The Petri Dish Only Confirms that Kant was Correct: Or Technical, Teleological, and Practical ‘Purposiveness’ in Science and Morality – Revised 23 July 2017

The linked paper was presented at the “Religion, Society, and the Science of Life” conference to be held at the Ian Ramsey Centre at St. Anne’s College in Oxford, England, 21 July 2017

The paper is a direct response to the “Call for Papers” that claims that Kant has been contradicted by scientific progress:

“’There will never be a Newton for the blade of grass,’ Kant wrote in 1784, a quarter-century before the birth of Charles Darwin, and less than a half-century before the first synthesis of an organic compound in a laboratory. Life is an object of science, but an object like no other, presenting an unparalleled field of complexity and intricacy. A single cell contains an entire world. Biology is changing, with increasing recognition of how context influences even the most basic processes. This is why the science of life is distinctive among the sciences using history, narrative, and teleological explanations. All of this sets up fascinating resonances with the humanities. Can a convergence between the humanities and biology—from Darwin and Lamarck to holism and epigenetics—shed light on human societies, narratives, and religions? This interdisciplinary conference (a joint venture between the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion and the International Society for Science and Religion) will explore the implications of the life sciences for religion, values, morality, education, and meaning.”

Pdf format:  The Petri Dish only Confirms that Kant was Correct


Design: A Heuristic Strategy, not a Metaphysical Doctrine 11 July 2008 — Key Paper

Design: A Heuristic Strategy, not Metaphysical Doctrine by Douglas R McGaughey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

A Heuristic Strategy, Not Metaphysical Doctrine


Because there’s only indirect access to causes, given effects can be understood to have multiple causes, and the same cause can produce multiple effects, the criterion for the evaluation of a causal explanation is neither empirical proof nor disproof.  Rather, the evaluation must be in terms of the consequences of holding the cause for an adequate explanation of the event.  The Physico-Theological argument for design as a form of cause in nature cannot serve to give us any information about the Noumenon (God) that it presupposes – certainly not any information about anthropomorphic characteristics of that Noumenon.  Rather, its value is to confirm our confidence in the intelligibility (the rule-governed character) of nature in contrast, for example, to the chaos of nocturnal dreams.  To the extent of confidence in this intelligibility, our “explanations” of nature involve necessity, that is, a presumed necessity based upon the functional relationality that accounts for the phenomena.  Because all our capacities both theoretical (science) and practical (religion) are dependent upon the material conditions of experience, this criterion is important not only for the furtherance of the natural scientific enterprise but also for religion.  Drawing on pre-critical and critical writings of Kant, I reject the Naturalistic reading of Kant by P.F. Strawson et al. to argue that Kant’s Critical Idealism is beneficial for an investigating of the meaning and role of design in experience.

Divine Intervention: Undeniable, but What Difference does it Make? 16 July 2014

Divine Intervention: Undeniable, but What Difference does it Make? by Douglas R McGaughey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Divine Intervention:  Undeniable,
But What Difference does it Make?


Denial of divine intervention in the physical order oversteps the limits to human reason as does its affirmation.  Kant’s discussion of miracles acknowledges that it is impossible to prove or disprove a miracle not only, as Hume maintained, because the empirical evidence is too limited and by definition denies duplication but also because the judgment whether or not a miracle has occurred is an a priori synthetic judgment of cause that, as with all causal explanations, the observer must add to the phenomena.  We can determine a cause only in reflecting judgment stimulated by its effects, and the appropriateness of our determination hinges on the consequences for the totality of our experience and understanding.  When it comes to the “domain” of theoretical reason, those consequences have to do with the causal explanation fitting into a coherent totality of physical laws.  Here, a miracle by definition is suspect (even if unprovable) because it claims to be an exception to physical law.  More destructive is the consequence for the “domain” of practical reason.  Miracles would shift humanity’s focus from “doing the right thing because it is right” to “obsequious pursuit of divine favor” out of mere self-interest.

Persons and Their Minds: Höffe’s Action Theory and Differentiation between Dogmatic and Methodological Determinism 14 July 2012

Persons and Their Minds: Höffe’s ActionTheory and Differentiation Between Dogmatic and Methodological Determinism by Douglas R. McGaughey is licensed under a Creative Commons Reconocimiento-NoComercial-SinObraDerivada 4.0 Internacional License.

Persons and their minds:
Höffe’s Action Theory and Differentiation between
Dogmatic and Methodological Determinism


In the early 1980s, Libet’s documentation of the neuro-activity prior to the application of the will (“mind time” based on Deecke and Kornhuber’s notion of Bereitschaftspotential) suggested an exclusively materialistic, neurological cause for “voluntary” action.  Complementing Libet’s reductionism, Churchland sees no connection between non-material values and the brain to propose that there are no universal, moral “principles.”  She argues from Aristotle’s notion of “moral virtue” that morality is the consequence of habitual, pragmatic behavior in particular circumstances (only?) and vilifies moral “system builders” (e.g., Bentham and Kant) for their search for “exceptionless rules” (correctly?).

This paper presents Höffe’s theory of action that affirms (!) a material condition for action but insists that action involves a more temporally complex process than mere neuro-activity in the present.  Furthermore, by distinguishing between dogmatic determinism (there can be only physical causal explanations) and methodological determinism (the assumption that there are physical causal explanations at the base (!) of all experience), Höffe makes room for creative freedom (differently than Searle’s “causal gap” makes room for free will) and self-legislated (not heteronomously imposed), absolute moral principles in the form of a necessary as if that makes all the difference for understanding the human species.

Morality in Spite of Interest: Absolute Skepticism Grounded in Skepticism’s Necessities or Re-Examining Evolution and Epigenesis 10 July 2011

“Morality in Spite of Interest: Absolute Skepticism Grounded in Skepticism’s Necessities or Re-Examining Evolution and Epigenesis” by Douglas R McGaughey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

Presented at St. Anne’s College Oxford July 10, 2011

Morality in Spite of Interest:  Absolute Principles Grounded in Skepticism’s Necessities or Re-examining Evolution and Epigenesis


The issue of the relationship between mind and matter (morals and biology) did not commence with Darwin’s (mis-titled) Origin of the Species (more accurate:  Origin of Species from Other Species).  In the 18th century alone, one only need recall the British/Scottish Rationalist/Moral Sense school, d’Holbach’s and Bonnet’s materialist reductionism, Leibniz’ pre-established harmony between consciousness and matter, or Lessing’s ugly ditch.  Johnann Nicolaus Tetens’ (1777) Philosophische Versuche über die menschliche Natur und ihre Entwicklung was on Kant’s desk as he wrote the Kritik der reinen Vernunft.  The issues (not the technology, to be sure) of today‘s morality and neurobiological reductionism are at the core of Tetens‘ debate with Charles Bonnet.  Teten’s project on the nature and development of humanity is a defense of the complementarity of “evolution” (preformation) and “epigenesis” (novelty) that is engaged by Kant in his discussion of teleology and morals later in the Kritik der Urteilskraft.  At issue is the character of causal explanation.  Is causal explanation analytic or synthetic?  This paper engages Kant’s synthetic (as compositio!! not nexus) argument for understanding order in nature (physical necessity) as well as order in the novelty of creative freedom (self-legislated moral necessity) when it comes to humanity’s capacity to initiate a sequence of events that nature cannot accomplish on its own.  Humans are moral beings because they can be, not because they must be — and that makes all the difference.