The Star Larvae Hypothesis
Nature's Plan for Humankind
Addendum: Our Animate Universe
Our Animate Universe
The philosophical doctrine of organicism synthesizes the religious doctrine of Intelligent Design and the scientific doctrine of Darwinian Evolution into a philosophical home for the star larvae hypothesis.
Consider the sacred, i.e. theism, as thesis and the profane, i.e. materialism, as antithesis and the star larvae hypothesis as synthesis. The hypothesis proposes these dialectical moves:
- Thesis: Natural law (objectivity) derives from a pre-existing intelligence (subjectivity), the intelligent mind being peculiar in its broad scope and lack of a physical body. This is primacy of mind.
- Antithesis: Mind (subjectivity) derives from pre-existing natural law (objectivity), nature being peculiar in its capacity to arrange atoms so as to yield minds. This is primacy of matter.
- Synthesis: Objectivity and subjectivity alike (actuality) derive from the pre-existing indeterminacy of the quantum world (potentiality). This is primacy of life.
- Thesis: Biological life is an invented technology.
- Antithesis: Biological life falls out naturally from natural law.
- Synthesis: Biological life is only the most familiar example of the animate per se, which is ontological.
- Thesis: The mind of the intelligent designer works on physical nature from without, from that mind’s supernatural home.
- Antithesis: Natural law works on physical nature from within.
- Synthesis: There is no within and without, because there is no body without mind (no dead material), and there is no mind without body (no classical deity). Mind and body always are co-present.
The star larvae hypothesis situates itself in the philosophical tradition of organicism. From there it offers the following elaborations to argue against the doctrines both of intelligent design (ID) and of undirected (Darwinian) evolution. The elaborations, below, mean to treat the two doctrines with equal skepticism, aiming first at ID then at secular evolution.
Intelligent Design: A Case of Cherry Picking
Intelligent Design (ID) theorists propose that nature’s complex workings make nature look so much like an artifact that we should take it to be one, one that, according to ID discourse, was willed into being by a pre-existing creative intelligence. The putative intelligence responsible for nature is, alas, a stunningly peculiar one. According to ID theorists, it is unlike any intelligence anyone ever has encountered anywhere outside of theology (or science fiction). It’s a brainless, bodiless, and in some traditions, omniscient, intelligence.
Somehow, despite all inductive evidence to the contrary, there exists, IDers argue, an intelligence that requires no body whatsoever for it to attend its business. The designer belongs to a unique class of intelligences, of which it is the sole member. This odd construct, a disembodied supermind, derives in part from faulty logic, specifically from the literalizing of a metaphor.
ID advocates observe human technologies and notice that nature looks and acts like a technology or a collection of technologies. This observation prompts the IDers to reason that if technologies require intelligent designers, then nature, too, must need an intelligent designer (because it behaves so much like a technology that it must be one). This line of analogical thinking constitutes a case study in the disreputable practice known as cherry picking.
Accounting for human inventions does require reference to intelligent design, but it also requires reference to brains, eyes, ears, hands, language, note taking, experimental methods, use of tools, and so forth. Intelligence per se is not going to accomplish anything. Manufacturing impressive technologies requires more than thoughts, more than ideas, no matter how insightful or inventive they might be. It requires more than intelligence.
From among the requirements needed to produce technologies, ID advocates pluck the cherry of intelligence from the complex of variables (brains, language, etc.) that normally accompanies the design and manufacturing of artifacts. ID advocates then plop the cherry-picked intelligence into a context in which, otherwise, minds are not found, namely, in a discarnate immortal instantiation that produces physical phenomena by willing them to occur. This mind is a uniquely special case. And if such things are allowed, then anything goes.
Because, if the issue of origins is settled by discovering or surmising a thing that exists without itself ever having come into existence, as, for example, the deity of Western monotheism, then the cosmologists’ supposed multigenerational ensemble of universes, the multiverse, is the more parsimonious candidate for the unoriginated, eternal entity, because it is simpler than deity.
Mainstream theism proposes an un-designed something more outré, more unparsimonious, than the thing that is too outré and unparsimonious not to have a designer.
Despite its logical shortcomings, the ID position raises a question that the star larvae hypothesis is eager to have answered. Namely, if it’s allowable to declare that intelligence can exist without a brain, or other physical correlate, then maybe there’s no real objection to the proposal that a complicated physical process can exist without a designer/creator. The process would be, simply, the first, unoriginated, thing. Is one special case (deity) more plausible than the other (multiverse)?
The overarching question is this: If an intelligent creator can be invoked by fiat, then why cannot a physical universe (or multiverse) as readily be invoked by fiat, removing the extra step? If special cases are admissible, then no designer is needed to explain nature. Nature herself can step in as the special case. By declaring a special case, the ID argument ingeniously shoots itself in the foot; special cases cut both ways.
Nature as Machine: Inverting the Assumption
The relative usefulness of special cases aside, IDers and materialists can agree that nature resembles a complex machine. From photosynthesis in plants to nucleosynthesis in stars, nature conspires to make herself look like a high-tech engineering project. But the metaphor—nature as machine—is, after all, a metaphor.
ID advocates are from the "If it walks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck, then it is a duck" school of philosophy. That is, if nature walks like a designed technology and quacks like a designed technology, then it is a designed technology. But many things resemble things that they are not.
A bat in striking ways resembles a bird. Bats and birds are vertebrates, warm-blooded, send out distinctive vocal signals, eat insects, flap wings to fly, congregate in social groups and so on. But an expedition in search of bat eggs will end up with egg on its face, because sometimes resemblances are just resemblances.
The deity (intelligent designer) of classical theology might be a bat egg.
The conclusion that bat eggs and deity both must exist is justified if bats are birds and if nature is an artifact. But if the similarity between bats and birds and between nature and artifacts is mere resemblance, then all we have are resemblances, and IDers are revealed as being stricken with a bad case of pareidolia.
(Moreover, as high-tech as biology might seem to be, it turns out that creating life does not require intelligence, as every parent knows. Parents-to-be typically do not pore over schematic drawings or consult engineering tables when they decide to start a family. They can bring life into being without first possessing a big mind full of technical knowhow, because nature abides. That’s what she does. She lives. Nobody needs to know anything about biochemistry or genetics to make new life; there need be no designer to bring a life into being.)
Technicians continue to make progress so long as their designs harmonize with natural law, but that does not mean that nature itself, the home of natural law, was designed. Invert the assumption: Maybe it’s the case that nature came first. The minds that naturally emerged came to study nature’s ways and applied that experience to designing tools and towns and space stations. Nature can inspire creative works. But that does not make her an example of what she inspires—does not make her a creative work.
Nonetheless, the foregoing is not an argument for secular, materialist reductionism, a philosophy that suffers its own pitfalls.
Information of The Gaps
Research in molecular biology has delivered to the world the peculiar finding that the familiar term gene refers to no determinable thing at all. Gene is an idea. It grew from an assumption. The assumption, implied by the scientific philosophy of reductionism, was that there must be a smallest unit of biological expression. And a smallest unit of biological inheritance. And that atomic entity was called a gene.
Gene has lost much of its executive status because the biological sciences continue to unearth a seemingly intractable interwovenness among the processes and subprocesses of biological metabolism and physiology, generally.
Reductionism fails because everything that goes on inside a living cell depends on—is caused by, directly or indirectly—everything else that goes on inside the cell. (Exogenous influences add their own complications.) And above it all, no locus of control. The cell has no brain. The sequencing of the human genome, that recent triumph of reductionism, like the cataloging of elementary particles, provides a compendium, but it resides far from the macrostructure, far from an accounting of gross outcomes.
Once causality in nature is recognized as a two-way street (or a multidimensional interchange), then neither top-down nor bottom-up models of nature will suffice. So what vital essence ensures that the cellular machinery runs smoothly? Somebody’s got to manage the store, it would seem.
Enter then that latest applicant for the managerial position, that magical, mystical sort-of-something called, information, the secular spirit. Arrange the atoms into the right molecules, and . . . presto, a causal agent materializes, the untouchable information.
This property or emergent attribute of variously arranged bits of matter (or is it just another name for the geometrical arrangement of the atoms in space and the distribution of electrical charges among them?) supposedly explains why at least some events occur as they do and not in some other way. (In fairness, it should be noted that ID advocates often enough also invoke the supposed explanatory power of information.) Such explanations of natural forms, those that invoke information and its affiliates—the genetic codes and programs—compose a rarified conceptual stuff. But in the world of databases and information management, what corresponds to a nucleotide or a codon or a gene?
Information is a contemporary phlogiston, the new elan vital.
Information is a secular god of the gaps, shoveled in to smooth over gaps in the reductionist model of biology. Nonetheless, information talk likely will enjoy a resilience comparable to that enjoyed by gene talk. It is a useful construct.
Maybe something less mystical seeming, such as evolutionary “adaptation,” can carry the day for the secular materialists.
But for Adaptations: Inverting the Assumption
According to standard evolutionary theory, a successful creature marches into its environment equipped with assorted adaptations. The creature will have inherited the adaptations from its parents. The adaptations more or less bestow fitness upon the creature. This fitness in turn endows the creature with a degree of reproductive success, relative to that of the creature’s local conspecific peers/competitors. Reproductive success conveys the creature’s DNA to its progeny, who thereby themselves enjoy a collection of adaptations similar to that of their parents (albeit a changing environment can render those adaptations less than adaptive).
The point is, reproductive success is taken to be an effect caused by adaptations (primarily; genetic drift and other notions get assigned supporting roles).
This default position, stated otherwise, contends that, but for the adaptations, the creature would experience reproductive failure relative to its local conspecific peers. This is mainstream evolution theory. Now, invert the assumption.
Maybe the default position ought to be that organisms normally enjoy reproductive success, absent exogenous factors that undermine that success.
Organisms are integrated wholes, adapted, not “possessing” adaptations. Organicism suggests that a creature doesn’t possess adaptations any more than an atom possesses protons. A proton, or a fused bundle of them, just is an atom. Atoms typically come decked out with other particles, the neutrons and electrons. But no protons, no atoms.
Similarly, a creature does not possess anatomical or physiological adaptations. It simply is its anatomy and its physiology. It comprises these aspects, and they compose it. No physiology nor anatomy, no creature.
A bird’s wings might be called an adaptation, but lay a couple on the ground and not much will happen. Lay a wingless bird on the ground and not much will happen beyond the demise of the bird. Whatever gets designated as an adaptation contributes no more to the rest of the creature than the rest contributes to it. Minus the wings there just is no viable “rest of the bird,” that happens not to own wings. For evolutionary purposes, there ain’t no critter.
So, does the presence of adaptations enable, or does the absence of lethal/sterilizing circumstances allow, a creature to live and reproduce?
In any case, if evolutionary theorists insist on retaining the notion of adaptation, then they should clarify the term as designating not things that an organism has but the whole organism. Nature doesn’t select traits, thereby turning them into adaptations, and then assemble the traits into adapted organisms. Nature selects whole developmental physiologies and anatomies and the resulting creatures’ characteristic behaviors. That’s the package it has to work with.
A simple way to operationalize natural selection is to count progeny, or more specifically, to count viable, fertile progeny. If this is the understanding—that natural selection means relative reproductive success in the same way that hunger means two or more days without food; that is, if natural selection is operationalized in terms of empirical criteria and statistical thresholds—then the term has a noncontroversial, conventionalized usage (with potentially other thresholds established to define genetic drift, and maybe others bad luck or acts of God). Such exercises in operationalization have been undertaken, but if “natural selection” denotes a process that cannot be operationalized in this or some other way, then the concept of natural selection, whatever merits it might possess, is not a scientific concept, but an example of the nominal fallacy, in which the coining of a name (e.g., natural selection) mistakenly is taken to be an explanation of an empirical observation (e.g., evolutionary outcomes).
The star larvae hypothesis embraces the philosophy of organicism, or it at least embraces “the animate” as first cause. The workings of nature—an insect’s life cycle; the chemistry of Earth’s atmosphere being kept stable, though far from equilibrium; the births and deaths of stars—can seem to be miraculous occurrences or merely mechanical ones. But they also can be understood as being a few among the countless physiological processes that compose an animate universe.
NEXT > Epilog: The Meaning of Purpose
Star Larvae Hypothesis:
a genus of organism.
The stellar life cycle includes a larval phase.
Biological life constitutes the larval phase of the stellar life cycle.
hypothesis presents a teleological model of nature, in which
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