Machinists and Farmers
April 23, 2010 § 15 Comments
In some circles, the distinction between building a clock and breeding a new kind of creature seems to do some crucial metaphysical work, even though both are the actions of intelligent agents. We all know that a Bernese Mountain Dog is different from a Timex in fundamental ways. Yet it is still a fact that neither this oil-spill-eating bacteria nor that josephson junction would exist, as particular things, without the intervention, in time, of an intelligent agent.
The metaphysical issue becomes especially acute when we get into areas far away from common experience: geologic time and astronomic space, and into the submicroscopic realm, where common sense goes all the way out the window. Are the viruses we synthesize in the lab from non-living materials “alive”? Are they “artifacts”, or are they “natural”? If we manufactured simple cells in the lab from non-living materials, would they “live”? Would we classify them as “artifacts” or as “natural”?
The thing that strikes me about these questions is that they are not fundamentally questions about what nature can or would do on its own, or how God does things. Nor are they questions about what we ought to do. They are questions about what we can do. Not what God can do or “would” do, nor what nature can do, but what the Imago Dei can do: about what powers we have as acting, intelligent creatures made in the image of God.
And I’m not sure that that is a question which can be answered by a philosophy of nature.