Thursday, June 09, 2005

Rule from above

Mark Kleiman compares IDolators to socialists, and Pharyngula begs to differ:
It's more like a medieval hierarchy: God at the top, king just below him, then all the nobility and priests, and the peons all milling about at the bottom of the pyramid. They'd reject the socialism comparison, and secretly embrace the wonderful idea of all blessings flowing from a source up above. It's actually the logic of theocracy and Dominionism.
How odd is it that, before ecto forgot to save the post, I was cooking up an essay in praise of Hobbes for discrediting the necessity of "intelligent design" in the formation of a government.

Rather than remember what I wrote, I'll just make some broad points.

The notion of divine right existed for various reasons, but mostly because of this logic: Why let someone lord over you if he's just some guy?

The obvious answer to any such question is "Because that's how Jesus wants it." That's how pre-Copernicans handled cosmology, how pre-Darwinians handled biology, and indeed how Newton handled physics.

Hobbes (who I dislike for other reasons) didn't like that. He wanted to find a naturalistic explanation for the formation of states and governments, and in Leviathan he developed such a system. It may be that Leviathan belongs on a list of harmful books, but not for that reason.

Hobbes argues from a simple model of humanity. Everyone has rights, and in nature, you have pretty much infinite right, provided you can enforce that right through force. (I should mention that I haven't read Hobbes in many years, and this may all be wrong. Don't use this to write your own essay on Hobbes.) Before the establishment of a commonwealth, people just fought it out, and the winner had the right to do whatever. Clearly this made all but the very most powerful people unhappy. They realized that if they would all grant some rights to a collective act, they could defend themselves and have greater aggregate rights than they would have if they all just squabbled among themselves. So they formed small collectives with rules and stuff. The leader is chosen by whatever process they agree too, and they can't back out of an agreement once made.

The leader rules because of this emergent property, this consensus among the ruled. No divine right, no morally superior basis for one system or another. He then goes on to show that monarchy is logically superior, an argument which doesn't give anyone a tingle these days.

I just want to point out that this must be among the earliest uses of emergent properties (for a loose enough understanding of emergent property). Evolution is an emergent property, as is Newtonian physics, or a batting average, or the mind.

On some level, ID advocates argue against emergence as a phenomenon. If consciousness is just an emergent property of brain neurons, what is the soul? If the soul is just another way of perceiving those neurons' firing, what did God give us? If phylogeny is an emergent property of random variation, geographic processes, and selection, what did God create? If these things are all directed by this emergent process, a process with no physical instantiation, but which can be easy demonstrated to exist, where does that leave the search for God?