Organisms and Machines

In the “The Disunity of Reason” thread, Mung suggested that “the typical non-theist will insist that organisms are machines, including humans.” And there is a long tradition of mechanistic metaphysics in Western anti-theism (La Mettrie is probably the most well-known example). However, I pointed that I disagree with the claim that organisms are machines. I’m reposting my thoughts from there for our continued conversation.

A machine is a system with components or parts that can be partially isolated from the rest of the system and made to vary independently of the system in which they are embedded, but which has no causal loops that allow it to minimize the entropy produced by the system. It will generate as much or as little heat as it is designed to do, and will accumulate heat until the materials lose the properties necessary for implementing their specific functions. In other words, machines can break.

What makes organisms qualitatively different from machines is that organisms are self-regulating, far-from-equilibrium thermodynamic systems. Whereas machines are nearly always in thermodynamic equilibrium with the surrounding system, organisms are nearly always far from thermodynamic equilibrium — and they stay there. An organism at thermodynamic equilibrium with its environment is, pretty much by definition, dead.

The difference, then, is that machines require some agent to manipulate them in order to push them away from thermodynamic equilibrium. Organisms temporarily sustain themselves at far-from-equilibrium attractors in phase space — though entropy catches up with all of us in the end.

It is true that some parts of an organism can break — a bone, for example. But I worry that to produce a concept general enough that both breaking and dying are subsumed under it, one can lost sight of the specific difference that one is trying to explain.

Indeed, that’s the exact problem with Intelligent Design theory — the ID theorist says, “organisms and machines are exactly the same, except for all the differences”. Which is why the ID theorist then concludes that organisms are just really special machines — the kind of machines that only a supremely intelligent being could have made. As Fuller nicely puts it, according to ID “biology is divine technology”.

The Death of Humanity

The Death of Humanity is a new book by Richard Weikart.

Are humans intrinsically valuable, or are they simply a cosmic accident with no real meaning or purpose? Since the Enlightenment this debate has raged in Western culture, profoundly influencing our understanding of bioethics and informing the debate over abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, genetic engineering, etc. The title of this book, The Death of Humanity, refers not only to the demise of the concept that humans are intrinsically valuable, but also the the resultant killing of actual human lives.

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Burden tennis

Burden tennis is an intellectual parlor game, wherein the players “hit” the “burden of proof” across the net from one side to the other.  We see this expressed as “the burden is in your court” or “the burden of proof is yours”, with often both sides making similar statements.

Burden tennis can be a fun game to watch, but it is sometimes wiser to avoid being a participant.

Note:  I did not invent the term “burden tennis”.  I saw that being used on the net somewhere many years ago.  But it seems like a good term.

This post is really a reply to Patrick’s post in the moderation thread.  I’ve started a new thread, because the discussion really doesn’t belong there.

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Impractical Naturalism of Dan Graur vs. the NIH

I’ll be making a presentation at AM-NAT 2016, and Dan Graur will be the poster boy of impractical naturalism. Below are some things I collected from his websites, some of which I view as highly anti-science. The aim of my presentation isn’t to settle the question of God or no God or ultimate questions of whether godless naturalism is the best description of reality. The goal is to suggest there are some unspoken naturalistic creeds that often take priority over experiments and observations. In a manner of speaking, there are some interpretations of naturalism that actually go against dispassionate examination of how the natural world actually operates.
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Alternatives to Methodological Naturalism Preview Session Happening Now

If anyone wants to join us, we are doing an online preview for a conference on Alternatives to Methodological Naturalism. For the preview session, Dr. Sam Rakover is giving a talk on Methodological Dualism in Psychology. Connection information is at the link below.

Miracles of Evolution

From time to time, when I am not actively engaged in “dishonest quote-mining” of materialists and evolutionists, I take time to actually read their writings. Today I was reading John Maynard Smith.

I now want to take a great leap forward in time, and suppose that not only has a modern protein-synthesizing machinery evolved, but that specific enzymes exist catalysing specific reactions, and that the organism has a cell membrane which prevents the products of catalysis from diffusing away.

– p. 115

This isn’t a great leap forward in time, it’s just a great leap. Poof! A cell membrane! I love how that just magically appeared. Let’s assume a fully functional cell membrane.

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