Sunday, October 30, 2011

Human Dignity (Part 1)

If all humans are determined, then not only are they not morally responsible, they are also not too different than a fancy robot.  However, unlike humans, robots have no distinctive individuality.  While a particular robot is made from particular parts, the core of the robot, its program, is universal.  Any collection of equivalent parts can instantiate the very same robot.  This means that robots are not unique.  There may be a particularly ingeniously written program that causes a robot to be pretty indistinguishable from another human being, but if that robot were destroyed, it could easily be reinstated with a different set of components.

On the other hand, we tend to think humans are unique.  A particular human is a one time occurrence in all of history, has never existed before and will never exist again.  Probably this stems somewhat from our valuation of our own, personal uniqueness, but even that valuation stands on shaky grounds if we really are computers.  Consequently, if humans are merely robots, then there is nothing intrinsically special about mankind.

This idea really caught on in the 19th century.  Previously, religions such as Catholicism and Judaism maintained that humans are unique because they, out of all creatures and physical objects, possessed the faculty of free will.  Unfortunately, with the introduction of philosophies such as naturalism and positivism, and other forms of determinism from other quarters, the concept of free will became incoherent.  At first, religious and metaphysical concepts were merely discarded as being faulty approximations of reality.  Yet, such concepts were not merely synonymous with physical concepts.  As Francis Bacon pointed out, modern science purposefully discards certain concepts.  Taking the set of four Aristotelian causes: efficient, material, formal and final; modern science discards the latter two and focuses exclusively on the former two.  Consequently, all former concepts that were dependent upon formal and final causality were eliminated.

Free will is one of these concepts, as well as a number of other ideas that shape the philosophical justification for human dignity: the concept that humans are unique.  Once these concepts were eliminated, then so was human dignity.  Our past horrible century, filled with megalomaniacal murdering dictators, and the horribly widespread practice of abortion, is an outworking of this philosophical destruction.

Intelligent Design is groundbreaking in its reintroduction of final and formal causality.  We again have a language where concepts such as free will become coherent.  Furthermore, ID provides a methodology for empirically detecting and distinguishing the physical manifestations of such human capabilities.  This is why ID is not merely about answering the challenges of Darwinism, but actually provides an empirical justification for human dignity in the ideological battle against dehumanization.

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