New book out, hot off the press: “Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics” by William Dembski, Robert Marks, and Winston Ewart. These men are all math modelers, and they are claiming that there is no math model to explain evolution, and as such, it mathematically has not been proven. Written at the level that us non-math folks can understand.
Dr. Robert Marks says “There exists no model successfully describing undirected Darwinian evolution.” Without the math to back it up, it is difficult for scientific explanations to hold for very long.
This work will likely be very influential.
An introduction to metaphysics is in order. When we speak of metaphysics, we are not speaking of the odd, occultic section of the used bookstore. Instead, we are speaking of the branch of philosophy that studies how things exist.
Thomas Aquinas wrote what is arguably the pinnacle of the expression of metaphysics as it applies to God. Let us examine a statement of metaphysics and try to explain it.
Potency and act divide being in such a way that whatever is, is either pure act or of necessity composed of potency and act.
No doubt such a statement appears gibberish to the common ear. To understand such a statement, we must explain the terms.
The terms potency and act are old ways of saying potential and actual. A man is potentially strong, then he exercises and lifts weights and becomes actually strong.
In metaphysics, the term being has more than one sense.
In English, the two senses of being can be easily confused. Many of the original writings about metaphysics were in other languages, where the two senses are different words. Latin speaks of ens, being as a noun or thing, and esse, being as a participle or action.
We get more confused when we realize that the noun being (ens), must necessarily include the act of being (esse). A thing must exist to be a thing, therefore whatever exists includes the act of existing.
So our sentence above might be rewritten in terms that makes more sense to us:
Potential and actual divide things that exist in such a way that whatever exists, is either purely actual or of necessity composed of potential and actual.
This statement is significant. Whatever is purely actual, with no mixture of potential, cannot get better, or stronger, or change in any way. A purely strong man could not do anything to get stronger. If he could potentially get stronger, then he would have potential that has not been actualized and his strength would not be purely actual. A man who could get stronger is composed of potential and actual. All composed things are limited, for they have not yet actualized their potential.
So, to repeat, if a thing were fully actualized, it would have no potential to get better, stronger, wiser, or any other way. If a thing is composed of potential and actual, it has some strength or some wisdom, but has the potential to get stronger or wiser.
So the statement above is saying that whatever exists is either purely actual, in which case it cannot increase in any way, or is a mixture of potential and actual.
Why does this matter? Because everything we observe in this world is a mixture of potential and actual. Everything could get warmer, or denser, or stronger, or wiser. Everything that is a mixture of potential and actual was caused to be that way, and could not have caused itself. Therefore there must be a thing which is purely actual, with no mixture of potential. This thing that is purely actual, therefore necessarily exists, and this we call God.
But this concept of potential and actual has more applications. When humans think a thought, we move from potentially thinking to actually thinking. Only something that is already actual can cause something to change from potentially existing to actually existing. Since we have some things about us that are actual, it is logical that we can cause potentials to become actual. For example, if we are potentially strong, we can do exercise and become actually stronger.
Therefore this concept of act and potency supports the existence of God and human free will agency.
In considering arguments for the existence of God, we sometimes encounter the argument of the first mover, now often referred to as the first cause. This first cause argument comes into play when we try to speak of human agency, or the human ability to have free will. First we must give a bit of background to set up the discussion.
Briefly, the first mover argument says that everything in the universe is caused to exist by another, yet this chain of causing cannot go back infinitely, for then every event in the chain is an effect. Aquinas used this in the first and second ways of his five ways. Aquinas was speaking of current, ongoing causation, as demonstrated by his analogy of a stone being moved by a stick, which in turn is moved by the hand. The motion would be ongoing and current, or the stone would not move. Since the stone cannot move itself, there must be something stationary causing the chain of movement, for an infinite series of sticks have no power in themselves to move anything. William Lane Craig uses the first mover in explaining the Kalam Cosmological Argument, going backward in a logical series, and giving several arguments of why an infinite series of causes cannot exist. One of his reasons is that an infinite cannot be crossed, therefore there cannot be an infinite series of causes prior to now. An ever-increasing finite is not an infinite. The original first mover argument is found in Aristotle.
But when considering the nature of chains of events and the possibilities of infinites, it is sometimes argued something like the following:
Such reasoning then gives skeptics a tool to have fun running in conversational circles with theists, which they seem to do with glee. One suspects they really are looking for excuses, or they would not argue from such a position, for their arguments fail.
The simple answer is that as humans, we have been given the capacity to have free will acts and generate movement and thoughts. Human movement and thoughts are not generated with no prior cause, but from the human agent, who was caused to have the capacity to generate actions. Actions are when a potential moves to an actual, and humans have the ability to move potential thoughts to actual thoughts, and potential movement to actual movement. We were caused to have this ability from the first, uncaused cause, which we call God. So human actions do not come from nothing, and the human capacity to generate thoughts and actions does not come from nothing. All things are caused but not determined, for humans were caused to have the capacity to make free-will thoughts and actions.
I completed a lengthy series on the justification for human agency, the first of which you can read here.
To this we add the words of Aristotle. The following section is from Aristotle’s De Anima, in a section where he is describing how humans move. He writes quite a bit about the various aspects of the human soul having the capacity to generate, mentioning movement quite a bit:
It is because of the movement started by the object of desire that the thinking produces its movement . . . There is really one thing that produces movement, the object of desire. . . in fact it is not clear that the intellect produces movement without desire. . . the movement produces by reasoning being invariably accompanied by that produced by wishing, while desire even in the face of reasoning produces movement . . .
We have shown, then, that it is the sort of capacity of the soul that is called desire that produces movement. (De Anima, III.10, 433a)
We are not concerned here with Aristotle’s conclusions about what parts of the soul cause what type of action, but rather the pervasiveness of his mentioning that the human soul does indeed cause action, and does so of its own accord, with no direct, efficient cause of the action other than the human soul having the capacity to do so. Aristotle’s main thrust is explaining just exactly how he thinks the soul operates, and does not question whether the soul is able to do so. Aristotle seems to not even consider whether a soul would not have the capacity to generate thoughts and actions of itself. The idea seems so obvious as to not need discussion.
Aquinas’ writings are similar. In the Summa Theologia, he speaks at length about human abilities, frequently mentioning agency. But he brings in the idea of agency as if it was a settled fact, which is amazing considering the length and depth of the Summa, where he questions more things than we ever thought it possible to question. That Aquinas would not question agency is telling.
We can therefore conclude that at least Aristotle and Aquinas held it obvious and not contradictory in the slightest to both hold to an argument of a first mover and full human agency. Humans have the capacity to cause thoughts and actions, which is sufficient to do so. It was given to them by their creator God.
In David Hume’s An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding, he includes a section on the connection between cause and effect. He draws examples such as one billiard ball moving and striking another, then the second ball moving. Hume goes to some length to convince us that we have absolutely no idea of why one event would cause another. All we have, he says, is a sequence of events that customarily follow each other over repeated experiences.
We only find, that the one does actually, in fact, follow the other. The impulse one billiard-ball is attended with motion in the second. This is the whole that appears to the outward senses. The mind feels no sentiment or inward impression from this succession of objects: Consequently, there is not, in any single, particular instance of cause and effect, any thing which can suggest the idea of power or necessary connexion. (sic)
Hume mentions many times in this section that we have no idea of how a cause can be connected to an effect. How does heat come about from a flame? How are our limbs moved by our will? When a string vibrates and we hear a sound, we cannot know why we hear a sound, but merely that one customarily follows the other. Indeed, “even in the most familiar events, the energy of the cause is as unintelligible as in the most unusual, and that we only learn by experience the frequent Conjunction of objects, without being ever able to comprehend anything like Connextion between them.”
Hume was very insightful to make this observation. However, he confuses how we learn the connection with whether or not we can investigate it and prove that the cause generates the effect. Yes, we typically learn cause and effect from repeated observation. However, it is not true that the most common effects are as much a mystery as the most unusual and mysterious ones. When we encounter an effect, it may take us a while to learn why the cause generates it. Indeed, in the case of the human mind and will, we may never fully understand all aspects of the cause. But it is not the case that all cause and effect relationships are this way.
In his billiard ball example, we can understand and explain the physics of objects and motion. Newton helped us demonstrate that objects with mass, when in motion, must expend that energy when striking another object. We know why the second ball moves because we know the laws of physics involved in objects in motion. Concluding that the second ball will move is not a case of post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.
In Hume’s logic, we would have to lump such things as roosters crowing before the sun rises with billiard balls striking each other. Even if we do not understand a particular cause, it is not the case, as Hume explains, that “We have no idea of the connexion, nor even any distinct notion what it is we desire to know, where we endeavour at a conception of it.”
Sure, Hume is correct that when we see an object for the first time and are ignorant of its properties, we are not able to predict what it will do. And he is also correct that we need repeated observations to first learn the connection between the cause and effect that we observe. But once we do, then we are confident about how billiard balls and violin strings cause things because we know how they work. It is not the case that we forever assume the effect follows the cause merely because one customarily follows the other.
I am reminded of a very old TV show called The Beverly Hillbillies. In the show, a hillbilly family who has never seen modern life is transplanted to a mansion in Beverly Hills. One of the running gags is that when the doorbell rings, the family does not connect the sound of music coming from the walls with the fact that someone pushed the front doorbell button. They merely say that whenever that music comes from the walls, soon after someone always knocks at the door. Hume would have us forever stuck in the Beverly Hillbillies show, never realizing how the doorbell works. However, once we repeatedly observe the effect, we can understand how the mechanism works, and we do indeed know how the cause generates the effect.