Saturday, February 04, 2017

Did T. H. Huxley Anthropomorphize Nature?

If so, he just relocated the skyhook.

Lennox writes:

However, it is apparent that even more was involved. A central element
in Huxley’s crusade is highlighted by Michael Poole.34 He writes, ‘In this
struggle, the concept of “Nature” was spelt with a capital N and reified.
Huxley vested “Dame Nature”, as he called her, with attributes hitherto
ascribed to God, a tactic eagerly copied by others since. The logical oddity
of crediting nature (every physical thing there is) with planning and
creating every physical thing there is, passed unnoticed. “Dame Nature”,
like some ancient fertility goddess, had taken up residence, her maternal
arms encompassing Victorian scientific naturalism.’ Thus a mythical
conflict was (and still often is) hyped up and shamelessly used as a weapon
in another battle, the real one this time, that is, that between naturalism
and theism.



12 comments:

Joe Hinman said...

Anthropomorphizing nature goes back to Aristotle and probably beyond. Aristotle said thinks like "objects fall to earth because she is our other and love her and wish to go to her." That kind of speaking survives into modern times where explanations of physics are put in terms of physical objects "wanting" to do things. I've often wondered why. Still dom't know.

B. Prokop said...

C.S. Lewis pointed out that the very term "law of nature" was an anthropomorphism.

Joe Hinman said...

apologetics v science; argument v fact


atheists say we don't want arguments we want facts but sciences bases fact upon argument

Mr. Green said...

That doesn't sound like something Aristotle would say, although others did. The reason why they did is because it's impossible to explain the world without intentionality, and as rational creatures, we naturally think of all intentionality as conscious, intellectual "wanting". But (as Aristotle would say) inanimate objects have their own kind of teleology, which is just as real as the conscious kind (see also Ed Feser). Of course, the other reason is that ultimately reality does depend on a conscious, intellectual Mind, and attempts to deny it inevitably back one into a corner with anthropomorphisations and other metaphors that can't be cashed out.

B. Prokop said...

Mr. Green,

That was a very insightful comment, and I'm still chewing it over. Thank you!

David Brightly said...

I suggest that the reason we did it and do it is that we are far more at home with the workings of our own minds than with the workings of the world. We learn at an early age and with no effort to express our desires and fears and to understand how our actions spring from them. Contrast this with a scientific understanding of the world. This as been in existence for no more than 500 years, requires a lengthy formal education, tedious for many, and has been available to relatively few people until quite recently.

Even so, it's not clear to me from the limited Huxley quotes available online that he regards 'Dame Nature' as anything more than a literary personification. Writing to Mrs Humphry Ward re her novel The History of David Grieve Huxley says,

I think the account of the Parisian episode of David's life the strongest thing you have done yet. it is alive -every word of it - and without note or comment produces its ethical effect after the manner of that "gifted authoress", Dame Nature, who never moralizes'.

Note the scare quotes and the 'never moralizes'.

Joe Hinman said...

Skeptical challenge my knowledge of science, I respond to his statement that my Religious experience Arguments for God have no causal links to God. If you had ccausla links to God you would not need arguments for God.see metacrock's blog

causal links in my God arguments

Joe Hinman said...

That doesn't sound like something Aristotle would say

he did

Joe Hinman said...

Green

But (as Aristotle would say) inanimate objects have their own kind of teleology, which is just as real as the conscious kind (see also Ed Feser)

>>>if you can understand that why can't you assume that he said things go to the earth because they love her> that's an extension of the same idea. both assume nature has a mind,

Joe Hinman said...

Is science one gene away from defeating religion?


metacrock's blog

Mr. Green said...

David Brightly: Contrast this with a scientific understanding of the world. This as been in existence for no more than 500 years, requires a lengthy formal education, tedious for many, and has been available to relatively few people until quite recently.

That overstates the case, surely... the big change in modern science was the mathematisation of science, but observing nature and regarding it as inanimate were not new ideas, nor something a child can't grasp relatively easily. Certainly our self-awareness makes it natural (if I may use the word) to anthropomorphise "Nature" in that way, but at the same time, there has to be something there that makes the metaphor work — i.e. there has to be something directed or intentional about inanimate objects, as I said above.

Mr. Green said...

Joe Hinman: if you can understand that why can't you assume that he said things go to the earth because they love her

Because I don't make unwarranted assumptions; and as I pointed out, that simply doesn't sound like Aristotle. I can't claim to have read everything he wrote, but in nothing that I have read does Aristotle talk anything like that. But feel free to provide a citation.

that's an extension of the same idea. both assume nature has a mind

No, the whole point is that nature(s) are ordered but do not have minds. Aristotle believed that God had a mind, and that man had a mind, but not nature. The idea that the only intentionality or directedness there could be is mental intentionality is a cardinal error of modern philosophy.