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By Ric Machuga


Clockwork Origins? Part 3

(continued from Part 2)

Though he is certainly no Thomist, Hilary Putnam makes this point with simple elegance. We all understand perfectly well what it means to say that the cause of the pressure cooker exploding was a stuck valve. Now, from a purely technical standpoint, we could say that the reason the pressure cooker exploded was the absence of randomly placed holes in its lid. The only reason for preferring the stuck-valve explanation is that pressure cookers by design are made with a single hole in the lid controlled by a valve. Had pressure-cooker makers not intended there to be a single hole in the lid, we would not identify a stuck valve as the cause of the explosion. A purely "scientific" explanation begs the question, because, as Putnam concludes, the "notion of things 'causing' other things is not a notion which is simply handed to us by physics."12

The same problem arises when one tries to give a purely "scientific" explanation of any biological organism without invoking intentional terms. It is impossible to say what a heart is, much less what it does, without specifying what a heart is for. Organisms conceptually must be intentionally ordered such that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. A heart that serves no function is no heart!

The ultimate failure of biological reductionism is that it assumes the whole is nothing more than the sum of its parts. But as Aristotle noted a long time ago, this is a fallacy of composition. Music is composed of acoustical disturbances, but it is not merely acoustical disturbances; written words are composed of ink lines on paper, but they are not merely ink lines on paper.

When doing biology, Aristotle himself made this point absolutely clear. Asking whether a philosopher's explanation of animal behavior in terms of efficient causes or an explanation in terms of intentional causes (or final causes) is to be preferred, he concluded, "Is it not rather the one who combines both in a single formula?"13

Darwin's response ...

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