Following on from the last post on my meat robotness. John C Wright had said this:
In his post, John C Wright had said this:
“I will point out that no materialist deigning to present an argument has
ever once given even a single example of describing a why as a how, or
describing a final cause in terms of mechanical cause, or defining a
quality to a quantity.”
To which I replied:
Any example of an living things adaptation to its environment as a consequence of evolution by natural selection would easily do it.
How and why together, with the ‘why’ of an adaptation firmly arising out of the material how of the past.
JCW specifically cited the notion of a FINAL CAUSE and it is important to know what that is in context. Aristotle had suggested that to understand something you need to consider four kinds of causes:
- The material cause: “that out of which”, e.g., the bronze of a statue.
- The formal cause: “the form”, “the account of what-it-is-to-be”, e.g., the shape of a statue.
- The efficient cause: “the primary source of the change or rest”, e.g., the artisan, the art of bronze-casting the statue, the man who gives advice, the father of the child.
- The final cause: “the end, that for the sake of which a thing is done”, e.g., health is the end of walking, losing weight, purging, drugs, and surgical tools.
The issue of final cause is the punchline to Wright’s piece because it ties his questioning of the possibility of a mechanical intelligence to his theology.
To see why evolution by natural selection is such an apt response, it is worth looking at the questions Aristotle was asking:
A difficulty presents itself: why should not nature work, not for the sake of something, nor because it is better so, but just as the sky rains, not in order to make the corn grow, but of necessity? What is drawn up must cool, and what has been cooled must become water and descend, the result of this being that the corn grows. Similarly if a man’s crop is spoiled on the threshing-floor, the rain did not fall for the sake of this-in order that the crop might be spoiled-but that result just followed. Why then should it not be the same with the parts in nature, e.g. that our teeth should come up of necessity-the front teeth sharp, fitted for tearing, the molars broad and useful for grinding down the food-since they did not arise for this end, but it was merely a coincident result; and so with all other parts in which we suppose that there is purpose? http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/physics.2.ii.html [Part 8]
In this section, Aristotle muses on the role of necessity in nature and how it corresponds with his notions of causes. Aristotle goes on to reject the notion that teeth (for example) grow typically in a way suited for their task by happenstance.
For teeth and all other natural things either invariably or normally come about in a given way; but of not one of the results of chance or spontaneity is this true. We do not ascribe to chance or mere coincidence the frequency of rain in winter, but frequent rain in summer we do; nor heat in the dog-days, but only if we have it in winter. If then, it is agreed that things are either the result of coincidence or for an end, and these cannot be the result of coincidence or spontaneity, it follows that they must be for an end; and that such things are all due to nature even the champions of the theory which is before us would agree. Therefore action for an end is present in things which come to be and are by nature.
So from Aristotle himself we have a clear example of a case of applying a final cause: our molars grow the way they do so that we can chew our food. The purpose of the teeth is part of how we should understand our teeth.
Aristotle isn’t wrong in so far as making sense of a given adaptation. However, what we now know is that the amazing fitness-for-purpose that we see (mainly – don’t look at my British teeth) arises out of mechanical purposes. It isn’t just that teeth grow via biological processes but that the DEEPER explanation of why our teeth are suited to our eating habits (or not…) is the evolutionary one.
A final cause (the purpose of an adaptation) is best explained by a material process (evolution by natural selection). The why is best explained by a how. And while it doesn’t quite fit a “quality as a quantity” it is heading that way – a quality as an outcome of an accidental algorithm running on natural history as a consequence of genetic variation and mutation against a backdrop of changing environments and competition for resources.