteria) to fully develop. These eukaryotic cells were not clearly in existence until 700 million years ago, though some scientists estimate they may have existed as early as 2 billion years ago. Either way, it took a long time for the origins of life to get through the first dance steps. If you place the emergence of eukaryotic cells at an earlier date, then it took longer for the first multicellular creatures such as jelly fish and corals to emerge. They came into existence 670 to 530 million years ago. (The sharpening of the dating of various evolutionary events is ongoing and the purposes of this chapter are not influenced by the details of these ongoing scientific improvements.)
Beginning some 600 to 530 million years ago there was an "explosion of life forms" called the Cambrian Explosion. Over a period that lasted from 5 to 40 million years all but one of the modern phyla emerged. Forty million years is a short time compared to a life record lasting 3.5 billion years. But even 5 million years is enough time for hundreds of thousands of generations, even millions of generations for short lived creatures. In any case, the anatomical themes that show up in the Linnaean Animalia Kingdom emerged in a comparatively short geological time and then have developed for 500 million plus years.
Over that 500 million year period paleontologists theorize that there were five global wide environmental catastrophes with resulting mass extinctions as well as numerous less extreme environmental challenges such as recurring Ice Ages. One of those catastrophes has been identified. A four mile wide asteroid slammed into the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico about 65 million years ago and ended the Age of Dinosaurs (ended the Cretaceous Period). The first mammals appeared about 200 million years ago and became a dominant form after the Age of Dinosaurs. Mammals evolved to fill the environmental niches the dinosaurs left behind.
The first human precursors emerged 3.9 to 4.4 million years ago, defined by the transition to upright posture in primates. The genus Homo got started about 2.5 million years ago with the first evidence of tool making. The first modern type skull belonged to an ancestor species named Homo Ergaster and dates to about 1.6 billion years ago. Within 100,000 years after the emergence of Homo Ergaster we find evidence of Achuelean kinds of tools, more refined stone tools showing a major step forward in intelligence. Modern humans (homo sapiens) arose in Africa about 120,000 years ago, entered Europe about 40,000 years ago, and wiped out the Neanderthals in 10,000 years. The time frames revealed by paleontology support the concepts of evolution by indicating that there was lots of time for evolution to occur and by showing that there are many intermediate developments in various fossil lines. Paleontology also shows that 90 percent or more of all species that ever existed have become extinct. Homo sapiens, for example, are the sole survivors of a rich diversity of hominids.
The Molecular Biology Revolution
Neither paleontology, naturalist observations, Linnaean taxonomy, comparative anatomy, or biological development, provide an explanation of how life emerged and how life developed. Molecular Biology, a 20th century development, does provide such an explanation and has gained great prestige among the sciences addressing evolution. We shall look first at the contributions of Molecular Biology to understanding the emergence of life on Earth and then to the development of life on Earth.
The understanding of how life emerged on earth has some data points and some useful theorization, but this area of science has many intrinsic difficulties. The environment of Earth when life first emerged cannot be observed and the fossil records provide valuable but limited information. Life is currently pervasive on Earth and covers up the primitive environment and first chemical interactions leading to life. But theorization about the first emergence of life on Earth is far from pure speculation. There are reasonable estimates about at least some of the aspects of the primitive environment when life emerged. We know there was water and dry land and various environments where land and water meet. We know what chemicals were abundant. This kind of information is sufficient for creating various laboratory models of primitive environments and to analyze possible developments. A lot more work remains to be done in this area but enough has already been done to develop plausible theories that have been partially demonstrated in laboratory experiments.
Another approach to origin of life studies is to take some of the simplest organism and "reverse engineer" them by taking away one or another feature and observing the results. Both kinds of studies are looking at life building blocks, especially amino acids which are the basis of proteins, and nucleic acids which are organized to become DNA, analyzed in the genomes of organisms as genes and chromosomes, and which have the capacity to initiate the creation of proteins.
While origin of life studies are very interesting, evolutionary theory is about the development of life from its primitive origins. The simplest cells, prokaryotic cells, had cell boundaries and dispersed bits of DNA which affected protein formation. With such prokaryotic cells life begins to emerge from the realm of chemistry to the realm of biochemistry to the realm of biology. What is of greatest interest to molecular biologists is the long sequence in which DNA developed in more and more complex ways and shaped cells in more and more complex ways so that more was happening within cells and cells were responding to their environments in more complex ways.
But complexity itself is not a basis for explaining why one kind of complexity lasted and developed further while other kinds of complexity did not. Darwin's theory of natural selection, is a primary explanation, but not the sole explanation, for the development and change of organisms. But before we get to the updated version of natural selection theory some additional groundwork has to be laid.
At the biochemical level, living cells exchange chemicals with their environments. The walls of cells are semi-permeable membranes. The permeability is selective not random. This means that some atoms and molecules are gathered inside the cell where they can be organized by what is already within the cell without being randomly dispersed by the effects of the environments outside the cell. So, for example, a molecule of sodium chloride (salt) outside of the cell membrane is not part of life but that same molecule inside the cell participates in life. The sodium chloride cell outside the cell has the potential to be part of life inside the cell but that potential cannot be observed. Just because it cannot be observed doesn't mean it isn't there. It just means that it remains potential because the potential has not been activated.
I want to be clear that I am not heading towards some theory of vitalism or pantheism in which inorganic molecules have some kind of proto-life or hidden life. I do not mean to say that all of creation is somehow alive. What is merely potential does not yet exist.
On the other hand, I do mean to say that the emergence of life is emergence from something. Life emerges when the potential for life in non-living things is organized in a way so that the potential for life emerges. In this line of thinking I consider digestion a sort of mundane miracle in which non-living things are changed into parts of living things. Every day when I eat and digest my food I am converting things that are not me into me. They are not me but they become me. From simple cells to the most complex organisms, the importance of semi-permeability, organized as eating and digestion, allows living things an ordered relationship with environments to get what they need to maintain life and to multiply themselves. As a whole organism I am also semi-permeable in that I select some things from my environment, which I have identified as food, and bring them into my body. I am also semi-permeable in excreting things from my body I don't need. Emphasizing the concept of semi-permeability brings to attention the notion that there is not an absolute boundary between organisms and there environments. Inside and outside is a transitional concept over time from the point of view of molecules that enter and leave the body. This qualifies the concept of unit, the basis for empirical counting. Perhaps more importantly, we are reminded to pay attention to the levels of analysis as we do our reasoning about evolution: molecular, genetic, cellular, body part, whole organism, organism-in-relationship-to-environment.
The processes by which an organism maintains life, maintains homeostasis, are not the same processes as multiplying life through sexual or asexual reproduction. Understanding how the two processes became active at the same time in the same cell is one of the hinge concerns in explaining the earliest development of life after life's biochemical building blocks and cellular form had emerged. This emergence might be though of as the emergence of life from proto-life. Scientists are divided as to which came first, sustainability or replicability. But what is most interesting to molecular biologists is the replicability part in which the characteristics of an organism are passed on to its offspring. This interest focuses attention on a different unit of analysis, a species. The definition of species will get additional attention later. Here I simply point out that a species is a sequential time linked concept of organisms in which organisms are conceptually related to one another because ancestors pass on genetic structures to their offspring. It matters, to me at least, whether this relationship is conceived as a relationship of whole organisms or as a relationship of genes, particularly those specific genes and genetic structures that produce the characteristics by which a species is defined. It matters to me because there are possibilities in whole organisms in relationship to their environments that cannot be observed, that are only potential, in an analysis of genes. Genes have a causal impact on the relationship of an organism to its environment, the concept at the heart of natural selection, but they are not the sole causal agent in the relationship of an organism to its environment. Darwin's theory of natural selection asserts that part of the causal relationship lies in the environment.
The 20th century discovery of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) was a critical key to the direct study of how organisms pass characteristics on to their offspring through sexual reproduction. DNA is a large complex molecule made up of ordered sequences of nucleotides. A nucleotide is one of four kinds of chemicals: adenine, thymine, cytosine, and guanine. A particular sequence of nucleotides is a gene and a gene can cause the creation of a particular protein (an organized group of amino acids) and the diverse proteins that are created by genes are key elements of body tissues and order body processes. A chromosome contains a single long molecule of DNA that includes genes and lots of stuff that isn't genes, some of which is understood and some of which is not and is called junk. A chromosome is in the shape of a double spiral (double helix) with one strand of each interlocking spiral coming from each of the two parents through sexual reproduction.
A gene is an identifiable unit of a DNA molecule which has a formative impact on the body of an organism. Genes are organized and shared from parent to offspring as parts of chromosomes. In sexual reproduction the two long strands of the DNA molecule split with each strand containing a full complement of genes.xxvi When an egg and sperm combine the offspring receives one strand from each parent to create its new chromosome. The splitting and recombining is called meisosis.
Genetic changes between parents and offspring occur for two primary reasons. Change can occur in individual genes for several reasons such as radioactive impact. Such changes are called mutations. Change can also occur because the process of meisosis is not always perfectly replicative. Such changes are commonly lethal and lead to spontaneous abortion or still birth. When lasting change does occur because of meiosis several genes are involved in combination. Genes and chromosomes are the biological mechanisms that provide the continuity between ancestor and offspring that make it reasonable to talk about species. Because genes change and because of meiosis, when the offspring live genes and chromosomes are also the biological mechanisms of variability. Modern genetics based on molecular biology explains the common observations that organisms are both similar to, and different from, their ancestors.
Molecular Biology, among other things, studies the chemical structures and processes of genes and chromosomes. It is both an observational and an experimental science. Its most dramatic observational success is the mapping of the human genome, a huge common effort of many scientists and institutions, both public and private. We now have a beginning knowledge of all 23 human chromosomes, with beginning identification of the tens of thousands of human genes and an awareness that chromosomes also contain a lot of nucleotide sequences with no known function. The functions of some genes are known and a lot of research is ongoing about the functions of other genes and gene combinations.
Molecular biologists conduct several kinds of laboratory research concerning genes and chromosomes. When working with short lived creatures such as Fruit Flies, using a good understanding of the comparatively simple fruit fly genome, scientists can trace the effects of gene mutations over many generations, say 200 or so. They can thus observe the evolutionary process occurring under a variety of controlled conditions. Scientists can also do the kind of reverse engineering, described earlier, in which one or another component of an organism can be eliminated and the effect observed.
Molecular biology confirms the theories of Darwin. Scientists can experimentally replicate the processes of natural selection and describe in detail how it works at the molecular level. Though it lacks the geologic time perspective and sequential history of the way evolution actually occurred on Earth that is provided by Paleontology, molecular biology provides a detailed explanation of the mechanisms of the genetic linkage between generations, based on both observation of genetic structures in natural creatures and experimental confirmation of how genetic processes work.
A major reason to have high confidence in the broad outlines of evolutionary theory is that the original theories of Darwin have been confirmed not only by additional comparative observations of living organisms, but also by the quite different sciences of Paleontology and Molecular Biology. Furthermore, to date, there is no significant counter evidence. To be sure, there are plenty of disputes about many details of evolutionary theory within each science as well as disputes between proponents from the different sciences concerned with evolution, but these are disputes about how evolution works and not about whether evolution happens, or has happened.
So what is evolutionary theory? How did life develop on Earth? How special is the evolution of human beings?
Darwin focused on the theory of natural selection as the core mechanism of evolution. Here is what he had to say in his own words, from the Introduction to The Origin of Species in 1859.
"As more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive; and as, consequently, there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence, it follows that any being, if it vary however slightly in any manner profitable to itself, under the complex and sometimes variable conditions of life, will have a better chance of surviving and thus be naturally selected. From the strong principle of inheritance, any selected variety will tend to propagate its new and modified form."
Another way of saying this is that any organism with an advantage in an environment is better adapted to that environment than its siblings. Another way of looking at the same picture is that there are two things going on. The first is that there is variability in organisms due to mutations and meiosis and some variations are better adapted to their environments than others and thus more likely to pass on their genetic structures. From the point of view of the organism the variations are random. From the point of view of molecular biology they are deterministic in individual cases and probabilistic in populations. There is considerable research addressing issues in the predicted probability of various known mutations as observed in generations of a species.
One of the major refinements in the observations of biological species in nature is the study of species in terms of geography. Such studies can focus on the distributions of whole organisms or on the distribution of genes. It is the whole organism that is naturally selected but it is the genes that are passed on to the next generation. This distinction matters in a situation where two different species (or sub-species) are equally adapted to an environment. The genetic difference doesn't produce a feature or behavior that provides an adaptational advantage in the current environment of the organism.
Different locations have different environments. A species that is well-adapted to one environment is likely to be less well-adapted to a different environment in a different location. An individual with a variation from its ancestors may be born in one space may migrate to another space where it is better adapted than its ancestor species left behind in the previous space. Similarly, a sub-population may migrate to a different space and a variability that produced no advantage in the original space, or even a disadvantage, may have an advantage in the new space.
Two sub-species (sibling species) can live in adjacent spaces where each has some adaptive advantage in the environment of their space. At the boundaries of the geographic spaces, where individuals of each sub-species can meet and produce offspring, you would expect to have a band of territory where each sub-species has members and where there are hybrids of the two sub-species. The hybrids would not usually win the adaptive competitions because they have features of each patent and are therefore not as well-adapted as either parent to the two different environments. Observing this phenomena in nature is an example of studying populations rather than individuals.
Each species, or, in the example above, sub-species, is made up of a mix of individuals with variations. From the point of view of the species the individual variations do not matter because a species is defined by common factors, particularly the capacity to interbreed. What has been selected in the past is the common features of the species and not the variations of individuals within a species. On the other hand, new species begin with one individual and develop according to the success of the offspring of that individual in their environment, or perhaps an adjacent environment.xxvii
One of the substantial debates within evolutionary theory concerns how evolutionary theory looks from the point of view of an emphasis on individuals as contrasted to how it looks from the point of view of an emphasis on groups. For example, an individual could contribute to the success of its group, and thus to the success of the genes carried by the group, without itself reproducing. On the one hand it is individual organisms that live and die, that do or do not pass on their genes. Still, unless an individual is part of a species there is no way for the individual to pass its genes to offspring. A successful individual in a diminishing population is walking North on a South bound ship.
Another way of discussing this same point comes with pointing out that a species carries more variability than an individual organism. Some individuals have adaptive advantages compared to other individuals. Giraffes with longer necks can eat higher up on a tree. But, in an environment of shorter trees this doesn't matter and some other adaptive feature may matter more. The longer neck individual giraffe has no advantage in a short tree environment other giraffes may have an adaptive feature that is advantageous in the short tree environment, such as an ability to live better with less access to water. In a competition between species, or sub-species, it is the variability carried in the population, not the variability in a single individual, that matters for natural selection. The logical challenges that come with a bright distinction between individual organisms and groups of organisms are moderated by the realization that organisms are individuals-in-relationships and that possibilities that cannot be analyzed in a single organism by itself become manifest in an organism-in-relationship. While it is important to keep clear about the various levels of analysis that are being considered, it is also important to remember that at the boundaries of levels of analysis potentials that are invisible at the lower level become manifest at the higher level.
The same point can be made in terms of time. Environments change over time so the contingencies of natural selection change over time. Again, it is the variability of species that matter in the changing adaptations to a changing environment. There is an "error tolerance" in species that cannot be observed in a single individual. Such error tolerance is the possibility to adjust to differences in geographical environments or in an environment that changes over time. Another way of saying this is that different individuals carry different adaptive potentials. Those differences give them an advantage or disadvantage within their species for passing on their genetic structures. At the same time, the disadvantaged individuals in a particular environment may be the ones that provide the error tolerance that gives a species or sub-species an advantage in changing circumstances.
Another way of entering this same territory is to point out that evolutionary theory accounts both for change and continuity in populations. New species provide change but that change doesn't matter if they can't sustain some continuity of that change. The logical categories of both being and becoming are always relevant.
An additional layer of complexity emerges when species of animals develop the capacity for cooperation among members. For example, consider wolf packs cooperating in hunting. In this scenario variability can strengthen the pack as a whole and not just provide advantage to one individual wolf versus another. A wolf with a sharper sense of smell gives advantage to the faster wolves better adapted to run down the prey. The issues of natural selection given the individual wolf's relationship to its pack are different than for an oak trees relationship to a forest. The adaptive issues in wolf packs are more group centered than the adaptive issues in oak forests. At the individual level, the emergence of better cooperation in individuals matters for wolves but is irrelevant for oaks. Improvements in intentionality and communication matter for wolves but not for oaks. The evolutionary emergence of symbolic speech in homo sapiens, as an improved adaptation of intentionality and communication, provided a dramatic adaptive advantage and other hominids became extinct.
The above line of logic is one of the reasons why I like to talk about the core reality of humans as individuals-in-relationship and not just as individuals. It is a key linking thought to understanding the distinctiveness of human beings and it is a powerful support to challenging Democritean (atomistic) theory. This line of logic is foundational for the later chapter dealing with the reintegration of the human sciences and sets up a transformed conversation between science and theology that is presented in the last chapter.
The Reintegration of Evolutionary Theory
The reintegration of evolutionary thinking that I am presenting is grounded in the logical breakthrough of Charles Darwin's concept of natural selection, a logical breakthrough that has been used but not fully appreciated by current evolutionary theory. The breakthrough comes from appreciating the logic of emergence in contrast to the logic of Democritean theory with its emphasis on analysis in research and reduction in theoretical logic. The emergent logic I present is materialistic but not mechanistic. It is not mechanistic because it does not rely entirely on whole-to-part logic, in which the whole is considered to be the sum of its parts. By also considering the whole in interaction with aspects of its environment, that is in interaction with other wholes, potentials that were not manifest in the parts because they were not yet actualized become actualized in the interaction. The whole is therefore more than can be observed and summed up in the parts.
Mechanism and Chance
The first grounding that is needed for a reintegrative theory based on emergent potential is about the relationship between mechanism and chance in scientific theory. A mechanistic theory is a tight logical theory of cause and effect that completely explains an observed reality or an observed event. Earlier I discussed the example of a bat hitting a softball with the speed and direction of the ball being caused the physics of the impact between the bat and the ball. In a laboratory setting that controls "extraneous" factors such as atmosphere, and with the objects of explanation reduced to the bat and ball, Newtonian physics gives a satisfying and testable explanation. It could be further extended with contributions from relativity theory but the contributions of relativity theory would be negligible for people like me who just want to increase their batting averages. I then pointed out that in observing a softball game, with bats hitting balls as part of the game, many other factors come into play such as the intent of the batter. Instead of the controlled circumstances and focus of the laboratory we have a lot of uncontrolled causes in a softball game which means that only probablistic calculations are possible. For example, I tested the theory that a sort of sitting posture with my right hip would help me to hit more line drives and thus achieve a higher percentage of base hits. It helped. But I can't strongly predict the speed and angle of the ball I will hit in my next at bat. In fact, I might strike out without hitting the ball at all, a sad but real possibility for me. The core logical point is that what is mechanistic at one level of analysis is probablilistic at another level of analysis.
The above logical point is not a serious concern in the natural sciences of physics and chemistry. All the important causal factors are observable and controllable in laboratory settings and highly accurate predictions of physical and chemical events and structures are routine. With sufficiently sophisticated mathematics, even the physics of sub-atomic particles and the physics of the cosmos, the smallest and largest things we can observe, are predictable. As a pragmatic experiential matter we depend on high predictability of physical and chemical events all the time as we go about living our day-to-day lives. We do not need to predict the paths of particular air molecules to breathe. The paths of particular air molecules may be random from our point of view but that does not hinder our breathing.
Another way of saying this is that the general physics of softballs and bats is an important and fully relevant part of explaining a softball game. Many other causes are relevant and the more they are known and can be assessed in their relevance to the game the better the level of probablilistic explanation that can be obtained. In theory, if all the causes were known, including the level of knowledge of the players of such causes and how the different players integrate such knowledge into their play, then an accurate prediction of the outcome of the complex event of a softball game would be possible because all the relevant causes were adequately known. However, as a practical matter, such predictive accuracy is impossible, in part because the relevance of numerous causes is constantly shifting. The actual history of a softball game is, at least in theory, the result of all the combined causes with the additional factor of complex time ordering of the causes. If I get a base hit to left field in the third inning the defenders may take that into account when I come to bat in the fifth inning.
The logical issue at stake here is the distinction between probablilistic reasoning and the possibility of ontological randomness. I have previously traced the way that Democritean thinking can integrate mechanism at one level with probablistic thinking at the next higher level. The activity of individual air molecules may be mechanistic, bounding off other air molecules like billiard balls on a table, but, since there are a lot of molecules going in a lot of directions and following the path of even one air molecule would be difficult, it is common to say that the paths of air molecules are random or chaotic when what is really meant is that they are unobservable and act, collectively as if they were random or chaotic. Fortunately, we can usually and happily forget this fine point of logic when we measure air pressure in a tire. Believing that things can be mechanistic at one level and probablistic at the next higher level of analysis preserves a general atomistic and reductionistic line of logic even though working with probabilistic reasoning in observations of phenomena. But, if we work with the logic of emergent possibility, we don't need to assume such mechanism in terms of the relationship of parts to a whole. Ontological variability is no longer a logical challenge, nor an observational or scientific challenge. Furthermore, allowing for ontological variability also allows that some interactions between things may be mechanistic, or at least mechanistic in controlled conditions. Allowing for ontological variability is not the same as asserting that the fundamental nature of the universe is chance, a philosophical perspective of great concern to many.xxviii
Stated directly, there should be no a priori ontological assumption of either order or chaos. Science should consider both aspects of reality, should observe both aspects of reality, in each effort at research. When using laboratory controls, and their approximations in non-laboratory research and observation, there is good reason to take advantage of logical focus so long as we remember that focus increases standpoint dependence. Focus limits the generalizability of our scientific conclusions, or, as found in good science, requires the ‘boiler plate" qualifications about the limitations of a particular bit of research, or of a research tradition more generally. Such boiler plate is another example of the fundamental humility of good science.xxix
In summary, the reintegration of the sciences using the logic of emergent possibility rejects the atomistic and reductionistic thinking of the Democritean tradition as an a priori assumption about the fundamental nature of the universe while taking full advantage of the provisional focus on mechanistic relationships that gives such explanatory power to controlled laboratory research and to the approximations of controls in non-laboratory research. The logic of emergence merely adds on the understanding that such provisional focus does not tell the whole story, a good story but not the whole story.
In further summary, a focus on emergent possibility eliminates the concern about the relationship between probability and mechanism that is difficult for reductionistic logic, though not a fatal logical flaw. The difficulty is that when the behavior of a whole appears to be random or chaotic in direct observation it feels challenging to believe that such observed randomness is the result of mechanism at the next simpler level of logic and observation. At the most reduced level, quantum mechanics, apparent randomness generates the Heisenberg uncertainty principle and raises the unresolvable question of whether the nature of the universe is fundamentally mechanical or fundamentally chaotic. My fundamental answer is that it is a bad idea to make either apriori assumption and, instead, to hold both concepts in dialectic tension with each other.
General Science and Particular Natural History
Following the line of thought developed in the previous section, we can now consider the two logical mainstays of evolutionary theory in the tradition of Darwin. First of all, mutations and meiosis produce a variability in offspring. The degree to which such mutations or meiosis are mechanistic or random is non-problematic for a line of logic based on emergent possibility. Darwin, lacking the knowledge of Molecular Biology, simple claimed that the "strong principle of inheritance" provided strong continuity between generations while natural selections built on whatever variability did occur between parents and offspring. While Darwin focused on the second mainstay, the theory of natural selection, Molecular Biology supplied a strong understanding of the continuity and variability in inheritance that comes with understanding genes and chromosomes as the directional least parts in the form and development of whole organisms, identifying the parts and demonstrating their processes.
In terms of evolutionary theory, the theory of natural selection, combined with the mechanics of mutation and meiosis, is relevant at each moment of the natural history of the origin and development of life on Earth. But other factors come into play, such as meteors and ice ages and the distribution of volcanic islands in the Pacific Ocean, as well as numerous others smaller contingencies. The benefit that comes with laboratory controls and their approximations in field observations is focus. The cost of focus is giving less weight, even no weight, to things that are not within the focus. Thus the general theory of evolution explains the mechanisms that were and are active in the particular evolutionary history of life on Earth.
The idiosyncratic natural history of life on Earth has been, and is, the actual outcome of the interplay of whole organisms with the actual opportunities and contingencies as they occurred in sequence. A whole organism carries the limits and potentials that are a result of its genetic inheritance. Such a whole organism faces the actual opportunities and contingencies present in its environment. An important part of evolution is the emergence of capacities to sense such opportunities and contingencies and act in response to such perceptions. The main point is that natural selection contingencies faced by a whole organism are not found in the genes and chromosomes and therefore actual evolution cannot be explained by Molecular Biology alone. Explaining the parts and forces of the least things involved in the reasoning of Molecular Biology does not fully explain the origin and development of life on Earth. The great power and magnificent contributions of Molecular Biology should not lure us into an atomistic or reductionistic logical posture.
The logical developments found in the core of the theory of natural selection, inherent in the consideration of species in relation to their environments, a very large whole in relationship to an even larger whole, is in accord with my emphasis on emergent potential and the balancing of the consideration of parts-to-whole with wholes-in-interaction. It is a materialistic theory but not a mechanistic nor atomistic or reductionistic theory. Specifically, not being mechanistic means, in this case, that evolutionary theory is well-served, but not dominated, by the findings of Molecular Biology. Appreciating the emergent possibilities that come with the emergence of genes and chromosomes is the opposite, logically, of reducing the understanding of the origin and development of life on Earth to the understanding of the mechanisms of genes and chromosomes.
The natural history that occurred on Earth could have been different and still have been the result of natural selection. Since we only experience one Earth and are the products of only one natural history, we are likely to confuse the idiosyncratic world we live in as the necessary outcome of mechanistic forces whereas it is only the one outcome of such forces that we know about and experience.xxx Said alternatively, paleontology, which tells us what we know of Earth's natural history, analyzes a record of what happened and not a record of how things had to happen to be in keeping with natural selection and other knowable causes. Further, stated alternatively, Evolutionary theory should not contradict such natural history as we can know, but that does not mean that our particular natural history was the only possible natural history that might have occurred.
Understanding the difference between the logics of general theory in the sciences and particular explanation in natural history helps us to understand how freedom is present in the midst of general mechanistic explanation, though unobservable and untheorized using Democritean (atomistic) categories of thought. Humans have the capacity of reflection, the capacity of taking causal explanations into account in the construction of actions, the capacity to estimate opportunities and contingencies, and the capacity to order such consideration with the use of eternal concepts, such as mathematics. These capacities create freedom within human limits. Said alternatively, freedom is one of the possibilities that emerges with the evolutionary emergence of homo sapiens.
The Democritean atomistic logic, adjusted for observed complexities and the high math of relativity theory, appears quite adequate for many scientific explanations. The logic of emergence, while not negating what has been learned with Democritean atomistic logic, seems a bit odd and unnecessary for minds happy with Democritean atomistic theory. The fact that, for example, the potential for water cannot be observed in the hydrogen and oxygen atoms observed by themselves seems irrelevant since the Democritean explanation of water formation is complete and fully predictable. I agree that it is irrelevant for predicting the formation of water molecules. It is not irrelevant for explaining the development of life on Earth.
Again, repeating from the third chapter, Democritean logic is analytic. It divides wholes into smaller parts and explanation amounts to explaining how smaller parts come together to make larger wholes. The basic causes are conceived of as being in the parts. In the case of the formation of water the key causes are in the atomic structures of hydrogen and oxygen that allow them to bond into molecules of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom, not three and one or seven and one, just two and one.
When we speak of the randomness of air molecules in the atmosphere we breathe we mean we do not need to know whether each air molecules follows a mechanistically determined path like billiard balls on a table. By random we do not necessarily mean intrinsically or ontologically chaotic. We mean that we do not have to calculate paths of individual air models to understand air pressure or air distribution in a particular volume such as the atmosphere we breath. In turn, we take air pressure as a predictable reality at the levels of analysis we are interested in, such as inflating the tire in a car. With a proper attention to levels of analysis there is no contradiction between mechanistic and probablistic thinking. That is, an observation of randomness might mean intrinsic chaotic behavior or it might mean only that we are not taking the trouble to try to observe and predict the behavior of things we are observing. While appreciating the Democritean utility of focusing on such mechanism as can be found in the relationship of parts-to-whole, I balance such utility with an appreciation for the non-mechanistic opportunity, the limited freedoms or organisms, as they interact with their environments in whole-to-environment relationships.
The Logic of Natural Selection
With the considerations of the previous two sections in mind, let us reconsider the logic of Darwin's theory of natural selection, taking advantage of the additional knowledge that has been discovered through Molecular Biology. On the one hand, the discovery of the mechanisms of Darwin's "strong principle of inheritance" by Molecular Biology draws attention and support to Democritean atomistic thinking as sufficient for explaining the origin and development of life on Earth.
Origin of life theories draw attention to the emergence of primitive (simple) single cell creatures understood as based in the mechanisms of organic chemistry which are in turn based in the mechanisms of non-organic chemistry and physics. Such theories begin with the probablistic coming together of known molecules under various theorized conditions such as clay, tide pools, etc. Scientific discussions of the origin of life often include the language of emergence. Such conversations include theorization about possible stages in the emergence of life, chemical formations that are more complex than typical non-organic chemical formations but less complex than contemporary organic molecules.xxxi The logic of emergent possibility that I am using for the reintegration of the sciences is consonant with such thinking. One aspect of such thinking that bears emphasis is that one aspect of at least some emergent possibilities is access to additional sources of energy in the thing that emerges. Taken as a general principle, emergent possibility balances the law of entropy, the second law of thermodynamics, that things inevitably break down and give off energy. In the case of life emerging from non-life, the metabolic aspects of life capture energy for the living cell from the environment. So the emergence of life is not only a matter of transitions in chemical form (anatomy) but also a gathering of energy (physiology) so that the emergent chemical forms could so something other forms could not do. Origin of life studies, like other scientific studies, need to include research on sequential states of being and on the becoming process of interaction that make actual energy and sequences of interaction that were previously only potential.xxxii
Development of life theory, the theory of evolution, builds on the probabilistic changes in genes which are just a few molecules of four chemicals that form nucleotides, a short section of one long DNA molecule. With all the mechanistic explanations in place, why not focus science on the most simple theory, reductionist atomistic theory? Occam's Razor, the principle that the simplest theory that accounts for all the known facts is the best theory, is a prominent standard in scientific logic, as it should be.
Consider. Organisms are parts of ecosystems and either reproduce or not based, probablistically, on their adaptational advantages. Such advantages are found in the evolution of their body parts, such as the bills of Galapagos Finches.. Such body parts provide the whole organism with a mix of structure, capacities, and activities. The body parts have such features because they are shaped in particular ways by the actions of genes and chromosomes. Genes, are, in turn, made up of ordered sequences of nucleic acids which form the proteins that are the key molecules in the building blocks of life. Nucleic acids are, in turn, made up of the chemicals considered in chemistry, which are in turn made up of the atoms and sub-atomic particles considered in physics. On first blush this looks like another fine example of whole to part reasoning in the Democritean tradition.
The breakthrough logic of natural selection also fits Occam's Razor. In fact it fits Occam's Razor better than reductionsitic or atomistic logic, because it is needed to help account for important relevant known facts, that is, why we some evolutionary paths rather than others in the natural history of life on Earth.
The headline for this section is that when we consider the mechanisms of the origin and development of life on Earth as the emergence of possibility rather than as the mechanistic outcome of materials, forms, and forces in the parts of molecules, organic molecules, and the joining of organic molecules; we build a logic that works smoothly with natural selection and avoid the struggle to fit the facts of evolution into mechanistic, that is reductionistic and atomistic theory. In fact, biologists of all stripes working with evolutionary theory have given up trying to reduce evolution to mechanistic theory. They may still carry the assumption that when all is known that some mechanistic grand theory will be adequate for explaining evolution but, for current research, they all work with Darwin's concept of natural selection as a necessary part of explaining evolution. Perhaps, for some, the recognition that natural selection is a materialistic theory leads them to assume that they are still in the tradition of mechanistic part-to-whole reasoning. Perhaps, for many, the comfort of working with materialistic theory is sufficient for not worrying very much about underlying abstract logic. After all, the key research task is about examining the fit between theory and observation.
Darwin broke open scientific logic by introducing the feedback loop of natural selection in which the whole, the eco-system, influences the formation of the body parts of organisms and thus, over generations, changes species. This is system thinking in which wholes have causative impact on parts. Such system thinking does not deny the valuable results of the focus of Democritean thinking but it escapes the limits of such a focus because it demands attention to the emergence of possibilities that are unobservable in the parts but are manifest in the wholes. What can be skipped over in physics and chemistry needs attention in biology.xxxiii
System thinking is multiple step thinking. The formation of water molecules is a single event and all we need to know about time is what is antecedent and what is consequent in the analysis of a single event. Whenever the conditions are appropriate, hydrogen and oxygen form water. There is no feedback loop or systems thinking. System thinking can be broken down into a series of events that are each materialistically determined in keeping with the kind of logic found in physics and chemistry. But a whole loop of events has to be completed before a systems explanation is satisfied. The feedback loop of natural selection includes environmental causal inputs and not just causal inputs from the parts and is therefore not mechanistic. Evolutionary theory has to include the choices made by organisms based on the organisms perception of its environment. Such choices guide the relationships of the organisms to their environments and thus introduces limited freedoms into the causal analysis. Sophistic thinking thus gets its first toehold in causal explanation.
Sophistic concerns are questions of power. What can the organism perceive? What level of thinking does the organism have in constructing a response to its perception. What range of responses are possible? What can the organism remember to some degree so that it learns from experience? Increases in such capacities produce increments of improvement in adaptational fitness and such increases of power can be considered to be expansions of freedom. Notice that I am using freedom as a concept prior to the emergence of the distinctive capacities of home sapiens. The point here is not to argue the appropriate linguistic use of the word "freedom," but rather to point out the gradual emergence of the capacities that make use of the concept freedom relevant within science. All choices are based on emergent opportunity (capacity) and the limits of the organism, including any limits on the perceptual capacity of the organism relative to the contingencies in the organisms environment. The results of such choices include the causative impact of unperceived, but actual, contingencies in the environment.
Consider the relationship of an organism and its environment. The organism has structures, capabilities, homeostatic needs and behavior tendencies. It does whatever it does in the environment it is in. Birds fly. Fish swim. The organism lives or dies with or without reproducing and the likelihood of a particular organism reproducing is influenced by its adaptational advantages or disadvantages in its specific environment.
The organisms that sexually reproduce combine the contributions of parents and pass on genes in chromosomes to its offspring.xxxiv Those genes and structures in a particular organism may be different from ancestors and siblings because of mutations and meiosis. This is a mechanistic factor at the individual level but a random factor at the species level insofar as we are focused on the single event of sexual reproduction. Offspring are similar to their ancestors and siblings in many ways but different in a few ways. The differences are expressed in the body parts and physiological functions of the offspring. If the differences are lethal the offspring have no chance to reproduce and are irrelevant to the species. If the differences are not lethal, then those differences shape the offspring and provide adaptational advantages or disadvantages in the offspring relative to the offspring's environment. The quicker mouse has a different experience of its environment than its slower siblings. The quicker mouse in more likely to escape the wolf and get back to its hole.
Natural selection is aimed at explaining the development and changes within species and the emergence of new species. Organisms are the parts and the species is the whole. Organisms as a whole live or die with or without reproducing. What is selected or not selected through reproduction are the genes and genetic structures that influence the form and function of offspring. From the point of view of change in the species the organism matters only in terms of whether it passes along a particular mix of continuity and change in genes and gene structures, or otherwise contributes to passing along the gene pool it shares with its relatives. From the point of view of the organism, the received forms, capacities, and homeostatic needs are internal resources and contingencies that it directs in interaction with the perceived opportunities and threats in its environment. Put differently, the life of the organism matters to the organism but is only one small opportunity of a species. Additionally, the experienced time of an organism is a lifetime. The time of a species is multiple lifetimes, perhaps thousands of lifetimes.
The important thing for systems thinking that is intrinsic to Darwin's theory of natural selection is that each generation can be thought of as one loop in a systems analysis, lasting as long as the lifetime of the organism. The offspring organism is different from the parent organism in some ways, is similar to the parents in other ways, and lives in an environment that is similar and different from the environment of the parents. At any particular moment the environment does not affect the genetic structure of organisms within the environment. Instead, an environment impacts the genetic structure of the next generation of organisms that will inhabit future environments.
At any one moment, organisms have to contend with their current environments. As whole organisms, their structures and physiological processes that have been shaped by random variations of mutations and meiosis and by the natural selective factors of past environments. In terms of structure and physiological function the organism is adapted to past environments. This bit of fact is commonly skipped over in evolutionary thinking. Because it is skipped over, many evolutionary theorists speak as if the adaptations found in the structure and physiological functions of organisms are adaptations to the current environment. Because environments change over time and because some organisms move geographically between different environments, it is commonly the case that the adaptational fit to a past environment of one's parents is likely to be maladaptive to some degree for the offspring. Thus the adaptational advantage of an individual organism should theoretically consider both the fit to the current environment and the flexibility, the "error tolerance," to adjust to generational change and contemporary change. Perceptual capacity may be the critical factor in such flexibility, particularly for animals that can more around. More accurately stated, the adaptive value of a particular physiological structure or process is measured against current opportunities and contingencies in the environment of the organism. The "skipping over" problem is likely to be made worse when evolutionary scientists use teleological-like language in expressing their theories, saying that a structure or physiological function has the purpose of providing an advantage to the organism in terms of sexual reproduction during its lifetime.
Wings allow birds to fly. Flying gives access to environmental niches not accessible to organisms that cannot fly. They are an adaptational advantage. But they did not come into existence for the purpose of flying. The ancestors to the first flying animals in any evolutionary line did not fly. The changes that occurred in the ancestor species occurred because of non-purposeful changes in mutation and meisosis that produced changes in the offspring of creatures that did not fly.xxxv Over generations, those changes allowed some offspring to fly. Some offspring took advantage of their new capacity and began flying. The first generation of flying offspring discovered in themselves the capacity to fly, learned to fly, survived, and passed on the new capacity to their offspring. Accurate language is about emergent capacity and such accurate language is confused by language about adaptive purpose.
Another angle on this same logical point is to consider the difference between cause and function. To talk about adaptational purpose is to confuse the concept of function with the concept of cause. The wings of birds are necessary for the functional capacity of flying by birds. In this sense it is reasonable to say that wings are for flying. Reasonable but nonetheless confusing. Accurate language is that wings allow birds to fly. Notice that wings don't cause birds to fly. Birds can sit around or walk. They fly as whole organisms not as wings. The wings are directed by the brains of birds for the complex of reasons as mediated by the capacities of the brains of birds. In terms of Aristotle's classic distinctions of kinds of causes, the wings are one of the material causes of flying while the bird's motives are the efficient cause of the bird's flying. There is no need for anything even sounding like Aristotle's teleological cause in which birds have the purpose of flying because they are part of an Aristotelian natural form, a supposedly preexisting form that birds conform to. This point is critical to my later discussion of the theory of intelligent design as presented by some Creationists.
Evolutionary theorists who use the language of teleology, such as Francisco Ayala, are quick to distance themselves from God language or any sense of Aristotelian grand purpose that is found in inherent natural forms, but their continued use of teleological language makes the Creationist theory of intelligent design seem more reasonable. If there is purpose in the designs found in nature, then why not the purposes of God? These concerns will be picked up again later in this chapter.
As Ayala and other evolutionary scientists well understand, the inherently materialistic explanations found in Darwin's theory of natural selection, and in the modern developments of evolutionary theory, have no need for special acts of God or of God acting through creation for a purpose, no need for anything like Aristotle's natural forms or, for that matter, Plato's ontological forms. My efforts at the reintegration of evolutionary theory by drawing out the logic of systems theory in the context of the concept of emergent possibility, keep the emphasis on materialistic causal theory that is at the heart of scientific explanation in physics, chemistry, and biology, while escaping the limitations of the Democritean version of mechanistic theory. Democritean atomistic theory is not adequate for Quantum Mechanics and it is not adequate for evolutionary materialistic theory either.
Ayala properly points out that "...there is nothing in the constitution of the remote ancestors of birds that would necessitate the appearance of wings in their descendants."xxxvii We agree on this point as stated but the "trick" is in use of the word "necessitate." I agree because this point breaks with Democritean logic in reasoning from parts to wholes. Then I take this point and get underneath it by pointing to the obvious possibility that the remote ancestors of birds carried unobservable possibilities that became manifest in their offspring through the course of evolution. My point is, following Darwin, that evolution allowed this hidden potential to become actualized and manifest over the generations when the remote ancestors of birds created a line of offspring that led to birds. The cause and effect reasons for such emergence need to be understood with regard to the possibilities and contingencies facing the ancestors of birds and not with regard to the possibilities and contingencies that come with using wings for flying.
All the way through the evolutionary line leading to birds there were cause and effect relationships between the ancestors of birds and their environment that led to changes until the first birds had wings that could fly and the first birds then learned to fly. This long sequence makes sense in the context of systems theory with the critical feature of feedback loops. That is, more is required in explanation than the parts of the ancestors of birds. More is required than knowledge about the molecular biologic mechanisms of genetics. Genes are instrumental to the emergence of new things in evolution, such as birds wings, but they are the material cause, not the efficient cause. Genes, in themselves, are not purposeful. They don't, for example, try to reproduce themselves. They shape whole organisms that live and follow their instinctive sexual drives. The whole organisms are what interacts with the environment, that live and produce offspring or not.
The feedback loop in systems theory is still materialistic logic. Systems thinking merely provides a more complex and sequential line of reasoning using material and efficient causes for explanation. Though usually unmentioned, systems theory with feedback loops also makes room for the formal cause in the sense, when dealing with the evolution of birds for example, forces like gravity are simply assumed. The form of bird wings take advantage of the material opportunities in the atmosphere that allow birds to temporarily overpower the force of gravity and allow flying. But there is nothing like teleology in systems theory in itself. Purpose enters the discussion from a different angle.
Systems theory, using feedback loops that relate the system to its environment, redirects thinking away from part-to-whole reasoning, as in Democritean atomistic thinking, to whole-in-interaction thinking. The focus aspect of feedback loops involves identifying the things and forces in the environment that sequentially affect the things within the system. It is in such interactions that what was previously unobservable in the organism or species in existence by itself to becomes manifest. For example, the concept of environmental niche, as in the variety of foods available to Galapagos Finches, creates an opportunity which, through sequential generational feedback, allows some possibilities carried in the genome of Finches to create Finches that have the possibility of better taking advantage of the diverse foods in their environment, and thus become more likely to reproduce and pass their version of the Finch genome to its offspring. Through such sequential generational feedback the possibility for developing alternate beak structures emerged and become manifest and provided adaptational advantages to a variety of Finches.
Ayala's attempt to use the concept of function as a backdoor access to teleology is wrong because it confuses function with cause. More importantly, it is unnecessary for evolutionary explanations. Furthermore, it leads Ayala to write things that are inherently confusing. For example, he writes, "...the wings of birds came about precisely because they serve for flying."xxxviii Ayala strives to hold the two points together but you just can't make teleology out of function. Functional language is not causal language. Ayala's attempt at causal language follows. "In teleological explanations the end-state or goal is not to be understood as the efficient cause of the object or process it explains. The end-state is causally posterior, the outcome of a process not its cause."xxxix First of all, to say that teleological explanation is not an efficient cause is true, but irrelevant. It is a distinction among causes going back to Aristotle who first developed teleological thinking. The question is whether teleological explanation makes any sense in causal terms. Ayala has already rejected the Aristotelian notion of natural forms or divine guidance that puts the causal use of teleology in the antecedent posture. To assert that an end-state is causally posterior makes no sense. After something has happened it cannot be explained by what happens next. What Ayala is missing is the notion of feedback loops in which the end-state of one generation is causally antecedent to the generation of offspring. It is too bad because Ayala refers to systems thinking but fails to draw out this critical aspect of systems thinking.
Ayala tries to bridge the logical gap in his thinking by claiming on the one hand that teleological thinking is compatible with causal thinking while arguing that teleology adds the explanation of directionality. The direction Ayala has in mind is functional adaptation to the environment. The mechanism Ayala has in mind is adaptational advantage resulting in reproductive success. In fact, adaptational advantage is a cause, a mix of efficient and material causes that has its impact over generations of feedback between ancestor organisms and ancestor environments. The degree of adaptation of an organism to its environment, and also of a species to its environments, is the result of how well the residues of ancestral evolution in an organism or in a species fit with the environment(s) of an organism or species. Sometimes the fit is disadvantageous and the result is extinction.
What Ayala is trying to do is explain the "means-to-end" relationships in such things as the evolution of the human eye. The eye is for seeing as bird wings are for flying. I am denying that bird wings are for flying in the sense that they emerged through evolution for flying. They emerged for other reasons and, once emerged, were useful for flying. After emergence, and once birds learned to fly, wings were an adaptational advantage. As an adaptational advantage flying helped birds to be successful in sexually reproducing in their environments and they survived and continued to evolve. Adaptational advantage is a cause in the feedback loop of birds interacting with environments, not in the original emergence of bird wings.
The underlying logical agenda is the role of form in explanation. Modern science emerged with a rejection of the Aristotelian concept of natural forms. Aristotle thought that animal species were natural forms and then discussed issues regarding the degree of fit between specific organism and the natural form they represented.
Modern biology works with the concept of form in a different way than Aristotle. Drawing only on the empirical side of Aristotle, form becomes merely an observed pattern in phenomena. Modern readers can consider Aristotle's theory of species as a natural form having its existence in the mind of God, and therefore immutable and unchanging, as a theory that has not survived empirical assessment. Darwin's theory of natural selection show that species do change over time. Because Aristotelian theory was wedded to the Christian natural theology of the mid-19th century, the rejection of Aristotle's natural forms felt like a rejection of Christianity.xl
A testable hypothesis can derive from any logical source but has to be tested against operationalized observations to meet scientific standards. In the tradition of Linnaean taxonomy, an organism is a member of one species rather than another because its form is like the form of other organisms in the species. Modern biology also hybrids and sub-species as a group of organisms that have a qualified relationship to a species. Darwin worked out his theory of evolution against the backdrop of Linnaean Taxonomy whereas modern evolutionary theory that includes the contributions of Molecular Biology emphasizes the biological species concept that is based on tracing the history of sexual reproduction to show the relevance of genes and chromosomes.
In addition to the problem of referring to the mind of God and the problem of fit to empirical observation, there is a key logical difference between the natural forms concept of Aristotle and the use of the concept of form in modern science. For Aristotle form and matter were one thing and matter filled out form to be that specific kind of thing. In modern science the concept of matter is distinct from the concept of form. Matter, in the Democritean tradition of atomism, emphasizes that everything is made up of least things. Such least things, now understood as sub-atomic particles and basic forces, are understood to be joined together in the different ways explained by physics, chemistry, and biology, to make up the observable world. The least things are joined together within the limits of the possible ways they can be joined to become atoms. Atoms join together to become molecules within the limits of atomic possibility indicated by the periodic table of the elements. That is, least things can take on different forms depending on how they are joined together. The concept of form is thus different from the concept of matter. Furthermore, the focus of explanation is on how least things are joined together by basic forces to take on the form of different things. The form is derivative to the potentials in the matter and the forces. Where Aristotelian theory is formalistic Democritean theory is materialistic.
The powerful marriage of Aristotelian and Democritean theory in modern science limits the Aristotelian formalism to the focus of empirical research, the explanation of form in the patterns of observation. Such explanation is accomplished with reference to Democritean reductionism and atomism. My reintegrative approach keeps Aristotelian empiricism, divorces it from Democritean theory, and remarries it to Platonic dialectical method for explanation. So that Democritean theory will not feel completely rejected by the divorce, it is accorded full status as part, but only part, of the dialectic. That is, Democritean theory is useful for analyzing the being aspect of things and such things are further considered in interaction with other things so that the causal considerations of events, including emergent possibility in particular, comes into play.
Directing this abstract logical development to evolutionary theory I note that the focus on explaining species is a focus on explaining the forms of organisms. Instead of just drawing solely on Democritean atomism and reductionism I follow Darwin's theory of natural selection to draw on the causal impact of the environment as organisms relate to environments through generational feedback loops as found in Systems Theory. For Aristotle an emphasis on form fit well with Aristotle's understanding of teleology. Democritean theory and reductionistic logic do not fit at all with Aristotle's understanding of teleology. For modern science the Democritean contribution is that a thing can be analyzed as being the sum of its parts as joined together by relevant forces. Defining the parts and specifying the forces and how things come together constitutes explanation. For Aristotle material just takes the form of a thing, the form of a species.
Aristotle called the particular form of a species its soul. Plants, for example, have "nutritive souls" because they exist for the purpose of nourishing themselves. The nutritive soul, expressed as digestion, transforms things that are not part of the body of the plant into becoming the body of the plant. The soul is purposive in that it has the goal of living by transforming other things into becoming part of itself. Ayala misunderstands Aristotle on this point and then mistakenly claims that his use of the concept of teleology is the same as Aristotles.xli Ayala, in keeping with others who use the language of teleonomy, asserts that the key point is that "...end-directed processes ...do not imply that future events are active agents in their own realization." But, for Aristotle, the form of a thing does change matter into conformity with form. The form of a plant, its soul, uses digestion to change other matter into itself. While modern science understands digestion as a sequence of chemical events with material changing form for a variety of material and efficient causes, Aristotle did not.
Ayala compounds his error by asserting that modern science depends solely on Aristotle's concept of efficient cause, the agent of a specific change from one thing to another, from one event to another. But Spinoza, and others who grounded modern science, attacked teleology only. Democritean logic emphasizes material cause thinking by focusing on matter as a building block from which things are made. Chemistry and physics are about identifying the material components of things and the forces that join them together. Furthermore, the formal cause has an important role as the form of least things and the form of things made up by various combinations of least things. The formal cause is not so much an independent cause in itself but rather the shape of matter, a crucial concern for empirical science that depends on seeing the things under discussion.
Modern science points to form as one aspect of the material cause instead of being a separate cause in itself. For example, consider the discussion of particle and wave forms of electrons. Consider the speed of light or Planck's constant concerning the energy of quanta of electromagnetic radiation compared to their frequencies. These are specific forms of the relationships of least things and basic forces. They have implications that are observable and quantifiable.
The shape of atoms give order to the shape of molecules. Water is the joining of two hydrogen atoms with one oxygen atom, not seven hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. The periodic table of elements is a compendium of form. The opportunities and contingencies of molecules were the opportunities and contingencies for the emergence of life. Life, once emerged, had opportunities and contingencies for continuation and further evolution. The emergence of life shaped both organisms and environments. Organisms became part of environments to each other.
The notion that forms have limits does not apply in the whole-to-part reasoning of Democritean theory. Natural selection, in considering he relationship of organisms to their environments, has to consider the limits to the form of organisms of such things as the force of gravity.
The forms of materials are antecedent to events. They are usually treated as constants for a particular event and scientific attention usually focuses on the efficient causes. Darwin's theory on natural selection shows how, over generations, the forms of organisms change. Darwin, in this sense has organic form as the end-state of what is to be explained. There is no teleological sense in which the form of the end state is itself explanatory. When end-states are seen as just one more transitional point in feedback loops in the development of species over generations, we have powerful explanatory theory without any reference to directionality. While Ayala borrows the language of teleology from Aristotle's concept of final cause, what he is really discussing is in the territory of what Aristotle called the formal cause as found in modern science as an aspect of material causes. Said alternatively, a discussion of species is basically a discussion of form. Darwin's theory of natural selection aims at explaining the emergence of various forms of organisms such as Galapagos Finches.
When I direct attention to the emergence of possibility as key to reintegration of the sciences I refer to the possibilities that are available with the forms connecting least things and basic forces. Those possibilities are not observable in least things and basic forces, but, over time, as least things and basic forces mix and match in diverse ways some possibilities emerge, not all imaginable possibilities just the possibilities inherent in least things and basic forces. As new and more complex things emerge they in turn become context for additional emergence. It is in interaction and not within a thing-in-itself that emergence becomes possible. Things-in-themselves do not emerge into something else. Things-in-themselves join with other things-in-themselves to make something more than either was by themselves alone.
This reintegration leads to a different picture of the relationship between the sciences than posited by Ayala, and many others. Ayala writes, "...teleological explanations are ...indispensable as well as distinctive to the discipline (of biology). ...biology cannot be reduced to the physical sciences."xlii While appreciating the non-reductionistic theme in Ayala, I point to the smooth continuity of logic that comes with following the emergence of possibility that is developed by Darwin for evolutionary theory with an inherent understanding of feedback loops in systems theory. The continuity affirms mechanistic, closed loop, causal explanation without any appeal to function or end states or direction as part of scientific explanation. My reintegration merely rejects the Democritean version of such causal logic. It is synthetic thinking rather than analytic thinking. Such integrated theory generates causal hypotheses that can be analytically tested through empirical research in the tradition of Aristotelian method, without reference to Aristotele's theory of natural forms or Platonic theory of ontological forms.
At last, with all of the above logical work done, I will now attempt to state a general reintegrated evolutionary theory that is in conformity with scientific discoveries about evolution.
Sub-atomic particles have the potential to become atoms. When they actualize that potential they come together as atoms. Different kinds of atoms have the potential to become different kinds of molecules. Some chemical molecules have the potential to become part of complex organic chemistry molecules that are the buildings blocks of life. Under conditions that are only beginning to be understood, some organic chemistry molecules came together within a cell to form nucleic acids that directed amino acids to form into proteins. Some of these prokaryotic cells made manifest the potential to sustain themselves over time, including the capacity to exchange molecules with their environments through semi-permeable membranes and to reproduce themselves. Once prokaryotic cells existed and were able to reproduce themselves, some prokaryotic cells developed features of modern eukaryotic cells which were advantageous so that offspring with these features thrived and passed them on to other prokaryotic cells, which in turn made additional changes found in eukaryotic cells and were in turn advantageous for their prokaryotic offspring. Over many generations other features were added and integrated until eukaryotic cells (bacteria) emerged.
After many bacterial generations, some offspring of bacteria changed in ways that joined them together instead of existing separately. Some of these joined offspring survived and thrived and made further changes that were passed along to offspring until multi-cellular creatures such as corals and jellyfish emerged.
Over many more generations some multi-cellular creatures changed and passed on their changes to offspring, structural and functional changes that were advantageous to the offspring in the environments where they lived. Some of the offspring species were more mobile and were able to move geographically so that they were exposed to, and found opportunities in, different environments. Organisms that could thrive in different environments, or in changing environments, had adaptational advantages and were more likely to thrive and pass on their features to offspring.
In the Cambrian Explosion a host of new possibilities became manifest in diverse creatures. Since the Cambrian Explosion different species have developed in response to the opportunities and constraints in the changing structures and physiological progress of the several species.
A Note to Readers
At this point I anticipate that some of you my readers may be having the reaction, "Did we really have to go through all that tortuous logic to get to the above restatement?" If this fits you, I'm happy. It means that what I have written makes sense to you, may just seem obvious. If that is the case then we have completed the developmental loop in scientific revolutions where something that has been resisted now seems obvious.
I hope you will stay with me to see what has been made possible by this reintegration. I said ahead of time that my reintegrative work doesn't throw out any of the valuable progress made by modern science. Perhaps it will have some value for work within the sciences, but the larger advantages, as I see it, comes with a smooth logic that connect the sciences and a consistent logic that should make possible much more helpful conversations between the sciences and other intellectual disciplines, both areas of praxis and theology.
In the latter part of this chapter I turn to the cross-boundary conversation between evolutionary science and theology. In the next chapters I turn to the reintegration of the human sciences to be followed by more chapters dealing with cross-boundary conversations. But before moving to the conversation between evolutionary science and theology I call your attention to the role ofbiology as a bridge science.
Biology as a Bridge Science
I have previously noted that I regard biology as a "bridge" science. Understanding the "bridge" is based on the consideration of what happened when life emerged from non-life. Remember, I am bringing a materialistic and not some kind of vitalistic line of thinking to the emergence of life. It is obvious that non-living least things have the potential to participate in life. They do participate in life. But, I have emphasized, a potential is not actual and therefore not manifest and therefore not observable. So there is no grounding for asserting that non-living things are somehow vital. With this in minds it is important to avoid using language that suggests such vitality. Vitality comes when the potential for vitality in non-living least things becomes actual with the emergence of living things.
Non-living things do not communicate but they do interact with their environments and part of some interactions can be analyzed in terms of interchanges of form. Ice becomes liquid water when the temperature rises above freezing. Neither do non-living things anticipate or have purpose. For example, energy and matter have both particle and wave aspects and, in both aspects, they have potentials of various kinds. Just because a particle is also a wave, or a bit of a wave, and just because scientific observation shows that the behavior of particles, in some cases, shows results that requires the understanding that they are also waves, there is no reason to assert that particles somehow "know about" or "anticipate" the opportunities that come with also being waves. To assert that particles sometimes behave as if they had consciousness or anticipation is logically distracting. A reintegration of the sciences based on emergent possibility is critical of reductionsim, vitalism, Aristotelian natural forms, teleology, logical positivism that reasons only in terms of what is observable, and the process philosophy of Whitehead.xliii
It is, however, critical to understand the implications of what it means to recognize and appreciate that non-living least things have the potential to participate in life, to become life, to be life. This is a crucial recognition for appreciating that material is not materialistic, that a reductionistic or atomistic understanding of material things is inadequate.
Biology is a bridge science because it studies living things. The emergence of life makes actual some properties of matter that were only potential and non-observable before such emergence. Life is self-organizing and self-directing.xliv Organisms interact with aspects of their environments to maintain homeostasis until they die. Organism reproduce and pass on characteristics to their offspring. Different kinds of organisms have a lot of additional kinds of potentials as well. In doing such things organisms have some dimension of freedom based on their capacities (opportunities), including their capacity to perceive the environment, and other capacities as discussed above. Such freedom is moderated by the limits of the whole organism and by perceived contingencies in the environment of the organism. Additional capacities, such as reflection, the perception of universal concepts, and symbolic communication make possible the emergence of greater freedom in homo sapiens which, in turn, introduces additional complexity into the logic needed for the human sciences.
Given the above development of reintegrative theory, biology does not have a different fundamental logical structure from physics and chemistry just because it studies living things. As demonstrated in previous chapters, physics and chemistry cannot be fully understood with materialistic or reductionistic or atomistic thinking either. Biology, understood from a reintegrative perspective, considers things in terms of their parts and things in interaction with other things. Just as in physics and chemistry, it is important to keep track of the dialectic aspects of being and becoming, to pay attention to what is observable and what is not-observable, to keep track, level-by-level, of what is actual and manifest and what is only potential, to avoid a priori assumptions of either mechanism or chaos, to test theory against observation, and to struggle with issues of standpoint dependence - particularly the advantages and disadvantages of various kinds of focus.
Arguing that the biological sciences can be adequately accomplished with materialistic logic is a qualified argument in the sense that I am suggesting that it is acceptable within biology to ignore the emergent capacity of freedom. Such an approach resists anthropomorphic interpretations of animal (and plant) behavior that make such delightful reading in the Bre'r Rabbit stories of Joel Chandler Harris or the dog stories of Jack London. The degree of acceptability of such focusing assumes that the choices of animals other than home sapiens are sufficiently constricted so that they are closed loop (non-reflective) choices and thus have a materialistic-like quality. I am quite willing to entertain the projection that higher animals, say Orangutans, have sufficient emergent capacity so that reliance on materialistic reasoning is inadequate for explaining some behavior. My escape clause is that such behavior by Orangutans needs the logic of the human sciences. Alternatively stated, to the degree that Orangutans have reflective capacity, and other capacities that we commonly think of as distinctly human, they are human, just not fully human. If Orangutans have capacities that are defined as human capacities they are human to that degree. The challenge of doing scientific work in this exciting boundary territory is looking for evidence of human capacities without engaging in anthropomorphic projections.
Biology is a bridge science because the logic of the emergence and development of life on Earth begins with non-living things and ends with the emergence of human capacities. Please note this last sentence does not imply directionality or teleology. It does not require the hidden hand of God.
Ayala was wrong about Aristotle in another important way. In his eagerness to claim that his thinking about teleology was in keeping with Aristotle's thinking, Ayala claims that Aristotle did not believe in God. While Aristotle treated the Greek Gods as merely story, in his book Physics he posits a First Cause, an eternal reality that set the world in motion. Another phrase for the First Cause is Unmoved Mover. Then, in his book Metaphysics, Aristotle names the First Cause as God. Aristotle's speculation about a First Cause or an Unmoved Mover are his answer to why is there something rather than nothing. While I reject such speculation, the question is important and remains. Ayala's mistake is one more example of a scientist overstepping the boundaries of scientific discipline and stepping into scientism. I join Ayala in developing science without reference to God as Creator or Designer, but reject the idea that the boundaries of science are the boundaries of human experience, that the boundaries of science are the boundaries of God, and that the rejection of God as a scientific cause amounts to a rejection of God. You will have to read further to see how my Christian faith and my commitment to science hang together.
(Rewrite) Natural selection is the process in which, at each stage of emergence of new possibilities, both opportunities and constraints relative to the environments they lived in, the success of some organisms rather than others in living until reproduction led to the stabilization and development of some features of structure and physiological process in generations of offspring.