The clockmaker of natural theology
Context: the background of these remarks is, in my jargon called, logic of language, or, the distinction between language-with-meaning and nonsense in our philosophical discussions.
Outline of this page ...
- "The Argument from Design" (Strange clock, strange Clockmaker)
- Is function a matter of fact? ("Design", continued)
"The Argument from Design" (Strange clock, strange Clockmaker)
Note: this supplements the discussion Everything functional is also dysfunctional.
About nature, or at least about life in the natural world -- life, that is, as opposed to the stones, water and other lifeless things life dwells among -- dysfunctionality is as it were "built into the system", as an essential feature of nature; it is not an accident. (But is function a matter of fact?)
It is as if the designer had intentionally built dysfunction into the system. And if the system isn't "built"? But how can man know the mind of God (i.e. what Lichtenberg called "the whole plan")? That is the question of whether or not there is providence in nature, which is a "question an without answer", because, as is the case with all such questions, we are unwilling to set a criterion (a test) which would allow it to be answered, for anything may or may not be providential, depending on the point of view that is selected, and "Which point of view is God's mind?" is precisely the unanswerable question. We live in metaphysical ignorance, in the midst of fundamental mystery. Anyone who says that "the riddle does not exist" seems to claim to know what he does not know, for "the riddle" is not a trick of language ("a bewitchment of the intelligence"), for we can always give a grammatical account of such questions as being rhetorical questions. That there are limits to what man can know, doubtless; but that "On the other side of that limit there is nothing to know" -- is a very different proposition.
Dysfunctionality exists in nature, as fully as if it were intended to be there. So that if one speaks of "design" as an "argument for the existence of God", then one must also speak of, as it were, "dys-design" as an "argument against the existence of God". Or, if one speaks of "functionality" as an argument for God, then one must also speak of dysfunctionality as an argument against God. If one says, "Look at life -- there is function!", one must also say: "Look at life -- there is dysfunction!" Just as there is creation and destruction in the dead world [or, non-living world, or, in non-living Nature], so too there is creation and destruction in the living world. So the argument from design has a bit of a problem.
I think it might be regarded as a fundamental law of natural history that, whenever something in nature "has a function", "serves a purpose", the same thing also occurs in circumstances where it serves none, is even "dysfunctional". (CV p. 72 [MS 137 49b: 4.6.1948])
And that too is important to note: not only is everything functional also dysfunctional, i.e. anything that has a function may dysfunction, but the same thing that is functional here may be dysfunctional there.
If God built dysfunction into Nature, then He is a perplexing sort of Watchmaker to say the least. Cf. if one speaks of Providence, then mustn't one also speak of Improvidence? The concept 'to believe in God' is not identical with the concept 'to believe that God exists'; the second is a matter of evidence or reasons, whereas the first is a matter of neither; the second concerns proof, whereas the first does not. There is, necessarily, conceptual confusion that results when the concept 'God of Christianity' is identified with the concept 'God of the philosophers'. Because those are two distinct concepts -- i.e. rules for using words, rules which, in this case, are contrary to one another and cannot be combined without contradiction.
Nature does not make mistakes, because nature cannot make mistakes. It is human beings who make mistakes -- i.e. who misconceive the nature of nature, through anthropomorphism: we see nature as a mirror-image of ourselves; we have expectations of nature -- we make demands, set requirements (PI § 107) for nature to conform to (We think: it must be such-and-such way) -- but nature has no expectations. Whatever happens is natural. "Do not call it nature, but only the mind's presentation to itself of nature" (cf. Lichtenberg).
The dysfunctionality everywhere found in Nature is not an accident. -- For a accident, that's too big.
Is function a matter of fact? ("Design", continued)
Cf. Existentialism versus Essentialism. But a knife is a human invention, an object to which a function/use is [has been] assigned by its inventor [man], whereas the human kidneys are not. Or are they assigned a function by man? Can you say: it is only within the human form of life that kidneys are functional or dysfunctional [Can you say that nothing is functional but [i.e. unless] thinking makes it so, that it belongs to the human form of life to say whether/that kidneys are functional?]
"It is only within the human form of life -- the specifically human way of thinking -- that kidneys have a function." -- But not as if Martians would say that kidneys had no function, not as if what they would deny were some statement of fact or other. (If I try to describe something outside the limits of our human form of life, then of course I cannot do that any more than I can say what a lion would say if a lion could talk.)
"If a lion could talk we would not understand it" (PI II, xi, p. 223), nor vice versa. Someone replies, "Come, come, surely ..." But birds do talk, and we do not understand them. We try to understand their speech; we use the model of our own speech -- for what else would we use. But those who have tried have, so far it seems, failed (although crows are said to have a twenty-four caw vocabulary). (The word 'birdsong' is anthropomorphic.)
But is it not a fact that kidneys filter unhealthy things from the blood -- and that if they do not do this, the body dies (I will assume these to be facts)? Biologically defined, 'healthy' = 'what promotes life', 'unhealthy' = 'what harms life'.
Is not this function and dysfunction ("kidney failure") a matter of fact rather than a point of view or way/form of life [-- i.e. is it not merely a matter of fact within a particular frame of reference belonging to a particular form of life? --] No, it is not clear to me what I am asking. [What we want to say is that it is a fact that kidneys filter the blood; it is a fact -- not only for a being with the native capacity to conceive and perceive blood and filtering -- but reality, or a fact by any other name, regardless of whether any being exists that is able to conceive and perceive it.] Cf. "At the atomic level, kidneys don't [even] exist."
The word 'function' requires an antithesis (antithetical word) or it is nonsense ... or is that not a requirement? If a thing cannot -- here we are talking about logical possibility -- go wrong [dysfunction], then can it go right [function] -- because then anything at all will be going right.
"The word 'function' requires an antithesis or it is nonsense." But no one has to use, no one has to have the concept 'function. -- If you use that concept, think [conceive and perceive] in that way ["think in those terms"], then it is a matter of fact that some things have functions -- natural, not man-assigned, functions. And facts of course are objective. (But what we want to say is that these facts are supra-objective, that they transcend forms of life; they are reality, what God sees.)
[We do not say that a random pebble lying in our path has a function. Suppose someone said: "It's that we simply don't yet know -- i.e. haven't conceived -- the function of apparently random pebbles." Is that a move in this language-game? or does it "play the game wrong, or not at all"?]
Is this like the very general fact of our experience that there is regularity in nature -- for is that not a fact [However, what would its opposite look like? Nonetheless, it can be significantly negated. We do have the concept 'chaos' as the antithesis of 'order] -- stands on an entirely different level from any particular regularity, e.g. that if I pour water it always falls into my glass [or onto the table or floor] rather than, say, sometimes rising to the ceiling.
If function proves design, then what does it prove?
Even were it the case that design necessarily followed from function, that might suggest as the designer only the God or gods of deism not theism (and deism would be a fact of indifference to both religion and ethics, as distinct from metaphysics).
What is to be done with theism if God must not interfere in the laws of nature -- without being a marionetter [marionette (puppet) master]? Would anyone really prefer to live in a world where what happened to the water when you poured water depended on the whim/caprice of God/of some gods rather than on natural laws, the regularity -- and therefore predictability -- of this event? Would anyone really want God to "play God". [And apply this question to ethics as well!]
Why it is necessary or ever was necessary to speak of the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755, I do not understand. You pour yourself a glass of water, you sit down at the table and accidentally knock over the glass with your elbow, and the water falls to the floor and is spoiled. What purpose is served by that? [What purpose did that serve?] The moment you recognize one bit of [instance of], what from our perspective, is purposivelessness in the universe, that is the beginning to recognizing all of it ... the, as we would say [and of course this view of nature is anthropological], dysfunctionality of nature, although from another perspective it is simply the laws of physics [taking their course]. If you are going to speak about purpose or the lack of purpose in such events as accidentally spilled glasses of water or indeed earthquakes, or about benevolence and malevolence, then, rather than speak of God, it would seem more appropriate to speak of sprites or elves, nature spirits, capricious, sometimes benevolent, sometimes malevolent, but always irresponsible.
Entropy -- divine or God's planned obsolescence. Entropy: -- dust. God as a Dr. Frankenstein and Dr. Moreau and the creatures of this earth his perverse experiments. "If God is such-and-such a way, then the world must be such-and-such a way." If the God of Nature (or Nature's God, if a distinction is somehow, I don't know how, made with the words 'Nature' and 'Nature's God') must be identified with what Schweitzer called "the God of Ethics (or the Ethical God)", then Nature's God must be, as the Ethical God is, true, good, noble, and all the best qualities of man ... But Nature's God is in a description ("such-and-such a way") that is consistent with the world a monstrous god.
Dysfunction and the kingdom of God
What is the relationship between the concepts 'dysfunction' and 'kingdom of God'?
So then, in the supernatural kingdom of God -- i.e. in that picture -- will there be any dysfunction? If dysfunction = imperfection, then no. But if there is no dysfunction, there will also be no function -- i.e. both the concepts 'function' and 'dysfunction' [or the two parts of the one concept] will cease to have a reason to be -- i.e. any application. And what will that be like? The picture of the supernatural kingdom of God isn't in all, or even in many respects, clear. ("We know what we are, but not what we are to be," Paul says of the body and resurrection; and he compares how things look when reflected in a primitive mirror to the state of our knowledge in this world, but as to the kingdom of God he says: "Now I know in part, but then face to face").
... but we don't share -- and indeed cannot share, for after all the concept 'imminent' is not infinitely plastic -- the eschatology of Jesus and Paul, of late Judaism and the earliest followers of Jesus. The coming of the supernatural kingdom is not something we live in daily expectation of. For us, the picture of the kingdom of God has, in our life, only a place in our ethics (not, as it were, in our elaborated speculative metaphysics), which is the ethic of love we find in Jesus' words and deeds. All we know of the kingdom is the picture that Jesus has drawn for us. And that drawing is not a magical map of mysticism (knowledge of things outside human experience), but a guide to how the good man must seek to live his life (although, of course, without Jesus' eschatology it is not a simple guide).
"... not a simple guide". In one of his early sermons, before leaving for Africa, Schweitzer spoke about our life, asking rhetorically "What have I done this week for love of God that I would not have done anyway?" and saying "Just try loving your neighbor as you love yourself for a few days and see where you would find yourself!" Schweitzer was, I think, speaking in the context of Nietzsche's call against self-deception. We call ourselves Christians, but do we live as Jesus told us to live? or are we "hearers [of the word] only, deceiving ourselves" as to who we are. Schweitzer asks: Do I live according to "the sum of the law and the prophets", loving God with my whole heart and my neighbor as myself (Matthew 22.36-40)? But if we really did love our neighbor as ourself wouldn't we very quickly find ourselves naked, homeless and starving, ourselves become like "Lazarus at the rich man's gate"?
But the words are "love your neighbor as yourself" -- not "love your neighbor more than you love yourself": you would not leave your neighbor helpless, and so nor should you leave yourself helpless (if your helplessness will lead you into wrong-doing). The principle "What you do not want done to you, you must not do to others" is reciprocal: what you do not want done to others, you must not do to yourself either (nor let others do to you). That may not be saintliness, but maybe we mustn't set the bar too high.
If on the other hand, the ethic were not "and love thy neighbor as thyself", but the ethic of much of the Sermon on the Mount (clearly excluding, I would say, e.g. the Beatitudes and the commandments not to judge or to harm one's neighbor), then the follower of Jesus would indeed be self-destructive -- but if this world were coming to an end even as Jesus speaks and if "whoever would save his life in this world shall lose it in the kingdom of God" ... But we cannot share Jesus' world-picture of the imminent end of this world, and so we cannot in every way practice the ethics applicable to that world-picture either. In the kingdom of God all men live in peace, free from want, but in this world we do not. And therefore, although man can live by the ethic "and thy neighbor as thyself", he cannot live -- at least not for very long -- practicing the ethics proper to the world-picture of the Gospels, if those words are taken literally, for you would indeed soon find yourself naked, homeless and starving.
But to do something that damages you as an ethical personality ("soul"), to sacrifice yourself in that way for love of neighbor, is itself an act of wrong-doing. One must recognize that there are the limits to one's own ability to do good; one must "know oneself" as an individual, not over-reaching oneself. To cause damage to oneself as a ethical personality is not a godly deed; it is a misunderstanding, a mistake -- foolishness, ignorance, rather than wisdom (i.e. knowledge of the good for man, of how he should live his life).
On another topic. Bonhoeffer does not direct his remarks against the Johannine letter's "This world and all it loves is coming to an end", but they are a criticism of that view. For not everything in this world will be absent from the kingdom of God: for in this world there is much that is good: there is love, there is beauty, there is (at least, the love of) truth -- and these will all continue to exist in God's kingdom -- for how could they not; indeed, without them we would know nothing of God at all.
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