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The truth about me and Intelligent Design

In a forthcoming article in Santa Clara Law Review vol. 49 (2009)--"The Courts, Natural Rights, and Religious Claims as Knowledge"--I spell out in a footnote my views on intelligent design. I decided to finally address this directly in an academic article because of the continued false portrayal of my views by several writers as well as by the anonymous and unaccountable "authors" of my Wikipedia entry. Because of my article's topic and the arguments and court cases I address, this article provided me, for the first time, with an opportunity to offer in a widely disseminated academic periodical a brief and clarifying footnote about my views that are in harmony with the article's purpose.

This is what I write:

Despite my interest in this subject and my sympathy for the ID movement’s goal to dismantle materialism and its deleterious implications on our understanding of what is real and what counts as knowledge, I am not, and have never been, a proponent of ID. My reasons have to do with my philosophical opposition to the ID movement’s acquiescence to the modern idea that an Enlightenment view of science is the paradigm of knowledge. By seeming to agree with their materialist foes that the mind or intellect cannot have direct knowledge of real immaterial universals, such as natures, essences, and moral properties, many in the ID movement seem to commit the same mistake as the one committed by the late medieval nominalists such as William of Ockham, who gave us what is often called “Ockham’s razor,” though Ockham himself did not offer this precise formulation: “Pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate” (translated: “entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily”). See Paul Vincent Spade, William of Ockham, in STANFORD ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY § 4.1 (Edward N. Zalta ed., 2008) . According to many scholars, the practical consequence of “Ockham’s razor” is that claims about a thing’s nature, purpose, or intrinsic dignity—universal properties it shares with other things of the same sort—are “unnecessary” for our scientific investigation of the world because they don’t add anything of explanatory importance to our direct empirical observations. See, e.g., RICHARD M. WEAVER, IDEAS HAVE CONSEQUENCES 44 (1948). But if one thinks of science as the only or best way of knowing, then these claims are not “knowledge” and thus not real objects of academic inquiry. This is a death knell for dogmatic and moral theology as actual knowledge traditions. Although I continue to maintain that ID advocates raise important questions about the nature of science and whether science should presuppose naturalism (namely, the view that all that exists is the material universe and that there is no mind, such as God, behind it), I have doubts about ID’s answers and whether these answers can offer an attractive alternative to the inadequacies of the Enlightenment for the rationality of religious belief.

And for this reason, I say in another footnote:

Even if one finds Dawkins’s views flawed, as I do, one need not embrace the arguments of ID advocates in order to rationally embrace intrinsic purpose or even design. See, e.g., LEON R. KASS, The Permanent Limits of Biology, in LIFE, LIBERTY AND THE DEFENSE OF DIGNITY: THE CHALLENGE FOR BIOETHICS 277 (2002); Michael W. Tkacz, Thomas Aquinas vs. the Intelligent Designers: What Is God’s Finger Doing in My Pre-Biotic Soup?, in INTELLIGENT DESIGN: SCIENCE OR RELIGION? CRITICAL PERSPECTIVES 275 (Robert M. Baird & Stuart E. Rosenbaum eds., 2007).

Comments (148)

I thought Ed Oakes did a great job of stating the Thomist position against ID and unconstrained Evolution in a past First Things.

I may be reading you wrong here, but it seems that you're throwing away Natural Law. Natural Law depends on ID, a non-material agency. And science is now wrapped up in natural Law arguments part and parcel such as idiotic Darwinism supposing selfish genes, altruistic genes, got to pass on my DNA at all costs genes.

Mark,

Natural law -- or at least, for my money, any natural law worthy of the name -- does not depend on ID, but rather on immanent teleology of the Aristotelian sort. Indeed, ID accepts a basically mechanistic or non-(inherently)-teleological conception of nature which is incompatible with (classical) natural law.

If I wanted to be crass, I'd mention that my book The Last Superstition deals with this issue (among many other things), but since I don't want to be crass, I won't.

I am a little surprized by what I read here.
Clearly one can, if one wanted, formulate ID in such a way that it indeed appears to assume an Enlightenment model of scientific knowledge, and there probably are any number of ID writers who appear to do this. And, clearly, a particular proponent of ID can formulate it in such a way as to presume a basically mechanistic or non-teleological conception of nature (as Edward puts it).

But none of that has anything to do with what ID intrinsically is.
ID is simply the idea (no pun intended) that we can know in a logically rigorous and scientifically/philosophically respectable manner that a certain outcome is best explained as the result of direct and deliberate intelligent agency rather than natural or efficient causation. None of that strikes me as having anything obvious to do with the background metaphysics and general schema of knowledge you adopt. It seems quite independent of that. Even within an immanent teleological schema of the Aristotelean sort there are going to be things best explained as the result of regularities in nature (efficient causes), such as the tides of the sea or the orbits of the planets, whilst others are best explained by reference to actual mental states (desires/intentions/goals/plans) of agents, such as my writing these very words right now. Whichever way you go, you are going to have to have a schema whereby you can discern which belongs to the former and which to the latter. The ID movement has attempted to articulate that schema, and in this it has done a service to the intellectual community whatever the underlying metaphysics you happen to adopt, independently of whether you think this is the best way or not with which to oppose naturalistic atheism.

Isn't it, just maybe perhaps, the desperate desire to avoid being lumped with naive creationists that makes so many people dismiss even that which is good and proper and right about ID?

I haven't the time to get myself involved in a long debate about the merits of ID, but I'm with Francis Williamson. The only caveat I would add is that (as prominent ID people knew some years ago but as hasn't been widely known since I've been involved in the blogosphere) I have strong disagreements with Dembski's neo-Fisherian version of how the distinction Williamson draws should be made. I favor, rather, a Bayesian or at least likelihoodist probabilistic model of such inferences, as of a gazillion inferences in areas that have nothing whatsoever to do with ID. But evidence is evidence, and the question is quite simply one of evidence. Much as this will probably shock and horrify some of my blogospheric readers, and much as it has already annoyed some in past posts (such as the one about how it's okay for God to push around molecules), it seems to me that the evidence available favors the involvement of an intelligent agent in aspects of the world that could not have been man-made, particularly the biological realm. If this be Enlightenment rationalism, make the most of it. :-)

Isn't it, just maybe perhaps, the desperate desire to avoid being lumped with naive creationists that makes so many people dismiss even that which is good and proper and right about ID?
That's what I think. There is plenty to be critical of in the ID "movement", but there is at least as much to be critical of in the evolution "movement". My own objections to darwinian evolution are not metaphysical or religious, but on its own terms. Mutation accumulation doesn't lead to new cell types, organs, tissues, or species. As far as we know, random polypeptide chains don't fold into stable native states under physiological conditions: they just clump up into random, toxic wads of junk.

People cling to neo-darwinian evolution in order to be socially acceptable, not because there is good reason to believe it.

In point of fact we have no idea (or at least had no idea when I was taking graduate biophysics a few years ago), as a matter of specific explanatory causes backed up by empirical data, how prokaryote-world disappeared and gave rise to the present. It isn't so much that ID falls into the category of legitimate science as that neo-darwinism doesn't. Or more accurately, however we define "science" as an epistemological scoping of a kind of knowledge both ID and neo-darwinism fall into that scoping. Furthermore, understood as an unequivocal and falsifiable theory neo-darwinism has in fact been falsified: again, mutation accumulation does not lead to new cell types, tissues, organs, or species.

According to many scholars, the practical consequence of “Ockham’s razor” is that claims about a thing’s nature, purpose, or intrinsic dignity—universal properties it shares with other things of the same sort—are “unnecessary” for our scientific investigation of the world because they don’t add anything of explanatory importance to our direct empirical observations.
I'm not sure why the abuse of Ockham's razor by metaphysical naturalists should even be an issue here. But the most common (mis-)use of Ockham's razor by naturalists that I've come across is the argument that if you have two theories, one of which contains a supernatural entity and one of which does not, then this is supposedly a violation of the principle and the supernatural explanation should be discarded from the outset. In point of fact, however, Ockham's principle was to not multiply entities "beyond necessity." Ockham himself considered God to be the only necessary being. In order for naturalists to employ the razor to eliminate the supernatural they would have to show that they do, in fact, have a fully adequate explanation of the natural order without God. But this is never proven, it is simply assumed. I have grave doubts as to whether it could even be proven in principle. Even Hawking has apparently come out recently with doubts about even the theoretical possiblity of a Theory Of Everything.

It seems to me that the ID movement has done a good job of showing that naturalistic explanations are NOT adequate in explaining everything (whether it's all of the features of living organisms or the features and structure of the universe). Thus the use of Ockham's razor by metaphysical naturalists is just simply fallacious.

The ID movement has attempted to articulate that schema, and in this it has done a service to the intellectual community whatever the underlying metaphysics you happen to adopt, independently of whether you think this is the best way or not with which to oppose naturalistic atheism.

Oppose atheism?

You mistakenly presuppose that the intelligent agency that ID has in mind within its scientistic framework is that of a supernatural designer; however, this is not at all the case.

Even advocates of ID point out time and again how the fact that the universe itself contains elements of design does not require the designer to be supernatural.

Further still, it appears you & your advocate, Lydia, have mistakenly neglected the fact that it is not algorithmically possible to even do so when, in fact, the supernatural designer Christians actually believe in cannot be mathematically modeled in the first place due to the very essence of His supernatural nature.

To actually believe that this is possible assumes not the Supernatural Designer Christians actually believe in, but in an entirely different intelligent agency other than one that is actually supernatural. For the Supernatural Designer Christians believe in is one beyond mathematics.

Why?

Because -- for those who have neglected their Christian heritage -- a mathematical description of a Supernatural Designer would, by definition, be Impossible!

Therefore, Christians who actually endorse ID are not Christians at all (by admitting even the validity of such a theory, you have already compromised the Christian belief in a Supernatural Designer!); hence, such persons can no longer be properly called Christians as they have compromised the very essence of their Christianity in the First Principle in order to accommodate what is, in all actuality, an overreaching theory that posits a non-supernatural designer; for it is only an intelligent agency as the latter that can actually be quantified & mathematically described!

Francis W., Lydia, and Zippy,

I can assure you that I have no desire to "cling to neo-darwinian evolution" (as Zippy puts it) and I think anyone familiar with my work knows that there is little in it that evinces a desire "to be socially acceptable." I am also perfectly happy to acknowledge that ID theorists have made some important points, that their treatment by their Darwinian critics has been disgraceful, and that the latter are themselves interested in preserving a secularist orthodoxy rather than pursuing truth.

My problem with ID is that it is not nearly radical enough – or, perhaps I should say, that it is not reactionary enough. Insofar as it concedes the mechanistic picture of nature, it fails to challenge the central metaphysical error of modernity. The whole approach effectively forces its proponents into a lame "God of the gaps" footing and distorts our understanding of the relationship between God and the world. We get Paley's Masonic architect (as Christopher Martin has aptly labeled him) rather than the God of Aquinas's Fifth Way, and are put on the path away from classical theism and toward what Brian Davies has called "theistic personalism" -- an anthropomorphic conception of God, made in our image (on "analogy" with us).

In short, the trouble with ID is not that it is insufficiently "up to date" and "scientific," but rather that it is modernist. It is, within theology, what paleoconservatives accuse neoconservatives of being in politics: a dangerous attempt to take on board modern assumptions in defense of traditional conclusions, which ends up only distorting the conclusions and needlessly conceding ground to the enemy.

Foolish me. I thought ID was just another way of saying, God created the universe and all that's in it.

So much for my "clarification" clarifying anything. Sheesh!

I love you guys, but you're shadow boxing with a straw man. I didn't say that ID arguments should be rejected even if they worked (contra Lydia). What my footnote was suggesting is that the attempt to isolate a portion of nature to detect design empirically (ala Behe) is not where the action is. It is in the overarching assumption that its all a matter of empirical detection. If Behe's argument works, then more power to him. But what I want to argue is that the degree to which the mind is able to extract patterns, know universals, and make judgments about normative ends is itself "evidence" of design. But it is not empirically detectable, i.e., scientific, but rather, a philosophical claim on which the entire scientific enterprise depends.

In my judgment, that's a much stronger way to go.

I will link to the article when it comes out in a couple of weeks. In it I critique Hitchens, Dawkins, and offer a philosophical argument for natural rights grounded in the divine. Of course, ID advocates, just as Aristoteleans and Seventh-Day Adventists, will like what I'm doing. But one need not be an ID advocate in order to accept the argument. My point is to provide my reader with an intellectually respectable way to reject Dawkinian atheism without having to embrace ID.

One more thing: I strongly encourage the WWWtW readers to pick up Ed Feser's book, The Last Superstition. Here's my endorsement:

"There have been largely two types of critics of the `New Atheism.' One type grants the empiricism of the atheists and then tries to show that belief in God is consistent with it. This approach gives away the store by removing God from the realm of the knowable. The second also grants the atheists' empiricism, but argues that it leads to the detection of design in the universe and thus the existence of God. This approach gives away the store as well, by limiting knowledge to the empirically detectable. Professor Feser offers us a third approach, one that is far more effective in defeating the New Atheism. He provides persuasive arguments that show that God is knowable and that what is knowable is larger than the set of that which is empirically detectable. This is a tour de force that should be in the library of every thinking citizen, believer or unbeliever."
I thought ID was just another way of saying, God created the universe and all that's in it.

Mark Butterworth,

If that's what you and other folks here think, you don't know what ID is really all about.

Apologies, but my beliefs are in the tenets of Christianity rather than in scientism!

Like I said in the above:

Even advocates of ID point out time and again how the fact that the universe itself contains elements of design does not
require the designer to be supernatural.

Further still, it appears you & your advocate, Lydia, have mistakenly neglected the fact that it is not algorithmically possible to even do so when, in fact, the supernatural designer Christians actually believe in cannot

be mathematically modeled in the first place due to the very essence of His supernatural nature.

To actually believe that this is possible assumes not the Supernatural Designer Christians actually believe in, but in an entirely different intelligent agency other than one that is actually supernatural. For the Supernatural Designer Christians believe in is one beyond mathematics.

Why?

Because -- for those who have neglected their Christian heritage -- a mathematical description of a Supernatural Designer would, by definition, be Impossible!

Therefore, Christians who actually endorse ID are not Christians at all (by admitting even the validity of such a theory, you have already compromised

the Christian belief in a Supernatural Designer!); hence, such persons can no longer be properly called Christians as they have compromised the very essence of their Christianity in the First Principle in order to accommodate what is, in all actuality, an overreaching theory that posits a non-supernatural designer; for it is only an intelligent agency as the latter that can actually be quantified & mathematically described!

Mark Butterworth,

Of all the interlocutors here, comments made by Dr. Edward Feser sums it best here:

In short, the trouble with ID is not that it is insufficiently "up to date" and "scientific," but rather that it is modernist. It is, within theology, what paleoconservatives accuse neoconservatives of being in politics: a dangerous attempt to take on board modern assumptions in defense of traditional conclusions, which ends up only distorting the conclusions and needlessly conceding ground to the enemy.

Are we disagreeing, or just talking about different things?

Professor Feser's last comment rocks, and I'm looking forward to Professor Beckwith's article.

Very kind, Frank, thanks. Thank you too, Zippy -- and as you say, I'm sure we aren't really disagreeing, but just focusing on different things.

I do get tired of anti-Paley-ism. As far as I'm concerned, Paley rocks, and he worships the same God that Aquinas worships. He does so now, of course, but he did so while he was here on earth and writing, too. :-) I really can't apologize too heartily if this marks me out as a "modernist."


And by the way, God is empirically detectable. He said so Himself, "That which we have seen with our eyes, and our hands have handled, of the Word of Life."

I don't mean to sound snarky. I'm writing in a bit of a hurry, and I'd love to think that we are all agreeing. But I'm a little worried that we're really not, and that the desire to push anti-modernism is motivating Frank (and maybe Ed, but I'm not sure) to underestimate the importance and value of empirical argument.

Aristocles,

Can you explain to me why you think the inability to construct a mathematical model of God is somehow a strike against ID? I'm not really following your argument at that point. Why can't we make an inference to a supernatural being even without having a mathematical model of that being? Note that this is not a god-of-the-gaps argument (which is where I have to respectfully disagree with Edward) but rather an inference to the best explanation.

Aristocles: I would point out that the Christian God is also "beyond" philosophy, not just mathematics. Are we supposed to conclude from this that there are no philosophical arguments that proffer evidence for God's existence? Given your reasoning above, you seem to be committed to a "Yes" answer.

In sum, it seems to me that many in this thread are saddling ID proponents with a straw man. I take ID proponents to be saying, roughly, with respect to set of empirical evidence E, the existence of a designer who, minimally, has properties P1 - Pn, is probable, given reasons R1-Rn. Accepting such a basic line of thought does not in any way commit one to saying that E is the only evidence that bears on the existence and nature of the being in question. The properties one can justifiably attribute to the being in question are, no doubt, going to be more sparse with respect to a limited domain of empirical evidence. But what's wrong with noting what can and cannot be inferred from a limited range of empirical data? Should ID proponents really be faulted for not offering a cumulative case argument? Why not recognize that their project has limited objectives? Observing that the most we can say about designer D given E is not to say that E is the only evidence to consider when trying to come to a final assessment of the nature and existence of D.

Aristocles: I would point out that the Christian God is also "beyond" philosophy, not just mathematics. Are we supposed to conclude from this that there are no philosophical arguments that proffer evidence for God's existence? Given your reasoning above, you seem to be committed to a "Yes" answer.

In sum, it seems to me that many in this thread are saddling ID proponents with a straw man. I take ID proponents to be saying, roughly, with respect to set of empirical evidence E, the existence of a designer who, minimally, has properties P1 - Pn, is probable, given reasons R1-Rn. Accepting such a basic line of thought does not in any way commit one to saying that E is the only evidence that bears on the existence and nature of the being in question. The properties one can justifiably attribute to the being in question are, no doubt, going to be more sparse with respect to a limited domain of empirical evidence. But what's wrong with noting what can and cannot be inferred from a limited range of empirical data? Should ID proponents really be faulted for not offering a cumulative case argument? Why not recognize that their project has limited objectives? Observing that the most we can say about designer D given E is not to say that E is the only evidence to consider when trying to come to a final assessment of the nature and existence of D.

What I've noticed, however, is that the materialists in power seem to have no fear whatsoever of Aristotelian/Thomistic refutations of their position. The ID arguments, on the other hand, drive them into hysterical panic.

This is not surprising since today only science based on empirical observation is considered real science. Philosophy is not thought to be science at all.

The reason the materialists hate and fear the ID proponents is that the latter are making reasonable inferences from empirical observations and, more importantly, are showing that the former are drawing ridiculous conclusions from the empirical data.

Furthermore, I see no reason at all to accuse the ID proponents of either denying the value of metaphysics or prejudicing its method. On the contrary, their empirical analyses are so amenable to the notion of substantial metaphysical reality, that they are seen to be engaging in a version of metaphysics themselves, which they are not.

Lastly, don't forget: Your enemy's enemy is your friend.

This is war.

Wow, George R. and I are ending up agreeing. A banner day. I think the farmer and the cowman shd. definitely be friends on this. The argument from mind, the cosmological argument, etc., _and_ empirical arguments from design. Bring 'em all on. I haven't much hope for Anselm's ontological argument, but if someone thinks he can make it work, more power to his elbow, too.

I just finished Dr. Feser's TLS, and of all the myriad of things there to recommend it, the standout feature of the work is that it is a terrific short history of modern philosophy with a view to a Thomist-Aristotelian diagnosis of the contemporary situation, an explanation of why the mind-body problem is a pseudo-problem, and an explanation for the subsequent flight back into philosophical materialism. It's a real pager-turner.

Lydia,

The point is not that empirical premises are not necessary -- Aquinas's Five Ways all have empirical starting points, after all -- but rather that the significance we attach to any empirical premises necessarily presupposes certain philosophical and conceptual commitments. Hence scientism, phenomenalism, and Aristotelianism (to take just three examples) all appeal to empirical premises, but that can hardly settle anything between them, because their true disagreement is philosophical, not empirical.

The trouble Aristotelians and Thomists have with IDers is that they essentially concede, at least for the purposes of their arguments with Darwinians, the scientistic methodological assumptions of their opponents and then try to accomodate within those assumptions a case for a designer. They agree on the premises and just differ on the conclusions. Part of the problem with this is that the premises themselves are false. The modern mechanistic philosophy of nature is (among other things) ultimately incoherent, for reasons I develop at length in The Last Superstition.

But another problem is that the theological conclusions also become distorted, because a god conceived of as an empirical hypothetical posit is simply not the God of classical theism, and not the God whose existence is demonstrated (not proposed as a "best explanation") in the Five Ways. E.g. the former is anthropomorphic, the latter not; the former is a being among other beings, the latter Being Itself; and so forth. Again, Brian Davies is very good on this -- I recommend the first chapter of the latest (third) edition of his book An Introduction to the Philospohy of Religion.

John Fraser,

A "best explanation" god is a "god of the gaps." To argue for such a being is effectively to say "Sure, it is possible that a non-theistic explanation is correct, but just not likely" which of course always means "not likely given the current state of the evidence."

Arguments in the classical theist tradition are not like this at all. They are attempts at strict demonstration, and the God they arrive at is necessarily one, omnipotent, omniscient, all-good, the whole ball of wax. No farting around with "probabilities," extraterrestrials, demiurges, or whatever else IDers concede might be all they can manage.

A "best explanation" god is a "god of the gaps."

Ed, I'm afraid I couldn't disagree much more strongly with this statement. "Ed Feser" is a "best explanation" Ed Feser, but this doesn't make him an "Ed Feser of the gaps." And the same for "Lydia McGrew" vis a vis Ed Feser. What I mean by this is that we have *positive evidence* for each other's existence, *good evidence*, that this does not mean that we have a demonstrative argument leading to metaphysical certainty of each other's existence, that our argument for each other's existence is explanatory, but that this is no problem. Paris (which I have never seen) is not a "Paris of the gaps" because its existence is supported by way of the fact that it is the best explanation of the evidence I have, and so on and so forth. For that matter, as an indirect realist, I would say that the very chair I'm sitting on is the best explanation of my evidence, but that this is no denigration of my argument for it in any way. Nothin' wrong with IBE. IBE is what most of our empirical knowledge is made of. Maybe all of it.

I'm sorry -- I forgot how ID itself (that its very purpose) is specifically Christian and the fact that "Terrestrial life/the universe we see around us shows elements of design" automatically renders the verdict that the designer in question is supernatural.

(Note, please, how several advocates for ID in various secular communities themselves have expressed opinions to the contrary: that the theory of ID does not require a supernatural designer and, indeed, should not.)

Of course, the very endeavor itself which seeks to construct a true mathematical model of the cosmos that incorporates a designer is entirely feasible -- just not the designer which happens to be supernatural.

As I've said in my original comments, folks here mistakenly presuppose that the intelligent agency that ID has in mind within its scientistic framework is that of a supernatural designer; however, this is not at all the case.

The designer that ID seeks to quantify and mathematically describe is not the supernatural designer Christians, in fact, believe in; but in one that can be so quantified and described accordingly.

Here's another interesting philosophical point, Ed: Supposing there to be absolute demonstrative proofs of the existence of God, more than one road can lead to Rome. (No pun intended.) Think of the analogy of a mathematical object. I'm not a good enough mathematician to think of a really cool example, but we could imagine some mathematical object described as "the solution to the equation _______" or something of that sort. Now, a truly great mathematician could prove the existence of that object. There might even be a controversy over whether the equation were strictly unsolvable, and then somebody could come along and prove that the solution _exists_, that the equation _is_ solvable, even though he doesn't have the solution. Or something like that. (Alex Pruss would do a much better job at coming up with a good example here.) But there could be other ways of getting evidence about that. For example, there could be partial proofs, or proofs that a conjecture holds up to a particular number. Or even, if one knew the mathematician who proved the existence of the solution, one could know that there was such a solution because of the reasons one had for trusting him as a reliable source. The fact that one's reasons were thus indirect or non-deductive wouldn't change the *nature of the mathematical object* one believed in. So I don't see that it follows from the fact that one has an argument for the existence of a designer, whom one has (let's say), independent reason to believe is, in fact, God, that the God one believes in has a different nature from a God one might believe in (or that someone else believes in) by way of a demonstrative type of argument.

The trouble Aristotelians and Thomists have with IDers is that they essentially concede, at least for the purposes of their arguments with Darwinians, the scientistic methodological assumptions of their opponents and then try to accomodate within those assumptions a case for a designer.
Well, as a polemical approach at least it makes some sense to adopt the 'system' of one's interlocutors and demonstrate where they go wrong on their own terms, when that is the case. I think that is pretty clearly the case in evolutionary theory and microbiology: that is, the scientific evidence refutes their theory, to the extent that they have one. But again, my dog in this fight has always been that the neo-darwinian synthesis has been falsified on its own terms, and therefore has degenerated into nothing but polemical just so stories and equivocation, despite the fact that "we'll have a workable theory real soon now" reiterated for a hundred and fifty years does not itself constitute having a workable theory. Lets just say that Obama's self-referential executive experience through having managed his own campaign has a long pedigree as an archetype.

FWIW, I drew a little sketch a few years back in an attempt to show why I think the "God of the gaps" characterization itself rests on a false epistemology. If nothing else the drawing and subsequent discussion demonstrates the dangers of turning an engineer-turned-entrepreneur-turned-corporate-weenie loose on philosophy.

Ed,

Given that all theories are underdetermined there are always going to be gaps in any theory as well as more than one possible explanation that fits the evidence. I think that's just necessary given the nature of inductive reasoning. You could just as easily point to the gaps in Darwinian evolution (and they are not hard to find) and say it’s an “evolution of the gaps” argument. Darwinian evolution is an inference to the best explanation but it’s only the best of all naturalistic explanations – not of all possible explanations. Naturalists want to disqualify ID from consideration by invoking a “rule” like methodological naturalism, but this is just stacking the deck. I think we get too cowed down by the god-of-the-gaps label which is why it’s important to force the issue of IBE. It’s not god-of-the-gaps because IBE utilizes abductive rather than inductive reasoning. It’s a question of how the argument is formulated.

I’m not sure I agree with your characterization of classical theistic arguments if you mean that they are all attempts at proving God with deductive certainty. But even that’s true, so what? Are we stuck with using the same types of arguments that were used 500-1000 years ago? I think we should be striving for arguments that are both sound and persuasive. You could have a perfectly sound, deductive argument for God’s existence (say some version of the ontological argument) that never convinces anybody. In that case what good is it? I don’t think our goal should be to find one single knock-down argument that’s going to persuade everybody.

Finally, I’m a little nervous about this distinction between what you call “the God of classical theism” and the “anthropomorphic” God that you say results from ID. For starters I guess I’m more interested in the God revealed in the Incarnation as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. That’s a pretty “anthropomorphic” view of God don’t you think? By contrast you seem to be leaning more toward the transcendent God of Greek philosophy. You talk about anthropomorphism like it’s a bad word. I guess I don’t see why that should be the case given the revelation of God in Scripture. I realize I only have your comments here and I haven’t read your book, so my broad generalizations may be off the mark.

Well, I suppose I'm not getting all these gradations of semantics which seem incoherent to me. IDer's use science and reason to attack atheistic scientific materialism and this somehow makes ID's metaphysics suspect? ID strikes me as classic theism and first cause.

"...the very endeavor itself which seeks to construct a true mathematical model of the cosmos that incorporates a designer is entirely feasible..."

What? Who in heck thinks they can construct a "true" mathematical model of the cosmos? What the heck does that even mean?

The fact is that Intelligent Design is self-evident and it takes a diabolical act of will to deny it.

I don't know what in the heck a number of you are arguing about. People are fighting for God and using what tools they can to cut through absurd secular pieties, and get trashed for it. Makes no sense to me. More fool me.

Lydia and John F.,

By a "God of the gaps" argument, I mean an argument that starts with the claim that there is such-and-such a specific phenomenon within a given scientific domain (physics, biology, or whatever) which has not been adequately explained in terms of the existing body of theory generally regarded as correctly describing that domain (quantum mechanics, the neo-Darwinian synthesis, or whatever). In other words, it is claimed that there is an explanatory "gap" in the existing account of the domain in question. It is then suggested that a deity might plausibly be appealed to in order to fill this gap. I think this is a pretty standard usage of the expression "God of the gaps."

Now the background assumption both "God of the gaps" argument proponents and their critics either consciously or unconsciously bring to bear on discussion of the issue is that the modern mechanistic (i.e. anti-Aristotelian, anti-Scholastic, anti-teleological) understanding of nature is correct. That is to say, they are agreed that there are no formal or final causes immanent in the material world. Intrinsically the world is composed of meaningless particles (or whatever) interacting in lawlike patterns, and while these particles sometimes take on more or less complex configurations, this has nothing to do with their taking on Aristotelian substantial forms or the like, so that the more complex patterns are always at least in principle reducible to simpler ones (as they would not be, even in principle, on an Aristotelian view).

Now, given this framework, skeptics insist that appeal to a divine intelligence sits poorly with the general anti-teleological spirit of modern science. They will concede that it is possible in principle for some external intelligence to interfere with the system and make it serve a certain end, but they hold also that since in general this is not what happens -- as evidenced by the fact that the mechanistic picture of its very nature implies that such an intelligence does not generally intervene but instead that the material world is basically on autopilot -- there is good reason to suppose that the burden of proof is against such an outside intervention in any particular case.

Defenders of "God of the gaps" arguments reply that while this general picture of nature and our understanding of it is correct, there are certain cases where the phenomena in question are (say) so statistically improbable but similar enough to the sorts of results an intelligent being might produce that it is at least probable that an intelligence has intervened. It is admitted by such defenders that this might not be so, that at least in principle an unintelligent process may be responsible after all, but they nevertheless maintain that the odds are against this supposition. In other words, they acknowledge that the mechanistic picture of nature puts the burden of proof on anyone who wants to claim that an outside intelligence is ever involved in anything going on in the sytem, but they think that in at least some unusual cases that burden can be met.

OK, so that's the picture. Now, other than resting on a bad and ultimately incoherent philosophy of nature (as I have claimed it does), and providing at best probabilistic arguments that fall well short of the demonstrative power the arguments a classical theist like Aquinas would put forward, what is wrong with this picture? In particular, why do I claim that the conception of God that results from it is objectionable?

Well, for starters, insofar as the picture represents the world as a kind of machine that more or less operates independently of God at least in principle, it departs from the classical theistic understanding of God as necessarily sustaining the world in being from moment to moment. Given an Aristotelian-Thomistic understanding of nature, it is metaphysically impossible that the world should continue to exist even for an instant without God sustaining it. God causes the world, not in the sense of having wound up the machine billions of years ago, but in the sense of keeping it in being at every instant. To reject this picture, as the mechanistic philosophy of nature does, is both to open the door to atheism by allowing at least the possibility that He is not sustaining the world after all -- which makes the claim that He is sustaining it, or even that He caused it at some point in the past, at most a matter of mere probability -- and also to distort our understanding of how He relates to the world even if He does exist.

For example, God comes to seem generally "hands off," intervening only in special cases, as opposed to the classical idea that everything that happens is a manifestation of his action. The way is opened to deism -- which of course historically did indeed follow upon the adoption of the mechanistic conception of nature.

Furthermore, God's knowledge of the world comes to seem a matter of observation, from the outside, of an independent reality, rather than (as for the Scholastics) something He necesarily has in the very act of contunuously creating the world. This in turn opens up puzzles about how he knows the future (which in the independent mechanistic world of nature hasn't happened yet and thus cannot be observed by Him), especially given that it is very hard to get via "God of the gaps" reasoning to a God who is outside time. The idea of God as a kind of super-calculator who infers from the present becomes hard to avoid, and the idea of omniscience becomes severely attenuated.

All of this is exacerbated by the fact that the "God of the gaps" method, since it is a matter of empirical hypothesis formation on the basis of analogies with human intelligence, tends to start theorizing about God by proposing that he is "a person without a body," kind of like us only with the limitations stripped away. The end result is a highly anthropomorphic conception of God, one that is of course less crude than the anthropomorphisms of mythology, but which, since it models God on human persons, nevertheless tends to lead to a mitigating or even rejection of the doctrines of divine immutability, impassibility, timelessness, and simplicity. "Open theists" and the like are OK with all of this, of course, but from the standpoint of historical Christianity, and certainly of Catholicism, it is heretical.

(None of this has anything to do with denying the Incarnation, BTW. It has instead to do with understanding what sort of God it is Who became incarnate.)

I think Mark B. makes a very good point: The IDers are beating back the neo-Darwinians and their secular pieties, and they are doing so on the neo-Darwinians' home court. More power to them. That doesn't make them metaphysically suspect. But then, metaphysics is not the point.

If anything is suspect, it's the Aristotelian reconstruction of the universe, which is a giant step removed from Biblical theology. It pulls revelation through a foreign and distortive grid, and which, through its distortions, has given rise to multiple theological errors.

You haven't reached the God of the Bible when you've reached the uncaused cause, the prime mover, the first lawgiver, or even that than which no greater can be conceived. Biblical theology is not mere monotheism. The God of the Bible is Trinity, and no philosophy ever gets there, ever gets to the real God who is. Nor does any false religion. Just as the God of Aristotle is not the Trinitarian God who is, neither are Baal, Allah, and Ra. Like it or not, they and Aristotle fall afoul of the commandment against making false gods.

Jesus insists that seeing Him is seeing the Father. Jesus does what He sees his Father do; He says what He hears his Father say. He and his Father are one, he says -- and no, not metaphysically one. They are one in character, purpose, affection, and action. No one -- no one -- He says, knows the Father except the Son, and those to whom the Son reveals Him. That revelation is not Aristotelian or Platonic; it's historical. That means if you don't start with the historical incarnation of God in Christ, you don't really start at all, even though you mean to start, and even though you think you have. Jesus is an ancient, peripatetic, Jewish rabbi talking to other ancient Jews in words and categories they understood and used, not an Aristotelian philosopher. The God revealed in Christ is revealed in terms of his character, not in terms of his metaphysical characteristics, which is one of the chief failing of Aristotle's view of God.

Aristotle just doesn't understand that unless you meet God in history, you don't meet Him at all. The God and Father of our Lord is seen best in Christ, and second best in the history of Israel: God is the One who makes and keeps his promises, God is the One who delivers his people from bondage in Egypt; God is the One who raises the dead. In other words, "God" is a Christologically, that is a historically, defined term. As has been famously said, the God of the philosophers is not the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

I may be able to say more about this later, but I have to say, Ed, that your reconstruction strikes me as not showing a lot of familiarity with IBE (inference to the best explanation) or with various probabilistic reconstructions of it. Perhaps I'm wrong. And I'm pretty sure, given everything else you say, that you would dislike the argument for design even if you did see more clearly the difference between your reconstruction and a true inference to the best explanation. This is because of your dislike (which I find puzzling, to tell the truth) for analogies between human and divine intelligence and also because of your opposition (which I also find puzzling) to any attempt to make a distinction between things best explained as a result of regularities in nature and things best explained by the direct involvement of an agent/designer. As Francis Williamson says above, better than I could:

Even within an immanent teleological schema of the Aristotelean sort there are going to be things best explained as the result of regularities in nature (efficient causes), such as the tides of the sea or the orbits of the planets, whilst others are best explained by reference to actual mental states (desires/intentions/goals/plans) of agents, such as my writing these very words right now. Whichever way you go, you are going to have to have a schema whereby you can discern which belongs to the former and which to the latter.

What is there to disagree with in that?

What sort of metaphysic--if indeed he believes a metaphysic is possible or even desirable--would an ID proponent endorse? If, as Prof. Bauman has said, one simply does not meet God outside of the context of Christianity--a revealed religion, not a philosophical system--then mustn't the whole philosophical enterprise be a vain thing?

What sort of metaphysic--if indeed he believes a metaphysic is possible or even desirable--would an ID proponent endorse?
I can't speak for the ID movement, but it seems to me that inferring intelligent agency as a forensic matter is compatible with any number of different metaphysics.
If, as Prof. Bauman has said, one simply does not meet God outside of the context of Christianity--a revealed religion, not a philosophical system--then mustn't the whole philosophical enterprise be a vain thing?
Well, Professor Bauman's view isn't shared by everyone. It is Catholic doctrine, for example, that the existence of God and some things about God can be known through natural reason and observation of created things; but that the Christian revelation, including the doctrine of the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, the Incarnation, etc can only be known through revelation. So Catholicism at least rejects the notion that the God of the Philosophers is an idol, distinct from the God of revelation.
If, as Prof. Bauman has said, one simply does not meet God outside of the context of Christianity--a revealed religion, not a philosophical system--then mustn't the whole philosophical enterprise be a vain thing?

I would say that the shoe is probably on the other foot. If I'm understanding correctly the sheer strength and thoroughness of Ed's objection (which I don't know if Frank Beckwith shares) to making any sort of analogy between God and man, then there would be a problem, it seems to me, with concluding that a revelation is from God. For example, Moses at the burning bush, if he believed that it's wrong to use analogy between the human mind and the divine mind because God is strictly "other" than man, would have had to treat the voice of God as uninterpretable. "It _sounds_ like he's talking my language, but God is completely Other than man, so who knows if he would mean the same thing by words that I mean by words?" Now, I realize that neither Ed nor Frank nor anyone else in this discussion has said anything like this about Moses. But it seems to me that if you attack design reasoning on the grounds that we mustn't reason about God by analogy to man, then this very strong view (which certainly was not Aquinas's) would undermine a great deal more than ID.

Zippy,

Both answers are about what I would have said. I don't yet see ID as incompatible with an Aristotelian-Thomist metaphysic, and although a classical realist could defend ID, I can't much see why such a one would have any need of it. There is certainly something to be said for meeting the materialist on his own ground. Even the Aristotelian meeting the materialist in debate works from shared premises. The question remains whether or not the ID theorist in the end gives too much to the materialist. It was Hoyle, I think, who famously invoked the 747-in-a-junkyard analogy. It comes from the common sense view that intelligent beings can discern signs of intelligence. While this may not be logically demonstrable, even as Dr. Feser alludes in TLS (although he doesn't defend Paley in detail) Paley's design argument isn't nearly so bad as atheists generally suppose when they caricature it. Even Christian biologists worry about ID infiltration into the the discipline because they think that the result will be bad for science--that it will put a damper on teh enthusiasm for studying certain features of the world. "Well, God must have made the eye by direct intervention, since its obviously too complex to have evolved. Therefore, lets stop trying to discover how the eye could have evolved." Something like that. At least I've heard this expressed by a few Christian biologists I know.

But it seems to me that if you attack design reasoning on the grounds that we mustn't reason about God by analogy to man

Perhaps I missed something, but I didn't pick up that this is what Ed was doing. Certainly a Thomist claims to know God rationally and by analogy. It's the univocal and equivocal senses of words/concepts that the Thomist denies when speaking of God.

"Well, God must have made the eye by direct intervention, since its obviously too complex to have evolved. Therefore, lets stop trying to discover how the eye could have evolved." Something like that. At least I've heard this expressed by a few Christian biologists I know.
Yeah, I've heard that a lot too. It is more than a little ironic given that modern science grew out of Western man's motivation to discover how God did things; but now, suddenly, "God did it" is supposed to destroy all motivation for studying nature. This has roots in fideism, it seems to me, not in classical theology; so I automatically suspect someone who raises the objection of harboring fideist tendencies.

It is more than a little ironic given that modern science grew out of Western man's motivation to discover how God did things; but now, suddenly, "God did it" is supposed to destroy all motivation for studying nature.

Right. After thinking it through a bit, I have come to think that the motivation is mixed in with a desire to protect the prerogative of evolutionary theory in academia. I can understand this sentiment. If you are a Christian in a biology department, how tough a row to hoe is it to be generally skeptical of evolutionary theory? All references to 'Expelled" aside (I didn't see the film), one orthodox Anglican biologist I know, a tenured, senior member of the faculty at an "Ivy League of the South" university, says he wouldn't give Behe the time of day. I thought this is a bit harsh and revealing, although I didn't say so to him, of course!

But another problem is that the theological conclusions also become distorted, because a god conceived of as an empirical hypothetical posit is simply not the God of classical theism, and not the God whose existence is demonstrated (not proposed as a "best explanation") in the Five Ways. E.g. the former is anthropomorphic, the latter not; the former is a being among other beings, the latter Being Itself; and so forth.

No farting around with "probabilities," extraterrestrials, demiurges, or whatever else IDers concede might be all they can manage.

All of this is exacerbated by the fact that the "God of the gaps" method, since it is a matter of empirical hypothesis formation on the basis of analogies with human intelligence, tends to start theorizing about God by proposing that he is "a person without a body," kind of like us only with the limitations stripped away. The end result is a highly anthropomorphic conception of God, one that is of course less crude than the anthropomorphisms of mythology, but which, since it models God on human persons, nevertheless tends to lead to a mitigating or even rejection of the doctrines of divine immutability, [emphasis added]

Byronic, these are Ed's statements that I had in mind in my comment. One must either allow that we can understand revelations from God and specific manifestations of God's acts by to some degree analogy to our own actions or not. If we do allow it, there is nothing any more theologically wrong or suspect about thinking of God as a designer/engineer/planner as we are than about thinking of God as a revealer-of-himself-by-language as we are. The latter is absolutely necessary in order for people who hear even the voice of God audibly (like Moses or the prophets) to conclude that they are in communication with a person whom they can understand and obey. If we criticize ID on the grounds that it is "anthropomorphic," then I think we must criticize all revelation interpretation on the same grounds. If we can't reason probabilistically that a biological entity was made deliberately by God, because there is something theologically wrong with doing so ("anthropomorphism"), then why can we reason probabilistically that a linguistic entity, a communication purporting to be from God, was in fact sent by God and is the word/voice of God? For all we know, God (being so radically different from ourselves) might use what sound like words to mean something totally different from what they seem to mean, so we must remain agnostic even about a direct voice speaking to us. Or to take another example, when I argue that a particular event in history was a miracle, I am using a likelihood comparison. That likelihood comparison on the "miracle" side involves giving a "decent" probability to the evidence we have if the miracle had occurred. But if we work from a theological commitment that God is so far removed from ourselves that we are not allowed to reason to his actions probabilistically, because it would be "anthropomophic" to think of him as in any sense like ourselves, then I think we would have to treat this likelihood as strictly inscrutable--something that, in fact, the skeptics would very much like us to do.

Lydia,

I wasn't presenting a characterization of IBE per se. I was only characterizing "God of the gaps" reasoning specifically.

I am not saying there are no analogies between God and human beings, though as Byronicman rightly points out, "analogy" here has to be understood in Aquinas's sense rather than Paley's. The problem with Paley, ID, etc. is that it applies terms to both God and human beings in a univocal sense rather than an analogical sense. That's why anthropomorphism results.

Having said that, I am also not saying that arguments of an ID sort simply must lead those who endorse them into a distorted conception of God. Hence I do not disagree with the remarks of Francis Williamson's that you quote. The problem is that there is a tendency to lead to a distorted conception because of the nature of the sort of reasoning used by ID, Paley, et al. and because the mechanistic assumptions are left unchallenged. Again, it is no accident that deism followed upon the mechanistic revolution, even if one could theoretically endorse mechanism without being a deist.

Michael Bauman,

Well, sorry, but I simply don't buy all this "the God of the philosophers is not the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" stuff. Suppose, as I imagine you'd concede is at least possible, that some of the classical arguments for God's existence work. Then just who is this being that they prove exists if not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? If you say "Sure, there might be a prime mover and first cause, but he's not the same as the God of the Bible," then you're effectively endorsing polytheism, no?

Re: Aristotle, we need to distinguish Aristotle's own personal views from what Aristotelian premises actually imply. What Aristotle himself thought about the prime mover is a matter of controversy, but that doesn't ultimately matter, because what his basic metaphysical assumptions actually lead to, whether he realized it or not, is perfectly consistent with the Christian conception of God. And while it is true that they don't lead to Trinitarianism -- which we can know only through revelation -- that does not mean that what they do lead to is false, only that it is incomplete.

Anyway, as Zippy points out, for a Catholic the idea that "the God of the philosophers is not the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" is absolutely out of the question. There can be no such radical split between faith and reason.

Ed,

I'm certainly no advocate of Open Theism. But I would deny that ID has any tendencies towards that sort of god anyways. ID just doesn't say anything about the designer - but far from being a weakness, I see that as a strength. Naturalists have used Darwinism to argue that there's "nothing left for a creator to do." ID says "hold the phone." There are features of the universe that just can't be explained by natural causes. I think you're watering down the ID position by making it sound like these things just seem to be a little bit too improbable to have happened by chance. No, the features ID calls attention to are ridiculously (or as one nameless philosophy professor who happens to married to Lydia once said) "scandalously" improbable. I'm not at all deterred by the fact that Aquinas never used the language of inferences or probability - he didn't have those tools at his disposal.

I don't see ID as an argument for what kind of God we're talking about - rather, it's to show that the features of the universe are consistent with the God of the Bible and inconsistent with metaphysical naturalism. It's really not a god-of-the-gaps. I see that as more of slogan that naturalists have used to frighten off design argument proponents. I fear they have been highly successful in some quarters. I think the reason why many Christians try to avoid any argument which could be called god-of-the-gaps (which would include any design argument) is because of the fear that someday science may come up with a fully naturalistic explanation for phenomenon X which we’ve postulated as evidence of God. I think there’s a tendency to want to shift the argument to somewhere where it feels safer. But this whole idea of the inevitable progress of science and how science will someday explain everything is itself the product of Enlightenment rationalism. I think we should challenge that thinking.

Mark Butterworth:

The fact is that Intelligent Design is self-evident and it takes a diabolical act of will to deny it.

I don't know what in the heck a number of you are arguing about. People are fighting for God and using what tools they can to cut through absurd secular pieties, and get trashed for it. Makes no sense to me. More fool me.


That's where you (as well as others) keep going wrong --

You seem to think that since ID is an endeavor for intelligent design, it must, therefore, be an endeavor for (and in support of) the Supernatural Designer; that is, the Christian God.

You couldn't be more wrong.

But this whole idea of the inevitable progress of science and how science will someday explain everything is itself the product of Enlightenment rationalism. I think we should challenge that thinking.

Whatever the merits of ID may in fact be, it is most certainly not the only way to challenge, in the words of Ed Feser from TLS, the "promissory note" that materialists never seem to be able to cash, the promise of rationalistic scientism to one day explain everything. Aristotelian-Thomist realism is a systematic framework for dealing with reality. ID is, again whatever its merits, rather in the end ad hoc, isn't it (I'm happy to be corrected on this point)? Or at least ID is "designed" to address one specific claim by materialists. I think what one wants is a complete metaphysical system that stands on its own two feet. This is why I say that Aristotelians just don't seem to require ID, whatever its merits. For the Thomist, ID is superfluous at best.

I don't know what in the heck a number of you are arguing about. People are fighting for God and using what tools they can to cut through absurd secular pieties, and get trashed for it. Makes no sense to me.

But surely any stick isn't good enough to beat atheism with?

But surely any stick isn't good enough to beat atheism with?

Not if it's a bad argument, certainly. That's why (sorry as I am about it) I'm on record as opposing the fine-tuning argument. I don't think it works. But I am bothered very much by attempts to oppose design arguments in an a priori fashion rather than by showing that they are bad arguments.

****************************
John,

No, the features ID calls attention to are ridiculously (or as one nameless philosophy professor who happens to married to Lydia once said) "scandalously" improbable.

I just want to emphasize again, though, the _comparative_ nature of the model of the design inference that that nameless (grin) philosopher and I have always advocated. It isn't as though, once the probabilities on non-design get scandalously low, pop!, up comes a design inference. The advocacy of comparative modeling was our greatest difference with what had (more or less by historical chance) become the standard, Dembskian, modeling of the design inference as a purely eliminative one.

Other than that, I just should say, go John! :-)

Zippy (and Dr. Bauman):

There have been a number of Church Fathers who hold out hope for universal salvation (St. Gregory of Nazianus, par example), who also grant salvation to pagans (St. Justin Martyr on Socrates) so there is nothing novel about that in Catholicism than a return to the original spirit of the early Christians. So the knowledge of the existence of people of good faith who are not even Christian is not new at all, and I think it is very hard to say we have an advantage over the Early Fathers in this respect.

Consider the words of St. Iranaeus: “There is only one unique and the same God the Father, and his Word has been present to humanity from all time, although by diverse dispositions and manifold operations he has from the beginning been saving those who are saved, that is, those who love God and follow his word, each in his own age.” (Against Heresies, IV, 28, 2) And again: “Christ did not only come for those who, since the time of the Emperor Tiberius have believed in him, nor has the Father exercised his providence only in favor of people now living, but in favor of all without exception, from the beginning, who have feared God and loved him and practiced justice and kindness towards their neighbors and desired to see Christ and hear his voice, in accordance with their abilities and the age in which they were living.” [ibid, IV, 22,2 (SC bis, p. 688.,)

“Christ is the first-born of God, his Logos, in whom all people share. That is what we have learned and what we bear witness to. All who have lived in accordance with the logos are Christians, even if they have been reckoned atheists, as among the Greeks, Socrates, Heraclitus and the like. ” Justin Martyr, Apology I, 46 (PG 6, 397)

St Allbert the Great; “Examining the teachings of pagan philosophers in the light of sound reason, he demonstrated clearly that they were in fundamental accord with the tenets of the faith.” From the second Nocturn of St. Albert the Great, Nov. 15. )(Breviary Pius X). One could provide many similar quotations from the saints.

St Thomas Aquinas held with St Ambrose that all Truth, no matter where it was found had the Holy Spirit for its author, and further that extrinsic proofs could be used in support of the Catholic Faith. Indeed his Summa is full of quotes from extrinsic sources.

There have always been Christians who've recognized the presence of Truth outside Christianity (since God, after all, is Truth).

You would do well to remember the Words of St. Paul in Romans 2:14-15:
14 For when the Gentiles, who have not the law, do by nature those things that are of the law; these, having not the law, are a law to themselves.
15 Who shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness to them:

Ed,

Christianity is not generic theism. It's Trinitarianism. Trinitarianism is irreducible to, and irreplaceable by, generic theism, regardless of how some folks might wish to conflate them. Regarding Trinitarianism: we set it aside, or ignore it, or treat it as somehow irrelevant to our purposes, at great peril to Biblical faith. Aristotle's god is far more compatible with Islam than with Christianity, and with the Summa Contra Gentiles than it is with the historical Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity. You're doing away with the fundamentally historical nature of revelation, and replacing it with metaphysics -- a path which neither the apostles, the prophets, nor Christ Himself chose to follow (hence my invocation of Pascal's comment). We're not talking about having just one God -- the prophets of Baal, like Aristotle, had that, and it wasn't good enough. We're talking about the God who reveals Himself in history -- in the life of Israel and in Jesus of Nazareth, a God Whom, according to Jesus, is not knowable in the ways by which you wish to proceed. I'll say again what I said earlier: Yahweh is Christologically defined and Christologically accessible. Just because you are talking about one god does not mean you are talking about the Father of our Lord.

You did not answer a single point I made in the previous posting -- not one. You simply re-asserted the pretenses of classical philosophical theism.

Yes, I know the RCC is committed to Aristotle, unlike either Testament or Jesus Himself. But I much prefer the religion of Jesus than a religion about Him.

But I much prefer the religion of Jesus than a religion about Him.

I take it the religion of the early Christians was not a religion of Jesus then.

See my November 12, 2008 1:05 PM comment.

Ari,
Universalism is not an endorsement of Aristotelian philosophy, but of the saving love of God that transcends even our most persistent errors.

Paul, in Romans 1 and 2, is not saying that natural religion saves. He is saying that it does not. He is saying it leaves people without an excuse. You'll recall that when he addresses those with Aristotelian-style natural religion in Athens, he addresses them with regard to what he considers their "unknown God." He makes their "unknown God" known to them, not by referring to nature or to philosophy, but by explaining to them about Jesus and the resurrection -- just as you'd expect from a historically minded Jewish rabbi turned Christian, but not as you'd expect from an Aristotelian metaphysician.

Ari,
Right. There is often a gap between the beliefs of some of the earliest Christians and of Christ Himself. Even the apostles screw rather notably, which is why He spends so much time correcting them.

Lydia,

The advocacy of comparative modeling was our greatest difference with what had (more or less by historical chance) become the standard, Dembskian, modeling of the design inference as a purely eliminative one.
Noted, although I have to admit I'm not familiar enough with Dembski's stuff to really know the difference. But I take it that the comparative model is more in line with an IBE model, is that right?

I'm surprised to hear you don't like the fine-tuning argument. Not even Craig's formulation of it? I'd be interested to hear what you think is wrong with it. Just as long as you don't convince me - I like using the argument myself, and I'd be sorry to have to abandon it!

But I take it that the comparative model is more in line with an IBE model, is that right?
Yes, with a Bayesian twist.
Not even Craig's formulation of it?
Are you sure you don't mean the cosmological argument?
Are you sure you don't mean the cosmological argument?
Nope. I mean the fine-tuning argument. On his "Defenders" podcast he has a three-part series on the teleological argument (9/23-10/08/2007), and it's all about fine-tuning. He advocates fine-tuning as a way to make a teleological argument without mucking around with evolution and ID arguments. I thought his arguments were awfully good. I even took notes! He also uses fine-tuning arguments in Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview with Moreland. I thought I recalled him saying that the Blackwell Companion book was going to have a chapter on fine-tuning also, but I'm not positive about that.
Yes, I know the RCC is committed to Aristotle, unlike either Testament or Jesus Himself.

Committed?

Anybody who've attended Mass, read encyclicals from the Pope, or reviewed any Catholic teachings/writings would see it is more committed to The Word than to texts from the Organon.

Yet, what amazes me is the sheer ignorance of certain individuals (and I'm not necessarily talking about Dr. Bauman who I respect, but of other folks) who have overlooked the very fact that it was the Church herself that banned works by Aristotle rather than having "committed" to it, as other folks would have the populace believe.

Dr. Carson puts it rightly:

In 1210 the provincial synod of Sens attempted to put a stop to whatever pernicious influence Aristotelianism might have upon the nascent clerics at Paris by forbidding the Masters of that institution from reading any texts by Aristotle, either in public or in private, thus forbidding also the teaching of said texts. The ban was repeated in 1215, and in 1231 Pope Gregory IX promulgated a bull that extended the ban, in a modified form, to other universities. (For some reason the university at Toulouse was immune from the ban, until Pope Innocent IV extended it to include all of Christendom in 1245.)

Papal pronouncements in the thirteenth century appear to have been viewed with the same care and respect that they are accorded these days in institutions of higher learning: by the 1250s the ban was being ignored everywhere, especially in Paris and Oxford. Bonaventure, in his capacity as minister general to the Franciscan order, called upon Etienne Tempier, bishop of Paris, to issue a condemnation of certain Aristotelian theses. In 1270 and again in 1277 he issued the famous condemnations that had the effect, in the end, of putting Saint Thomas Aquinas, a thoroughgoing Aristotelian (and a, ahem, Dominican), on the index of forbidden teachers. This situation was not changed until Thomas's canonization in 1325.

For roughly a century, then, some of the most fundamentally important philosophical perspectives in history were banned from institutions of Christian education, in spite of the fact that many of these perspectives were not merely consistent with Christian teaching, but were actually quite effectively deployed, by Aquinas and others, in the defense of Christian belief.

Aristocles,
The idea that some Church Fathers believed in the possibility of universal salvation is sheer nonsense. St. Gregory Nazianus, whom you named as an example, did not even believe that catechumens who died before they were baptized had any hope of salvation.

Aristocles,
The idea that some Church Fathers believed in the possibility of universal salvation is sheer nonsense. St. Gregory Nazianus, whom you named as an example, did not even believe that catechumens who died before they were baptized had any hope of salvation.

Michael,

Christianity is not generic theism. It's Trinitarianism.

Who said otherwise?

(Attack straw men much?)

What you keep insisting on is that the Aristotelian conception of God, and presumably any philosophical conception of God, does not fully capture the Christian conception. All the stuff in your previous response to me just illustrates and elaborates on this one point. Fine and dandy, but as I've already said, that's a point nobody is disagreeing with in the first place, certainly not me.

I never said that the Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophical conception of God (or any other philosophical conception) is complete, adequate for salvation, etc. All I said (or implied, anyway) is that it is correct as far as it goes. (If I discover through detective work that a suspect must have been over six feet tall and walked with a limp, it would be silly to say that, since I cannot also infer from this what his name is, or his race, or his current whereabouts, it follows that the things I have inferred must be false and/or useless.)

Hence I have answered more than "a single point" (was there more than one?) of your previous post. That you choose to ignore the answer and continue to attack a phantom is not my problem.

Now if you want to go on and insist that the philosophical conception is not only incomplete but also incompatible with Christianity, well, you're welcome to make the case -- but that means make the case, not simply make the assertion.

Yes, I know the RCC is committed to Aristotle, unlike either Testament or Jesus Himself. But I much prefer the religion of Jesus than a religion about Him.

Beg the question much?

As you no doubt realize, as a Catholic I would simply disagree that Catholicism is not the religion of Jesus. So there. (Well, that was easy. But if you can make an undefended assertion, I guess I can too!)

Anyway, perhaps you have time to get into the whole Catholic-Protestant debate in the comments section to a blog post about ID. I don't!

Ed,

If I'm reading you rightly, you object to ID partly on the basis that it doesn't get you to the God of classical theism. But you also admit that the God of classical theism doesn't get you to the God of the Bible. ID doesn't get you to the God of the Bible either, so in that sense ID and classical theism are on an equal footing. But why should our goal be to get to the God of classical theism and THEN to the God of the Bible? If classical theistic arguments (say, the cosmological argument) get someone to consider that yes, maybe there is a God, then they can consider with an open mind the evidence for God as revealed in Christ (like arguments for the Resurrection for example). At the same time, if someone looks at ID arguments and says, "hmmm, maybe naturalism doesn't explain all of this stuff", then they too can consider arguments for Christianity. Better yet, someone could use classical theistic arguments AND ID arguments and show that both of them point towards the existence of God, and then talk about the particularism of the Christian God. In both cases something more is needed. But many people reject the evidence for Christianity out of hand because they think science has it all covered.

You seem to fear that someone might become a Christian without first becoming a classical theist. I guess I'm not convinced that that's a prerequisite. Those first Jewish Christians may not have been classical theists or Aristotelians. I imagine some of the more educated were, but I have a feeling those fisherman weren't. I get the sense that you're afraid that someone might end up believing in the wrong god even if they've come to believe in the God who raised Jesus from the dead, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But because they didn't pass through the gate of classical theism, something's gone terribly wrong.

I don't know. It seems to me like our goal is to get to the God and Father of Jesus, and I think you'd agree with that. It seems like classical theism and ID are both pointing towards the same thing from opposite directions as it were. Classical theism is more of a "top-down" approach whereas ID is more "bottom-up". I use both sets of arguments. Sometimes they even work. I don't know if that makes any sense at all, but it does to me.

Ed,

You have yet to bridge the gap, even a little, between the Trinitarian God revealed in Christ and the metaphysical conceptions that pass for God in classical theism. Do I actually have to tell you that God is not a concept? Please, at least try: How do you get from the metaphysical characteristics of classical theism to the personal character of God revealed in Scripture? And on what basis do you think that the God you get to in classical theism is Yahweh, not Allah, or Ra? I have not yet seen you make any move in that direction.

Jesus of Nazareth does not speak of God in the terms you do; neither do the apostles and prophets. They universally reject the methods, the terminology, and the rubric of Aristotle. You employ them. It falls to you to justify using them and to demonstrate how using them does not distort the revelation of both Testaments. My insistence is not begging the question. Rather, your neglect is an evasion of the question. You have not yet begun to justify your methods or your conclusions.


Ari,
Here's what I meant by a commitment to Aristotle:

How would you explain transubstantiation and leave Aristotle out?

Best,
MB

you object to ID partly on the basis that it doesn't get you to the God of classical theism.

No, the point isn't that it doesn't get you to classical theism, the point is that it has at least a tendency to get us away from classical theism. The problem isn't a failure to lead us to a complete understanding, the problem is a tendency to lead us to a positively false understanding. Of course, simply concluding in some particular instance that "such-and-such is probably the result of intelligent design" is not what leads us astray, and I've never claimed that it does. It is (as I keep saying) rather the tacit commitment to a mechanistic conception of nature, and the anthropomorphic modeling of the designer on human designers, that have a tendency to lead us astray.

You seem to fear that someone might become a Christian without first becoming a classical theist.

No, I'm afraid that people might take on views that are incompatible with classical theism. Again, the problem is not a failure to be led all the way to classical theism, the problem is a tendency to be led away from it.

And yes, the early Christians did not have a fancy philosophical formulation of God's nature, but so what? They didn't have rigorous Trinitarian or Christological formulations either. It's still heretical to deny those formulas now that they've been settled, and it's heretical too to deny classical theism now that it has been settled, certainly from a Catholic POV. (E.g. divine simplicity, which is at the core of classical theism, and a doctrine upheld by such notables as Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas, was taught by the Fourth Lateran Council and at Vatican I.)

Questions of orthodoxy aside, the anthropomorphic conception of God that Paley-style arguments give rise to also only makes theism harder to defend against skeptics insofar as it opens theism up to objections that don't apply, or don't apply with the same force, against classical theism.

For example, as Brian Davies argues at length in The Reality of God and the Problem of Evil, much of the modern discussion of the problem of evil at least tacitly takes for granted the assumption (a false assumption from a classical theistic POV) that God is a kind of moral agent of whom it makes sense to say that He has moral duties that he is obligated to live up to. The skeptic then claims that the fact that evil exists shows that He has failed to live up to them, and the theistic response then becomes an argument to the effect that He really does live up to them, appearances notwithstanding.

But from a classical theistic perspective, this whole debate is farcical and based on a deeply distorted conception of God. God is not "a good person," sort of like the best human being you can think of only even better, a cosmic Boy Scout with an infinite number of merit badges. God is Goodness Itself, and concepts like "virtue," "good character," "fulfilling duties" and the like cannot even be sensibly applied to Him.

But when we start conceiving of God on the model of human beings, a la ID and Paley's design argument, this is the sort of crass anthropomorphism we're led into.

You have yet to bridge the gap, even a little, between the Trinitarian God revealed in Christ and the metaphysical conceptions that pass for God in classical theism.

Really, Michael, what's the big mystery? Classical philosophical theology tells us e.g. that God creates and sustains the world. The Bible tells us the same. Sounds like a perfect match to me. Of course, classical philosophical theology doesn't say anything about the Trinity, but it doesn't deny it either. So again, what's the problem, exactly?

It's a very simply point, really. And it is a point that my humble little analogy about the detective was meant to illustrate. I notice that you didn't address it. Probably 'cause you were too busy accusing me of not answering your points, even though I've now done so... oh, at least three times, I think. Starting to get boring.

Do I actually have to tell you that God is not a concept?

Um, thanks for the offer, but no, you don't have to tell me. But who ever said He was? Indeed, what would it even mean to say "God is a concept"? Who is this person saying all of these strange things you keep attributing to me?

They universally reject the methods, the terminology, and the rubric of Aristotle.

They do? Wow, I never caught that in my reading of the Bible. Indeed, I didn't know Aristotle was so much as mentioned there! Must have been in one of those "Apocryphal" books Luther was always trying to chuck out...

Rather, your neglect is an evasion of the question.

Honestly, fella, I'm not sure I even know what the question is anymore. Seems to me you're arguing with some figment of your imagination, not anything I've been saying...

Michael Bauman,

Ari, Here's what I meant by a commitment to Aristotle: How would you explain transubstantiation and leave Aristotle out?

Try pointing out to me that the Western Fathers, never mind practically all the Greek Fathers, as well as the Cappadocians didn't use Hellenistic concepts and vocabulary.

(By the way, I thought you were intimately familiar with the theologies that came to constitute the orthodoxy of the great ecumenical councils? Do you really want to engage me on this particular topic -- especially on a thread dealing with ID?)

The latter merely appropriated the terms but emptied them of their Hellenistic content, giving them new meaning, so that there would be no such debt to Greek philosophy at all!

It's no less true of the Latin tradition, that, for instance, Platonic terms as used by Augustine or Aristotelian terms as used by the scholastics do not always mean what they did for Plato or Aristotle; that they take on new meanings and uses to fit the needs of theology.

Some historians of scholastic thought as Vos go so far as to argue that the history of Latin philosophy is the story of the overcoming of Greek conceptual structures through the thinking-out of theological implications.

Myself, I prefer to deal with what things actually _imply_ rather than with what one might be "led into" by them. This seems especially important to me when we're talking about real evidence that cries out to be evaluated and that flatly conflicts with the incredibly wrong-headed and pernicious worldview that is on the attack all around us. It just doesn't seem to me a terribly telling objection to say of a _good empirical argument_ from evidence that _actually is there_ for an _importantly true conclusion_ that we shouldn't make it because someone might be "led into" false ideas by following that evidence to that conclusion. In fact, that's just a strange way to approach the entire issue, it seems to me.

No, I'm afraid that people might take on views that are incompatible with classical theism.
That is probably a legitimate fear, I suppose. But if ID is merely a forensic conclusion that biological things are the product of an intelligent agent rather than merely chance and physical laws, then this isn't really an objection to a true forensic conclusion reached by evaluating evidence: it is an attempt to head off expected and all too typical errors people will construct from that conclusion. It is as if I were to resist the Big Bang as a conclusion because I think people will make theological mistakes in evaluating its significance.

Ed,

You kind of lost me somewhere on the jump between ID arguments and thinking of God as "a cosmic Boy Scout with an infinite number of merit badges." To be perfectly honest I just don't see where that connection would even conceivably come from. I think it's possible to hold ID and have different views as to whether God does or does not have moral duties. I guess I don't really see ID as pushing more one way than the other.

I think the only implication of ID is that God intervenes directly in nature. But then, the Bible says the same thing. True, the Bible also says that he upholds all things by the word of his power (which I think is the aspect that you're wanting to emphasize). But the God revealed in Scripture is also one who acts in special ways at specific times and places in history: most notably at creation, in the history of Israel, and in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. ID is simply sayin that there's some evidence here of the former just like arguments for the Resurrection seek to show evidence for the latter.

I'm also not really clear on why you think ID assumes a mechanistic view of the universe. Do you mean a Newtonian one, or that ID theorists don't believe in quantum theory or something? Or do you simply mean the idea that nature runs on its own apart from God and that he only intervenes occasionally? If you mean this latter view I don't think that's correct. Whether one regards the observed regularities in nature as a result of an autonomous creation or as a result of God upholding it by his power is not something ID addresses. But the fact is that there ARE observable regularities in nature. ID simply seeks to demonstrate that what we see is not consistent with metaphysical naturalism.

But if someone ended up with erroneous views of God then I'd just get out my Bible and teach them. Laymen in the churches in which I've pastored have all kinds of funky ideas about things, even without any help from ID.

To all,

I'm going to have to print out this post and the comments and read them about five times before I understand everyone's arguments. But this whole discussion struck me as particularly relevant to the chapter of the book I'm currently reading, "From Dawn to Decadence" by Jacques Barzun, called "The Invisible College". In this chapter he deals with both Descartes and Pascal, but his comments on Pascal seem particularly relevent to this discussion:

"What then is the importance of Pascal's distinction [referring here to the distinction between two types of thought -- geometrical (or analytical) and intuitive]? It is as an axiom for the critic and a warning against SCIENTISM. Ten succinct paragraphs of the Penses state it with finality. Scientism is the fallacy of believing that the method of science must be used on all forms of experience and, given time, will settle every issue. Again and again, the bright thought as occurred, "If we can only define our terms, if we can only find the basic unit, if we can spot the right 'indicators', we can then reason and measure flawlessly, we shall have created one more science." And nearly as often, the shout has been heard "Eureka! We are scientists," the new science being some portion of the desired Science of Man -- history, sociology, psychology, archaeology, linguistics, and other more or less short-lived ologies. This hope and this pretension began to be heard in a mild way early in the 18C, before Newton's death; Vico's "New Science", for example, is an important theory of history, but no more a science than its many successors with the same confident title...

The clue to the fallacy of SCIENTISM is this: geometry (in all sense of the term) is an ABSTRACTION from experience; it could not exist without the work of the human mind on what it encounters in the world. Hence the realm of abstraction, useful and far from unreal, is thin and bare and poorer than the world it is drawn from. It is therefore an idle dream to think of someday getting along without direct dealings with what abstraction leaves untouched. The meaning of this contrast is that the enterprise of science has its limits.

Pascal does not stop at showing between the two distinct grips the human mind has on the world. In a widely quoted passage he adds: "The heart has its reasons that the reason does not know." The heart here is not merely the seat of the affections; it is desire in general, the impulses to action, and Reason is the discriminating servant that carries out some of them. Note that the word "reason" in the dictum is used in two senses: the reasons of the heart -- its needs and motives -- are not products of reasoning, or there would be no spontaneity in conduct, no sympathy, friendship, or love in the world."

To all,

I'm going to have to print out this post and the comments and read them about five times before I understand everyone's arguments. But this whole discussion struck me as particularly relevant to the chapter of the book I'm currently reading, "From Dawn to Decadence" by Jacques Barzun, called "The Invisible College". In this chapter he deals with both Descartes and Pascal, but his comments on Pascal seem particularly relevent to this discussion:

"What then is the importance of Pascal's distinction [referring here to the distinction between two types of thought -- geometrical (or analytical) and intuitive]? It is as an axiom for the critic and a warning against SCIENTISM. Ten succinct paragraphs of the Penses state it with finality. Scientism is the fallacy of believing that the method of science must be used on all forms of experience and, given time, will settle every issue. Again and again, the bright thought as occurred, "If we can only define our terms, if we can only find the basic unit, if we can spot the right 'indicators', we can then reason and measure flawlessly, we shall have created one more science." And nearly as often, the shout has been heard "Eureka! We are scientists," the new science being some portion of the desired Science of Man -- history, sociology, psychology, archaeology, linguistics, and other more or less short-lived ologies. This hope and this pretension began to be heard in a mild way early in the 18C, before Newton's death; Vico's "New Science", for example, is an important theory of history, but no more a science than its many successors with the same confident title...

The clue to the fallacy of SCIENTISM is this: geometry (in all sense of the term) is an ABSTRACTION from experience; it could not exist without the work of the human mind on what it encounters in the world. Hence the realm of abstraction, useful and far from unreal, is thin and bare and poorer than the world it is drawn from. It is therefore an idle dream to think of someday getting along without direct dealings with what abstraction leaves untouched. The meaning of this contrast is that the enterprise of science has its limits.

Pascal does not stop at showing between the two distinct grips the human mind has on the world. In a widely quoted passage he adds: "The heart has its reasons that the reason does not know." The heart here is not merely the seat of the affections; it is desire in general, the impulses to action, and Reason is the discriminating servant that carries out some of them. Note that the word "reason" in the dictum is used in two senses: the reasons of the heart -- its needs and motives -- are not products of reasoning, or there would be no spontaneity in conduct, no sympathy, friendship, or love in the world."

Sorry for the double post...the website is still acting up! Back to work and then on to the 17C with Barzun!

- Jeff

Oy vey! I meant 18C.

- Jeff

Oy vey! I meant 18C.

- Jeff

I would add to what John Fraser says one other thing: Some people sympathetic to ID, including Mike Behe himself, are much concerned to emphasize the possibility of God's "front-loading" everything at the Big Bang so that, e.g., genetic mutations that would not have occurred undesigned do occur at the necessary time in history. Speaking for myself, I question whether it is even physically possible or scientifically meaningful to speak of historically occurring mutations' being "front-loaded at the Big Bang," and I rather wish Mike wouldn't worry so much about arguing that ID doesn't require intervention. (I said this in so many words in my "pushing molecules around" post.) However, the fact remains that a very prominent and much-disliked ID theorist who works in biology (which is what makes people most foam at the mouth, I find, both theistic evolutionists and non-theistic evolutionists), is on record as trying to distance ID from post-Big Bang intervention by God. So if that sort of intervention bothers anyone, well...

It just doesn't seem to me a terribly telling objection to say of a _good empirical argument_ from evidence that _actually is there_ for an _importantly true conclusion_ that we shouldn't make it because someone might be "led into" false ideas by following that evidence to that conclusion. In fact, that's just a strange way to approach the entire issue, it seems to me.

Lydia (and Zippy), first of all, I deny that it is a "good empirical argument" vis-a-vis the dispute with atheism and naturalism, because by ID proponents' own admission their position does not have any anti-naturalistic implications. For they say that their conclusions are entirely consistent with the "designer's" being an extra-terrestrial. The most they claim to show, then, is that the specific naturalistic account of the origin of life on earth currently favored by most Darwinians is wrong, but not that any naturalistic account is wrong. Big deal.

Secondly, my distinction between what a claim strictly implies and the ways in which it might merely be misleading was not intended to let ID off the hook in the way you seem to think.

What I conceded does not imply false theological ideas is the mere claim that such-and-such was designed. Hence, if some lay reader comes away from ID with that conclusion, and that's it, then no harm has been done.

BUT a mechanistic conception of nature, and an anthropomoprhic approach to conceiving of God (i.e. by analogizing from human beings and progressively stripping away human limitations, etc.) are not merely misleading but wrong, and DO imply false and pernicious theological ideas (in the ways I've described above). Hence, to the extent that ID is committed to the latter ideas, it is inherently pernicious and not merely potentially misleading.

The most they claim to show, then, is that the specific naturalistic account of the origin of life on earth currently favored by most Darwinians is wrong, but not that any naturalistic account is wrong. Big deal.

First of all, to show that something--maybe quite a number of somethings--was/were designed by an intelligent agent is, in fact, to show something a lot more than that "the specific naturalistic account of the origin of life on earth currently favored by most Darwinians is wrong." It is to show that a personal agent made this stuff. And that is a big deal. I'm surprised it doesn't seem so to you, but it's actually quite radically different from anything remotely accepted in present scientific circles as an explanation of what we have around us.

BUT a mechanistic conception of nature, and an anthropomoprhic approach to conceiving of God (i.e. by analogizing from human beings and progressively stripping away human limitations, etc.) are not merely misleading but wrong, and DO imply false and pernicious theological ideas

I have to say that I think there's a "trying to have it both ways" feeling about all of this. On the one hand, Ed and Frank, neither of you has said anything that shows that the argument that such-and-such features of the physical world were designed is not, in fact, well-supported by the evidence. Frank has expressly allowed that it might be a good argument, but prefers a different one or ones. Ed, you never seem to say anything that actually addresses the empirical strength of the case beyond rehearsing a "god of the gaps" reconstruction that does not reckon with the strength of a comparative inference to the best explanation in this area. Moreover, you seem to want to avoid even getting into all that by making some sort of quasi a priori argument to the effect that we shouldn't even _consider_ that sort of empirical argument in this area because it might involve us in wrong concepts of God or a wrong concept of nature--specifically, a "mechanistic" concept of nature and an "anthromorphic" concept of God. We've already been over the "anthromorphic" thing, and I've argued that Christians are sawing off their own log if they shy so far away from "anthropomorphism" as to refuse to analogize divine artifacts (such as revelations in language) to human ones. But in that case, there is nothing a priori theologically out of bounds about analogizing artifacts which might be divine ones--biological objects, for example--to human artifacts.

As for a "mechanistic" concept of nature, I have to say that it seems to me that here that is simply hand-waving. Presumably a well-educated contemporary man who happens to be an Aristotelian in metaphysics _realizes_ the nature and activity of, say, protein coding or the parts of the bacterial flagellum or the intracellular transport system. If being an Aristotelian in metaphysics makes such a person uncomfortable with talking about such things, and even with recognizing, yes, their objective resemblance to mechanical and computational objects (like computers) that humans make, then I would have to say any such person would be an ideologue. I imagine Aristotle himself would have been incredibly fascinated to find out all this stuff, since he was a true natural philosopher. So once we realize that this stuff exists and that it is in fact _like that_ at the micro-level, then either that evidence supports its having been intelligently designed or it doesn't. Period. Saying that somehow it's somehow bad to talk about this stuff and make the forensic argument for design that is objectively there, because to do so involves a "mechanistic concept of nature" just isn't, itself, an argument.

John,

I think the only implication of ID is that God intervenes directly in nature.

If that's all ID said then there'd be no dispute, since Thomists agree with that claim, though they are generally suspicious of ID. But that's not all ID says. It purports to offer a disinctive method for detecting design in nature. Moroever, its proponents often insist that their position has no necessary connection with divine design, specifically, at all.

Re: mechanism, as I've already said, what I mean by that is the denial that final causes (or teleology) and formal causes are intrinsic to nature. ID accepts this denial, which is why it concedes that it is theoretically possible for there to be no divine mind ordering the universe and holds only that this supposition is "improbable." For Aquinas, by contrast, it is strictly impossible that our world could exist at all without its teleological features. You've either got a world, teleology, and God altogether, or, apart from God, no world or teleology at all. What you can't have is what ID concedes you might have at least in theory, viz. a world but no teleology or God.

Also, I didn't say that ID all by itself leads directly to the moral ideas in question. As I've emphasized, ID proponents often concede that they cannot even so much as rule out that the "designer" is an extra-terrestrial. At the same time, ID is often interpreted as if it lent support to theism, and/or as if it is a way to revitalize Paley-style "design arguments." (If this is inconsistent with the claim that it can't even get us beyond extra-terrestrials, that isn't my fault!)

On the latter interpretation, though, the way the designer, and thus God, is going to be conceived of, since it will be on analogy with and extrapolation from the nature of human designers, is inevitably going to be anthropomorphic. And that is what leads in turn to the idea of God as a kind of moral agent, etc.

In short, the point is that if we distinguish between "classical theism" and "theistic perosnalism" (to use Brian Davies' label again), then arguments of the sort Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, et al. would deploy lead to the former, while arguments of the Paley and ID sort lead to the latter. But the former is paradigmatically orthodox and the latter is dubiously orthodox at best.

Nor, contrary to what you suggest, is it sufficient merely to pull out one's Bible to refute theological errors resulting from ID, any more than with a Jehovah's Witness, who will happily quote chapter and verse back to you in support of his anti-Trinitarian convictions. For "theistic personalism" is often defended precisely in the name of arriving at a more "Biblical" conception of God.

Are the anthropomorphic images of God used in the Bible meant to be taken at face value or not? Does God really have eyes? Does He really get angry in just the way we do? Does He have a literal footstool, and thus feet? Does He walk through gardens in the cool of the day looking for Adam? Does He change His mind? The Bible ain't gonna tell you all by itself. Some body of theory must be brought to bear -- ultimately one approvaed of by the living authority of the Church, I would say -- if these questions are going to be sorted out. And that body of theory had better not be anything in conflict with classical theism -- hence the danger of ID.

Lydia,

I said it's not a big deal vis-a-vis the dispute with atheism and naturalism. There are, after all, several prominent naturalists who are quite happy to acknowledge that neither Darwinism nor any other naturalistic theory has come close to explaining everything that a naturalist needs to explain. David Stove, Jerry Fodor, Colin McGinn, and Thomas Nagel would be examples. But they would go on to insist that this has no tendency to cast doubt on naturalism. They would say "We think we have reason to think naturalism is true. Can we explain everything in naturalistic terms? No, but why should we expect to be able to? Maybe the human mind is just too limited, or maybe we need another 500 years of scientific research, or maybe..."

So, is "this was designed by an intelligent agent" a significant conclusion? Of course it is. Just not as a way of damaging the naturalist cause. I don't see why a naturalist couldn't shrug and say "OK, so maybe it was aliens. So what?"

Re: the specifics of ID arguments, the reason I don't get into them is not because the scientific issues involved aren't interesting -- of course they are interesting -- but because they have no theological implications, and what we are discussing here is the theological significance of ID. The most ID even claims to show is that current naturalistic models don't explain this or that. No doubt they are right, but so what? The theologically interesting question is whether there are aspects of the world that could not even in principle be explained by any naturalistic theory.

ID doesn't say so, because as I keep saying, it concedes the mechanistic model of nature, which is really the heart and soul of naturalism. Why you think this is mere "hand-waving," I do not know. Obviously if I am right that formal and final causes are real, then the whole naturalistic project is undermined, which is considerably more theologically significant than showing e.g. that the bacterial flagellum might have been put together by (who knows?) an alien in a spaceship somewhere!

Lydia,

I said it's not a big deal vis-a-vis the dispute with atheism and naturalism. There are, after all, several prominent naturalists who are quite happy to acknowledge that neither Darwinism nor any other naturalistic theory has come close to explaining everything that a naturalist needs to explain. David Stove, Jerry Fodor, Colin McGinn, and Thomas Nagel would be examples. But they would go on to insist that this has no tendency to cast doubt on naturalism. They would say "We think we have reason to think naturalism is true. Can we explain everything in naturalistic terms? No, but why should we expect to be able to? Maybe the human mind is just too limited, or maybe we need another 500 years of scientific research, or maybe..."

So, is "this was designed by an intelligent agent" a significant conclusion? Of course it is. Just not as a way of damaging the naturalist cause. I don't see why a naturalist couldn't shrug and say "OK, so maybe it was aliens. So what?"

Re: the specifics of ID arguments, the reason I don't get into them is not because the scientific issues involved aren't interesting -- of course they are interesting -- but because they have no theological implications, and what we are discussing here is the theological significance of ID. The most ID even claims to show is that current naturalistic models don't explain this or that. No doubt they are right, but so what? The theologically interesting question is whether there are aspects of the world that could not even in principle be explained by any naturalistic theory.

ID doesn't say so, because as I keep saying, it concedes the mechanistic model of nature, which is really the heart and soul of naturalism. Why you think this is mere "hand-waving," I do not know. Obviously if I am right that formal and final causes are real, then the whole naturalistic project is undermined, which is considerably more theologically significant than showing e.g. that the bacterial flagellum might have been put together by (who knows?) an alien in a spaceship somewhere!

I don't see why a naturalist couldn't shrug and say "OK, so maybe it was aliens. So what?"

I do. (Though actually, I believe Richard Dawkins made himself look pretty bad by saying something a tiny bit in that direction in the interview in Expelled.) The reason a naturalist _doesn't_ say that is because he doesn't believe it's true. And the reason he doesn't believe it's true is because a) we don't see any evidence of any continued interaction with such alien beings and b) we don't, actually, think it terribly plausible that ordinary alien beings would know how to do all of these things at this micro-level. The naturalist doesn't say that because he knows perfectly well that the idea of a Maker who made a lot of things a long, long time ago and then stopped making them sounds _way_ too much like the biblical account of creation, and he doesn't want to touch that with a ten-foot pole.

The most ID even claims to show is that current naturalistic models don't explain this or that.

Again, no. Your earlier statement was more accurate: this was designed by an intelligent agent
Which is not the merely negative statement but a positive one. There is a fairly important difference between the two claims.

ID doesn't say so, because as I keep saying, it concedes the mechanistic model of nature, which is really the heart and soul of naturalism.

But you haven't shown that this is true. In your response to John, you gloss this claim (at least I think I'm right to connect these in this way) like this:

mechanism, as I've already said, what I mean by that is the denial that final causes (or teleology) and formal causes are intrinsic to nature. ID accepts this denial, which is why it concedes that it is theoretically possible for there to be no divine mind ordering the universe and holds only that this supposition is "improbable."

Now, you have not shown any way in which the statement "there are no final and formal causes intrinsic to nature" follows from any proposition that is necessary to the argument from (say) the flagellum or the intracellular transport system or the blood-clotting cascade to a personal agent who designed the same. And I dare to go out on a limb and say that you haven't shown that because there is no such relationship of implication between any such crucial premise and any such conclusion! Or, again, your argument in the comment to John seems to require the assumption that if one makes a probabilistic argument to the existence of a designer (who is taken, perhaps on independent grounds, to be in fact the Christian God) that this involves _inherently_ a denial that the being in question is actually a necessary being. But you haven't shown that this follows. Because, in fact, it doesn't follow. One can argue probabilistically for a conclusion which can also be seen to be true necessarily.

I don't see why a naturalist couldn't shrug and say "OK, so maybe it was aliens. So what?"
Francis Crick famously did just that at one point. (Google "directed panspermia").

I tend to agree that ID, understood as a forensic conclusion, which seems to be its own self-understanding, isn't an irrefutable empirical death-blow to naturalism. If ID understood as a forensic conclusion is right, it is logically possible for the desperately obstinate to hang onto metaphysical naturalism by the toenails, screaming above the abyss. I don't see how that reduces the forensic conclusion to complete insignificance, particularly in a culture steeped in scientism.

If the average Joe understood - clearly understood - that in order to believe that life in the universe arose through nothing but random chance and physical laws one has to believe that a super-race of space aliens seeded Earth with the first humans, well, that would, it seems to me, have some significance.

I know why this discussion has an odd feel to it. Usually criticisms of ID proceed from the idea that it is not science, and is therefore can be dismissed as insignificant. Ed's criticism seems to center around the idea that it is science, and therefore can be dismissed as insignificant.

Lydia,

I never said that ID theorists concede mechanism in the sense of explicitly denying that formal and final causes are real. They concede it in the sense of not challenging the claim that there are no formal or final causes. They simply take the mechanistic view for granted and see where they can go from there. But wherever else you can get from there -- including to an intelligence of some sort or other -- you can't get to the falsity of naturalism, much less to classical theism. Whether we want to take as the starting point ID in general or some specific argument about the bacterial flagellum (or whatever) in particular is irrelevant. Either way, the point is that you can't get from A to B.

Now some IDers might personally believe in formal and final causes. I assume most do not, but it doesn't matter. For either way, insofar as they are willing to concede mechanism for the sake of argument, they are thereby willing to concede for the sake of argument something that is inconsistent with (or at the very least sits poorly with) classical theism and which of its nature cannot take them beyond naturalism. Why they would want to make such a concession when the argument in question is supposed to be an argument that helps the case for classical theism against naturalism, I have no idea, but there it is.

You are right that Dawkins looks stupid in making the concession he does, but that is because he has foolishly locked himself into a position according to which Darwinism is so marvelous and all-encompassing that it can cure wooden legs (as David Stove might have said). When he is forced to concede that maybe it doesn't after all performed as advertised, that isn't really a blow to naturalism per se, but only to fanatical Darwinism specifically.

Anyway, it is the humbler sort of naturalist -- again, a Stove, Fodor, Nagel, or McGinnn -- who need not be troubled by the "alien" possibility. For their position does not require them to posit any particular mechanism to explain this or that, but only to deny that formal causes, final causes, immaterial substances, deities, angels and so forth play any role. Beyond that they can always plead "not enough empirical evidence yet," or built-in cognitive limitations a la McGinn.

IDers should remember what they are always righly insisting on: that naturalism is really a metaphyscial theory, not a scientific one. But for that very reason, it is not going to be refuted by doing science, either "ordinary science" (to use Thomas Kuhn's term) or the sort of "revolutionary science" that ID wants to push. One has to hit back at it with a superior metaphysics.

That's not a bad summary, Zippy, though I'd want to qualify it significantly, partly in terms of what I say in my previous post.

Also, Zippy, I don't think that science is "insignificant," full stop, but rather that (a) science as conceived of in mechanistic terms is not going to have the theological significance IDers think it does, and (b) if science is ever going to have such relevance, the Aristotelian conception of science has to be revived. (Of course, I do not mean by this that Aristotelian physics and the like should be revived! I mean that a broadly Aristotelian philosophy of science and philosophy of nature should be revived.)

They concede it in the sense of not challenging the claim that there are no formal or final causes. They simply take the mechanistic view for granted and see where they can go from there.

But look, the phrase "taking something for granted" usually has a specific meaning. And in fact, if there is so be any problem with "conceding something for the sake of the argument" in this context it has to mean something more than, "Suppose such-and-such _were_ true, we would still be able to see that X." For the latter really doesn't have any bad tendencies and simply shows that the argument is independent of the question that has been set aside. "Taking a mechanistic view for granted"--again, if itis to be a problem--needs to mean something stronger. Normally, if I used that phrase, I would mean that it is an implicit (perhaps not recognized even by the person himself) premise of his argument that mechanism is true, or that he _needs_ it to be a premise of his argument or else his argument doesn't work. Again, I could say this even if I were saying that he didn't realize this or didn't explicitly state it. But you can't show _that_ to be true, because it isn't true. There isn't even such a necessary implicit premise. So the most you might be able to say is, "An argument for intelligent design of certain features of the universe sets aside the question of immanent purposes in all of nature." But that doesn't sound like much of a criticism, does it?

I mean, I'm going to say this bluntly: An argument for the existence of God from the resurrection of Jesus Christ or from any miracle can also "set aside" the whole question of Aristotelian metaphysics! An ancient Hebrew could have overwhelming non-deductive evidence for the existence of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob from personally witnessing the parting of the Red Sea or the confrontation between Elijah and the prophets of Baal while merely setting aside the question of immanent purposes in nature or Aristotelian/Thomistic metaphysics! Not every issue has to be involved in every argument. The fact that some argument doesn't get into the questions you are particularly concerned about just isn't much of a criticism of said argument when it is put that minimally. And I'm afraid that's the most you can really get here and that terms like "grants" or "concedes" or "assumes" simply muddy the waters. The only way you could say more than that would be if you could show that the argument in question *needs as a premise* the proposition you find objectionable in order for the argument to work.

Although I find myself sympathetic with Mr. Beckwith's epistemological concerns regarding modern Enlightenment science and the endorsement of these underpinnings by studying in this milieu, I believe it would serve Protestant, Orthodox and Catholic followers of Christ to listen carefully and closely to the claims of Paul in Romans 1. He says "For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse." (vs. 19-20 ESV) Since as Christ followers we view these statements as true, we KNOW there is a necessary connection between the knowledge of God's existence and the knowledge of His power and nature "in the things that have been made." I believe ID begins to plow this ground by creating space for valid teleological truth claims and we need to encourage this exploration within the scientific community of our day while still pressing forward on the philosophical front.

Ed,

No doubt there are many ways to effectively critique naturalism. The route that ID chooses to go is not to try to show that naturalism has an impoverished ontology, but rather that the account of the natural order that results from it (Darwinism) is demonstrably false even on its own terms. True, there are Darwinists who are not naturalists, and possibly even naturalists who are not Darwinists. But a great many skeptics have been lured into naturalism via Darwinism. I guess I don’t really see that presenting a superior metaphysic is likely to have much impact in pulling them back out. Naturalists don’t really go in for metaphysics. More importantly, it doesn’t give Christian young people anything to hold on to as they head off to university to have their faith challenged by rabid Darwinists. I don’t think we’ve yet seen the impact of ID over the long haul as a new generation rises up with ID concepts in their background. As more people challenge Darwinists to actually prove their theory with more than just-so stories, I think more people will see that their Emperor has no clothes.

I would echo what Lydia is saying here. Arguments for the Resurrection based on the early eyewitness testimony of the apostles don’t yield deductive certainty, either. One could concede that Jesus died and was buried in a tomb, that the tomb was found empty on the third day and that he appeared to his disciples afterwards, but then argue that this is all explained by the fact that alien body-snatchers had removed Jesus’ body from the tomb, and the person the disciples believed was Jesus was actually a shape-shifter from Alpha Centauri who was just having a little fun with them. No argument for the Resurrection can logically rule out such a scenario. It’s just as consistent with the evidence as the hypothesis of the Resurrection. Does that make the argument from eyewitness testimony a bad argument? I sure don’t think so. I think Zippy said it best when he said that “it is logically possible for the desperately obstinate to hang onto metaphysical naturalism by the toenails, screaming above the abyss.” If someone would rather believe in shape-shifters from Alpha Centauri than God there’s not much you can do.

As I've emphasized, ID proponents often concede that they cannot even so much as rule out that the "designer" is an extra-terrestrial. At the same time, ID is often interpreted as if it lent support to theism, and/or as if it is a way to revitalize Paley-style "design arguments." (If this is inconsistent with the claim that it can't even get us beyond extra-terrestrials, that isn't my fault!)

This is why inference to the best explanation becomes important. There’s a difference between not being able to logically rule out exta-terrestrials and not being able to “get beyond” extra-terrestrials. Arguments for the Resurrection can’t logically rule out shape-shifting aliens, but for a person with a reasonable mind that’s not going to be much of live option. I think there’s a reason why directed pan-spermia is not highly regarded as a theory and doesn’t have much support even among naturalists. It’s just kind of a goofy idea altogether and actually doesn’t solve much of anything. But we’re not comparing ID to directed pan-spermia, we’re comparing it to naturalistic Darwinism. ID comes out ahead in that contest as far as I’m concerned. We could compare ID to directed pan-spermia if there were more than 10 people who actually believed the latter. And I think we'd come out ahead of the "pan-spermians" too.

Going back to the whole anthropomorphism business, you said

Are the anthropomorphic images of God used in the Bible meant to be taken at face value or not? Does God really have eyes? Does He really get angry in just the way we do? Does He have a literal footstool, and thus feet? Does He walk through gardens in the cool of the day looking for Adam? Does He change His mind? The Bible ain't gonna tell you all by itself. Some body of theory must be brought to bear -- ultimately one approvaed of by the living authority of the Church, I would say -- if these questions are going to be sorted out. And that body of theory had better not be anything in conflict with classical theism -- hence the danger of ID.

I really hope you’re not suggesting that ID thinking tends to make people believe that God literally has eyes and feet and all the rest of this. The very definition of anthropomorphism is ascribing human characteristics to things which don’t actually possess them. I honestly don’t think ID leads people to think that God literally has eyes. But if you're simply saying that ID doesn't provide any resources for deciding these questions, all I can say is "so what?" I don't think you've actually shown how ID conflicts with classical theism except by what you see as the implied acceptance of non-Aristotelian ontological categories evidenced by ID not actively challenging those categories. Besides the fact that this is an argument from silence, the dangers that you seem to be so afraid of just don’t seem that legitimate to me.

I think something we have to get clear is this: Is it or isn't it part of the neo-Thomist/Aristotelian position (according to Ed and/or Frank) that any argument that lends support to the existence of God in a non-deductive fashion is ipso facto assuming a wrong view of God and a wrong view (perhaps a mechanistic view, which is wrong from the Aristotelian/neo-Thomist perspective) of the physical facts on which the argument is based? Do non-deductiveness and the absence of absolute deductive certainty in the conclusion *in themselves* entail that something wrong is being assumed about the world and/or God? Because I've gotta say, at that point, I'm going to start sympathizing more than ever with some of Michael Bauman's comments about the God of the Bible and the God of philosophy. God seems, from what we see of him in Scripture, exceedingly fond of manifesting himself in ways that give extremely, sometimes even overwhelmingly, strong evidence for his existence but that do not entail it deductively and with apodictic certainty. See my comments above about the parting of the Red Sea and the fire on the altar of Elijah.

Lydia,

I feel like I keep having to repeat myself, because it seems to me that you and some others are simply not seeing the point. My beef is, again, specifically with the mechanistic conception of nature and with anthropomorphic approaches to conceiving of God -- not necessarily with arguments that are non-deductive, not necessarily with non-Aristotelian views (you can reject mechanism witout being an Aristotelian), not with the bare notion of inferring design, and not with any number of other things that people keep bringing up.

The reason, again, is that mechanism and anthropomorphism are incompatible with, or (at the very least -- to be very generous) very hard to square with, an orthodox conception of God. Thus any view which, like ID, presupposes mechanism and anthropomorohism even just for the sake of argument, is simply going to be useless at best for defending orthodox theism, and indeed will if anything only tend to lead us away from it, at least if consistently pursued.

Consider the following analogy. Suppose someone said "I don't necessarily endorse the Hobbes/Gauthier contractarian theory of morality. Surely it would be worthwhile, though, as a way of defending natural law theory against its critics, to show how contractarian premises lead to certain conclusions that natural law also supports. Indeed, let's market this approach as a great way to stick it to contractarians who hate natural law, and as one alternative defense among others of natural law theory. Who could object to that?"

Well, any person who understands both contractarianism and natural law theory would object to it, because the whole project would be farcical. Any conclusions you could derive from contractarianism would be "the same" as the ones you get from natural law theory only on a superficial reading. The reason is that from a NL point of view, contractarianism simply strips away anything that could possibly count as genuine moral content and replaces it with a non-moral ersatz, a prudential command based in self-interest. To accept contractarian premises even "for the sake of argument" is simply unilaterally to disarm before the dicussion even gets going. It's saying "First let me reject for the sake of argument everything that makes natural law intelligible. Now let's go on to derive some conclusions favorable to natural law." Ain't gonna happen.

Similarly, to concede mechanism even "for the sake of argument" is to concede, among other things, the idea of a universe which can at least in principle operate independently of God's sustaining action, like a clock that can keep running even after the clockmaker has departed. It is, accordingly, already to abandon the classical theistic conception of God's relationship to the world. To concede even "for the sake of argument" that we should think of God anthropomorphically, on the model of a watchmaker or architect who fiddles about with pre-existing bits of matter and just nudges them in directions different from those they would otherwise take, also already distorts our understanding of God's relationship to the world and, insofar as it invites us to think of him by extrapolating from the idea of human designers, on top of that distorts our understanding of what God is like in Himself.

In short, it is, as in the contractarian/natural law example, effectively to give away the store from the beginning.

To accept contractarian premises even "for the sake of argument" is simply unilaterally to disarm before the dicussion even gets going.

AMEN! HEAR! HEAR!

And to accept ID premises even "for the sake of argument" is simply to concede aspects of the Christian God before the discussion even gets going!

As I said before, stalwart proponents of ID advocate an Intelligent Designer -- not a Supernatural One!

Christians who would go on to accept ID on its terms are folks already at the altar, striking the match on the ready to burn incense onto Caesar!

I keep feeling like _I_ am repeating myself, Ed. Okay, let me try this. In your analogy, the person making the argument *uses contractarian premises*. Right?

So, please, _show me_ the "mechanistic premises," stated as propositions, that are intrinsic to the argument from, for example, the structure of the bacterial flagellum or the intracellular transport system to the existence of an intelligent agent that designed those systems. Or even _show me_ the mechanistic premise--it's gotta be a premise, now--that is definitely implicit in some particular version of that argument--Behe's, for example, without which the argument cannot go. No vague talk allowed about how it encourages this or that picture of God or concedes this or that. Your analogy supposes an argument where the person *actually starts from specific, real, identifiable premises* of contractarianism and then purports to get his conclusions. You have yet to show how any objectively objectionable view of God, even on your own views, constitutes a premise of any ID argument.

Let me say this again, even at the risk of offending: Presumably any Aristotelianism/neo-Thomism held by any educated man in 2008 is compatible with the empirical facts of the structure and operation of the cell, the bacterial flagellum, the code-like nature of DNA, and so forth. I've been assuming, on the principle of charity, that you wouldn't want to deny any of that in the service of opposing a "mechanistic view of nature." Well, I'm sorry, but there's no getting around the fact that those micro-structures _do_ appear machine-like, that the bacterial flagellum _does_ have a U-joint, and so forth. It's rather like what P. J. O'Rourke says about feminists who try to eliminate talk of a stallion guarding his mares: "The stallion will keep doing it whether we use the phrase or not." Similarly, these things will keep operating like computers and so forth whether neo-Thomist-Aristotelians like us to talk that way or not. So you're going to _have_ to construe your Aristotelianism in such a way that it doesn't rule out these sorts of empirical descriptions when they actually legitimately apply. And if that means that God--who you presumably also believe made them--has, in fact, done things that can be understood as being *in some sense* like what human engineers do, then, too, I do not see how you can say that we mustn't talk about that because it might lead us to have a problem with the Problem of Evil or something, or because it doesn't sound Aristotelian enough, or something. I'm just not seeing a rigorous argument that some _specific_ _faulty_ concept about God is intrinsic to any ID argument, even where "faulty" is construed in your own neo-Thomist terms.

Addendum: Based on your comments above, Ed, here are a few candidates for such a premise:

"There are no immanent purposes in nature."

"There are no final causes in nature."

"God does not sustain all of creation."

"God is not a necessary being."

You're going to have a dickens of a time showing that any one of these is necessary to anyone's argument, including the arguments that actual ID-ers actually make, from specific aspects of the world to a designer who deliberately made them. And if you can't, I contend that you should stop saying that ID "gives away the store" or "assumes a mechanistic concept of nature" or anything of the sort.

Hey Lydia,

When I first read Philip Johnson and the other ID-ers back in the 90's, I became convinced that there must be a God and, therefore, abandoned materialism. Boy, I guess I really misunderstood those fellas. I should have instead concluded that there still was no God, and we were created by aliens.

What's more, irony of ironies, my confusion led me to eventually study the works of Aristotle and Aquinas. Now I know that God exists with a more perfect certainty.

It's a good thing I'm dumb.

Yes, George R., you are indeed the measure by which Truth must be judged.

It's probably only fair for me to say, in case anyone didn't guess (!), that I am not an Aristotelian nor a Thomist myself. But this is a logical issue as far as I am concerned. I think neo-Thomists who wish to criticize ID need to come down to brass tacks or stop criticizing it in these terms. As far as I can tell, the arguments in question are (as Zippy implies above) compatible with various metaphysical views on such subjects as final causation and the like and are certainly compatible with the view that God sustains all things. It simply will not do to make gestalt arguments to the effect that ID "encourages" wrong views of God and about how it's bad for us to think of God as a watchmaker. I mean, you know, there the watch is. If your metaphysical view is that it also has intrinsic final causes and the like, that doesn't make the gears disappear, nor should it be incompatible with acknowledging their existence and implications.

You're going to have a dickens of a time showing that any one of these is necessary to anyone's argument, including the arguments that actual ID-ers actually make, from specific aspects of the world to a designer who deliberately made them. And if you can't, I contend that you should stop saying that ID "gives away the store" or "assumes a mechanistic concept of nature" or anything of the sort.
That's a very good point, Lydia. I agree with Ed that ID as a forensic conclusion is primarily an exercise in scientific hygiene more than natural theology, that it isn't a knockout punch to metaphysical naturalism; but I'm as baffled as you are by the notion that this is any more incompatible with natural theology than, say, the Big Bang or Quantum Mechanics or any number of other things. Maybe Ed has read some arguments and conclusions from ID types that I haven't. I don't really follow it as a "movement" closely; for example I haven't seen Expelled though I'll probably get around to watching it some time. (If nothing else it will be of some personal interest, since my graduate cellular biology professor closed out his course with a powerpoint slide and very sympathetic, which is to say anti-theistic and pro-Darwin, lecture on the flying spaghetti monster).

I'm certainly sympathetic to the argument/observation that the Big Bang also leads many people to overreach and come to wrong conclusions when it comes to natural theology, as (the Catholic priest and originator of the Big Bang theory) Lemaitre himself pointed out a number of times. After all, that is where we start to see multiple universes competing with a singular creation, the former being the required (or at least perceived to be required) "add on" in order to cling to metaphysical naturalism. But that wouldn't lead me to conclude that studying the Big Bang as a theory "gives away the store" or "assumes a mechanistic concept of nature" and therefore should be shunned by folks whose central concern is natural theology. If Ed's argument applies equally to the Big Bang and ID then I can at least finish this discussion convinced that I understand it.

...since my graduate cellular biology professor...

You took grad course in cell bio and, yet, fail to acknowledge that a mitochondria was originally prokaryotic?

That's odd.


Ari:

You took grad course in cell bio and, yet, fail to acknowledge that a mitochondria was originally prokaryotic?
I've suggested this to you before, and I'm going to suggest it rather strongly again: when you attempt to present a position of mine, quote me on it. A hundred of your assumptions don't add up to a single thought of mine, and I have no idea where that comment came from.

Margulis' notion that mitochondria and other organelles, perhaps even the cell nucleus itself in eukaryotes, are the result of one prokaryote 'invading' another and eventually establishing a symbiotic relationship, is an interesting hypothesis, largely motivated by the utter failure of 'classical' neo-darwinism (mutation + natural selection) to explain anything much.

But yes, a few years ago I took masters level some courses in biophysics, molecular/cellular biology, and bioinformatics/computational biology.

FWIW, I've always found it mildly amusing that my Baptist fundamentalist professors and friends of long ago always spoke of the Big Bang with a shudder as being somehow anti-creationist (presumably because it happened sufficiently long ago as to cashier their version of YEC) while the Big Bang theory itself was originally resisted by non-theistic scientists on the grounds that it had theistic implications, because the PSR (principle of sufficient reason) put together with the Big Bang made people think that, perhaps, Someone had made it happen.

And here's a bit of philosophical trivia, or maybe not trivia: There is an article out there by Elliott Sober that argues that ID is stealth religion because you can *combine* it with *other* plausible premises and get a religious or at least non-naturalistic conclusion! Now to say that this makes it religious in some invidious sense is absurd. Just think of the Big Bang and/or the PSR, for example (see above). The other premises Sober has in mind are arguments to the effect that any physical designer (aliens and the like) of the relevant systems on earth would himself have some sort of physical body which would probably contain systems about which similar arguments could be made. Hence, on pain of causal regress, there must be a non-physical designer at some point in the causal chain. What's interesting about this is that Sober intends this to be some sort of _blow_ against ID, but it really just shows that the "who designed the designer" question, often raised as if it were some sort of bizarre criticism of ID, really cuts against ID + naturalism--in the end, the naturalism will probably have to give, unless the naturalist is willing to have alien designers with _physically simple_ bodies, which he probably isn't willing to do for understandable, naturalist reasons.

...when you attempt to present a position of mine, quote me on it.

As many discussions in past entries (concerning Obama & the elections) quoting precisely several of your past comments had proven, even doing this does not ensure the integrity of the exchange; you just simply proceed to deny their contents.

Presumably any Aristotelianism/neo-Thomism held by any educated man in 2008 is compatible with the empirical facts of the structure and operation of the cell, the bacterial flagellum, the code-like nature of DNA, and so forth.

Sure. Why wouldn't it be?

Well, I'm sorry, but there's no getting around the fact that those micro-structures _do_ appear machine-like, that the bacterial flagellum _does_ have a U-joint, and so forth.

Yes, sure, great, fine. But "X is machine-like" doesn't mean "X is a machine." Even Aquinas himself once draws a comparison between animals and clocks (ST I-II.13.2 -- which is NOT, by the way, in the context of arguing for God's existence). All the same, he would be horrified at the suggestion that an animal is, like a clock, a kind of machine. That there are certain features of the natural world that can usefully be described as machine-like for certain purposes is something no one disputes. What is in dispute is whether it is correct to describe natural objects as machines full stop, and I am saying that it is not correct.

Hence, as an objectionable ID premise (whether explicit or implicit, asserted or "for the sake of argument"), how about this?:

"The bacterial flagellum is a machine."

The bacterial flagellum is NOT a machine. That is to say, it is not something which can be adequately described without reference to formal and final causes, not something whose ordinary operations can be entirely accounted for in terms of efficient-causal relations between its parts, not something which could even in principle carry on its ordinary operations for even a moment without God's sustaining and directing activity. The reason is that no natural objects are machines in this sense.

Furthermore, to say, even for the sake of argument, that there are natural objects that are machines in this sense is implicitly to deny (at least "for the sake of argument") the existence of the God of classical theism. For if there could even in theory be something that might exist or operate even for a second apart from God's continuous sustaining action, then the God of classical theism does not exist, since the God of classical theism is, whatever else He is, that apart from which nothing could exist or operate even in principle.

George R.,

I'm glad ID led you away from materialism. Similarly, neo-Platonism led St. Augustine away from materialism and set him on the path to Christianity. Nevertheless, neo-Platonism per se is false, even if it has certain genuine insights that can be removed from the neo-Platonic context and fitted into a more adequate system of thought. By the same token, from the fact that ID might lead people away from materialism -- all it really does at most is undermine Darwinism, not materialism per se, but I acknowledge that that's not insignificant -- it doesn't follow that it isn't fundamentally wrongheaded. In general, "X got me on the path to discovering such-and-such a truth" doesn't entail "X itself is true."

As many discussions in past entries (concerning Obama & the elections) quoting precisely several of your past comments had proven, even doing this does not ensure the integrity of the exchange; you just simply proceed to deny their contents.
Oh brother. Pointing out that I didn't say what you say I said isn't denying the contents of my words.

The admonishment stands: if you are going to say "Zippy says X", you'd best be prepared to show Zippy actually saying X.

Lydia,

I'm curious though, despite our past skirmishes, nevertheless, you seem to demonstrate (at the very least *wink*) a good measure of logic.

Are you aware of the (suppressed) premise of ID's enthymeme or do you simply overlook it?

FWIW, in the above comments, I'm referencing what seemed your passion for certain Christian principles (as in your anti-McCain position).

The bacterial flagellum is NOT a machine. That is to say, it is not something which can be adequately described without reference to formal and final causes, not something whose ordinary operations can be entirely accounted for in terms of efficient-causal relations between its parts, not something which could even in principle carry on its ordinary operations for even a moment without God's sustaining and directing activity. The reason is that no natural objects are machines in this sense.
Does even an actual machine satisfy all those requirements? Is my airplane a machine in that sense?

This sounds like the rejection of a completeness claim with respect to a description. To the extent that it is the rejection of a completeness claim I heartily agree: I'm pretty skeptical of completeness claims as a general matter. Descriptions of real things may or may not be adequate for particular purposes, of course. But I don't see a requirement for ID to assert a completeness claim with respect to the description "a flagellum is a machine" (which is probably more precisely stated "a flagellum has such and such features in common with man-made machines").

Does even an actual machine satisfy all those requirements? Is my airplane a machine in that sense?

Yes, Zippy, it is -- apart, of course, from the reference to God as sustaining cause. In the airplane example, for God substitute the people who made it and then the description does meet all the requirements. The point then is that the airplane can continue to exist and operate apart from its designers and builders. Similarly, if natural objects really were machines the way an airplane is, they could operate apart from God once He has made them.

From an Aristotelian-Thomistic point of view, artificats -- airplanes, clocks, beds, tables, etc. -- are not true substances and thus do not have forms and final causes in the sense in which natural objects do. They are rather collections of true (natural) substances or of parts of substances which have been turned by us away from their natural ends.

To take a standard example from Aristotle, if you make a bed out of fresh wood and then quickly plant the bed in the ground, if anything grows from the wood it will be a tree rather than a bed. The nature (formal-cum-final cause) of the wood is still to be tree-like, not to be bed-like. It is bed-like only because something external to its nature has turned it away from its natural tendencies.

For this reason, artifacts, unlike natural substances, do not have an organic and immanent unity, but only an artificial unity imposed from outside. This is why artifacts are reducible to the sum of their parts while natural substances are not. There is also no natural teleology in an airplane, no end or goal built into it of its nature, for it has no nature, strictly speaking, apart from the natures of its components. It is what it is and has whatever purpose it has only by virtue of some external agent(i.e. the builder).

This is why to deny formal and final causes just is to turn natural objects into machines -- that is, things having no natural, immanent unity or immanent purpose, but only an externally imposed unity and purpose.

To be sure, for the Thomist, even the final causes a thing has by nature must ultimately be explained by reference to God. But that is not because certain things are too complex to get together by themselves, etc. The argument has nothing whatsoever to do with complexity, with living things specifically, or any of the other phenomena emphasized by Paley and ID theorists. Nor does it have to do with a "watchmaker" making and winding up some watch at some point in the past. It has instead to do with any instance of final causality whatsoever, which on analysis turns out to be wherever there exists efficient causation -- which is in turn, of course, everywhere in the natural world, both in living and non-living things, complex and simple. And it has to do with the fact that even the final causes a thing has by nature cannot exist even for a moment without an intellect that orders them to their ends, and that the things themselves cannot exist even for a moment unless their essences are continuously united to an act of existence by something in whom essence and existence are identical.

But spelling all this out would, of course, require at least a book -- and since I've written two on the subject, one out now (The Last Superstition) and the other out next year (Aquinas), I direct the reader to those!

Similarly, neo-Platonism led St. Augustine away from materialism and set him on the path to Christianity. Nevertheless, neo-Platonism per se is false

Ed,

Neo-Platonism is an attempt at first philosophy, which places it in direct conflict with Aristotelian metaphysics where they differ. ID, on the other hand, is neither metaphysics nor natural philosophy, nor even one of the empirical sciences. Rather it is a question or problem being presently investigated within the empirical sciences, which are supposed to receive their principles from the conclusions of natural philosophy.

The question at issue, of course, is this: Do living creatures show evidence of design or no? ID-ers have clearly concluded that they do.

Therefore, only if finding evidence of design in living things is contrary to the conclusions of natural philosophy can ID be said to be per se false on non-empirical grounds. But Aristotle in Book 2 of his Physics concludes that things in nature are designed by an intellect, and only adds that they were designed to act for an end.

Therefore, since the thesis of the ID-ers is not contrary to the conclusions of natural philosophy, it can not be said to be per se false.

George,

Four points:

1. As I've said before, I have no problem with ID insofar as it is merely putting forward empirical claims, arguing that Darwinism is inadequate, etc. My criticisms are directed only at the claim that ID has any interesting theological significance.

2. In your previous remarks, you implied that it does have theological significance insofar as it led you to theism, etc., and thus you implied thereby that you think it has metaphysical consequences.

3. As I've said OVER AND OVER again, I am NOT objecting to the bare idea of "finding evidence of design in living things." I object only to the mechanistic-cum-anthropomorphic interpretation of what this involves.

4. As every Aristotelian knows, Aristotle does not think that things are "designed" in the sense that Paley, ID theorists, et al. do. (See my previous comment for the reasons why.)

Okay, first of all, I note that if God sustains all things, then the airplane would disappear apart from God's sustenance, and as that was supposed to be important and indeed part of the criticism of ID going on here, I think the point about the airplane and completeness claims is a relevant one.

Secondly, I am not an Aristotelian, so I probably in fact believe that a bacterial flagellum is a machine in something very broadly like the sense that Ed finds objectionable, though probably not in all particulars. However, I contend that, as far as I can see, the aspects of any such view I happen to hold that Ed finds objectionable are not logically or epistemically necessary to any argument that I or anyone else might make that the flagellum was designed. That is, it's quite _sufficient_ for the purpose of the argument that "the flagellum is a machine" be understood as short-hand for "the flagellum has such-and-such features in common with man-made machines" or, in Ed's words, "the flagellum is machine-like." The claim "a bacterium (or a flagellum, or whatever) has no natural, immanent purpose," whether true or false, is not necessary to the evidential import of the machine-like characteristics which support the conclusion that the flagellum was designed.

And I don't see how any such negation of immanent purposes can be shown to be required for the argument to go through.

Lydia, you should be an Aristotlean. It's really fun.

Mike Bauman should also be one as well. The man already has Chesterton chops and Tolkein timber. He's practically a peeping Thomist. :-)

Aristocles writes to Lydia:

Are you aware of the (suppressed) premise of ID's enthymeme or do you simply overlook it?

Lydia has already addressed the question of the general structure of design reasoning in great detail in several articles in professional philosophy journals. It would be unwise to try to tweak this particular tiger by the tail without doing some serious homework first.

"My criticisms are directed only at the claim that ID has any interesting theological significance."

Again, Paul in Romans 1. Of course detecting design in nature has theological significance. It is up to the philosophers and theologians to figure how much significance it has.

I have to state I was a philosophy major in college and I'm having a hard time following the main objection. I'm going to need an actual reference from Beckwith that ID states that the mind can't have direct knowledge of universals. Never heard anything along those lines.

Furthermore, if there is anything worse than sticking with the Enlightenment it would be sticking with Aristotle/Thomistic metaphysics. I feel the only reason in Roman Catholic circles this is one is to try to get around the inherent contradictions in their dogmatic formulations of transubstantiation.

"I feel the only reason in Roman Catholic circles this is one is to try to get around the inherent contradictions in their dogmatic formulations of transubstantiation."

I feel? What exactly is the flaw in Thomist metaphysics that you "feel" that you have uncovered?

"I think neo-Thomists who wish to criticize ID"

neo-Thomist is almost as overloaded a term as neo-conservative. There are many Thomists. Which Thomists are you referring to?

Athenian Stranger, by "neo-Thomists" I didn't mean anything derogatory. Isn't that what Ed would call himself? I mean if he'd rather just "Thomist" without the "neo," that's cool with me. The Thomist I was referring to, int he immediate context, is Ed. But I gather his type of criticism of ID has currency with others who share his views, and it may be something Frank is alluding to as well.

Okay, first of all, I note that if God sustains all things, then the airplane would disappear apart from God's sustenance

Yes. Are you thinking: If He has to sustain the airplane, despite its being a machine, why is the idea of a totally mechanistic universe incompatible with his sustaining it? The answer is that the airplane, like every other artifact, exists only because genuine substances (with formal and final causes) do. The former ontologically "piggy-back" on the latter. Machines are possible only because they are made up of non-machines; you can't have a world made up of just machines.

the aspects of any such view I happen to hold that Ed finds objectionable are not logically or epistemically necessary to any argument that I or anyone else might make that the flagellum was designed

Lydia, I've already acknowledged that. Let me say yet again that I've got no problem with ID simply as a challenge to the adequacy of Darwinism per se, or as a theory of how design of some sort might be detected. Just as someone who holds to a mechanistic philosophy of nature can be a good police detective or archeologist (i.e. can detect agency of some sort on the basis of the sort of clues these fields deal with) so too might an ID theorist be able to show some sort of design in this or that biological phenomenon.

The trouble, as I keep saying, comes in only when someone concludes that ID takes us at all toward classical theism, or even beyond naturalism -- that is, toward genuine divine design. It does no such thing. Nor is my problem with it that it makes divine design merely probable, for it does not make it even probable. The reason, again, is the mechanistic-cum-anthropomorphic methodology. For on the one hand, the ID theorist might really be committed to a thoroughgoing mechanistic and/or anthropomorphic view, in which case he is (I have argued) committed to a position that is simply inconsistent with classical theism. On the other hand, he might not be committed to mechanism or anthropomorphism, but simply to focusing on the machine-like aspects of natural objects and the aspects in which their causes might be described on analogy with human beings. But focusing on these aspects alone will never get you beyond the natural realm even in principle, but only to some heretofore unknown region of the natural realm (to aliens, or a Demiurge, or whatever). Either way, the approach gives no support at all to the case for classical theism -- at worst it is inconsistent with it, at best irrelevant.

In short, too many people are overly impressed with ID, it seems to me, because they think evidence for just any old superduper intelligent being is somehow evidence for theism. It simply is not that at all. Anything less than the God of classical theism would just be one more natural object among others, even if a very unusual and impressive one, and thus something that could not possibly be an appropriate object of worship. But that is all the methodology of ID allows even in principle. And unless you get to something at least compatibnle with classical theism, then, as the old saying has it, "your god is too small."

Geoff writes:

Of course detecting design in nature has theological significance.

Look, is there really any point in continuing this if people aren't going to bother reading what I have written? I'm going to say it yet one more time: I am NOT denying that "detecting design in nature has theological significance." I am denying that a specifically mechanistic-cum-anthropomorphic conception of detecting design has theological significance.

Please, if you are not going even to try seriously following the conversation, don't bother contributing to it...

From a Lydia comment earlier: And if that means that God--who you presumably also believe made them--has, in fact, done things that can be understood as being *in some sense* like what human engineers do...

Maybe this is the core of the disagreement. I doubt that God does things in any sense "like what human engineers do". Engineers design things. Design is what we see in the finished product. God creates things (we do not), and design is what we see in the finished product. So isn't the real argument about the process, about how things come to be? Because the one question I've always had about ID is this: what's the end game? Now that you've pointed out how intricately designed the bacterial flagellum is, what can you tell me about how it came to be that might deal a death blow to Darwinian theory or naturalism of any kind? Is ID asking me to leave open the possibility that God's hand reached out to create that flagellum, and that he may have done this on many occasions, picking up the slack when nature drops the rope?

I think it's at least mildly interesting to parallel these two quotations from Ed's most recent comment and from Bill's comment:

Ed says,

On the other hand, he might not be committed to mechanism or anthropomorphism, but simply to focusing on the machine-like aspects of natural objects and the aspects in which their causes might be described on analogy with human beings. But focusing on these aspects alone will never get you beyond the natural realm even in principle, but only to some heretofore unknown region of the natural realm (to aliens, or a Demiurge, or whatever).

Bill says,

So isn't the real argument about the process, about how things come to be?

I'm puzzled, Ed, by what you say there, because I'm absolutely positive that you would not say that the machine-like aspects of natural objects were not made to be the way they are deliberately by God but rather really were made deliberately by some other natural designer. So I've thought for a while that one question here _for you_, Ed, would be something like the question Bill is asking ID advocates: Do you not agree that God deliberately made these machine-like aspects to be way they are? Don't we all agree on that? And assuming that we all agree that he did, then must there not be some _way_ for him to have done so that is compatible with your metaphysics? I feel sort of like the guy in _Green Eggs and Ham_--You could eat it on a train, you could eat in the rain. You can really take your pick, as far as what people connected with ID have said. If you consider it metaphysically impossible for God to have intervened post-creation to cause these, because that seems to you too watch-maker-like, then you can conjecture some sort of front-loading. If you are bothered by either of those, then I suppose you would have to be committed to something like a Darwinian process's being sufficient to do it and to its being "God's way of doing it," but on the analogy with the tides and sandscapes and stuff (see Francis Williamson's quotation). And besides, you've seemed possibly to be agreeing that it's fine with your metaphysics if Darwinian processes didn't do it. So presumably you are open to God's having made these machine-like things by some non-Darwinian process. And indeed Darwinian ideas _must be_ irrelevant to the origin of life, as you have to have something on which natural selection can work anyway. So I don't really see that there should be a problem here.

Bill, I think to a large extent I've answered your question from the other side, too. As I've said above in the thread, and said in the other thread where you took the theistic evolutionist side, at least one prominent ID writer is very concerned to address people like you, who _very much do not like_ any "hand of God" idea, by conjecturing full-scale front-loading. Nobody who writes ID material should be held responsible for my opinions. I'm an unattached agent. Speaking for myself only, then, and not meaning to say anything about "what ID is asking us to believe," _I_ think you shouldn't be bothered by the hand of God's reaching down in making biological artifacts any more than you are bothered by God's intervention in any other context, and I think the distinction between "salvation history" and other situations is an artificial one. The flagellum could be an artifact of God's just as much as the sounds in Moses' ears at the burning bush or the fire on Elijah's altar were artifacts of God's. I'm something of a damn the torpedoes interventionist, and I tend to think the front-loading scenarios are attempts to be too nice to the theistic evolutionists. (And they never appreciate it and hate ID just the same, so why bother?) Moreover, since even I would say that the creation of the natural realm of the kind I'm talking about happened long, long ago and is now completed, it's always hard for me to understand why a Christian would have such a problem with it. But we've gone 'round and 'round about that before. Again, though, my position there is not something that a person who makes ID arguments absolutely must adopt, unless it really turns out that front-loading is somehow impossible or incoherent.

Hey,

If any of you are interested Bill Craig clarifies some of his thoughts on a similar topic here

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/PageServer?pagename=q_and_a

I appreciate all of you being willing to hash this out. I am decidedly undecided on my personal views even after having read many of the books and seeing Dembski, Ruse, Beckwith, and Craig talk at the Greer Heard Forum. As much as I enjoy the arguments, I do tend to think that some of the big guns in the ID movement assume they have proven more than they have. As a result, they can be a bit churlish when a fellow Christian does not do cartwheels over their conclusions.

Anyway, I have nothing to contribute but I am enjoying trying to keep up. This is a great discussion.

Well, all of creation has theological significance. Maybe what we have here is a clash over the classical view of science. I view science, properly carried out with due humility, to be one kind of discovery of God in nature. Sometimes He shines through especially clearly because of where we are looking; other times our backs are turned. "Your god is too small" is a sentiment I'm very sympathetic to, but I wonder if that doesn't cut both ways. The God of natural philosophy is also too small, because any God conceivable by Man is too small. The most we can do is gesture, and know He is there. I'm resistant to completeness claims with respect to descriptions in general; but when it comes to God I am also resistant to adequacy claims.

Jay:

I do tend to think that some of the big guns in the ID movement assume they have proven more than they have. As a result, they can be a bit churlish when a fellow Christian does not do cartwheels over their conclusions.
I agree, and my friend John Farrell has done a good job documenting some of the shenanigans of the Discovery Institute etc. On the other hand in human terms it isn't atypical of embattled socially ostracized minorities to tend that way, and the New Atheists aren't exactly all sweetness and light. Still, I think the standards for discourse are too low and it is just silly to make things personal.

My contention simply is and always has been that the questions involved must be dealt with by empirical discussion. If someone thinks a given ID argument is poor, he can say so, and why, and that can be discussed. What has always bothered me, and will continue to do so, is any attempt to remain above the fray and imply that the issue must be discussed in some metalevel or oblique way--by implying that God wouldn't do it "that way" (where "that way" appears to mean "in any way other than by evolutionary processes") or "this project is misguided a priori," "this project is uninteresting," or "only theistic evolution is compatible with a proper theological view of God," or whatever. I think the whole thing should be treated rather as an a posteriori question.

Lydia,

No offense taken, but the phrase "neo-Thomist" holds the key to the debate. There are a wide range of views amongst Thomists. Their views on natural philosophy and natural theology and the teaching order of those subjects which precedes philosophy and theology, for example.

"Why, then, have Thomists not been among Behe’s most ardent supporters? First of all, they would agree with many biologists who have pointed out that Behe’s claims of irreducible complexity fail to distinguish between the lack of a known natural explanation of the origin of complex systems and the judgment that such explanation is in principle impossible. Thomists, however, would go even further than most biologists by identifying the first claim as epistemological and the second as ontological. Now, a Thomist might agree with Behe’s epistemological claim that no current or foreseeable future attempt at explanation for certain biological complexities is satisfactory. Yet, a Thomist will reject Behe’s ontological claim that no such explanation can ever be given in terms of the operation of nature. This ontological claim depends on a “god of the gaps” understanding of divine agency and such an understanding of God’s action is cosmogonically fallacious."

http://guweb2.gonzaga.edu/faculty/calhoun/socratic/Tkacz_AquinasvsID.html

Thebyronicman said above:

This is why I say that Aristotelians just don't seem to require ID, whatever its merits. For the Thomist, ID is superfluous at best.

I agree. Just as for healthy people, medicine is superfluous.

But for sick people, medicine can be very helpful. In like manner, ID can be helpful in dissolving the obstruction of Darwinism.

There may be some who see ID as the best means, in an absolute sense, to rationally ascertain the attributes of God. This would be an error. Natural theology, metaphysics, and the philosophy of nature are the sciences by which one can know by reason the attributes of God. ID is not one of those sciences. It is, however, an effective dialectical argument against that which prevents men from taking those sciences seriously.


Do you not agree that God deliberately made these machine-like aspects to be way they are? Don't we all agree on that?

Of course, but that doesn't settle anything, because (I would say) God not only made but is continuously making, at evey instant, everything that exists, including me as I write this and you as you read it. The natural order as a whole, every single object within it and every single thing that happens in it are radically dependent on God's sustaining activity at every instant. But that doesn't tell us anything about the nature of the processes by which the world that He is sustaining operates. And it's the nature of those processes that is in question, not whether He is responsible for them.

If you consider it metaphysically impossible for God to have intervened post-creation to cause these,

Of course not. God causes miracles, after all. But the issue is this: There is the natural order, and there are occasional divine alterations of that natural order in the form of miracles. One of the marks of the former is regularity, and one of the marks of the latter is irregularity. Now the question is: Does the appearance of (say) the bacterial flagellum count as a normal part of the natural order, or as a miracle? ID theorists seem to think it is the latter. And of course it is possible that it is. But its regularity, among other things, speaks to its being part of the natural order. ID might well be correct that no naturalist has given a good explanation of it, but that doesn't show it isn't natural, only that we may not have discovered the right natural processes yet, which may be radically different from anything Darwinians imagine.

Perhaps it would help clarify things to point out that the Thomist's understanding of "the natural order" is not the same as the naturalist/materialist understanding. Hence, for example, for a Thomist, living things are irreducible to non-living things, sentient things irreducible to non-sentient things, and rational things irreducible to non-rational ones. The differences are differences in kind, not degree; and their irreducibility derives from the kinds of forms they have, not because of "complexity" understood in a quantifiable way. (Hence that they are irreducible follows, not probabilistically from a consideration of the likelhood of their appearance from simpler forms, but as a matter of metaphysical necessity.) Still these things are all part of the natural order. But that shows that the natural order as it really is is simply not the sort of thing to which a reductionist philosophy of nature is adequate.

As I have said before, the Aristotelian-Thomist problem with ID is not that it is insufficiently respectful of current naturalistic orthodoxies but that it is too respectful of them. It doesn't go nearly far enough. We don't need tinkering with the general mechanistic approach, we need an abandonment of that approach altogether.

But its regularity, among other things, speaks to its being part of the natural order.

I think it's only fair to point out that the _first appearance_ of any of these things (bacteria en toto or flagella) is _not_ something that happens regularly. We shouldn't confuse the continual generation of (if I may put it this way jokingly) baby bacteria with the _origin_ of bacteria (or the first bacterium) with their (its) parts in place, which was presumably something that happened a long time ago.

Does the appearance of (say) the bacterial flagellum count as a normal part of the natural order, or as a miracle? ID theorists seem to think it is the latter.

Actually, not uniformly. Again, Behe seems particularly concerned to point out that such things might have been done by God in a non-miraculous way (assuming that one does not think of front-loading as a miracle) that nonetheless involved a type of divine action that is different from the divine action involved in, say, the crystallizing of snowflakes or weather patterns.

There is still, I suppose, the question of what is meant by "normal." Again, once we acknowledge that the _origins_ of these types of things are historical events which occurred a long time ago, then it just appears to be a _fact_ that these are not "normal" events if by that we mean everday affairs.

It seems to me that perhaps the nitty gritty of your objection to the ID project is any assertion that something machine-like like the flagellum, code-like such as DNA, or city-like such as the cell shows evidence of design of a _special type_ or in a special way. Now, that special type probably does not have to be of the interventionist sort that I myself think probable and that I take it you would call "miraculous." But the insistence that the origin of all objects in nature must be a "natural process," though one that, you say, might be "radically different from anything Darwinians imagine," strikes me as rather vague. If it's that radically different--on the one hand not divine intervention, on the other hand none of the naturalistic scenarios on offer, and on the third hand (!) not divine front-loading, which I gather doesn't appeal to you for whatever reason--then it seems to me that we really don't know what we're talking about, and we may not even have a very clear conception of what we mean by calling such an unimagined process "natural."

But what I get the impression bothers you here, Ed, is the notion that there is a particular argument to be made to the designing of these _particular_ types of structures, and that _from_ their machine-like nature per se. Here, I just cannot see that the Thomist has grounds on which to make a special objection, as it seems to me that Thomism should be compatible with the idea that certain types of God's creation give evidence of his creative involvement in a different way from other types. So I think you should tell the ID people to go for it. :-)

I cannot shake the feeling that none of these objections would be raised if the empirical arguments in question were really seen to be good empirical arguments. I've started to write this before in another comment and deleted it. But would anybody be saying any of this if it weren't for a feeling in the back of the mind, "Ah, that stuff doesn't work anyway"? I realize that may sound like psychologizing, but it's just been my experience that objections to an entire project as misconceived sometimes arise when the project is thought to fail on its own terms but when, for whatever reason, the person making the meta-level objection prefers not to make that object-level case.

I still can't quite grasp why ID considered as an evidence-based reductio ad absurdam of metaphysical naturalism - which is what I take Ed as viewing it to be, in a nutshell - is therefore useless, or is not a supportive argument for theism for that matter. I've often argued myself that if one insists on either metaphysical or methodological naturalism an objective person is led to forensically conclude from the actual evidence that life on earth was designed by some superior intelligence. Are evidence-based reductio-ad-absurdam arguments just out of bounds generally as supporting evidence of God's existence? Or is the problem that some ID-types are taking ID in its metaphysical mode to be something other than a reductio-ad-absurdam of naturalism?

Basically, "Take your pick: God or aliens. Heh."

Is that the idea, Zippy? :-)

Exactly, Lydia. Science pursued as methodological naturalism leaves you with a choice: aliens or God.

It doesn't have to be that way by necessity, of course, and I understand Frank's reluctance to mix these things together and create the impression that a self-refuting methodological naturalism is necessary in order to rationally believe in God. It isn't. But I don't see it as an enemy of genuine theism just because it takes the form of a reductio ad absurdam based in part in empirical data which could be different in principle.

Lydia and Zippy,

ID does not leave you with the choice: God or aliens. It does not leave you with God as a choice at all. What it leaves you with at most is some very powerful and intelligent but still anthropomorphic being, something like Plato's Demiurge or (as I put it before) a Masonic architect of the world. But that is not the God of classical theism, and thus not the Christian God. It is merely a superduper Zeus-like being, still part of the natural order broadly construed (even if not as most "naturalists" would construe it). The God of classical theism and Christianity is beyond the crude anthropomorphic categories that are all ID can deliver, beyond the natural order altogether.

That is not to say that the bacterial flagellum (or whatever) wasn't in fact designed by the God of classical theism in just the way ID describes, i.e. as a kind of miracle. But the point is that whether this is so or not ID itself can give you no reason to think so, because its methods (mechanistic-cum-anthropomorphic) cannot take you beyond the natural order even in principle.

This is (part of) my point, which it seems to me you keep failing to see, much less answer. The point isn't that the methods ID only make God's existence merely probable, leaving aliens as another remote possibility, etc. ID itself, because of its methodology, does not make God's existence even slightly probable. It tells us nothing at all about God. Nothing.

I think I accepted that, Ed. ID leaves you with the aliens; thus the reductio of methodological naturalism. What isn't to like?

So can we agree to this:

ID demonstrates that if you adopt methodological naturalism in the pursuit of the natural sciences, the empirical evidence leads to the conclusion that life on earth was designed by some kind of super alien intelligence. Therefore it is ridiculous to adopt methodological naturalism in the natural sciences.

??

ID leaves you with the aliens

But (he said, reintroducing himself into the conversation after a long hiatus) would this leave us open to (Hume's?) objection, "Who made the aliens?" thus putting you back to Ockham's Razor: why postulate aliens since this doesn't solve our problem, but only removes it one degree. Why not just hold out for Science to pay off the "promissory note" at some later, greater date?

"ID does not leave you with the choice: God or aliens. It does not leave you with God as a choice at all."

Thank you for clarifying your earlier remarks. This makes your position much clearer.

I would definitely take issue with you here as I'll explain further on.

"What it leaves you with at most is some very powerful and intelligent but still anthropomorphic being, something like Plato's Demiurge or (as I put it before) a Masonic architect of the world. But that is not the God of classical theism, and thus not the Christian God."

Unfortunately, the Christian God, the God of the Bible, makes use of anthropomorphisms frequently. Everything from Job (considered by many as the oldest book) all the way to Revelation. I was reading Shapiro's book on Maimonides. Some early Christians and a big strain within Orthodox Judaism believed God had a literal physical body. They were just going with what the Bible said.

At the very least, can we not say that God architected the world? Doesn't Job say such a thing when God is interrogating Job? He sustains all things. Nature shows the glory of God. And, now that we know about the really small intricate molecular machines (there's that word again), we know that human ingenuity solves problems in similar manners as our cells do.

Now, to say the God designs does not entail idolatry any more than saying God loves, which is a perfectly biblical thing to say.

"It is merely a superduper Zeus-like being, still part of the natural order broadly construed (even if not as most "naturalists" would construe it)."

You keep saying that the Designer of ID is part of the natural order. That does not follow from being able to detect design (the premise of ID). ID does not say how the design got there (the methodologies or algorithms or whatever). Unless you have a philosophical problem with God intervening in space-time or that isn't a part of Divine Providence. In other words, do you have a problem with miracles? If not, what's the problem with detecting design that doesn't use an intervening natural cause?

"The God of classical theism and Christianity is beyond the crude anthropomorphic categories that are all ID can deliver, beyond the natural order altogether."

But as I've mentioned before, God is more than willing to condescend. And if we are made in the image of God, there must be at least some categories God and man share. No? And if we notice intelligence and design and engineering, what's wrong with that?

I guess my basic point vis a vis this discussion is that you have to subject your philosophical presuppositions to both evidence and the Bible. If ID successfully detects design, it really doesn't matter to me if it doesn't fit into your philosophical system. And you may not like anthropomorphisms, but the Biblical writers don't seem to care either. Although I would think you would allow for those Biblical categories.

Geoff,

If I may interject, I think Ed Feser will think, when reading your last post, that you haven't been sufficiently following along with him, and your reply does not reflect an adequate understanding of his position. A Thomist understands OT anthropomorphism in a more sophisticated way than did the OT writers. A Thomist understands such images analogically. When an OT writer speaks of the "Hand of God," a Thomist doesn't think that this means that God has an actual hand, of course, even if the OT writer did in fact think of God as being physical, with a body (which is likely the case, since it is difficult to see how an ancient Semite could have thought in any other way about the gods, or God). I presume that you would agree with the Thomist on this point. So the problem isn't with the use of anthropomorphism merely. The problem, on Feser's critique, is that ID doesn't get you out of a materialist's universe.

thebryonicman,

Thanks for that. My point wasn't that we should take all anthropomorphisms literally. But our philosophy can act as the filter for which we take literally and which we do not.

There is a strain from the Greeks (and probably others) which wants to put everything in the "wholly other" category and we can't really know anything about God, when He has condescended and revealed Himself.

So if ID comes along and says there is a designer/engineer, that is considered crass (or whatever) because God is wholly unlike us. But the problem is that God has described what He is like and what He does.

Now, does ID get us out of the materialist universe? No. But it opens the door for the other disciplines (philosophy and theology) to get us out). It shows us there is Mind behind biology and cosmology. Think of it as bulldozer which other disciplines can follow. It is agreeable to many philosophies and theologies. Just not Darwinism or Theistic Evolution (not the Behe kind or front-loading kind).

But (he said, reintroducing himself into the conversation after a long hiatus) would this leave us open to (Hume's?) objection, "Who made the aliens?" thus putting you back to Ockham's Razor: why postulate aliens since this doesn't solve our problem, but only removes it one degree. Why not just hold out for Science to pay off the "promissory note" at some later, greater date?

Rushing along here, Byronic, but I'll just mention this: As I pointed out in a post above, this attempt at a _criticism_ actually turns under the naturalist's hand. The attempted regress, if it works, actually shows that in the end you would have to accept some non-naturalistic designer. So it shows not a problem with the conclusion that life on earth was designed but rather a problem with the conclusion that _life on earth was designed by beings with naturalistic bodies_.

Again (I think I'll just have to keep repeating this until somebody admits it or I drop dead or something), either the evidence supports the design conclusion or it doesn't. If it does, all of this meta-level stuff is irrelevant. Evidence is evidence. One can't say, "Oh, this conclusion doesn't answer all questions, so I won't accept it." After all, when a detective concludes that a person was murdered rather than dying of natural causes, it is not a criticism of the strength of the forensic conclusion of murder that the detective isn't handing you an ultimate theory of how the murderer was created!

I think we need a separate thread on the Argument from Design before we can move forward on this interesting discussion of ID. Perhaps our host can accomodate us?

Again (I think I'll just have to keep repeating this until somebody admits it or I drop dead or something), either the evidence supports the design conclusion or it doesn't. If it does, all of this meta-level stuff is irrelevant. Evidence is evidence.
I really don't understand the resistance to this either, Lydia. Postmodernism is where I go if I want to get "it doesn't explain everything, and by the way there is a problem here and a problem there, so therefore it explains nothing and isn't even real, it is just a meaningless clash of wills".

On the other hand, I think I'm very, very close to agreement with Ed's substantive position; I just don't understand the final "and therefore I am against ID" move. I certainly understand being against ID conceived in a certain way, and I am myself; but that is on the meta-level, and it doesn't entail being against ID tout court.

That's why I'm asking if we can agree that ID is valid as a program which uses empirical evidence in a reductio ad absurdam (given that empirical evidence, which like all empirical evidence could in principle be different or could be upset by future evidence) of methodological naturalism. Given the empirical evidence we actually have, if one insists on asking methodological naturalism how life originated on earth, the answer methodological naturalism gives is either (1) I don't have any idea at all or (2) earthly life was designed by some superior intelligence.

So my question is, what is invalid, from Ed's perspective, with ID as reductio of methodological naturalism. (I understand that he doesn't like it under the 'it can lead people astray on natural theology' rubric; but I want to know what is invalid about it).

Postmodernism is where I go if I want to get "it doesn't explain everything, and by the way there is a problem here and a problem there, so therefore it explains nothing and isn't even real, it is just a meaningless clash of wills".

Zippy, I have never said anything remotely close to this. Since people keep attributing to me all sorts of ridiculous things, ignore my explicit disclaimers no matter how many times I make them, etc. etc., it is very hard to see the point of continuing this, especially given how time-consuming it is.

So, one more time and that's it:

The problem with ID is not that it "doesn't explain everything" etc. Nor have I ever said that it "explains nothing." Nor have I ever objected to the bare idea of "detecting design" (that one is directed at Geoff, who seems to have missed the 176 times I've said this already). And the problem is not that ID not does give us reasons to doubt the adequacy of Darwinism, specifically -- it does give us reasons to doubt it. The problem only comes in where ID is claimed to somehow provide positive support for (Christian, and thus classical) theism and/or undermine naturalism per se (not just Darwinian naturalism). It does neither of these things.

Spcifically, the problem is with the specific way ID tries to "detect design," with its mechanistic-cum-anthropomorphic approach to establishing what "design" is and determining what a "designer" would be like. For either the ID theorist accepts mechanism and anthropomorphism merely for the sake of argument, in which case none of his inferences can take him beyond the natural world even in principle; or he positively asserts these methodological assumptions as true, in which case his position ends up being, not merely irrelevant to classical theism, but positively incompatible with it.

I have stated my reasons for these claims over and over again. No one has answered them. They just keem repeating, over and over, things like "Gee whiz, what's wrong with looking for design?" or "Why does every argument have to be conclusive?" etc. In general, few here evince any awareness of the depth of the differences between the metaphysical assumptions inherent in a mechanistic understanding of nature and those underlying classical theism. But until those differences are understood and addressed, no fruitful discussion is possible.

Finally, re: the idea of ID as a "reductio" aainst naturalism, it is not that at all. For why should the naturalist regard aliens as absurd? Indeed, most naturalists probably think there are such things.

But in any case, ID by its own admission does not demonstrate design, even by aliens. It merely makes it at most probable that some intelligence did such-and-such, but probable only (and here's the key point) given our current knowledge.

This is why, as I said earlier, a wise naturalist would take a far more humble attitude toward defending his position that Dawkins and other such hacks do. His posiiton is a metaphycial one anyway, and thus piling up further empirical claims is never going to get to the heart of the dispute. What he should say, if he's wise, is not that he's already discovered the magic wand that explains everything in a naturalistic way (Darwinism, or whatever) but rather that he's got good metaphysical grounds for believing that naturalism must be true even if many of the details are currently mysterious and/or will always remain mysterious given teh cognitive limitations of our minds. This, as I have said, is the sort of position more sophisticated naturalists like Stove, Fodor, Nagel, and McGinn have taken.

Obviously I don't think for a moment that this sort of naturalism is true or even defensible. Indeed, I think it is demonstrably false, and that Thomism refutes it. I do not say that no other approach can refute it, only that ID does not do naturalism per se any damage at all, even if it strikes a blow against one part of one kind of naturalism.

this attempt at a _criticism_ actually turns under the naturalist's hand. The attempted regress, if it works, actually shows that in the end you would have to accept some non-naturalistic designer. So it shows not a problem with the conclusion that life on earth was designed but rather a problem with the conclusion that _life on earth was designed by beings with naturalistic bodies_.

Well, yes now that you put it that way I'd say so. If you can convince someone that the universe was made (probably) at least by some designer, then eventually you lead to a First Cause in order to avoid infinite regress. I say probably, because it seems doubtful that this conclusion (that the universe was designed) could be demonstrated deductively. But a good argument from probability can go a long way.

A Thomist, of course, won't merely object to infinite regression of efficient causes. A distinction is drawn between temporally ordered and essentially ordered causation. An example of the first would be my parents. They caused my existence, but my existence can continue if they die. However, any essence which does not have existence of itself must get its existence from another. And this is not merely in relation to temporal causes, but a matter of sustenance in being. I can exist if my parents die, but God sustains me in being from moment to moment, since my essence does not entail my own existence. On the mechanistic view, I require no such final sustenance--I am not "essentially ordered" to something above and beyond me in virtue of which my being must be sustained from moment to moment. One can see, I think, how a thoroughly convinced Thomist (such as Ed Feser) would look at ID theory and think that you're sending a boy to do a man's job. Although this doesn't necessarily mean, as you have pointed out Lydia, that there must be a priori rejection of ID as invalid.

But our philosophy can act as the filter for which we take literally and which we do not.

I suppose so, yes. Providing we have the right philosophy of course. I think that such a philosophy would really need the distinction between three ways that descriptive terms can be used: univocal, equivocal (which includes metaphor) and analogical. The Thomistic approach does seem to me to protect, as best we can, both God's unknowability-as-He-is-in-Himself, and his knowability-as-he-has self-communicated.

There is a strain from the Greeks (and probably others) which wants to put everything in the "wholly other" category and we can't really know anything about God, when He has condescended and revealed Himself.

Roman Catholics don't agree with this, of course, although perhaps some Orthodox in the Hesychastic tradition would utterly deny the Thomistic approach, with its philosophy of Being, and say rather that God is utterly beyond "Being," that he is known through his "Energies" but not by analogical philosophy. I cannot comment further on Orthodox theology on this point, however. It is beyond my competency. But for the Catholic, God, as he is in Himself, cannot be known by us. But God, as he has communicated Himself, can be known by us, and we can express this knowledge analogically. So God can be Wholly Other and also known. In fact, I think we must say that he is both. If not, we fall into anthropomorphism simpliciter on the one hand, and agnosticism on the other. Neither is an option for the Christian, of course.

Forgive me for messing up the formatting. The stuff in the middle of the quotes is my reply as well.

Hey, guys,

I’m going to wrap this up here and let Ed (or others) have the last word. This will probably be a bit scattershot and lengthy, but here goes:


I. Ed says,

ID does not leave you with the choice: God or aliens. It does not leave you with God as a choice at all. What it leaves you with at most is some very powerful and intelligent but still anthropomorphic being, something like Plato's Demiurge or (as I put it before) a Masonic architect of the world. But that is not the God of classical theism, and thus not the Christian God. It is merely a superduper Zeus-like being, still part of the natural order broadly construed (even if not as most "naturalists" would construe it). The God of classical theism and Christianity is beyond the crude anthropomorphic categories that are all ID can deliver, beyond the natural order altogether.
Ed, here is one way of interpreting this and filling it out. I apologize if I’m misinterpreting it, but this is the only way I can make this into a serious criticism of ID: “If the argument made by ID is correct, then either the machine-like structures in question were designed by aliens or else they were designed by a real, existent demigod who _definitely cannot be_ the Christian god. Since we have independent reason to believe that both of these conclusions are ridiculous, there _must be_ something wrong evidentially with the ID argument, since it would, if successful, force us to draw one of these ridiculous conclusions.”

It would seem to follow from this that one scarcely even needs to consider the actual empirical evidence involved in the ID argument, since its conclusions are so manifestly stupid on independent grounds. This might explain why Thomistic critics of ID rarely _do_ talk about or even (so it appears to me) acknowledge or show a familiarity with the actual biological evidence involved to see if it supports design.

Now, if that’s an incorrect interpretation and filling out of your point, Ed, I apologize again, but I’m going to respond to it as it’s my best shot at something in the zone that would seem to have the consequences you are drawing from your critique. What I would say is that this is a counterintuitive proposition on its face and that you have provided no reason to think it true. The nearest thing I have gotten to an argument, when I was seeking an objectionable premise (from a Thomistic perspective) on which ID depends, was the allegation that ID depends on the premise that the bacterial flagellum is a machine, full stop. Here would be a way that the ostensible argument would go from there, to get us the “aliens or non-theistic demigod” conclusion above:

1. The bacterial flagellum is a literal machine, full stop.
2. The only sort of beings who ever make literal machines, full stop, are beings who are not the Christian God.
3. Therefore, the bacterial flagellum was made by a being who is not the Christian God.

Now, I would strongly question premise 2. And, while I admit some ignorance here, I cannot help doubting that anything in St. Thomas absolutely entails premise 2, either. But in any event, Ed, though you keep going back to calling the methods of ID “mechanistic,” you and I have already actually agreed that premise 1 is not necessary to the ID argument, that it could instead be made from a premise acceptable to a Thomist, namely, “The bacterial flagellum is machine-like.”

But in that case, it seems to me that a good, card-carrying Thomist could argue from a machine-like structure to the probabilistic conclusion that such a structure was deliberately made by a designer. Whether that evidence supports that conclusion depends on empirical questions, not on philosophical or a priori questions. It depends on whether, in fact, the hypothesis that the machine-like structure was made by a designer is the best explanation of the existence of the machine-like structure. It would then be _entirely feasible_ that that designer was, in fact, the Christian God, construed in Thomistic terms, who was here being described by an incomplete definite description--“The one who deliberately designed this machine-like structure.” You have at least given no good argument as to why this _could not_ be so, aside from any consideration of the actual strength of the empirical case.

I would also add that I think Geoff makes good points about God’s lavish willingness to describe himself by human analogies--a father, a husband, and the like. This seems to imply _at least_ that there can be nothing contrary to Christian theism in using a category like “one who designs” or “a designer” as an analogical, partial, description of God, or at least that there can be no objection to such a use strictly on the grounds that it is anthropomorphic. Thomism must be compatible with this insight, and Ed has insisted that it _is_ compatible with the use of such analogies, so the mere repeated use of the term “anthropomorphic” does nothing to undermine the possibility of a Thomist’s making an ID case as described in the previous paragraph.

II. Ed, you repeatedly refer to “ID” as implying that God made these machine-like entities by a miracle. You do this even in your most recent comment. _I_ think he probably did, but actually, I’ve pointed out again and again that the ID argument per se does not appear to require this, unless means of design such as front-loading can be shown to be incoherent or physically impossible for machine-like entities.

III. I want to wind up with a couple of questions for Ed, the answers to which would interest me. The first is just a matter of my own curiosity:

A. Is there anything in the philosophical system of Thomism, as you construe it, that would entail or even strongly probabilistically imply that God _would never_ make living things or parts of living things, which living things would then go on to reproduce and be part of what we perceive as the world of living things around us, by a miracle? Again, see point II above so as not to see this as a question of the compatibility of Thomism with ID per se. But I’m curious about your answer.

B. (This one seems fairly central to the entire debate so far.) Suppose, Ed, that you were to examine the actual biological evidence adduced by design theorists and be convinced that this evidence makes a strong empirical case that the structures in question were deliberately designed. Is it not possible for you to make such an investigation to see what the biological evidence supports? And if so, and if the evidence seemed strong, what would you conclude? I assume that you would not consider yourself compelled to believe in aliens or in a non-theistic demigod. But it is (and should be) in principle possible for you to consider the actual empirical case on its merits and to see that it leads to no pernicious or obviously absurd conclusion. The case is, after all, what it is and deserves to be considered directly.

Byronic: formatting fixed.

Finally, re: the idea of ID as a "reductio" against naturalism, it is not that at all. For why should the naturalist regard aliens [designing the life forms from which we are descended and seeding Earth with them four-ish billion years ago] as absurd? Indeed, most naturalists probably think there are such things.
Perhaps my bracketed insertion is unfair, and I don't want to unfairly misrepresent Ed, but I don't think most naturalists on the scientific side of the house (that is, who are not philosophers) think that happened, and I think most non-philosopher methodological naturalists would indeed find their methodological naturalism shaken if they came to believe that this conclusion followed from the evidence. Sure there will be dogmatic holdouts, but there are almost always dogmatic holdouts when confronted with a reductio.

At least it is clear to me now where I disagree with Ed.

"The problem only comes in where ID is claimed to somehow provide positive support for (Christian, and thus classical) theism and/or undermine naturalism per se (not just Darwinian naturalism). It does neither of these things."

Christianity posits God is the Logos which undergirds and orders the world. He created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1 speaks of his creative activity with biological creatures. So does Job.

If ID is successful, it backs up all these claims. Naturalism is self-refuting, so I don't worry if it refutes that.

And I've read it over and over, but could you define what you mean by "mechanistic-cum-anthropomorphic" and your points regarding that objection. Frankly, I'm not sure what you are driving at.

OK, Lydia, here's my own parting shot. Sorry for the length!

Ed, here is one way of interpreting this and filling it out. I apologize if I’m misinterpreting it, but this is the only way I can make this into a serious criticism of ID: “If the argument made by ID is correct, then either the machine-like structures in question were designed by aliens or else they were designed by a real, existent demigod who _definitely cannot be_ the Christian god. Since we have independent reason to believe that both of these conclusions are ridiculous, there _must be_ something wrong evidentially with the ID argument, since it would, if successful, force us to draw one of these ridiculous conclusions.”

No, this isn’t my argument.

First of all, as I’ve indicated before, ID doesn’t rule out yet a third possibility: that what is responsible is neither an alien nor an anthropomorphic pseudo-deity, but some heretofore unimagined unintelligent process. ID at most only makes even a finite intelligence probable given our current background knowledge and body of theory. The naturalist can always say “OK, given the body of theory we’ve developed so far, it looks like the alien or pseudo-deity hypothesis is more probable than Darwinism. But maybe that just means that we’ve been putting too many eggs in the Darwinian basket and need to look at other naturalistic possibilities.” As I’ve said, this is what a wise naturalist (a Stove, Fodor, McGinn, or Nagel) should say if he wants to avoid the sort of embarrassment a loudmouth like Dawkins gets himself into.

Second, even if the naturalist were forced into an “alien” explanation of the bacterial flagellum, etc., he can always speculate that maybe the aliens themselves are governed by and came about via some radically different natural processes than the sort they used to make us. This would, of course, add speculation to speculation, but since naturalism is really a metaphysical theory rather than an empirical one, a wise naturalist could always insist that such speculations are legitimate given the alleged a priori plausibility of his position.

Third, as I keep saying, I have never denied that ID does pose a real challenge to Darwinism specifically, and thus I have never implied that “there must be something wrong with the ID argument.” All I’ve said is that there is nothing in ID that could (a) show that naturalism in general (and not just Darwinian naturalism in particular) is even improbable or (b) give even probabilistic support to classical theism. The reason is that the ID method itself forces it to remain within the natural sphere, broadly construed. As I’ve said, that doesn’t mean that God didn’t in fact directly intervene to create the bacterial flagellum, or whatever, only that the methods of ID could not make it even probable that He did, since the nature of those methods is such as to keep the argument locked at the natural level rather than the supernatural one.

It would seem to follow from this that one scarcely even needs to consider the actual empirical evidence involved in the ID argument, since its conclusions are so manifestly stupid on independent grounds. This might explain why Thomistic critics of ID rarely _do_ talk about or even (so it appears to me) acknowledge or show a familiarity with the actual biological evidence involved to see if it supports design.

Lydia, please keep in mind that, as I’ve emphasized over and over, my criticism of ID, and I suspect that of most Thomists, has mainly to do specifically with the suggestion that ID has any theological relevance, that it somehow undermines naturalism or gives at least probabilistic support to classical theism, etc. The issue of whether it has any scientific relevance is a separate matter, which I have not addressed. And the point is that the ID method itself, as I have argued, prevents it from having any such theological relevance, because the method is one that cannot even in principle take us beyond the natural order. Hence the details of this or that specific case (the bacterial flagellum, etc.) are irrelevant, which is why I have not addressed them. It’s the method that gets applied in every case, and in particular the theological relevance (or lack thereof) of that method (whatever its scientific relevance), that is in question, not the details of the specific case.

The nearest thing I have gotten to an argument, when I was seeking an objectionable premise (from a Thomistic perspective) on which ID depends, was the allegation that ID depends on the premise that the bacterial flagellum is a machine, full stop. Here would be a way that the ostensible argument would go from there, to get us the “aliens or non-theistic demigod” conclusion above:
1. The bacterial flagellum is a literal machine, full stop.
2. The only sort of beings who ever make literal machines, full stop, are beings who are not the Christian God.
3. Therefore, the bacterial flagellum was made by a being who is not the Christian God.
Now, I would strongly question premise 2. And, while I admit some ignorance here, I cannot help doubting that anything in St. Thomas absolutely entails premise 2, either.

Well, we need to distinguish the idea of machines of the sort men make from the idea of natural objects as machines. If “Natural object X is a machine” entails “Natural object X could at least in principle exist apart from God’s continual sustaining action, in a manner analogous to the way that human artifacts exist even after their makers have departed,” then you can be certain that every Thomist will affirm that natural objects are not machines, and indeed that there could even in principle be no such thing as a naturally occurring machine.

Human machines exist, of course, but though they can exist apart from their makers (i.e. us) that is only because God is at every instant sustaining in being the substances or parts of substances (i.e. non-machines) out of which these machines are made. As I have said, human machines can exist only because naturally occurring non-machines do. It is metaphysically impossible for the naturally occurring objects out of which everything else is made to be machines.

But in any event, Ed, though you keep going back to calling the methods of ID “mechanistic,” you and I have already actually agreed that premise 1 is not necessary to the ID argument, that it could instead be made from a premise acceptable to a Thomist, namely, “The bacterial flagellum is machine-like.”
But in that case, it seems to me that a good, card-carrying Thomist could argue from a machine-like structure to the probabilistic conclusion that such a structure was deliberately made by a designer. Whether that evidence supports that conclusion depends on empirical questions, not on philosophical or a priori questions. It depends on whether, in fact, the hypothesis that the machine-like structure was made by a designer is the best explanation of the existence of the machine-like structure.

Yes, I’ve acknowledged that already several times. You can get to at least a probabilistic conclusion that a designer of some sort or other was involved. BUT…

It would then be _entirely feasible_ that that designer was, in fact, the Christian God, construed in Thomistic terms, who was here being described by an incomplete definite description--“The one who deliberately designed this machine-like structure.”

No, that does NOT follow at all. Again, I am not claiming that God might not have done it that way. It might be true. I am claiming rather that whether or not He did it that way, the methods of ID cannot license even a probabilistic inference that He did. The reasons are that:

(a) focusing on the machine-like aspects alone cannot get you beyond the natural order. For they give you only a set of regularities that could in principle exist apart from the continued presence of their maker, in which case we’re not even in classical theistic territory. To get into that territory you need to focus on those aspects of a thing that make its being and operations dependent at every instant on something outside it – that is to say, aspects like its composite essence/existence structure, it orientation toward such-and-such an end or final cause, etc. But in that case you’re soon giving a straightforward Thomistic argument, and ID drops out as irrelevant.

(b) the anthropomorphic method of modeling the designer on human designers and then abstracting away limitations, etc. also cannot in principle take you to the God of classical theism, but only to some anthropomorphic ersatz.

I would also add that I think Geoff makes good points about God’s lavish willingness to describe himself by human analogies--a father, a husband, and the like. This seems to imply _at least_ that there can be nothing contrary to Christian theism in using a category like “one who designs” or “a designer” as an analogical, partial, description of God, or at least that there can be no objection to such a use strictly on the grounds that it is anthropomorphic. Thomism must be compatible with this insight, and Ed has insisted that it _is_ compatible with the use of such analogies, so the mere repeated use of the term “anthropomorphic” does nothing to undermine the possibility of a Thomist’s making an ID case as described in the previous paragraph.

Yes, but “using language analogically” in the Thomistic sense is not the same thing as “arguing from analogy” in the Paley or ID sense. The latter is not informed by the philosophy of language that underlies the former. Don’t let the word “analogy” fool you.

Finally, Lydia, in response to your last three questions (II and III.A and III.B), I can make some general remarks that apply to all of them. From an Aristotelian-Thomistic (or A-T) point of view, the philosophy of nature that (whether explicitly or implicitly) underlies modern thinking about biological matters is deeply misguided. As with any other mistaken methodology, the mechanistic picture of the world does not make it impossible to make real discoveries, but it does blind us to some real features of the world and distorts our understanding of those features we have discovered. Of course I am interested in the biological details where science is concerned, but what is at issue in the dispute between A-T philosophers on the one hand and ID theorists and others who take a mechanistic view of nature on the other is the proper philosophical framework within which to interpret the biological details.

Hence, like ID theorists, A-T philosophers would acknowledge, indeed insist, that there are higher-order features of biological reality that are irreducible to lower-order ones. But the reason, for A-T, has nothing essentially to do with “complexity” understood as some mathematically quantifiable feature of things, and detecting such irreducibility is not a matter of determining the probability of such-and-such features arising out of lower-level ones. The difference has to do instead with such things as commitment to a hylemorphic analysis of substances, the differences in kind and not merely in degree between living and non-living things (however complex or simple – complexity, again, is not the point), between sentient and non-sentient creatures, between rational and non-rational ones, and so forth.

Questions about the origins of this or that biological feature, whether it arose through some kind of miracle, etc. are therefore not the sort of thing that can be fruitfully addressed until one has first got an appropriate metaphysics and philosophy of nature in place within which one can properly understand what counts as “natural.” And ID is so far from an A-T view of these matters that I am not sure that the question of whether its results could be adapted to a Thomistic context is even well-defined. From an A-T point of view, while ID might make interesting points here and there, its overall approach is misguided. The correct approach would be to re-interpret modern biology in broadly Aristotelian terms and go from there.

Perhaps my bracketed insertion is unfair, and I don't want to unfairly misrepresent Ed, but I don't think most naturalists on the scientific side of the house (that is, who are not philosophers) think that happened, and I think most non-philosopher methodological naturalists would indeed find their methodological naturalism shaken if they came to believe that this conclusion followed from the evidence. Sure there will be dogmatic holdouts, but there are almost always dogmatic holdouts when confronted with a reductio.

Yes, Zippy, but as I explain in my previous two or three posts (all quite long, sorry) ID just ain't a reductio of naturalism in the first place, and it doesn't even force a naturalist into some goofy "aliens" theory. A careful naturalist who's not a Darwin-worshipper like Dawkins or Dennett need not be troubled, because he could just (a) admit that his position is a metaphyscial one, and drop the pretense that it is somehow proved by empirical science, and (b) suggest that we just don't know, and maybe can't know, the nature of the natural non-intelligent mechanisms that produced us. He could say: "OK, so it wasn't just mutation and natural selection. So in fact it seems at least analogous to the sort of thing desigenrs do. Well, so what? That just shows that we haven't yet hit on the right non-intelligent natural mechanisims. But golly, theymust be out there somewhere, because metaphysical considerations X, Y, and Z show that naturalism is true..."

Wrong? Even demonstrably so? Absolutely. But not for empirical reasons, and thus not for ID reasons. It takes a metaphysician to catch a metaphysician.

Naturalism is not a scientific theory. ID is a scientific theory or at the very least empircally-based.

ID cannot refute naturalism because it is a metaphysical theory. But unless you can come up with a realistic naturalistic scenario, Darwinism is really all naturalism has. Naturalism is all it has.

Can you conceive of non-Darwinist scenarios? Sure. But just like atheists coming up with the Multiverse hypothesis, people can tell it is grasping for straws.

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