A naturalist paradox

It is paradoxical to hold both a.) Intelligence is (or will be) explained by natural science and b.) That natural science cannot explain nature by invoking the causality of intelligence. After all, if intelligence is just another subject of natural science, then there is no reason we can’t invoke it as a natural cause; and if intelligence is so outside of nature that it can never be invoked by a scientist, then it is supernatural.




  1. December 1, 2010 at 8:06 am

    I don’t see the paradox. Why can’t the naturalist respond: yes, intellect is causal in nature, but only when intellectual beings are present in nature. Much like saying that worms leave effects, but only when there are worms.

    What I see as paradoxical is trying to explain perception using only the products of perception (among which I include extension).

  2. December 1, 2010 at 10:27 am

    The paradox isn’t intellect being present in nature, but in whether we assume it is a subject proper for natural science to study, that is, whether it is the sort of being that is subsumed under the sort of things physicists study (like actions according to universal or at least probabilistic laws that admit of mathematical formulation, etc.)

  3. December 1, 2010 at 10:30 am

    And intellect in that sense isn’t causal of nature, but of art. What depends on man’s act of a will to exist isn’t called “natural” so far as it does so. But this may be neither here nor there.

  4. December 1, 2010 at 12:58 pm

    i am still not getting it. The naturalist thinks of intellect as a natural (that is, not supernatural) process, and so in principle something science can study. You are saying that that entails that intellectual causality is a natural process (so far so good), and that entails that intellectual causality should be allowed as a natural explanation. But why should it be allowed in all that science studies? That is, I assume the naturalist would reply that in the hierarchy of emergent processes (mineral, non-intelligent life, intelligent life, social/artistic/etc. life) it is only allowable (for explanatory purposes) in the last, but not in the first three, just as life is not allowable in the first two.

    The debate as I see it is whether or not intellect (and life) are in fact emergent processes. I see no way they could be, but I don’t see why it is obviously paradoxical to claim that they are (instead, I think the paradox arises from what I said in my first comment).

  5. December 1, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    The force of this paradox is only against those who, in response to a claim like “this thing in nature came to be from an intelligent cause” would respond “But science doesn’t study such causes!” The post is not a paradox for every possible version of Naturalism. But claims like the above are not uncommon: for example a common reason given for rejecting fine tuning theory is that any appeal to an ordering intelligence is outside the domain of physics as such. This claim is pretty clearly at odds with those who would say that intelligence is just another natural process – and vice versa.

    (I reject fine tuning too, but that is neither here nor there. The reason given for the rejection is the crucial thing, for it argues that intelligence itself is supernatural in transcending the sense of nature that is accessible to physical science. As a metaphysician, I am always happy to find polemic that emphatically asserts that the study of an intelligent cause of nature is outside of natural science, even while I happen to reject the ID that the polemic is directed against – for the polemic it is more or less an admission that there are some things that can only be studied by other methods)

  6. Ilíon said,

    December 9, 2010 at 11:05 pm

    The naturalist thinks of intellect as a natural (that is, not supernatural) process, …

    ‘Intellect’ (or ‘intelligence,’ as was the reference of the OP) isn’t a process.

    And, for that matter, the word ‘process’ itself, when properly used, implies a teleology foreign to, and incompatible with, naturalism.

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