Behavior Presupposes Theism

Behavior as such is predicated upon the orderliness of the world. The acts of organisms are avowals of confidence that the acts themselves are appropriate to the world; that they make sense in terms of the way that the world is ordered. My walk to the store is an effectual assertion that there is indeed still really a store, that my path will still take me to it, that it usually offers for sale the items I need, and so forth. Likewise for a cow heading home to her stall from the pasture. Likewise even for the phototropism of plants. Behavior is a commitment to the truth of an idea.

That such behaviors as phototropism are informed and, even, driven by their factors in the anterior world does not vitiate their philosophical meanings. That the factors of acts are all orderly, and that acts are ordered to ends in view of – i.e., derived from and informed by – the orderliness of their factors, and toward an unknowable state of future affairs which it is presumed will manifest that same orderliness, does not somehow mean that actors themselves are less ordered than their worlds. That agents are integral with their worlds does not mean that they are not actors, or that their acts have no meanings or intentions or significations in respect to those worlds. If I get the idea of going to the store from an advertisement, that does not mean that it was not I that got the idea of going to the store. It isn’t the advertisement that is going to the store. Likewise, it isn’t the warmth and comfort of the stall that is heading home from the pasture, nor is it the sun that is turning its face toward the sun.

Recall then that unless the order of the world is ultimately founded upon an eternal rock of order, that cannot change in respect to its orderliness, all the apparent orderliness of the world is really only happenstance at bottom. If there is no ultimate standard of order, then there is no way, even in principle, to tell when we have encountered order. Either orderliness goes all the way down to an ultimate ground of order, or it isn’t there at all.

Notice now that the ultimate standard of order cannot be at all effectual if it is merely notional. To exert any effect, it must be real, and concrete: it must be actual. It’s no good to head toward the store if in fact it isn’t good to head to the store. The good must be real, to be in any way whatever. And this is but to say that the ultimate foundation and standard of order must be concrete and actual in some substantial entity; the principle of all order must be the order, first, of a First Principal.

All behavior, then, presupposes the truth of theism.

23 thoughts on “Behavior Presupposes Theism

  1. Pingback: Behavior Presupposes Theism | Reaction Times

  2. Devil’s advocate: I don’t see how this defeats the idea that we are all delusional, compelled to act as if the world actually had meaning when it really doesn’t. No one ever lives like this of course, but it could be true.

    • Well, if we are delusional in that way, then in thinking that we were delusional, we’d be deluded. People can’t live that way because it’s the death of thought – and of behavior. The only way to act is as if the world were orderly and your acts were properly ordered in respect thereto. So you can’t do without the following items, all present in that description of the de minimis requirements of behavior: cosmic orderliness and intelligibility, human freedom, rationality and intelligence, teleology and intention, thus meaning, and finally morality, so Goodness, and implicitly therefore Beauty.

      • then in thinking that we were delusional, we’d be deluded

        Not necessarily. We’d just have no idea what was delusional and what was not.

      • A man who is pathologically paranoid is not somehow magically cured if it turns out that they are indeed after him. Whether or not they are indeed after him, his apprehension of reality is pervasively whacked, and cannot be relied upon. His paranoia is correct the way that a broken clock tells the right time twice a day: i.e., it isn’t either correct or incorrect, for because it is busted it cannot “tell” us anything that might or might not be true. All its apparent signals are really nothing but noise.

        Likewise for the pervasively delusional man. His conviction that he is delusional might be correct, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t deluded: if it did, then his conviction that he is delusional would be false, and he would be deluded after all.

        The bottom line is that if we are thoroughly deluded, then everything we say is noise. That could, as you say, be true. But if we go ahead and take it to be true, then we have to conclude that we are *not* thoroughly deluded after all, so that knowledge is indeed possible to us, at least in principle: in which case, the argument of the post kicks in, for if knowledge is possible, this can only be so in the context of an ordered world.

        Thus we arrive at a point I have made a couple times before: you can’t even be wrong unless it is possible to be right, at least in principle. If you can’t be right, then “wrong” is meaningless.

      • It also seems that you are punning on the word deluded. Which, as per usual, makes a hash of the philosophical argument.

      • Not at all. I don’t mean to, anyway. Substitute “always wrong” for “thoroughly deluded.” It should have the same result. It’s like the familiar Cretan Liar.

  3. Dear Kristor (and The Man Who Was…)

    It would be more proper to say that interpreting behavior through the lenses of Aristotelean natural teleology leads to theism. But then I guess Aristoteleanism as such leads to theism in easier ways.

    However, without Aristoteleanism, animal behavior does not have any kind of intent or meaning. It is simply selected, and all it affirms is a fairly stable environment, as a wildly chaotic one could not be adapted to. Yes, it means a certain kind of orderliness, but not necessarily orderliness with meaning. Whether order as such is meaningful, rational, or teleological, is a fairly difficult philosophical issue.

    The difficulty is in the simulation. I mean I could show you how software can generate orderly environments randomly. Like the generated worlds in the Civilization series of games. But it then could be argued of course, that it is a carefully designed use of randomness, with human intent and meaning stamped all over it, embodied in the software’s design.

    Given that any kind of artificial simulation, even when it uses randomness, has human intent and meaning behind it, it means that no simulation can be used to demonstrate the lack of intent and meaning behind how randomness, like, natural selection, works in nature. I could write a software simulating an aspect of natural selection, but obviously I cannot write a software without using intent and meaning.

    This means that randomness and random order in nature is entirely different from any kind of random order stemming from artificial simulations.

    This means that we cannot really demonstrate the presence or lack of meaning and intent behind random order in nature via analogy, simulation, or parallels.

    So I guess it is at some level a faith issue, as whenever a thing does not really have good parallels and analogies, it is very hard to say anything about them. If there would be only one object in the world that would be blue, it would be very hard to prove or disprove that it is blue, as we would lack proper comparisons. The same with intent and meaning behind random order in nature. Every other kind of random order comes from simulations built with intent. Random order in nature is a class of its own and we cannot really compare it to anything else.

    • “without Aristoteleanism, animal behavior does not have any kind of intent or meaning.”

      Are you denying that animal behavior is intelligible?
      Any small child can appreciate what an animal is doing-hunting food, building a nest etc etc.
      It does not take Aristoteleanism to understand animal behavior.

      • The issue is exactly with the meaning of intelligibility – the Platonic-Aristotelean tradition sees intelligence or Reason a lot like a perception organ, something that sees, perceives the inherent logic of things. If you believe in this, you hardly need animal behavior to confirm theism – merely the statement that logic is inherent in things and it is merely perceived by the mind suffices.

        The modern view tends to see intelligence or rationality as a form of creativity, where logic is not inherent in things, but created in our own minds, we create and destroy many hypotheses until we find one that is predictive enough to fit the facts, but it is seen as a creative, not perceiving act. That we make models, we don’t perceive them.

        This, IMHO, is the central idea of atheism. I think discussing things like animal behavior is a little bit misleading, because it focuses on the less important, instead of the more important, and the more important is this: is logic perceived by the mind and thus independently existing truths are grasped (theism); or created by the mind via making, testing and destroying models and hypotheses (atheism)? Theists see abstractions that exist on their own, atheists create abstractions that are merely internal mental models or “maps” of facts but don’t have an independent existence, the rational mind of the theist is perceiving and for the atheist is creative – that is, in my opinion, the core question.

      • And what about the abstractions of logic and mathematics?
        Are they created by minds?

        Problem with atheism is of putting cart before the horse. Of beginning with electron and quark and forgetting the table altogether.

      • I agree with Shenpen. There are deeper issues here, and unless those are resolved this “proof” remains rather superficial. Why not just go to the real issues, like whether can you have any sort of order without meaning and teleology?

      • Why not just go to the real issues, like whether can you have any sort of order without meaning and teleology?

        I’m taking those as settled. The point of the post is indeed quite humble – albeit radical, and for the naturalist, radically unsettling. It urges that it is not only human ratiocination that needs meaning and teleology if it is to take place, but any behavior of any organism. Indeed, I would have extended the argument further, to the ordered behavior of inanimate substances, but I didn’t want to wander too far afield.

        Shenpen says:

        … without Aristotelianism, animal behavior does not have any kind of intent or meaning. It is simply selected, and all it affirms is a fairly stable environment, as a wildly chaotic one could not be adapted to. Yes, it means a certain kind of orderliness, but not necessarily orderliness with meaning. Whether order as such is meaningful, rational, or teleological, is a fairly difficult philosophical issue.

        I would respond that selection and a fairly stable environment are both instances of order, and “order” is a vacuous term if there be no such thing as intent or meaning; for, order is a value – i.e., an evaluation by some evaluator. I.e., “order” is always inherently intensional – *even in “mindless” systems.*

      • Why not just go to the real issues, like whether can you have any sort of order without meaning and teleology?

        And if you do resolve them the argument of this post is superfluous.

      • It is indeed – if you are already a Platonist, an Aristotelian, a Thomist, or a Whiteheadian. But naturalists are accustomed to partitioning off res cogitans from res extensa and applying different rules to one than they do to the other, so that the former are allowed to be meaningful and intentional, while the latter are not. That can’t work. If res extensa are to make any sense whatsoever, then they too must be meaningful and intentional.

  4. >And what about the abstractions of logic and mathematics?
    Are they created by minds?

    Well, that is one difficult question. It actually vexes the minds of atheist mathemathicians and philosophers. Sometimes a mathemathical discovery looks like discovering something that already existed, sometimes it looks like a creative construct. It is pretty much undecided.

    But it is unsurprising that that you find many more theist mathemathicians (Gödel, Leibniz etc.) than theist biologists. There is something in mathemathics that looks very real, that makes it look a lot like a feature of the world that is discovered and not created. But it is really hard to decide conclusively – mathemathics looks a whole lot like class of its own.

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