Panentheism.  Revisionism.  Anarchocapitalism.


Peter A. Bertocci (left) with Boston University graduate students, October 2, 1959


Essays by Me

Essays by Others



Peter Anthony Bertocci

May 13, 1910-October 13, 1989

Borden Parker Bowne Professor of Philosophy, Boston University, where he taught for thirty-one years. B.A., Boston (1931); M.A., Harvard (1932); Ph.D., Boston (1935).  Dissertation: The Empirical Argument for God in Late British Thought (published in 1938 by Boston University Press; advisor: Frederick Robert Tennant). Other books include The Human Venture in Sex, Love, and Marriage (1949); Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion (1951); Free Will, Responsibili-ty, and Grace (1957); Religion as Creative Insecurity (1958); Sex, Love, and the Person (1967); The Person God Is (1970); and The Goodness of God (1981)


On This Site:


Materialism: Failing before Life’s Challenges

In 1951, Bertocci wrote:

“. . . no matter how narrow the gap between the chemical and the living becomes—and discoveries about the nature of viruses and colloids do indeed narrow that gap—we must remember that the gap is a qualitative and not a spatial one.  Suppose we consider the colloids the ‘missing link’ between living and dead matter.  This may impress our minds with the wondrous continuity of degree between one order of being and another.  But let us take a closer look.  Has the gap between life and matter really been crossed, let alone explained?  Even though a colloid may reproduce as living things do, it otherwise behaves like a chemical.  But a cell acts throughout like a living being and not like a chemical.  The fact still remains that when life appeared, life appeared. . . . This collocation of events, this close interrelation of living and nonliving beings, is an opaque fact unless we postulate a purpose which uses one order as an aid to the continuance of another.  Obviously this appeal to a broader purpose will not explain how the food enters the stomach becomes part of the living blood, bone, nerve, and brain.  Any biochemist can give us the sequence, but he is as silent before this fact of transmutation as we are.  However, we’re not trying to introduce a Purposer to describe what science has not so far described; here we seek to explain the harmony between two orders of being, the harmony between two differing and interacting qualities of existence.   We are seeking a view which, far from denying established scientific facts, will allow them to fit into a broader scheme which decreases the mystery.  What mystery?  The fact that living beings should appear and be so closely interconnected with nonliving beings—especially if all there was to begin with was the nonpurposeful, nonliving, nonthinking hustle and bustle of units of energy. . . .”

“. . . Our interest here is to emphasize the greater coherence which comes into our thinking if we consider the interrelation of the physical universe and life and the developing evolution of species as the handiwork of a creative Intelligence intent on producing a world rich in life, and, in the existence of man, rich in mind and value.  The evidence so far adduced enables us to envisage a Mind which is responsible not only for the ultimate physical preparations for life but for the first appearance of life in its many forms and for the additional mutations and variations discovered by our scientists.”

Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion, 1951, pp. 333-34, 337 (italics in the original).

Fifty years later, the atheist Antony Flew wrote:

“[We may now know] how—by evolution through natural selection—one or more very primitive kinds of organism evolved into the enormous variety of species now known either still to exist or to have existed during some period in the past.  But that is a very different thing from knowing the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life or even of any life.  For, so far as I know, no one has as yet contrived to produce any plausible conjecture as to how even the most primitive kind of organism with a disposition to reproduce and thus to expose itself to natural selection might have evolved from a mixture of the many kinds of complex molecule which are now known to be required for that construction.  [My italics; Flew has been dealing with these issues for over fifty years.]

“Conway sees here a threefold challenge to the materialist, of which I consider two of the elements to be much more formidable than the third.  The first of these two is to produce a materialistic explanation for ‘the very first emergence of living matter from non-living matter. In being alive, living matter possesses a teleological organization that is wholly absent from everything that preceded it.’  The second challenge . . . is to produce an equally materialist explanation for the emergence, from the very earliest life-forms which were incapable of reproducing themselves, of life-forms which a capacity for reproducing them-selves.”

Review of David Conway, The Rediscovery of Wisdom, Philosophy, January 2001, p. 161.

Posted October 13, 2007