The Goethean method as a complement to conventional science

Modern science is in danger of fragmentation and of becoming a study of artificial abstractions which become increasingly severed from reality.

As translated from Maurice Merleau-Ponty in  L’Œil et l’Esprit


“Science manipulates things and gives up living in them. It makes its own limited models of things; operating upon these indices or variables to effect whatever transformations are permitted by their definition, it comes face to face with the real world only at rare intervals. Science is and always will be that admirably active, ingenious, and bold way of thinking whose fundamental bias is to treat everything as though it were an object-in-general – as though it meant nothing to us and yet was predestined for our own use.”


Introducing the Goethean method brings back the connection between the investigator and the subject under investigation.

This review by Bo Dahlin investigates science education in relation to a phenomenological approach. Continue reading

Window dressing, or: Is the God of Thomistic classical theism as dumb as a rock?

[Courtesy of & Kitti Incédi]

[Courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey]

Dr. Gaven Kerr is a lecturer in philosophy at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Ireland. In a recent online interview with writer and philosopher Pat Flynn on a Youtube video titled, “Philosophy Friday: Classical Theism and Divine Simplicity” (March 23, 2021), Dr. Kerr (who is a Thomist and a stalwart defender of classical theism) made nine incredible metaphysical claims (two about agents in general, and seven about God), as well as six philosophically controversial background assumptions. Below, I shall argue that when taken together, these claims and assumptions add up to a picture of a God Who is literally as dumb as a rock. Basically, He’s a black box. The exalted language which Thomists use to describe God is mere window dressing, obscuring the fact that the God they worship never even thinks about the creatures He has made: they depend on Him, but on the Thomistic view, God creates them without having to think any thoughts about them, like “Let there be light” or “Let us make man in our own image.” All God ever thinks about is Himself, and even His act of “thinking about” Himself consists in nothing more than His being Himself. In other words, God knows Himself (and His creatures) simply by existing. In this post, I shall argue that the Thomistic account of knowledge is downright nonsensical, that Thomists’ reasons for denying that God has any thoughts and feelings about us are based on faulty assumptions, and finally, that if their account of God were correct, it would be irrational of us to love God or to feel grateful to Him for anything. Taken to its logical extreme, Thomistic classical theism makes the hearts of believers grow cold, and it is a lucky thing indeed that most Christians (Catholics included) are blissfully ignorant of what it teaches about God.

For those readers who are interested, here is Pat Flynn’s interview with Dr. Kerr:

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The Inevitability of Life and Consciousness

Kantian Naturalist brought up the subjects of autopoesis and organizational closure whereby biological systems maintain a distinctive form while being thermodynamically open. Not only do they achieve a low entropy state but they maintain it over time.

From Wikipedia:

Autopoietic systems are “structurally coupled” with their medium, embedded in a dynamic of changes that can be recalled as sensory-motor coupling. This continuous dynamic is considered as a rudimentary form of knowledge or cognition and can be observed throughout life-forms.


This is not yet the inner conscious awareness possessed by higher animals but it is a step in that direction. Continue reading

Tenth Anniversary for The Skeptical Zone

Who’d have thought it would make it this far?

27th July, 2011, was the date of the very first opening post at The Skeptical Zone. The site was created by Dr Elizabeth Liddle, partly to facilitate extended discussion that got buried at the “Intelligent-Design” promoting site, Uncommon Descent, where Lizzie was an active critic for some time before falling prey to the Barry Arrington ban-hammer. It was also an experiment in attempting to facilitate discussion across widely-differing across widely-differing viewpoints by proposing a code of conduct involving assuming all other participants are commenting in good faith. There have been ups and downs over the years with perhaps the most disappointing aspect that Lizzie herself has ceased to be involved (except she still pays the bills).

So it is something of a miracle that the site is still active albeit well down from its peak around the end of 2015. Anyway, here we still are, some of us. I wonder what the next decade will bring.

Common Trends in Evolution

Does evolution repeat itself? Could evolution repeat itself? Where do people stand in relation to the thoughts of  Gould and Conway Morris?

Gould has a point, everything is in a state of becoming. As Heraclitus would say, all is change. Replay the tape and nothing would be the same. But would or could there be any similar trends? Would life in general proceed in such a radically different way that Gould makes out?

From “Life’s Grandeur”, Gould states:

“…no persuasive or predictable thrust toward progress permeates the history of life…

“Wind the tape of life to the origin of multicellular animals in the Cambrian explosion, let the tape play again from this identical starting point, and the replay will populate the earth (and generate a right tail of life) with a radically different set of creatures. The chance that this alternative set will contain anything remotely like a human being must be effectively nil, while the probability of any kind of creature endowed with self-consciousness must also be extremely small.”

Conway Morris disagrees with Gould’s conclusion. He champions an inevitable path and cites convergent evolution as evidence which suggests this.

In “The Crucible of Creation” he states,

“What we are interested in is not the origin, destiny, or fate of a particular lineage, but the likelihood of the emergence of a particular property, say consciousness. Here the reality of convergence suggests that the tape of life, to use Gould’s metaphor, can run as many times as we like and in principle intelligence will surely emerge.”

I’m interested in what people have to say about this and its relation to topics such as the emergence of bilateral symmetry and differentiation from head to tail, extreme specialization, encephalization, endothermy, caring for young, transitions from aquatic to terrestrial living and other related topics. These processes have occurred multiple times in different lineages over time.

Something fun for a change…Ant on a rubber band.

Does someone with an open mind want to try to tackle this? Its about a theoretical ant on a rubber string. If the ant is crawling on the string, but the string is expanding, can the ant ever reach the end. In the video they claim it can, because the ant’s progress gets stretched towards the end, at the same time the string is stretched. But this is a bizarre interpretation in my opinion. This is only true if the string is being stretched in only one direction, that is, the direction that it is approaching. So the string is secured at one end, and streched at the other end, so indeed it keeps getting closer to the end.

But if neither end is secured, and it is stretched, there is no reason for the ant to be stretched in the direction of its progress, thus it would never go anywhere. But neither the narrator, nor anyone in the comments seems to have a problem with this. Why?

And is this in any way analagous to spacetime stretching?

An A-Z of Unanswered Objections to Christianity: W. The Sacraments

The vast majority of Christians agree that Baptism and the Eucharist are sacraments instituted by Jesus Christ, in which God’s grace is bestowed on those who receive them with the right disposition. In this essay I shall argue that notwithstanding believers’ protestations to the contrary, the standard Christian understanding of these sacraments is a magical one. In addition, Christian accounts of how the sacraments impart grace are, as far as I can tell, nonsensical: they explain nothing. Finally, the metaphysical schemes used by various Christian denominations to explain the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist all turn out to be philosophically incoherent.

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Evolution Reflected in Development

Below is an image of the developmental path from human conception to adult in comparison with evolutionary path from prokaryote to human.

Unlike Haeckel’s biogenetic law with its focus on physical forms, the comparison above also concerns activity, lifestyle and behaviour. Comparative stages may be vastly different in detail, but the similarity of general lifestyles and consecutive stages are there to be observed. Continue reading

The Fridge-o-matic Challenge

I once offered the ‘fridge-o-matic’ challenge. The idea was to give me a number from 1 to 9 (a shelf in my fridge/freezer), and a lateral location Left, Middle or Right, and a depth locator Front, Middle, Back. That gives 81 sectors. I go to the named sector and fumble for the nearest organism (he’d have to trust me not to cheat). If it’s a stew or pizza I’d need more info. Then I’d need a chromosome number in that organism, and a gene number on the chromosome. We could shortcut the back’n’forth by giving numbers 1-50 and 1-10,000 which I’d then normalise to the actual counts.

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The Reformed Joker with a Serious Message

Russell Brand provides some food for thought in this video.

He quotes Edward F. Edinger explaining that we need a central living myth to give us a reason for our existence. “Meaning is lost, and in its place primitive and atavistic contents are reactivated. Differentiated values disappear and are replaced by the elemental motives of power and pleasure, or else the individual is exposed to emptiness and despair.”

Look at how much extra wealth Jeff Bezos has acquired since the pandemic took hold. Coronavirus is changing our world. Society is becoming more divided than ever at a time when we should be working together and seeking unity.

And here I am pointing two fingers, one at society in general and the other at myself.

We need people like Daniel C. Wahl and Declan Kennedy if there is going to be any sort of future worth living.




The genetic code and intelligent design

Joe G has been looking into the posts here at TSZ. Apparently this inspired him to get into a series of outbursts of rage. Well, maybe not. Looking at his blog rage seems to be his normal state. Back in his blog he’s stated fuming about what he thinks are facts that prove intelligent design, I mean Intelligent Design, with capitals because, let’s not forget, ID is about “God.” So I’ve been trying to explain to him why that’s profoundly and irremediably wrong. Here I’ll expand a bit on that, and thus willl try and avoid contaminating other threads with Joe G’s angry prose.

To get this started, I’m going to check Joe G’s latest attempt, Joe G starts thusly:

The genetic code is evidence for Intelligent Design based on the following facts:

Facts!? Wow, this is starting so well, I’m sure I’m going to be convinced! Good-bye sinful atheistic life!

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Abiogenesis: The Second Data Point?

Will Perserverance find it on Mars?

Abiogenesis, the question of the origin of life on Earth, is a fascinating one and on current information we only have one data point on which to base hypotheses. The facts are that life exists on Earth in amazing variety in many different niches from the coldest, darkest oceans to the driest deserts. Yet that life in all its diversity shares much in common.

With few and very interesting exceptions, the genetic code—the way information that terrestrial organisms use to function, grow and reproduce is stored—is shared across all extant species (and in extinct species where DNA is still recoverable). I know of no other plausible explanation for this than life’s diversity radiates from a common ancestor. So far direct fossil evidence takes life back at least 3.75 billion years and molecular phylogeny suggests an even earlier date for the universal common ancestor. It is reasonable to infer that a molten Earth was sterile and that life based on carbon and water could not have existed on this planet before it was cool enough for water to condense on its surface.

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The arrival of individual self consciousness.

Either the gentle arousal of sleeping beauty or disturbing a sleeping dragon, which is it?

The part:
An individual human could not become a self-reflective, thinking adult without the necessary bodily systems, processes and organs which comprise the whole organism.

The whole:
Earthly life could not reach a stage in which individual organisms become self-reflective, rational thinking beings without the forms of life which develop in a way that comprises the vast supporting structure that allow these few seeds of nascent self-aware consciousness to spring from the living earth. Life on earth is one self-regulating body while humanity provides the mind within that body.

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Design by Natural Selection: The LTEE

Lenski’s Long Term Evolutionary Experiment

Richard Lenski began the LTEE with 12 populations (six Ara^+ and six Ara^-) of the bacterium Escherichia coli on 24th February, 1988. The experiment is currently housed at Michigan State University and has run continuously apart from a short break while relocating to the present site and another during the height of the Covid-19 outbreak.

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Gunther Laird critiques natural law in The Unnecessary Science

Back in 2008, Catholic philosopher Edward Feser wrote a spirited defense of classical theism and natural law theory, which made quite a splash. Although Feser’s book, The Last Superstition, was subtitled “A Refutation of the New Atheism,” it was primarily a ringing reaffirmation of teleology as a pervasive feature of the natural world – a feature highlighted in the philosophical writings of Aristotle and his medieval exponent, Thomas Aquinas. What Feser was proposing was that the modern scientific worldview, with its “mechanical” view of Nature, was a metaphysically impoverished one; that human beings have built-in goals which serve as the basis of objective ethical norms; that the existence of God could be rationally established; and that religion (specifically, the Catholic religion) is grounded in reason, rather than blind faith. Since then, Feser has authored several other books in the same vein: Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide, Philosophy of Mind, Five Proofs for the Existence of God, Neo-Scholastic Essays, Scholastic Metaphysics, and most recently, Aristotle’s Revenge.

Until now, Feser’s skeptical critics haven’t been able to land any decisive blows, and many of those who have tried have come away with bloody noses. (The Australian philosopher Graham Oppy, who recently took part in two very civilized online debates with Feser on the existence of God [here and here], is one of the rare exceptions; Bradley Bowen, who reviewed Feser’s Five Proofs of the Existence of God three years ago, is another critic whom Feser treats with respect; Arif Ahmed, who went toe to toe with Feser on the existence of God, is a third critic who held his own against Feser.) However, Feser is now definitely on the ropes, with the publication of a new book titled, The Unnecessary Science, by Gunther Laird. The style of the book is engaging, the prose is limpidly clear, and the author possesses a rare ability to make philosophical arguments readily comprehensible to lay readers. As a further bonus, Laird is a true gentleman, whose book is refreshingly free of polemic. Throughout his book, he is highly respectful of Aristotle and Aquinas, even when he profoundly disagrees with them, and while he has occasional digs at Feser, they are lighthearted and in good humor. The scope of Laird’s book is bold and ambitious: the target of his attack is not merely the God of classical theism, but the entire Aristotelian-Thomistic enterprise of natural law theory, which he attacks on three levels: metaphysical, ethical and religious. Amazingly, despite the fact that Laird has no philosophical training beyond the baccalaureate level, he makes a very persuasive case: skeptics who read his book will come away firmly convinced that Feser has failed to prove his case, and that natural law theory needs to go back to the drawing board. And they will be right.
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