Self-organizing emergent properties?

Michael Shermer has said, in an otherwise uninteresting debate, during the question and answer period, that: “there are self-organizing emergent properties within the Cosmos, and Evolution is one of them.” This he said in response to the question: “is our existence an accident?” What he seems to mean is that the universe has the property of being self-organizing in such a way that it simply has that property as a brute fact (there is no sufficient reason for the universe to have the property of being self-organizing, it just happens to be self-organizing). This obviously pushes the question back one step, such that we could ask whether it is an accident that the cosmos has the property of being self-organizing. However, at that point there is a kind of popular appeal to dialectical proscription; in other words, Shermer might then say that the question is unanswerable (and what he would mean is that there is no story which ‘Naturalism’ has the resources to tell such that the question could be answered either way).

Quite apart from our basic feeling of dissatisfaction with this kind of response, I think we might be able to dismiss it on the grounds of a much more serious problem. To suggest that the world has the property of being self-organizing, in the sense that its inevitable emergent properties include self-organization, may be logically incoherent. If it is not logically possible for something to “move itself”, then it seems impossible that the world has the property of moving itself into organization. By moving itself I mean approximately what Thomas Aquinas meant in his first way (the reduction of a thing from potentiality to actuality). Consider the suggestion by analogy that the universe is the cause of its own coming into existence: we know by rational intuition that it is nonsense to suggest that the universe is the cause of itself, but we know it because of this very same principle: that it is not possible for a thing to be both mover and moved in exactly the same respect and in exactly the same instance. So, too, the world being self-organizing, at least if it does qualify as ‘moving itself’, would be logically incoherent.

I’m not sure of the validity of the argument here, but it is interesting to mull it over.

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About tylerjourneaux

I am an aspiring Catholic theologian and philosopher, and I have a keen interest in apologetics. I am creating this blog both in order to practice and improve my writing and memory retention as I publish my thoughts, and in order to give evidence of my ability to understand and communicate thoughts on topics pertinent to Theology, Philosophy, philosophical theology, Catholic (Christian) Apologetics, philosophy of religion and textual criticism.
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