The development of ecological thinking in North America has been conditioned by the imperative aiming at a valuation of the biotic community. Since the end of WWII, the US population was warned against the dangerous and violent alterations of nature. Many then found in theology an unforeseen ally. I review the roots of the tension which led to debates between radical ecologism or its denial, and I aim at analyzing it philosophically.
Outline: The reality of Catholicism; The question of the development of science; Historical outlook at some transitional moments; When dogma meets science; Contemporary physics and the worldview of Catholicism; Awaiting a 'Grand Narrative' and the final vision of harmony.
Richard Dawkins has popularized an argument that he thinks sound for showing that there is almost certainly no God. It rests on the assumptions (1) that complex and statistically improbable things are more difficult to explain than those that are not and (2) that an explanatory mechanism must show how this complexity can be built up from simpler means. But what justifies claims about the designer’s own complexity? One comes to a different understanding of order and of simplicity when one (...) considers the psychological counterpart of information. In assessing his treatment of biological organisms as either self-programmed machines or algorithms, I show how self-generated organized complexity does not fit well with our knowledge of abduction and of information theory as applied to genetics. I also review some philosophical proposals for explaining how the complexity of the world could be externally controlled if one wanted to uphold a traditional understanding of divine simplicity. (shrink)
This paper evaluates the claim that it is possible to use nature’s variation in conjunction with retention and selection on the one hand, and the absence of ultimate groundedness of hypotheses generated by the human mind as it knows on the other hand, to discard the ascription of ultimate certainty to the rationality of human conjectures in the cognitive realm. This leads to an evaluation of the further assumption that successful hypotheses with specific applications, in other words heuristics, seem to (...) have a firm footing because they were useful in another context. I argue that usefulness evaluated through adaptation misconstrues the search for truth, and that it is possible to generate talk of randomness by neglecting aspects of a system’s insertion into a larger situation. The framing of the problem in terms of the elimination of unfit hypotheses is found to be unsatisfying. It is suggested that theories exist in a dimension where they can be kept alive rather than dying as phenotypes do. The proposal that the subconscious could suggest random variations is found to be a category mistake. A final appeal to phenomenology shows that this proposal is orphan in the history of epistemology, not in virtue of its being a remarkable find, but rather because it is ill-conceived. (shrink)
Transhumanism is a means of advocating a re-engineering of conditions that surround human existence at both ends. The problem set before us in this chapter is to inquire into what determined its appearance, in particular in the humanism it seeks to overcome. We look at the spirit of overcoming itself, and the impatience with the Self, in order to try to understand why it seeks a saving power in technology. We then consider how the evolutionary account of the production of (...) organisms does not set them against a perfect standard, but rather injects in them a contingency that seems to be near to the heart of the problem. We then try to assess the objective basis for improvements and manipulation of nature, and although we do not find it forbidden on all occasions, it seems that the criteria for such alterations are impossible to detach from a form of eugenics. We finally open a window toward a theological account of the problem, and find that the desire of autonomy and independence is inevitably going to be challenged by the Christian dogma of creation. (shrink)
This is the outline: Introduction : le praticien d’une science-philosophie; Épiphénoménisme retourné et subjectivité délocalisée; Dieu est-il jamais inféré par la science ?; La question du panthéisme; Le pilotage axiologique et la parabole mécaniste; L'unité domaniale comme ce qui reste en dehors de la science.
Knowledge is still an enigma, with its ability to inductively bring out a pattern without restricting itself to an empirical count of situations experienced. Instead of seeing the concept as a weakened object representing an external reality, it is suggested to view knowledge as the bridging of a distance with an ability for the knower to stay connected with outward reality. Attempts at defining an external and quantitative criterion of truth are questioned, as many human performances are not likely to (...) be solved or even properly grasped by the project of artificial intelligence. The positive side of the cognitive constructivist project is finally assessed and it is argued that one of its unexpected results could be to reinsert the human knowing power in the sub-human realm. (shrink)
This critical notice was occasioned by the reading of a recent monograph, published at the end of 2009, which features a dialogue and a mutual critical assessment of the work of a microbiologist, also a priest from the Mission de France, and an astrophysicist who was agnostic. The book inquires into the motivations of scientific research, looks at the quest for a Creator behind the said work when done by a believer, and tries to retrieve the spiritual presuppositions that would (...) be present at the heart of the same type of work when carried over without a religious affiliation or confession. (shrink)
In this shorter piece, at the instigation of a former philosophy student, I accepted to contribute alongside two other writers to the "Expert Help" rubric, and attempted to explain the genesis in Nietzsche's mind of the conception of the eternal recurrence. I lay stress on both the internal contradiction that the solitary of Sils-Maria was trying to resolve and the secret desire that this cherished and embraced rather than demonstrated theory be true in the face of conflicting evidence, and I (...) furthermore challenge the received view that makes this vision incompatible with a Christian ontology. (shrink)
Thus Spoke Zarathustra expresses a revolt against the quest for “afterworlds.” Nietzsche is seen transferring rationality to the body, welcoming the many in a kingdom of the un-unified multiple, with a burst of enthusiasm at the figure of recurrence. At first, he values an acceptation of suffering through reconciliation with time, and puts the onus on the divine to refute the dismembering of the oneness of meaning and unity of the soul’s quest for joy in eternity. Then confronting Christianity, he (...) sees its refusal to sacrifice anyone, at the cost of making all sick with a unique healer, and rejects it as incompatible with his ideal of plenitude. In the absence of an ontology of the person, the affirmation of the individual and his value, opposed to the antagonistic affirmation of the many put in front of the one God and destroyed by him, ends up dislocating the reality of the self. The Nietzschean option resisted any leveling down—this is its merit—yet the mystery of the Trinity needs to be brought into the reflection to respect Nietzsche’s own terms in defining the final problem which is also the one option: Dionysus or the Crucified? (shrink)
In a first part I present the results of the philosophy of scientific explanation with an attempt to apply them to the case of the theory of evolution. Then I observe that the requirements of modelization of phenomena with the help of inductive logic do not capture efficiently the pertinent factors and fail just as much to exclude those which end up being neutral as explanatory premises. I then query in the direction of confirmation theory, and show that probabilistic reasoning (...) does not possess the syntactic means of testing evolutionary hypotheses in a way that would rely on a valid mode of inference. In a second part, I try to show how biology has oscillated between two privileged modes of explanation, the first one being through form of which I suggest here that it has never been replaced and that it has known a forgotten vitality in the middle and latter part of the 19th Century, and the second one being through function here evaluated critically alongside that of tinkering. Finally, some limits are seen to hold against the pretence to epistemological exclusivism of those two outlooks on the biological object. (shrink)
The problem of knowledge has been centred around the study of the content of our consciousness, seeing the world through internal representation, without any satisfactory account of the operations of nature that would be a pre-condition for our own performances in terms of concept efficiency in organizing action externally. If we want to better understand where and how meaning fits in nature, we have to find the proper way to decipher its organization, and account for the fact that we have (...) found codes and replicators operating at a deep levels of analysis. Informational analysis deals with units of organizational stability but it takes them for granted and leaves open the question of their origin. Patterns are used when we recognize the same configurations at different places and try to explain through their recurrence, yet to make sense of the presence of signals and counter-balancing mechanisms disseminated in nature, a hypothesis is offered to the effect that feedback signals would have a role to play in the coming about of a world that is open to new configurations and submitted to a form of stability that is more attuned to system laws than overarching unrevisable ones. (shrink)
Freedom is first apprehended as the pursuit of an activity which implies the choice to defend a thesis among other possible ones. This translation of the problem of freedom in an articulate language presupposes a complex nervous system and sensory apparatuses which we take for granted. In this study, I try to explore the undergrounds of the problem of freedom along with the suggestion that the notion of coding could enable one to bridge nature and the mind. When organisms invent, (...) are they doing it in a spontaneous manner, inscribing in their hereditary and mnemonic instructions a stochastic contrivance of random accidents, or are they attempting to select among a limited number of schemes endowed with some optimality of functioning? If we consider them as submitted to physical forces, it is to the extent that we make them part of a strategy to extend the "laws" of a nature understood to respond passively. I suggest in this study that the epistemological understanding must regionalize itself and admit a hierarchy of dispositions in relation to the phenomenon of selection. I end by suggesting the pursuit of affirmation instead of negation, as this alone contains the requirement of integration to the knowing subject as well as the form in its act of understanding, without giving it a spontaneist position. (shrink)
This critical notice was occasioned by reading M. Espinoza, "Freedom in a Causally Determined World," Actas de las XIII Jornadas sobre Filosofía y Metodología Actual de la Ciencia, Jornadas sobre Libertad y Determinismo: Ciencias Sociales y Ciencias de la Naturaleza, Universidad de A Coruña, March 2008.
This paper aims at introducing a French audience to the Intelligent Design debate. It starts by reviewing recent attacks on any possibility of a rational account of theism in light of the contemporary theory of evolution. A section is devoted to outlining the genesis of the "wedge" strategy, to distinguish it from young earth creationism, and to highlight the questioning of evolution as our meta-narrative bearing on overall conceptions of the scientific endeavor. The arguments propounded by Behe are reviewed in (...) detail, as the example of blood coagulation as a purported irreducibly complex mechanism is contrasted to the question of system boundaries. Counter-arguments by Miller are reviewed, and a few bottom-line questions are directed to invite a further consideration of the type of engineering this could testify to. The concept of complex specified information is then presented, and contrasted to traditional and lingering axiomatic problems in the theory of probabilities. The problem of the recognition of an intrinsic pattern is also brought together with some work in recent philosophy of causation and explanation. The two opposing strategies, naturalistic evolutionism and intelligent design, are seen as caught in each other's rhetoric, and some probing is offered in the direction of a theory that could surpass those stalling factors. (shrink)
This paper first outlines the main ideas of British natural theology, and shows the perennial value some of them have kept. It then outlines ways of searching for connections between God and nature, seeking traces of intelligence, first in the context of the setting of the modern ontology of the laws of nature, and then in the context of the design argument. It contrasts the positions of Hume and Paley. A presentation of recent "intelligent design" proposals is then offered, from (...) the perspective of their continuing that tradition of argumentation. They are contrasted with a Millian acount of their leaving the problem of evil unanswered. Behe's concept of irreducible complexity is presented in greater details, followed by Dembski's attempt to turn it into a logically valid mode of inference. Objections stemming from philosophers of science are lastly considered. The nature of life's strategies is in the end found to escape both attempts to have it on one's side. (shrink)
The history of the relationship between Christian theology and the natural sciences has been conditioned by the initial decision of the masters of the "first scientific revolution" to disregard any necessary explanatory premiss to account for the constituting organization and the framing of naturally occurring entities. Not paying any attention to hierarchical control, they ended-up disseminating a vision and understanding in which it was no longer possible for a theology of nature to send questions in the direction of the experimental (...) sciences, as was done in the past between theology and many philosophically-based thought-systems. Presenting the history of some hinge-periods in the development of the Western-world sciences, this book first sets out to consider the conceptual revolution which has, in the 20th Century, related consciousness, physical laws and levels of organization, in order to show that a new chance existed then for theology. This discourse was invited to revise its language to open it up to the quest for meaning which we find on the periphery of the project of the experimental sciences. The Century-old reflection on the foundations of probability had prepared the ground for the introduction of the concept of information, at first linked to an effort aimed at maximizing the efficiency of electromagnetic communications. Taking the full measure of the questions that information theory poses to the biological sciences, this work attempts to identify the areas of convergence setting the stage for general systems theory, while it also tries to identify the insufficiencies of this recent vision and to highlight the questions left unanswered. Re-reading some of the traditional proofs of God's existence from the order of the world, relying on some pioneering insights of Ludwig von Bertalanffy and Norbert Wiener, the author brings those proofs and insights in contact with the fascinating initial project of cybernetics and the elements of a "mythical" nature which, from its inception, it could never entirely eliminate. This book ends with the confrontation between the conceptually most extended regulation factors in the history of Western thought. It articulates the poetic utopia concerned with an immediate grasp of the world in its "deictic" character with the concurrent one aimed at the domination over matter and energy expressed by technology's driving rational utopia. (shrink)
Close attention to levels of organization leads one to doubt the random character of the regulations of the cosmos as a whole. Scientific knowledge seems able, after all, to bring into focus the enigma of the individual histories that have shaped the world. Religious consciousness of a personal destiny should be analogically linked to the destiny of the universe in which it is rooted.
Teilhard has never given up on permanence behind change, whereas Blondel, although interested by permanence, presents a very keen consciousness of irreversibility. Blondel attempts to construct an ontology that integrates this fact of change or becoming. Would this have satisfied Teilhard? Blondel develops a "logic of moral life" insisting on the initial option right to the end of our destiny. Teilhard develops a consciousness of time with a direct hold on a world apprehended first by the senses, whereas Blondel is (...) suspicious of the sometimes misleading testimony of the senses. We thus see a Blondelian attempt to see where the will reach its limits from this only standpoint, while Teilhard admits the influence of a mystical vision. We thus find in both thinkers a primacy of eternal light and truths, strongly affirmed by Blondel, although present in Teilhard; a specificity of evolution, and the necessity of a complement to prevent thought to close itself off. Both thinkers agree on the idea that "Everything holds from above." They recognize that our humanity represents only a sketch, that it is infra-substantial. (shrink)
This study is devoted to the problem of the place and significance of the scientific quest and worldview, and to their articulation with metaphysics as they serve to bring the mind to the consideration of the problem and mystery of the existence of God in the thought of the contemporary French philosopher and theologian Claude Tresmontant (1925-97).