Archive for March, 2010

This forum’s reading was Chapters 1,2 and 9 of Jacques Monod’s book ‘Chance and Necessity’.

Jacques Monod (Paris, France 1917- 1976) is primarily known for his work in molecular biology. For example, he studied the control of gene expression in the Lac operon, the first example of a transcriptional regulation system. He suggested the existence of the mRNA molecule. He won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1965) for elucidating the replication mechanism of genetic material and the manner in which cells synthesize protein.

Before starting the discussion about the Monod reading we reviewed some general comments on purpose, function, and Purpose.

In relation to the Purpose-Creator, the pre-Darwin logic was as follows: If there is purposefulness in the nature, then there will be a Creator; likewise the presence of a Creator denotes purposefulness in nature.

In the discussion about purpose in nature, one issue is that function and purpose are used in an interchangeable manner.  For example, the human eye and the camera share the same purpose. Since the camera has a creator, the human eye must also have a creator, which is God. Monod argues that there need not be a God to design anything.

Even more, behind the word function there is the idea of purpose; thus the term function is sometimes used as a “lower category for purpose”.

The conversation of Monod’s reading started with the discussion of the concepts of teleonomy and teleology.

Teleonomy Teleology
The quality of apparent traits of things: the organism’s structures and functions seem to have an apparent intended goal.

Monod (p. 18): an essential property that characterizes living organism is their structural teleonomy.

Means an inherent thing: the goal of organism’s structures and functions are planned by an agent.  Implicates intention, finality, and purpose.

Good evidence for God and design concepts.

Monod’s central idea is that there is no Purpose in nature.   The idea of Purpose is taboo in science.  Concepts:

  1. Methodological objectivism: science cannot deal with statements of purpose.
  2. Ontological objectivism: there is no purpose in the universe.

Monod defines objectivism as avoiding purpose, but this is not the most common definition.

Regarding Chapter 2 we talked about the concept of animism: the idea that we project human/animal consciousness or intent onto the Universe.

Animism vs. magic: Animism implicates a relationship with a personified spirit of the Universe (Aristotle’s idea of anima – “breath”) while magic is the idea that the Universe can be manipulated to do things for us (you want control over the Universe).  Both are ethical selfishness.

On the other hand, social projection can explain peoples’ beliefs, ie, we all tend to ascribe human attributes to inanimate objects (anthropomorphic view).  There is a strong human tendency to projection.  Even though projection is very common, we can’t conclude religion emerges from that, as Monod claims.

Vitalism is the major part of objection to evolution. It is from the idea that we are special, we cannot just be material.

Vitalism and Teilhard de Chardin (paleontologist): There exists a vital force that is over biological force(s) and eventually we (humans) evolve into God.  Chardin used paleontology and evolutionary biology to explain theology; his goal was to bring together evolution and theology.

Monod claims there is no way out of theology, either to vitalism or to animism.

Chapter 9 is a statement about Monod’s idea of scientism.  According to Monod, animism needs to be eliminated and knowledge can be reached only through the scientific method.  Monod also underlines the Western view of a complete separation of values and knowledge and actually makes the objective scientific knowledge a value.  Indeed, scientific knowledge is considered the only kind of valid knowledge.  Monod equates knowledge to values and values to knowledge without allowing that there is more than one type of knowledge.  This discussion evokes the question, is science objective? Science is a social activity that maintains an ideal of objectivity by using the reproducibility aspect.  We have talked about if science will be considered a religion; some in the audience may consider that to be so, if science can generate value systems.

We also had a discussion about the eugenics movement. Eugenics is “human-imposed” selection.

  1. Positive Eugenics encourages the “right” people to have children.
  2. Negative Eugenics discourages the “wrong” people from having children (often by sterilizing or killing them).

Discussion of eugenics became so intense it was decided a special session on eugenics would be a good idea for a future forum event.

To return to Monod: What does Monod say about the ethical values?

Monod talks about a value system but does not explain where it is coming from.  It seems that, for him, value system is intuitively obvious (similar to Aquinas’ line of reasoning regarding the eternal and natural law).

(Summary provided by J. S. My (admin) apologies for the lateness of this posting. JS did his work on time, the fault is mine.)

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