Mental causality of the living

A: I can’t understand the Cosmological argument Athanasius gives. It sounds like the old pre-Darwinian idea that you can explain chickens by natural causes (eggs, chickens) and worms by natural causes (asexual reproduction) but you need God to explain why they’re put together in an order.

B: This isn’t what he’s saying: it’s that, without a guiding intelligence, there would be no distinction in things.

A: Right, but this is the sort of thing that gets explained by  selection. Ordered distinctions are whatever survives.

B: So we’ll explain things by chemistry then? Molecular machines and accidents of copying?

A: I suppose so.


B: But then nobody is in a position to explain why this living arrangement of chemicals becomes irreversible.  All chemical interactions are symmetrical and reversible and yet, in the living, they all move in one direction. Life can lose its force and the thing can die, but this isn’t at all the same thing as the reversal of the chemical process giving life.

A: This seems right: even if a chemical change is substantial, it’s not anything like the death of what one had before. We can change iron to rust to iron forever without having anything like resurrection or reincarnation.

B: Life is a negation of such homogeneous symmetry. There’s an order – an asymmetry – that’s something additional to what the physical sciences assume in explanation.

A: So if we see the physical as limited to the non-mental this sort of explanation as a mental causality.

B: Right.


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