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More Unnatural Naturalism, and More Confusion from Naturalists

David Coppedge
Photo credit: Matthew T Rader, https://matthewtrader.com, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons.

Yesterday I commented on the conundrums created for evolutionists by engineering. Once you start looking, you’ll frequently see the problem facing naturalists about natural and unnatural causes. Writing in City Journal, for example, science reporter Nicholas Wade assumed that “natural” causes could be distinguished from “manipulated” actions in the case of the origin of SARS-Coronavirus-2:

Two hypotheses have long been on the table. One is that the virus jumped naturally from some animal host, as many epidemics have done in the past. The other is that it escaped from a lab in Wuhan, where researchers are known to have been genetically manipulating bat viruses in order to predict future epidemics. Both hypotheses are plausible but, so far, no direct evidence exists for either.

News from CORDIS via Phys.org again illustrates the distinction between natural activities of humans and their intentional, purposeful designs. The article, “When did humans start using roads?”, says this:

But when did humans actually begin to use roads? “The generic and honest answer is that it’s really hard to know,” says Kalayci. “First, we have to be very clear in our mind what we mean by ‘road’ — are we talking about an engineered road, or a simple dirt track that has naturally formed by people and/or animals constantly walking along the same line?”

In the case of the latter, one can argue, rather philosophically, that as soon as humans learnt to walk and began to traverse the world from their African homelands, roads began to form — in short, a road can be conceived as merely a line that humans continuously wander along.

But Kalayci informs us that it was probably the ancient Egyptians that purposely went out of their way to build the first paved roads, when they were busy building pyramids and other monuments, sometime between 2600 and 2200 BCE, during the Old Kingdom Period. “They essentially wanted a nice, easy, straight route between the monument site and quarry that allowed materials to be transported quickly and efficiently,” he explains.

Hikers know that animals like bighorn sheep consistently re-use paths in their natural habitats. This quote, though, shows something different about humans. They “purposely” sometimes go “out of their way” to build monuments that are not essential to mere survival, and think about ways to move materials “quickly and efficiently.” They employ mathematics to build geometric objects for purposes that they believe transcend physical existence.

“Natural” Organisms Are Oblivious to Human Design

“If the art of ship-building were in the wood,” Aristotle recognized, “ships would exist by nature.” We humans know the intelligent causation, foresight, and intentionality required to build a floating craft able to carry cargo that left to its natural state would sink to the bottom of the sea. Flotsam can drift by nature, but something other than nature is required to design something capable of navigating a chosen course against natural wind and waves, using manufactured sails and oars. 

Ships can, however, sink “by nature” (e.g., due to storms, accidents, entropy). Now “millions of shipwrecks in the world’s oceans, each providing a potentially new habitat for sea life,” states a news item at Frontiers in Science. The bacteria and fish that find habitats in shipwrecks don’t care. They treat them like other “natural” habitats. Only humans know or care.

Wooden shipwrecks provide microbial habitats similar to naturally occurring geological seabed structures, reports a new study in Frontiers in Marine Science…. Microbes are at the base of ocean food chains, and this is among the first research to show the impact of human activities–like shipwrecks–on these environments.

“Microbial communities are important to be aware of and understand because they provide early and clear evidence of how human activities change life in the ocean,” said corresponding author Dr Leila Hamdan of the University of Southern Mississippi.

“Ocean scientists have known that natural hard habitats, some of which have been present for hundreds to thousands of years shape the biodiversity of life on the seafloor. This work is the first to show that built habitats (places or things made or modified by humans) impact the films of microbes (biofilms) coating these surfaces as well. These biofilms are ultimately what enable hard habitats to transform into islands of biodiversity.”

Is Animal Engineering the Same as Human Engineering?

To round out this discussion of natural versus unnatural causes, we need to investigate how reporters treat cases of animal engineering. For example, the journal Nature discussed “how bees achieve an engineering marvel: the honeycomb.” In a similar vein, news from Texas A&M tells about research “Determining how and why cells make decisions.” Isn’t decision-making a mental, purposeful activity? Isn’t engineering a honeycomb an example of intentional work for a purpose?

Well, yes and no. The answers can be elucidated with another question: is there a distinction between a software programmer and the program he or she designed? Honeybees and cells have a limited set of options that are programmed into their genomes. It could be considered “unnatural” for a honeybee to gather ingredients and build hexagons in which the queen’s eggs can be nourished. Rock and soil would never do that. The bee must apply directed work against entropy to pull it off. The cells in an embryo “make decisions” based on pre-programmed responses to signals. These can be considered “natural” activities in the same way a robot on a car assembly line is performing the “natural” function it was designed to do. 

Human beings, by contrast, have free will to think, decide, and design things that may have no survival function at all, such as art and literature. As C. S. Lewis said:

The Naturalists have been engaged in thinking about Nature. They have not attended to the fact that they were thinking. The moment one attends to this it is obvious that one’s own thinking cannot be merely a natural event, and that therefore something other than Nature exists. 

We can decide to do something, or decide not to do it. We can choose between limitless options. Thoughts are what make human beings unnatural. Thoughts are what make us exceptional.