What’s Wrong with the World

The men signed of the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark.

About

What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

Cudworth and Fuller respond

Over at Uncommon Descent, Thomas Cudworth responds to my latest post on the A-T versus ID controversy. Like VJ Torley, Cudworth insists that I have misunderstood the ID position. But, also like Torley, he never explains how exactly I have misinterpreted the passages from Dembski I quoted. And like Torley, he then goes on to defend the ID characterization of living things as artifacts! So which is it?

Unlike Torley or Cudworth, prominent ID defender Steve Fuller gets it, and in Cudworth’s combox Fuller acknowledges that ID and A-T really are at odds:

At the risk of opening up this theological rift even more, I must say that I actually hold the view of ID that these Thomists are attacking – and I don’t think I’m alone either, though perhaps I’m more explicit than most. Thus, I can see exactly where Feser and Beckwith are coming from, though calling the ID position ‘bad theology’ is just self-serving rhetoric on their part. But certainly there is a real theological disagreement here.

What Fuller sees and Cudworth does not is that if ID theorists are serious when they describe biological phenomena as “machines,” “artifacts,” and the like, then they are committed, whether they realize it or not, to a metaphysics of life that is incompatible with A-T. Cudworth says that I am wrong because ID isn’t committed to any particular view about how God creates. But Fuller understands that if you say that a living thing is a kind of “machine” or “artifact” (in the sense that A-T finds objectionable) then you are committed to a view about how God creates, because you are committed thereby to a certain metaphysical view about what it is that He creates.

Fuller says “frankly, I think ID should simply openly embrace the position that the Thomists are trying to stigmatise as ‘bad theology.’” We disagree about that – and I certainly do not endorse everthing Fuller says about Thomism – but at least he understands that there is a real difference here.

(cross-posted)

Comments (160)

Is any tent bigger than what (probably) Fuller and I agree about on this (e.g., I do think that there are things legitimately described as "tiny biological machines" and have been very overt about this) ipso facto "vacuous"?

And by the way--what about that analogical language stuff? What I mean by that is this: You're not allowed even to make an _analogy_ to a machine or you're a "mechanist"? You're not allowed to say that something is "in some interesting respects like a machine in its structure" or you're a mechanist? Would not that question be something that one could determine only by actual examination of the structures in question, or must the Feserian A-T theorist say a priori that no biological system or sub-system ever could look like a tiny machine in any interesting respect whatsoever and that he can tell this without looking? I'd like this to be a rhetorical question so that the obvious answer is "no," but in that case...

Lydia, "analogy" is a technical term in A-T metaphysics and philosophy of language. There is a difference between "using an analogy" in the ordinary sense and "using language analogically" in the technical A-T sense.

To use a stock example, when I "see" the tree and I visit the Holy "See," I am using the word "see" in equivocal senses -- no overlap in meaning. When I "see" the tree and I "see" the car, I am using the term "see" in a univocal sense -- same meaning in both cases. But when I "see" the tree and I "see" that the Pythagoran theorem is true, I am using "see" in an analogical sense -- there is something in seeing the truth of the theorem that is analogous to seeing a tree, but it is obviously not precisely the same kind of thing because of the metaphysical differences between the two objects of the acts of "seeing," and of the nature of the acts thenselves.

Now, the A-T claim is that the way God creates a natural substance is not even analogous to the way an artificer makes an artifact. In particular, conjoining an essence to an act of existence is not analogous to taking pre-existing stuff and working it over. Moreover, the way we reason from such substances to God is not via an "argument from analogy" with the way human artificers make things, a la Paley. We might in some loose way say in some contexts that God is like a craftsman or whatever -- just like we might say that he is like the sun or like a rock -- but those are mere metaphors that are out of place when we are trying to describe something like the metaphysics of creation.

Oh, and I should add that the flip side of that is that a natural substance is not analogous in the relevant sense to an artifact -- again, cf. Aristotle's "natural" vs. "art" distinction. So while in some contexts (e.g. Schoolhouse Rock's "I'm a machine" song) it might be fine to use these loose machine metaphors, it is not fine when we are trying to understand the nature of a thing, which requires metaphysical precision.

Well, it seems to me that you have three options, Ed:

1) You can simply refuse to know, think, or talk about the specific features and details of living things that do appear to bear significant resemblances to mechanical entities, when one knows what they are like. Steve Fuller says Thomists might have trouble with the picture of the bacterial flagellum at the top of the Uncommon Descent blog. What does that mean? That it's an inaccurate picture? No, I don't think he's saying that. Well, if it's an accurate picture, then this option would mean simply pretending that that is not true, refusing to think about it.

2) You can lean hard on the analogy aspect, admit fully all the detailed reasons why people use terms like "code" and "machine" and so forth when describing these things, but insist that this really must be taken to be _just_ an analogy.

3) You can revise your theory so as to agree with Fuller that certain parts of nature that you previously thought of as not artifacts really are artifacts, as Aristotelians appear to have revised their theories so as to admit that the universe had a beginning while still, to their own satisfaction, retaining significant parts of their theory.

Offhand, I can't think of any other options, though of course I might be overlooking something.

Oh, I suppose there is one more:

4) You can say that there are no such features as those referred to in #1. But that would mean going to the features actually described thus by biologists and saying why they don't even _appear_ in _any interesting way at all_ to be like "codes" or "machines." Perhaps saying that the picture of the b.f. is _inaccurate_. Unless, of course, you wanted to make the assertion purely dogmatically, which we might call 4'.

Here's a theological question, somewhat parallel to the "could scientists make life in a lab" question, only on the other side:

Could God make a 747? Could he create one, that looked *exactly like* an ordinary 747, part for part? What would the result be if he did? Alive? A machine? Are you a "mechanist" if you think God could do so?

Ed, you are being hypocritical coming to other blogs to insist everyone conform to your medieval theology. Your supposed great concern is that we cannot see the distinction between organism and artifacts and that a mechanistic perspective is anathema.

As you know, when I came to your blog, you completely refused to enter discussions that I and several other commenters had about another natural theology - Whitehead's philosophy of organism. Zero.

Likewise, when discussing animal emotion and humane treatment, you took the A-T stance that insists non-human animals are different in kind, not degree because of Aquinas' 'special soul for the rational man.' This of course absolves man from any ethical and/or compassionate outrage over the mistreatment of animals. So animal farming, where living subjects are treated like so many non-sentient machines, was also a topic beneath you.

On reading Aquinas (and you), one is presented with such dogmatic certainties about the workings of reality – the kind of certitude and predictability appropriate to a machine far more than a natural organism.

"As you know, when I came to your blog, you completely refused to enter discussions that I and several other commenters had about another natural theology - Whitehead's philosophy of organism. Zero."

What obligation does he have to enter into such discussions? Even if process theology is a legitimate theological approach, Ed's not obligated to talk about it.

God conjoins metaphysical parts and artificers conjoin physical parts, right? Or is 'conjoin' a technical term too? (No sarcasm) Isn't that some kind of similarity?

Why isn't ID just taken as evidence for special creation, rather than as an account of how God creates? IOW, why isn't it opposed to mere conservation accounts rather than A-T?

Ed, you are being hypocritical coming to other blogs to insist everyone conform to your medieval theology

Oddly, hypocrisy was condemned in medieval theology; so, Ed can say, "You are being medieval in saying that everyone should conform to your medieval ethics." BTW, what is hypocrisy and why is it wrong? As a Christian I know why it is wrong: it is inconsistent with my good as a human person whose nature requires that I act with integrity. But if there are no natures, no ends, no purposes intrinsic to the human person, why should anyone care if I am a hypocrite if I don't hurt anybody, I pay my taxes, and don't kick your dog. If nature can't tell us why sodomy is wrong, then it's not clear why hypocrisy can't get the same break?

Likewise, when discussing animal emotion and humane treatment, you took the A-T stance that insists non-human animals are different in kind, not degree because of Aquinas' 'special soul for the rational man.' This of course absolves man from any ethical and/or compassionate outrage over the mistreatment of animals. So animal farming, where living subjects are treated like so many non-sentient machines, was also a topic beneath you.

"Absolves man" implies a responsibility that we have that other beings don't have. Hence, the only way you can criticize Ed is to implicitly accept a hierarchy of being, which is Thomistic.

Moreover, to say that man is a higher being than a dog does not mean that man has no responsibility to the dog. For if it were the case that better implies absolute control over the lesser, then the only way to avoid injustice would be embracing radical egalitarianism (which would mean the tapeworm is equal to the person whose body it occupies) or a Hobbesian view of nature (where there are no natures, and hence no rules, except those that are agreed upon by a social contract, but in that case there is no assurance that nature gets protected except if protecting it has an instrumental value for man).

Lydia, Burl's the guy I was referring to in our earlier exchange. Brace yourself, because you're about to get endless requests to drop everything and address the relevance of Whitehead to x, for all possible values of x. And if you don't, you'll be refusing to speak to the point at issue, because the issue is all Whitehead all the time, even on a blog apparently devoted to some other subject.

I'll get back to your questions (Lydia, not Burl) later on -- got to take care of some family-related stuff right now.

Brace yourself, because you're about to get endless requests to drop everything and address the relevance of Whitehead to x, for all possible values of x. And if you don't, you'll be refusing to speak to the point at issue


You're clairvoyant too?

I wonder if Lydia or Zippy would be willing to "translate" the following paragraph excerpted from the INTERNATIONAL THEOLOGICAL COMMISSION: Communion and Stewardship: Human Persons Created in the Image of God* / The July 2004 Vatican Statement on Creation and Evolution:

30. In order to maintain the unity of body and soul clearly taught in revelation, the Magisterium adopted the definition of the human soul as forma substantialis (cf. Council of Vienne and the Fifth Lateran Council). Here the Magisterium relied on Thomistic anthropology which, drawing upon the philosophy of Aristotle, understands body and soul as the material and spiritual principles of a single human being. It may be noted that this account is not incompatible with present-day scientific insights. Modern physics has demonstrated that matter in its most elementary particles is purely potential and possesses no tendency toward organization. But the level of organization in the universe, which contains highly organized forms of living and non-living entities, implies the presence of some "information." This line of reasoning suggests a partial analogy between the Aristotelian concept of substantial form and the modern scientific notion of "information." Thus, for example, the DNA of the chromosomes contains the information necessary for matter to be organized according to what is typical of a certain species or individual. Analogically, the substantial form provides to prime matter the information it needs to be organized in a particular way. This analogy should be taken with due caution because metaphysical and spiritual concepts cannot be simply compared with material, biological data.

http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/cti_documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20040723_communion-stewardship_en.html

Apparently, it is Drs. Feser's and Beckwith's argument that the ID partial analogy is not duly cautious? Or ... ?

Interesting question, Lydia. My guess is that A-T would insist that a 747 made directly by God is natural, since what is made by God is by definition natural. Otherwise we wouldn't be seeing such strong push-back against any association of God with artifacts, as if it violated some basic principle of how God creates such that He literally couldn't do otherwise. I'll leave the actual answer to folks who know better than I though.

Why do I find it curiously pertinent to this discussion that Christ was a carpenter?

The problem is "artificial." That is, it is an artifice produced by A-Ters, and is not "natural" to the world as God made it. That's another way of saying God is not an A-Ter, even though some folks insist that we ought to be. How do I know? He was here and lived among us. He walked our roads, ate our food, and spoke our language. Ignore Him if you wish. Maintain your Thomistic fundamentalism if you wish. He rejected it. So do I.

I'm imagining a 747 that is indistinguishable in type, to all examination, at every possible physical level, from the others, so that if it were put into the lineup of some airline and sent on its way, no one would or could ever know the difference. It seems to me quite a bullet to bite to say that such a 747 would not be a machine. Would it be an airplane? Are all airplanes machines? And so forth.

To pick a nit, every 747 (and indeed every aircraft) is a unique, largely hand-built custom artifact; much more so than (say) cars, which come off of far more automated and standardized mass-production assembly lines.

But we could choose a truly "cookie cutter" artifact, like a PC for example, and this nit doesn't change the core of the argument in any way I can see. It is just that the pilot in me cringed at the "indistinguishable ... from the others" to the point that I couldn't keep my mouth shut. Every time I fly an aircraft as Pilot In Command there is specific information about that aircraft and that aircraft alone that I have to know about and include in my flight planning in order to legally fly the aircraft.

He was here and lived among us. He walked our roads, ate our food, and spoke our language. Ignore Him if you wish. Maintain your Thomistic fundamentalism if you wish. He rejected it. So do I.

You are, of course, speaking of the Christ, to whom the Angelic Doctor prays:

"Give me, O Lord, a steadfast heart, which no unworthy affection may drag downwards; give me an unconquered heart, which no tribulation can wear out; give me an upright heart, which no unworthy purpose may tempt aside. Bestow on me also, O Lord my God, understanding to know you, diligence to seek you, wisdom to find you, and faithfulness that may finally embrace you, through Jesus Christ our Lord."

He was holier than both of us combined, and probably closer to Jesus too.

Frank,

Thomas was praying to Christ in a prayer that concludes "[to] finally embrace you [Christ?!], through Jesus Christ our Lord"?

Also, I wonder about the effectiveness of your point as a rebuttal to Michael Bauman. It only succeeds if apparent piety implies real piety and real piety implies doctrinal correctness, but Bauman can claim that Thomas' piety failed in some way to be genuine (as you might think about a cultist) or that his real piety and love of God was still compatible with an erroneous understanding of the nature of revelation. (Indeed, you probably think the latter is true of Bauman himself.)

A-T is artificial, but ID isn't?

Now, the A-T claim is that the way God creates a natural substance is not even analogous to the way an artificer makes an artifact.

Yes, but the prior intellectual conceptions of the designs of the thing made and the thing created are analogous, as are the respective intellects that conceive them; and it is this prior conception of design as found in an intellect that is the object of ID. That’s why the science is called “intelligent design” and not “machine-making.”

Perhaps we all owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. Feser for being so contentious and refusing to gloss over the differences between A/T metaphysics and the ID theorists. Living things are not machines, and the tendency to go beyond the analogy and think of living things as biological machines is a mistake.

Where this debate got off track to the point that it can only be described now, (by analogy) as a train wreck, is when no one pointed out that there is more than one way to create a new natural substance. God could combine prime matter with an essence and an act of existence to produce each every kind of natural thing. More likely, however, God would use natural processes to create the multitude of ever changing things out of the basic elements brought into existence through a single act of creation out of nothing.

If, for example, God wanted to create water, would he do it by creating it out of nothing, or by creating a natural order in which hydrogen and oxygen could be joined together by free energy to produce water? I would suggest that the evidence indicates that God created the natural order and has allowed it produce everything else.

The evidence, however, may be misleading. Perhaps life is so complex that it requires additional input as the ID theorists maintain; and, God had to get personally involved in the creation of life.

There once was a time when it was rational to believe based on the evidence that the universe was eternal and not created in time. That is no longer the case. If the book of Genesis was right about that, then maybe it is also right about the origin of life. I believe that it is. But even if God designed living things, they are still natural because each one has its own intrinsic nature, which is something that no machine has.

Even if that were the case, George, the analogy cannot hold for the simple reason that, on a mechanistic view of nature (ID included), there is no such thing as nature. This is the critical point. If there is any distinction to be made between nature and artifact, it must be more than the person responsible for the particular creation. In other words, it cannot be that Nature is just the machine that God built while machines are machines that we build. Something natural is conceptually different from something artificial.

One question that I have for proponents of ID in general: What is Nature? The answer to this question is awfully significant.

A Thomist would hold that the very existence of nature and natures necessarily moves back to God, but this does not necessarily mean that nature does not have its own power, for this is the very definition of Nature, that the things created by God have within them an interior arrangement or power of motion (change). There is almost an independence about Nature that makes empirical science possible without immediately following into theology or philosophy.

The point is that a mechanistic view of nature is not really a view of nature at all. It is actually the repudiation of nature as such. The destruction of nature, though, brings with it many implications and errors, most of which have been realized in philosophy for the past 500 years. ID is merely an attempt to maintain your house after an earthquake has destroyed your city.

EtL:

ID is merely an attempt to maintain your house after an earthquake has destroyed your city.
But is it true, when properly understood, and as Lamont's comment asks I think very well? Did God accomplish the creation of life on earth not only as the God of Aristotle, but also as Jesus ben Joseph the Carpenter? More generally, why is it that some commentators seem to simply want the ID crowd to shut up, rather than adjusting their metaphysics? Why the utter lack of even general suggestions about how to make the detailed empirical facts comport with A-T philosophy?

One thing that this discussion has convinced me of, if nothing else, is that the idea that A-T philosophy is compatible with any set of empirical facts is far too glib. If that were true, this tempest over ID would not have taken on this aura of categorical incompatibility. I am starting to seriously doubt that it is the case: that the "metaphysics with no empirical consequences" construct may be its own sort of positivist-postmodern claptrap, and that the frenzy over ID may be just the veneer on a deeper problem between (this kind of) A-T philosophy and empirical science in general that I don't yet understand.

Sorry about the 747 goof, Zippy. I suppose it would be pretty freaky if God made a 747 that really was identical to some other 747 already in existence, since they are normally unique. :-) One would always be wondering which one came first. And one could argue that even a cookie-cutter machine like a PC is still going to be unique at some molecule-for-molecule level, because an infinitesimal number of molecules got rubbed off one corner or something in shipping. So we're going to have to go with "type identical" at some level anyway for the example. But to me it's obvious that a PC is a machine, an airplane is a machine, etc., no matter how made.

And I've been thinking of adding: non-Aristotelians don't use phrases like "nano-machines" and such (which those unsympathetic to ID use as well, by the way) just out of some sort of arbitrary outpouring of mechanistic philosophy. If that were the case, they'd say it about rocks and sand as well, but of course they don't. There are _features_ of the "tiny biological machines" that are being referred to by such phrases. So for the A-T philosopher just to dismiss the designations as wrong-headed because "mechanistic" is, it seems to me, for the philosopher to refuse to acknowledge the very real difference between the real features of real things that are inspiring the "mechanistic" phrases and sand dunes or clouds or whatever. If one doesn't like phrases like "nano-machines," one needs to offer an alternative account and a convincing alternative description of the actual features of reality that are giving rise to those phrases.

And let me add that to refer to any perceptible part of a living thing as a mechanism does not at all conflict with A-T. To regard the eyes, and brains, and even whole bodies of animals as kinds of machines is perfectly legitimate, if it is supported by empirical evidence. For, while the substance of a thing can never be a kind of machine, its proper attributes or accidents can be; and only the proper attributes are perceptible to the senses. In other words, speaking as a Thomist, to say that a certain animal is a machine would be false, but to say that it has a machine may be true.

That's a very interesting distinction, George. Thanks.

Lydia:

If one doesn't like phrases like "nano-machines," one needs to offer an alternative account and a convincing alternative description of the actual features of reality that are giving rise to those phrases.
That is part of where I was going with "breeding an ape from a bacteria".

We can just set aside the special case of human beings, which removes one of the category-objections. It sounds to me like A-T requires special creation of Man a-priori, though that may allow for special intervention in an evolution-like process ("from the dust of the earth") as opposed to creation of a complete new man ex nihilo. Still, God must have added something to the dust to make Man, since Man is not in non-living dust.

I'm not sure how to deal with the "vegetative-animal" distinction, because bacteria have appetite and locomotion, but when it comes to sensation, well, lets just say I doubt it. In fact I just don't know how an A-T philosopher would categorize various life forms given the gory details. Prokaryote-eukaryote is a pretty fundamental difference, but there are lots of eukaryotes which are "vegetative" in the sense of lacking appetite and locomotion, at least if we define those things in a certain way (mushrooms, anyone?). If we toss locomotion over the side we might suggest that creatures with brains of a given complexity (neo-limbic systems?) are "animals" in the A-T sense, so ants for example would be "vegetative". I'm just spitballing here though: I guess that before we could even begin we'd need an "A-T taxonomy" for the creatures we actually know about now, and the details we know about those creatures, which were unknown in Aquinas' day.

In any case though, once we had an A-T taxonomy it seems to me that most of the things described as "machines" and "mechanistic processes" could just be relabeled without changing any of the realities involved. Gene insertions could be a form of "grafting", for example, like attaching orange tree branches to a lemon tree. Somatic gene insertions would probably have to be distinguished from germ line insertions in multicellular creatures complex enough to have that distinction: germ line insertions can change the purpose of an organism, as when we "program" bacteria to eat oil spills. Somatic cell insertions on the other hand only persist for the life of the particular organism. Is the former a problem for A-T? I don't know.

Some of it seems a bit contrived to be sure, but I guess at bottom what I am getting at is that many of the objections appear to be just objections about the language being used, and I'd like to be able to filter out those kinds of objections to get to the minimal body of actual substantive objections, and then see if and how those substantive objections can be harmonized with known facts, let alone ID.

The dispute, Zippy, is not over empirical facts. It is also not about any a priori imposition on the natural order. Read the beginning of Aristotle's metaphysics. It is basically an empiricist account of knowledge. In fact, it would be safe to say that, according to Aristotle, there is no proper a priori knowledge, if a priori means before sense experience.

What Dr. Feser keeps attempting to explain is that ID assumes (or smuggles in depending on the intellectual honesty of the proponent) a host of philosophical assumptions which are at least disputable and at most simply incoherent. It is not a question of whether metaphysics can coincide with empirical data but whether one metaphysics is superior to another, more modern one.

Here is some comments from Mr Feser's Blog, that discuss alot of the problems you are discussing:


David said...
Bilbo: So let's just say that life is at least a machine.

That's just it: on an Aristotelian view, a living organism is not "at least" a machine. It isn't a machine at all, that would in fact be a contradiction. A machine, to Aristotle, "really is" its parts, that just happen to function a certain way. In other words, the function is something "outside" of the machine, the collection of parts; it's extrinsic. An organism, on the other hand, is precisely not a collection of parts [though of course scientifically, that's how we analyse it], but is one thing, with its own function that is inherent or intrinsic.

This is I think Prof. Feser's point about why ID doesn't make sense to an Aristotelian: ID claims to be able to distinguish between types of machines: those that have an "accidental" function, and those that have a designed function. But if an organism is not a machine to begin with, then the question makes no sense. The teleology in an organism is the same as that in a lone molecule, or a single electron: each acts according to its own nature, its own natural, intrinsic function. It doesn't make sense to claim that ID can pick out an organism any more than it could pick out an electron as "intelligently designed". (Or, I guess if it could, it would be rather useless, since everything would simply turn out to be "designed", and thus it would be a distinction without a difference.)

I hope I've got that about right, because I think I finally understand what's at the root of this whole "AT vs. ID" firestorm that's raging across the globe (or, well, a handful of websites, anyway). I also think there must be a way to "translate" the ID program into a question that makes sense to an Aristotelian: instead of trying to distinguish organisms-with-final-causes from inanimate-objects-that-don't [which makes no sense in those terms], what we actually want to seek is something like a scientific way to distinguish a machine from an organism, that is, an extrinsic cause from an intrinsic cause. (Which may or may not be possible, although I'm not sure Aristotelianism has anything much to say about that a priori. Perhaps it would say that the difference between an intrinsic and an extrinsic end is not one which can be determined scientifically, i.e. by observation, but requires philosophical reasoning?)

[P.S. it is interesting and instructive to consider the etymology of the terms "organism", "machine", and "analysis".]


Brandon said...
The (Would Be) Leonine Thomist said:

I still don't see why ID arguments cannot be validly applied in the case of human beings. In an earlier post, I argued that since (by Thomas's metaphysics and by Catholic dogma) a special act of creation is needed to give life to a human being, a human being can truly be said to be an artefact of God, a product of divine workmanship that could never be produced by natural causes. Human beings are thus evidence of intelligent design of precisely the sort that the IDers seem to be arguing for, and I don't see how in this case their argument can be said to be invalid or unThomistic.

I can see the appeal of such a view, but as David says above, part of the problem in this discussion is that people keep importing different meanings into the phrase 'intelligent design'. In order to be intelligent design of precisely the sort IDers argue for, it has to have the following features: it has to argue on the basis of the kind of complexity of the object under question, claim that this complexity exhibits a feature, e.g., a certain level or type of information, that evolutionary pathways cannot reach in the time they have had to reach it, and conclude that this feature must be originally generated by an intelligence rather than by the natural causes involved in those evolutionary pathways; once the system has the right information, however, it can generate that sort of object indefinitely. As Mike says, however, none of these features are found in Aquinas's discussion of the rational soul. The ground of the inference is not the complexity of the intellect and on Aquinas's view the intellect can never be generated by any intelligence, either -- the arguments are that the intellectual soul is ingenerable. No amount of information of any kind added to a system can on this view add up to an intellect. Thus insofar as we are embodied we are (like almost everything else) both created and generated, but insofar as we are capable of grasping universals as such we are only created. And this is something that is true in every single human case -- the precise point of the argument that human souls must be created is that it is the follow-up to the argument that having an intellectual soul can't be transmitted through generation. Thus the argument seems to be different in every single particular -- the only similarity is that in both cases God does something, if one interprets the intelligent designer in ID as being God.

Creation is a very different kind of causation than generation is. By its very nature, ID about biological organisms is confined to talking about generation. To this extent it is entirely possible for someone Thomistically inclined to make an argument that no mechanistic explanations can account for human intellect, because explanations that do not include God, however accurate they may be, only account for the bodily disposition to intellect and not the intellect to which it is disposed. But the grounds would have to be either very non-ID grounds -- because what ID looks at are only what the Thomist can consider relevant to the bodily dispositions -- or very non-Thomistic grounds -- understanding human intellect in a mechanistic way as a particular kind of interaction of a material system.

April 18, 2010 5:09 PM


Brandon said...
(cont'd, in response to The (Would Be) Leonine Thomist)

I agree, though, with your point about spontaneous generation: it is relevant, albeit in a limited way, in that Thomistic philosophy of nature doesn't rule it out at all. Indeed, except for certain things dealing with ingenerables (intellects and the heavens), Aquinas tends to leave very open what nature can or can't do; this has to be discovered by study. And part of the reason is found in Aquinas's rejection of occasionalism: denying a priori that a natural object could have a certain power is denying that God could give it that power. But God can do anything except a contradiction, so the only way to rule something out as a potential natural power is to show it leads to contradiction: either absolutely (e.g., generating an ingenerable) or on supposition (e.g., given the nature God has in fact given it the natural object can't do what's claimed). The former can be handled with metaphysics alone, but they are very rare; the latter requires openminded investigation of what powers natures do, in fact, have. And no ID I've ever run across actually argues for a contradiction; they are, as Mike says, all probabilistic.

Crude said:

I think one problem here is that Ed keeps explaining why ID is (in his view) metaphysically incompatible with A-T, but most people are choosing to respond with "But ID can be effective at changing people's minds!"

Well, sure. But merely being effective doesn't seem to be Ed's goal. Lies and BS can be effective for some people too (See Dawkins, Hitchens, etc), but that isn't a reason to do such.

But there's a response I can see a thomist giving to ID proponents: The root problems affecting modern debates about God are metaphysical and philosophical ones. In particular, some people being utterly unaware of the metaphysical and philosophical commitments they and others hold - or being unable to tell where science ends and philosophy begins. THAT problem must be addressed, not ignored.

Bilbo said...
I think we have a few choices in understanding living things:

1) Living things are nothing but machines.

2) Living things are not machines.

3) Living things are machines plus something more, involving qualities such as agency.

I prefer (3). It seems to satisfy the observations of biology and also our common sense, And it seems that if (3) is correct, then ID is compatible with A-T. Yes?

April 18, 2010 5:28 PM


David said...

Bilbo said that if living things are machines plus something more, then ID is compatible with A-T.

Heh, except that then A-T wouldn't be compatible with A-T! That is, if life = machine + whatever, then A-T, strictly speaking, is not true. But that doesn't mean we couldn't take most of and maybe make a new system (neo-A-T?) that is very similar in other respects, but allows for life to "include" being a machine.

I'm not sure how much of this really comes down to semantics: there's no problem with a Thomist breaking a wallaby and a watch down into atoms and seeing that the atoms are the same in either case. But of course in doing so, you've destroyed the wallaby and there no longer is a living thing. The catch is that we can do a lot of experimenting on organisms without destroying them and still conclude that their parts work the way a mechanist would expect. The Thomist would say that most (all?) of the same forms apply in both cases, except that they are only accidental forms in the organism. E.g. it is essential to the nature of an electron to absorb a photon, but only accidental or secondary that [part of] a wallaby can absorb a photon the same way. In which case, we could redefine "mechanism" and "reductionism" to refer to parts without requiring the whole to merely "be" its parts. But it would be less confusing to find a neutral third term that made sense to both sides.

April 18, 2010 7:07 PM


Bilbo said...
If we break a wallaby and a watch down into their atoms, we've destroyed both the wallaby and the watch.

It's only accidental that the watch absorb an electron.

The entire function of a watch can be explained in solely terms of the interaction of its physical parts.

Under my view, would say that the function of a wallaby can not be explained solely in terms of the interaction of its physical parts.

It still looks like can say that living things are machines plus something more, including qualities such as agency.

April 18, 2010 8:21 PM

Lamont said...
Perhaps we all owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. Feser for being so contentious and refusing to gloss over the differences between A/T metaphysics and the ID theorists. Living things are not machines, and the tendency to go beyond the analogy and think of living things as biological machines is a mistake.

Where this debate got off track to the point that it can only be described now, (by analogy) as a train wreck, is when no one pointed out that there is more than one way to create a new natural substance. God could combine prime matter with an essence and an act of existence to produce each every kind of natural thing. More likely, however, God would use natural processes to create the multitude of ever changing things out of the basic elements brought into existence through a single act of creation out of nothing.

If, for example, God wanted to create water, would he do it by creating it out of nothing, or by creating a natural order in which hydrogen and oxygen could be joined together by free energy to produce water? I would suggest that the evidence indicates that God created the natural order and has allowed it produce everything else.

The evidence, however, may be misleading. Perhaps life is so complex that it requires additional input as the ID theorists maintain; and, God had to get personally involved in the creation of life.

There once was a time when it was rational to believe based on the evidence that the universe was eternal and not created in time. That is no longer the case. If the book of Genesis was right about that, then maybe it is also right about the origin of life. I believe that it is. But even if God designed living things, they are still natural because each one has its own intrinsic nature, which is something that no machine has.

Thanks, Lydia.

The distinction I made was in perfect conformity with A-T orthodoxy. A horse is not a mechanism for the same reason a horse is not a brain, a leg, an eye, or a hoof. But does that mean that a horse does not have those attributes? No. If empirical investigation determines that the body of a horse is a kind of machine composed of many smaller machines, there is absolutely nothing in A-T philosophy that would prevent it from being regarded as such; and I defy any of the Thomists on this site to gainsay me on this point.

EtL:

Read the beginning of Aristotle's metaphysics.
If you are trying to strengthen your case, that kind of patronizing dogmatic tripe isn't helping. Really. According to Ed, an account of modern science re-conceived under A-T philosophy is an extraordinarily large, difficult, careful undertaking, and he gave me a few references to folks who are doing parts of the work involved, which I plan to follow up. I know lots of detail about the science; I know little about how present-day Aristotleans address the science in detail. The impression I am getting from Ed is that it is a serious intellectual work; from you the impression I am getting is that it is just a trivial matter of submission to the Prophet Aristotle (PBUH) as interpreted by (surprise) you. No thanks.

I do not think you understood me properly. When I said that one should read the beginning of Aristotle's metaphysics I meant it in an informative way, as in "If you (anybody) read the beginning of Aristotle's metaphysics you will find (surprisingly to many) that it is basically an empiricist account of knowledge." It was not some patronizing instruction to go read it immediately. I was addressing the point you made in a previous post about "metaphysics with no empirical consequences" and compatibility between Thomism and empirical science.

Please, I do not know you, but I do respect you enough not to speak in such a manner. Please give me the benefit of the doubt if I appear to sound insulting in any way. I did not mean it that way.

Also, I do not believe that Aristotle's word is somehow final (although, interesting side note, Maimonides did consider him to be a sort of prophet). I was merely arguing against the claim that metaphysics is utterly distinct from empirical science and that it is an a priori construct imposed upon the physical world. My reference to the beginning of Aristotle's metaphysics, for example, was to point out how, for him, the act/potency distinction was supposed to describe the changes given in everyday sensory experience.

I submit the following passage from Leon Kass because I think it's germane and it rings true; I leave it to the readers here to tell me if his thinking supports A-T, ID, both, or neither:

"These reductionists speak loosely and not well: they mistake knowledge of the part for truth about the whole. Even if a peptide is found that, when injected into the brain, stimulates something like the sensation of falling in love, would that really be an explanation of love? Would anyone who ever loved accept, as adequate to the phenomenon, that love is (nothing but) an elevated concentration of “erotogenin” in the blood?

"Modern biology is not only materialistic but also mechanistic; indeed, it delights in nothing so much as working out “the mechanism of action” of innumerable vital phenomena. Not “what is it?” or “what is it for?” but “how does it work?” is the basic question. The mechanical model in modern biology goes back at least to Descartes. In the Discourse on Method, Descartes treats all vital activity of animals and all human activity, except for speech and will, in terms of heat and local motion: not only the life-giving motion of the heart and blood, but also wakefulness and sleep, sensing, remembering, imagining, suffering passions, and many bodily motions — all these are at bottom just different forms of local motion. And all motion, including vital motion, is understood mechanically, like the motion of a clock or automaton.

"Descartes does not say the organism is, in fact, a machine, but that we do well to consider it as a machine — for the sake of certain and useful knowledge (know-how). But is this mechanical account — or any mechanical account — sufficient, even for these limited purposes? Granted, vital processes occur in an orderly way, but does that make them fundamentally mechanical? The mechanical account leaves no room for spontaneity or self-initiated action. It ignores all inwardness of the agent: interested awareness, felt lack, appetite, intentionality and, hence, the purposiveness of lived movement — all are ignored. However useful as a heuristic concept, the mechanical account is not true to life."

But j. christian, your blood does not clot by "inwardness, appetite, intentionality, purposiveness of lived movement," or anything of the kind. Nor does the bacterial flagellum work because of any of those. Nor does your intracellular transport system that takes out the cellular garbage and kept you from bloating up and dying as a little child work by any of those. And so forth. It's just not to the point.

It's the whole point. One group finds "erotogenin" and declares "Aha! See, there is no metaphysical meaning behind love. It's just a chemical compound." The other group finds it and says, "Aha! It's an irreducibly complex molecule that never could've formed out of random processes. It's evidence that love is from design."

Presumably, a Darwinist and an IDer would quibble about the metaphysical meaning of the discovery, and then happily join hands, inject themselves with the compound and call it "love." They've found the love "machine," so what would it matter to them?

Another Quote from Feser's Blog:

Bilbo said...

So God says, "Let there be a beaver." Would it be legitimate to visualize God's words as incarnating into DNA that was specifically for beavers only? And would that satisfy the requirement that the beaver had its own intrinsic nature?


Lamont said...
Bilbo,
DNA is an indispensable part of the beaver, but the nature is not located in any one part. A nature is an aspect of a fully integrated whole that is recognized through observation not dissection. In your example, the nature of the beaver might be said to be a potency that is formally present in the DNA. But the nature of the beaver only exists in its full actuality in a complete beaver.

All natural substances are fully integrated wholes that act according to a nature that is more than just the sum total of the actions of all of its parts. Water, for example, has a nature and specific properties that are not found in its parts - hydrogen and oxygen. A machine, in contrast is just the sum of its parts.


Perhaps a problem is not that ID types are being reductionistic about nature, but that Aristotleans are being reductionistic about artifacts? Is a performance of the Moonlight Sonata really nothing more than the sum of it's parts?

j. christian, I'm sorry, but that's a really clueless comment. You really think ID arguments are about anything like "love"? Or that they have anything to do with identifying a hormone that causes an emotion with the emotion? I mean, seriously. Do try talking about what we're actually talking about. I gave you a few examples.

Thomas was praying to Christ in a prayer that concludes "[to] finally embrace you [Christ?!], through Jesus Christ our Lord"?

I said he was "speaking OF the Christ," and hence I was referring to the conclusion of the prayer. The rest was about the Godhead, which, of course includes the Second Person of the Trinity. Because Christ is mediator between God and man, it was appropriate for Thomas to God pray through Christ.

Don't people learn this stuff in Sunday School?


Just another in the series of imponderable questions:

is humor (jokes, in particular) mechanical or natural? A computer can compose jokes, but they may not understand them as a human might (yet). If we solve that problem, then aren't we just really asking the Turing Test in a different form: can you tell if the thing behind the screen is an Intelligent Designer by asking it to make a joke, play a sonata, build a universe?

The Chicken

If i cut my hand off and put it next to my computer and use it as a paper weight, the "hand" would be more complex than the computer. But the hand would be on its way to becoming a "heep" whose purpose is not intrinsic to it. However, if before it decomposed, I reattached it, and through the miracle of modern medicine, it regained full function, it would not be correct to say that the hand's shift in purpose means that it now lacks "paper weightedness." For that "purpose" is not something intrinsic to its nature as a part of a whole organism.

In the same way, the bacterial flagellum--or any part of a person--has no intrinsic purpose apart from the role it plays in the whole. Thus, a human's parts are not "little machines," since a little machine would not cease to be a little machine if I removed it from the whole. But, in fact, when I detach my hand, it's not a little machine, it's a heep that must be reattached before it reaches cellular death. If I remove the motherboard from my computer, it is still a little machine. I can it break it down into its component parts, all little machines. And I can break it down further to bits of metal and plastic. But I've not at any time in the process vanquished the intrinsic purpose of any part (as I do when I cut off my hand and let it decay). In fact, I can reattach all the parts, and presto, my computer's back in service. But I've not returned the parts to the whole as I do when I reattach my hand.

If one insists on using the machine analogy, then it becomes more difficult to defend the prolife view on abortion, for the embryo in fact lacks the present capacity to exercise certain "little machines" (e.g., high level brain function) that we typically associate with persons. In fact, very early on the "little machine" o the brain is not even present! So, so unless the embryo is an organism of a certain sort, with a nature that has a hierarchy of intrinsic and ultimate capacities, then you are stuck with little machines that can't think (and make terrible paper weights, by the way).

Has anyone in the discussion on either side ever claimed that living things, or parts of the bodies of living things for that matter, are _nothing but_ little machines? I would certainly disagree with that, and I suspect most or all of the other discussion participants would too.

Of course I'm the sort who reflexively chambers a round when I hear the words 'nothing but' on general principles.

Frank, that abortion argument is just really, really poor. It's unworthy of you. When has anyone who talks about, say, subcellular structures as "nano-machines" ever, remotely, suggested that _human value_ has _anything at all_ to do with the ability to exercise biological functions, including brain functions? Where would you even get such an implication? To tell you the truth, _even if_ someone were to say that the sub-cellular structures composing, say, the intracellular transport system are _literally_ "tiny machines," or perhaps "tiny sub-machines," I am at an utter loss to think by what twisted reasoning and with what invidious assumptions imported wholesale one could get from even that very strong assertion to, "Therefore, a human embryo that has not yet developed such-and-such brain functions is not a person with a right to life." That one's just got to be ditched.

Frank,

Good joke about Sunday School. Apparently there were gaps in my education 20 years or so ago, but alas: my main teacher then was a lapsed Catholic.

Yes, it's possible to see Thomas as praying to the Godhead, but it seems simpler to think he's praying to the Father (at least as far as I can tell from the excerpt). At the very least he's not praying to the Son per se.

Frank,

Re your most recent comment (on here, as of this writing), I don't understand your discussion about little machines. As I understand Aristotle, machines aren't substances, so your computer's motherboard lacks any intrinsic function just as much as a severed hand does. A computer is like a substance in certain ways, but it has no intrinsic principle of unity: what it is in its own right is an aggregate of physical substances (atoms, molecules) physically connected in various ways. "Its" purpose is only what we make of it.

It seems, therefore, that there need not be any a priori objection to calling the bacterial flagellum a machine, as long as one is clear that it's not therefore a substance. Maybe it's too convenient to be true, but perhaps the A-T vs. ID argument is running off of a conflation of machines and substances, or at least the assumption that IDers think that all machines are substances.

Let me be more accurate in the third sentence of my previous post. I wrote of a computer that "it has no intrinsic principle of unity: what it is in its own right is an aggregate of physical substances". In fact there isn't any "its own right", strictly speaking, at least as I understand Aristotle.

Lydia:

We are, like Americans and the British, separated by a common language. You "see" things I don't see, and I "see" things you don't. This seems to be a case of paradigm lost, with none of us making any sense to each other.

For that reason, I'm going back to an article I am working on, "Same-Sex Marriage and Justificatory Liberalism." Here's the introduction:

Supporters of Justificatory Liberalism (JL) typically maintain that the state may not coerce its citizens on matters of constitutional essentials unless it can provide public justification that the coerced citizens would be irrational in rejecting. Moreover, because citizens, including religious citizens, have an evidential set —sources of authority, background beliefs and reasons—not shared by their neighbors, they should restrain from employing those sources as the basis for the reasons why they enact laws that limit the liberty of their fellow citizens who do not share those sources of authority. As Gerald Gaus puts it: “Imposition on others requires justification; unjustified imposi-tions are unjust. … The basic idea is that freedom to live one’s own life as one chooses is the benchmark or presumption; departures from that condition – where you demand that another live her life according to your judgments – require additional justification. And if these demands cannot be justified, then we are committed to tolerating these other ways of living.”

Proponents of the legal recognition of same-sex marriage (SSM) usually offer some version of JL as the most fundamental reason why laws that limit marriage to one man and one woman are unjust. The rationale goes something like this: because citizen opposition to SSM is motivated and/or justified by religious and philosophical reasons that other (mostly gay and lesbian) citizens may reasonably reject, the state may not justly restrict marriage to one man and one woman.

In this paper I argue that the application of JL to SSM does not succeed. And the reason for this is that the issue under scrutiny—the nature of marriage—is deeply embedded in many citizens’ understanding of their roles within their families, their place in history in relation to ancestors and progeny, and their theological traditions and the metaphysical assumptions these traditions assume or entail. Thus, I argue that because of the effects and consequences of legal recognition of SSM, it in fact results (or will result) in a violation of JL against those who, for reasons of conscience borne of their reasonable comprehensive doctrines, cannot acquiesce to the legitimacy of SSM.


Frank,
The difference here, and it is enormous, is the difference between the religion of Jesus and a religion about Jesus. If one insists on mainlining Aristotle into one's theology (and therefore into one's piety), one simply cannot have the religion of Jesus. The best one can hope for is a necessarily distorted approximation. We can, and should, aim higher.

Given the human penchant for suppressing truth -- it too is enormous -- we move away from Christ at our peril. Aristotle's thought is just such a Christ-less move, and fundamentally so. The historical and narrative structure of the Hebrew mindset (i.e., of Jesus' mindset), in general, and of Hebrew theology and piety (i.e., of Jesus' theology and piety), in particular, are far from the metaphysical mindset of the Greeks. That is, you meet Yahweh in history or you don't meet Him at all. The God Aristotle thinks he meets, or knows, is nothing like that, indeed is not Yahweh. Between Yahweh and all other gods there is no common ground, no bridge. There is one God only, and there is no god beside Him. You can't get from the non-existent "them" to Him. Indeed you cannot get to Him at all. He must come to you. Knowing God happens only when he reveals Himself in his words and his works. It's a grace. It's a top-down thing. That is its direction, always. You cannot start at the bottom, like Aristotle did, and reach Yahweh. What you reach instead is the philosophers' version of the graven images outlawed in the Decalogue. Thomas should have known better. But he did not. It was a massive error, one from which Western theology has never recovered.

All that makes a huge difference when it comes to critiquing IDers from an A-T basis. Perhaps IDers deserve critique. I don't deny it. But in this case the basis of critique is, put mildly, theologically suspect, perhaps even radically defective, because it claims to be talking about God and His creation, but does not root its critique in Genesis or in the Son's understanding of it, or His personal participation in it. You'll recall that apart from Him no one knows the Father, or can. Not to begin here is a misfire every time. It then becomes a matter only of which misfire is better or worse.

Mr. Bauman

I commend you on a very insightful piece. I especially like what you say about Hebrew theology and Thomism. I never thought of it that clearly - it addresses the dis-ease I have about Aquinas.

Thanks

Mr. Bauman,

As far as I can tell, no A-Ter here views that as a religion at all, let alone one "about" Jesus. The whole objection seems to confuse religion, knowing God, with our metaphysical reflections on His creation. Nor is anyone here claiming that one must imbibe A-T, or ID for that matter, before, in addition to or instead of meeting Yahweh in history. So unless you're arguing - in a possibly self-refuting way - that all theological reasoning must be based exclusively on Scripture, it's hard to see the problem.

I hope bringing this up isn't feeding a troll or contributing to a threadjack. If so, the powers-that-be are more than welcome to delete or disapprove the comment.

Dennis,
I am saying that reflection on God and creation ought to be rooted in the worldview of Jesus. A-Tism is not. Its critique of ID is, to that extent, theologically suspect.

Of course, what we know of Jesus comes from the Apostles. So, perhaps they got it wrong and the Jesus you think you are following is their invention. Who's to say? After all, the Judaism of the first century was the Judaism of Philo and the Deuterocanonical books, a Helenistic Judaism. So, if you want a philosophically-empty Christianity, there never was one, ever. John 1 is unintelligible apart from the historical situation in which Jesus found himself.

But we are now in the 21st century, the children of Nicea, Orange, and Chalcedon--each incomprehensible without the assistance of philosophical categories--claiming to "merely follow Jesus." But there is no "mere" Jesus. In fact, to entertain such a notion is to flirt with Gnosticism, the heresy that wanted a Christ untouched by the tumult and flux of history and its Church. To want a Christ that is not the Logos in flesh, inexorably tied to his Church and its development, is to embrace a sort of Platonism.

You can't escape philosophy, Michael. Harnack couldn't do it, and neither can you.

Resistance is futile; you will be assimilated. :-)

Resistance is futile; you will be assimilated.

Arguing with Bauman is futile, Frank; you will be exasperated.

Prof Bauman:

I found the following sentence of yours pretty odd: ... you meet Yahweh in history or you don't meet Him at all. Correct me if I'm wrong, but that strikes me another way of asserting what the soon-to-be-heretic Tertullian did by posing the rhetorical question "What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?" More abstractly and generally put, your position seems to be that nothing about God can be known by reason short of believing some special divine revelation as such. There is no "general revelation" prior to and more general than how God has actually revealed himself in the events recorded in the Bible. If that is your position, I find it incompatible not only with what Aquinas thought, but with what Justin Martyr and some later Church fathers thought. Indeed, I also find it incompatible with what St. Paul thought.

Thus Romans 1: 19-21:

...what can be known about God is evident to them, because God made it evident to them. Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. As a result, they have no excuse; for although they knew God they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks. Instead, they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened.

Paul was writing there about pagan idolaters who had not yet received the revelation given to and through the Jews. But if one cannot know anything of God without having received that revelation, then how is it that he can speak of pagan knowledge of God, the loss of which was "without excuse"?

All that seems so evident to me that I suspect it's also evident to you. Accordingly, I doubt you mean what you seem to mean. So, could you clarify what you mean?

Best,
Mike

Let is also be clearly stated that, whatever the merits of Mr. Bauman's argument (and I think there are none), his position is completely at odds with the position of both the Catholic Church and of historical Christianity in general. Dr. Beckwith and Mr. Liccione, not to mention Dr. Feser, have dealt with his ahistorical and anti-traditional notions definitively, but the point should be made explicitly:

What Mr. Bauman is arguing for cannot be called Christianity either historically or traditionally speaking.

Frank,
1. I'm not looking for a philosophy-empty Christianity; I'm looking for the theology of Christ -- which, if it has a philosophy of the sort you are speaking of, that philosophy isn't the philosophy of Aristotle. Nor is it, so far as the evidence reveals, the sort of thought advocated by Philo. Also, I think we sometimes must distinguish between the theology of the early Christians and that of Christ, just as we must sometimes distinguish between the theology of first century Judaism and the theology of Christ. They sometimes diverge.

2. You know very well that there are good reasons for concluding that the Jesus of the gospels is not a mere invention of the apostles. You don't believe He is and neither do I.

3. No one is saying that Nicea and Chalcedon are not philosophically laden. They are. But I am saying that theology of Jesus is very different from theirs. I prefer his. Talking about them is beside my point. I'm not interested much in having their theology. Its defects are philosophically driven. In other words, there's more than one way to be an heir of the councils. Some ways of doing so set one's thought at odds with Christ's.

EtL
Do you see the bizarre nature of your claim?: Having the theology of Christ cannot be called Christianity?

But in truth, having the theology of Christ cannot be called churchianity. His thought is at odds with it. So much the worse for churchianity.


Michael L:
When Paul deals with the pagan Greeks, he deals with them as persons who must be told about "the unknown God." When he sets about explaining this "unknown God" to them, he explains Jesus and the resurrection -- because in Christ, in history, is how God is known. He declines to begin with things like the uncaused cause and the unmoved mover.

I still want to know what Ed would say about whether God could make a 747 and whether it would be a machine if he did. :-) Because to say "no" seems to me like a hard sell. It would be absolutely contrary to the nature of God to make a 747? And to say "yes" seems to me to vitiate--or evacuate of any relevance to the present discussion--the claim that the picture of "God making machines" is absolutely wrong and could never happen, is bad theology, a false picture of who God is and "how he creates." Frankly, I don't give a rip what metaphysical gloss one puts on it, because the outcome is going to look _just like a machine_. And if God can do that, that knocks out one whole leg from the supposedly in-principle critique of "machine-talk" with regard to life. Let's remember, it wasn't _just_ supposed to be that we can all sit back and "just tell" that living things or parts of living things _shouldn't_ and _mustn't_ be spoken of by any informative analogy to (much less a literal designation as) machines. No, it was also supposed to be that to do so is radically false to the nature of God as creator.

Oh, and btw, in response to Frank's whole thing about the hand and the mother-board. A severed hand decays while a removed mother-board doesn't not because of Aristotelian metaphysics but because bacteria like meat and don't like silicon. Science. Not heavy metaphysics. And one can say plenty of "has its meaning in relation to the whole" things about a lone bicycle wheel or a mother-board out of the computer or whatever. _And_ one can use a tiny bit of imagination and think of a man-made (or alien-made) machine made of a substance that bacteria like that fights them off as long as it receives, say, oxygen or nitrogen or whatever from the air, which is taken in and distributed by the machine as a whole, so that the parts are broken down by their surroundings when separated from the rest of the machine. So that entire set of examples was a "fail" if it was supposed to tell us how right the Aristotelians are to reject all machine-talk, informative machine analogies, etc. for living things or their parts. _And_ it didn't address the actual _reasons_ why people make those comparisons.

No, I do not see the bizarre nature of my claim. Can you admit the bizarre nature of your claim, that we should be listening to you instead of the Church Fathers, the Councils, and 2000 years of Christian tradition for "authentic" Christianity? To call what you propose a "theology of Christ" and to distinguish it from "churchianity" is a complete cop out. What counts as a proper theology of Christ is exactly what is at issue in your comments, and you cannot offer any content to this statement that does not conflict with what has been called Christianity for 2 millenia.

What you have is not Christianity but ideology as evidenced by your refusal to argue properly at all. And again I will repeat: Despite whether you are right or wrong, at least admit that what you propose is ahistorical. Christianity has always articulated her doctrines by using what is highest and best in the philosophical traditions of antiquity.

For instance, Christianity has always had the doctrine of the Trinity, yet there is only One God. At the very least, this is an apparent contradiction to the unread observer. How would you reconcile these two beliefs without any recourse to philosophical language? Or how would you articulate Divine Simplicity, which is another doctrine held by at least Catholicism? Or that Christ was fully man and fully God? It seems that you have quite a bit of work ahead of you, you have to basically create a Christianity which keeps all of these doctrines (or it will not be Christianity) but you must remove all of the "impure" influences of ancient philosophy. Good luck!

EtL
I never said "listen to me." I said listen to Christ. He, not me, and not the fathers, is the measure of Christianity. Show me that your theology is his, and I will accept it. If yours and his differ, I choose his.

What I propose is not ahistorical. It invokes a history that is both older and more properly authoritative than the one you invoke. It invokes the one invoked by Him, a history that is focused not on the metaphysical speculations of the Greeks, but on the words and works of God in history. That the one you invoke is by its content and methods quite different from Christ's is a concession I am glad to see you make. Your argument is with Him, not me. I am pointing beyond myself to Christ, and you cannot fathom how that could be genuinely Christian. In a religion that requires us to have the mind of Christ, working at odds with Him will not do.

Lydia:

_And_ one can use a tiny bit of imagination and think of a man-made (or alien-made) machine made of a substance that bacteria like that fights them off as long as it receives, say, oxygen or nitrogen or whatever from the air, which is taken in and distributed by the machine as a whole, so that the parts are broken down by their surroundings when separated from the rest of the machine.
We already do attempt to make biodegradable machines where it makes sense to do so. We also engineer biology in order to degrade things (like oil spills) which are not naturally biodegradable.

Yeah, I thought of that, too. I don't know how biodegradable machines work, though. I assume they just always degrade after a certain time period. (Well, so do some living organisms--just look at my tulips.)

I'm going to fix the typos in that previous comment of mine. They were terrible. Author's privilege...

Let's remember, it wasn't _just_ supposed to be that we can all sit back and "just tell" that living things or parts of living things _shouldn't_ and _mustn't_ be spoken of by any informative analogy to (much less a literal designation as) machines.

His point is, that it isn't an informative analogy, because to see organisms this way is to misunderstand important parts of there nature, to take quote from Lamont on Feser's blog " Water, for example, has a nature and specific properties that are not found in its parts - hydrogen and oxygen. A machine, in contrast is just the sum of its parts" so refer to a body part as similar to a machine, is to make yourself blind to specific aspects of its metaphysical nature. Now you could say lets make the analogy of machine just so as to develop a better understanding of the part, and then always keep in mind that it isn't a complete explanation of the organism, there's other parts that can only be explained metaphysically. But Feser's point is that to see specific thing as a machine, is to deprive it from its natural essence from the start, and can only lead to the further distancing from the God of Classical Theism.

To Quote Feser

"It isn’t just that a mechanistic starting point won’t get you all the way to the God of classical theism. It’s that a mechanistic starting point gets you positively away from the God of classical theism. Why? Because a mechanistic world is one which could at least in principle exist apart from God. And classical theism holds that the world could not, even in principle, exist apart from God. So, the views are flatly inconsistent. And so, if you start with a mechanistic conception even just “for the sake of argument,” you will never get one inch, one millimeter closer to the God of classical theism. Instead, you will have ruled that God out from the get-go. "


Now Feser's point is that with Natuarlism:

"(It’s like saying “Let’s stipulate for the sake of argument that the killer could not have been a man. Now, was it O. J. Simpson? Let’s weigh the evidence.”) Indeed, you will not get even one millimeter beyond the natural world if you assume a mechanistic starting point (again, even just for the sake of argument). For that reason, the methods of ID cannot possibly pose a challenge to naturalism per se; the most they can ever do is pose a difficulty for one version of naturalism (viz. Darwinian reductionism)."

So to use a world view (Naturalism) to explore Phenomena, that is based on the idea the things can be explained without God or have no need for God, is directly contradictory to the A-T view that "the world could not, even in principle, exist apart from God", to even presume this view, or to use this idea to study things scientifically, is to embrace a philosophy that has already in some way, made God Obsolete.


" Water, for example, has a nature and specific properties that are not found in its parts - hydrogen and oxygen. A machine, in contrast is just the sum of its parts"

This is a poor understanding of what water is. There is no such thing as "hydrogen and oxygen," apart from their natures and IT IS THEIR NATURES that make water form with its nature. It is the particular quantum mechanical natures of hydrogen and oxygen that cause them to form water. It is a continuation of those natures within water that gives water its unique properties. One can separate H and O atoms a short distance without changing the properties of water too much. After the bond separation distance, hydrogen behaves like diatomic hydrogen and oxygen like diatomic oxygen, but (and I can't stress this enough), quantum mechanics, as far as we know, is a linear theory, so the properties of H2 and O2 are in a continuum with the properties of H2O. Electrostatic attraction as a physical property just doesn't change in water or H2 and O2. The very fact that we can model the properties of water, at all, assumes that the composite shares properties with the components at a quantum mechanical level.

A machine may be the sum of its parts, but let's look at two things: substitution of parts and substitution of purpose (component and final causes). Is a car with brass nuts and bolts a different machine than the same car with stainless steel nuts and bolts? How far can one deviate until one has a different machine? Isn't this the same as taking H2O and adding another H to get H2O2 (hydrogen peroxide)? How far can one deviate. If one machine has different properties and tendencies than another morphed machine, does this not make water and hydrogen peroxide similar in this regard?

Also, is it in the nature of a car to transport? What happens if I decide to use it as a very heavy paper weight? What is water's purpose? Is it to put out fires? If I add sodium to it, is not its purpose to start a fire? How far can the purpose of a machine be changed before it is a fundamentally different machine? How far can a natural substance's purpose be changed until it is no longer the same nature?

What about humans? Is a human with cancer a fundamentally different nature than a human without cancer, since cancer cells have a different nature than regular cells? Do natures add or merely coexist?

Just showing off my ignorance of basic metaphysics.

The Chicken

Yeah I know I was just quoting someone else, to give you a basic idea of the concept. The idea was that mechanical explanations only give you a limited understanding of phenomena, and can't explain all its properties, I wasn't endorsing the actual scientific explanation of water, that the person I quoted had stated. I had realised myself that the quote had simplified the science and misunderstood some other aspects of it, but it made sense as explanation of metaphysics vs mechanical naturalism.

Also to add Feser's point is that ID presumes naturalism and hence can't be united with the God of Classical Theism.

The Masked Chicken could you some up what your point is, and what the problem is, that you seem to have, with the use of the idea, that organism or properties have a metaphysical nature?

ID does not assume naturalism. People keep repeating that falsehood to the point where it is becomIng a smear.

ID doesn't even require an assumption of "mechanism" the way that has been technically defined in these discussions. Certain individuals may be mechanists in this technical sense (heck, even I might be one), but that hardly shows that there is anything intrinsically mechanist about ID.

The critique of ID does appear to assume that God is incapable of making a machine. So like Lydia I am interested in a response to her question "can God make a 747".

Yes, yes, yes, Phantom Blogger. I've read Ed on this subject. But please tell me once again--does this mean that God can't make a 747?

The whole "machine is just the sum of its parts but an organism isn't" thing sounds to me like a certain amount of foot-stomping. I could also say that a bicycle is more than the sum of its parts because only when they are put together in the way that makes it a bicycle can little kids ride on it by pushing the pedals with their feet. Any ordinary machine carries out an overall function because of the way it is put together, and in the sense that it needs to be put together right to carry out the function might be said to be "more than the sum of its parts."

Zippy can you explain how you can have ID without Naturalism?

(I am not saying this in an insulting way, but I don't think I ever heard of ID without Naturalism, and it seems from the quotes I've taken from Feser he doesn't either)


Also if you read Feser's newest post it seems as if Dembski also believes that ID has to presume Naturalism.

Quote from Dembski:

ID’s critique of naturalism and Darwinism should not be viewed as offering a metaphysics of nature but rather as a subversive strategy for unseating naturalism/Darwinism on their own terms. The Darwinian naturalists have misunderstood nature, along mechanistic lines, but then use this misunderstanding to push for an atheistic worldview.

ID is willing, arguendo, to consider nature as mechanical and then show that the mechanical principles by which nature is said to operate are incomplete and point to external sources of information… This is not to presuppose mechanism in the strong sense of regarding it as true. It is simply to grant it for the sake of argument — an argument that is culturally significant and that needs to be prosecuted.


Hence from this quote you can see that Dembski does have to presume naturalism in order to make his critiques.

The same way you can have a 747 without naturalism. Or a big bang without naturalism, for that matter.

And I don't pretend to be defending specific statements of Dembski's. If Dembski being wrong about metaphysics invalidates ID then Heisenberg being wrong about metaphysics invalidates quantum mechanics. Which is to say, it doesn't.

No, the point is that people are saying ID and Thomism are compatable, while Dembski's statements suggest they are not.

Also Quantum Mechanics can be Empirically tested, ID can't, its based on Probability, so even if Heisenberg's metaphysics were wrong, we could still prove quantum mechanics to be in some way truthful. If the Philosophy is wrong with ID then it itself is wrong.

I'll reply to the rest yours and Lydia's statements in a bit.

I have a news flash: quantum mechanics is also based on probability. Remember the whole Einstein-dice thing?

It is possible that Aristotleans have a problem with reasoning from probabilities though.

Phantom Blogger,

Be at peace. I do think that organisms have a metaphysical nature. Water was a poor example, that's all. I think the contiunuum question raised above is important. If a virus is alive, at what point did its aliveness start? With which molecule? Water is not just H2 and O2. It is H2, O2, and itsenvironment (including quantum and thermodynamic laws). Does aliveness require more or is it just a part of a continuum?

The Chicken

We can still and could prove specific things through empirical observation, it was the measurements that were based on probabilities, so it isn't purely probable. ID is a way of making an interpretation of biological data to look for the probability of design, since as far as I know they can't empirically prove design, the concept of design is a philosophical concept, all they can show is the probability that it couldn't have evolved naturally. So if I disprove there concept of design, through Philosophical reasoning and there use of probabilities, I disprove ID (at least in it present form). If I disprove the probabilities used to interpret Quantum mechanics I still have the empirical observations to back it up, and I just come up with a new interpretation, but I have'nt disproved the entire field as I would have with ID.

If you want we could even go further and claim like Charles Sanders Peirce that science achieves statistical probabilities, not certainties, and that chance, a veering from law, is absolutely real. He assigned probability to an argument’s conclusion rather than to a proposition, event, etc and so he claims that in some sense, all science is probability.

FWIW, in process theism - philosophy of organism - holds that such physical events as atoms are experencing subjects. In higher order organisms (organic life) these experiences can be called psychic.

A quote that always comes to mind is that evolution of life is merely the continual striving to defy gravity.

I still have the empirical observations to back it up, and I just come up with a new interpretation, but I have'nt disproved the entire field as I would have with ID.

Because, after all, ID has _no_ empirical observations to back it up, which its purely philosophical opponents need to deal with and account for. Oh, wait. Those are the ones the philosophical opponents don't want to talk about.

Are you saying that the only possible way to interpret those observations is through intelligent design and if so explain why?


It earlier days in the new paradigm of Evolution and it seems to earlier to jump to conclusions.


http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20527441.500-horizontal-and-vertical-the-evolution-of-evolution.html?full=true

"Just suppose that Darwin’s ideas were only a part of the story of evolution. Suppose that a process he never wrote about, and never even imagined, has been controlling the evolution of life throughout most of the Earth’s history. It may sound preposterous, but this is exactly what microbiologist Carl Woese and physicist Nigel Goldenfeld, both at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, believe. Darwin’s explanation of evolution, they argue, even in its sophisticated modern form, applies only to a recent phase of life on Earth.

At the root of this idea is overwhelming recent evidence for horizontal gene transfer – in which organisms acquire genetic material “horizontally” from other organisms around them, rather than vertically from their parents or ancestors. The donor organisms may not even be the same species. This mechanism is already known to play a huge role in the evolution of microbial genomes, but its consequences have hardly been explored. According to Woese and Goldenfeld, they are profound, and horizontal gene transfer alters the evolutionary process itself. Since micro-organisms represented most of life on Earth for most of the time that life has existed – billions of years, in fact – the most ancient and prevalent form of evolution probably wasn’t Darwinian at all, Woese and Goldenfeld say. "

If anything quantum mechanics involves probabilities at a much deeper level than ID. ID is proposing a probabilistic inference to the best historical explanation of the presence of certain things, whereas in Copenhagen QM, as Einstein protested, "God plays dice" all the way down: no "hidden variables" theories are consistent with the actual data, as Bell and Aspect can tell you. Not to mention chemistry, with its dependence on statistical mechanics.

People who suggest that science which depends on probabilities can be tossed overboard don't seem to have any idea how much they are proposing to toss overboard.

Mind you, one reason I don't carry an "ID card" is because I think the inference to design side of it is fairly weak compared to the devastating critique of Darwinism represented by, you know, the actual empirical facts.

I can't help but get the impression that at least some of the philosophical critics of ID-as-science aren't all that familiar with science-as-science. Which is why I keep perceiving it as, substantively, a philosophical critique of science in general, where ID is actually less 'mechanistic' than science more generally, and indeed that is precisely why the physicalists despise it.

TPB:

Transposons and retroviruses ("horizontal gene transfer") have been known about for a long time. The reason they are being proposed as the latest fairy story engine driving evolution (Oooh, what a novel idea! What a genius!) is because the other fairy story - you know, the neodarwinian one we were all taught as "established fact" for so many decades - has been so decisively refuted in so many ways that the charade simply cannot go on.

Look, Zippy I don't think we disagree on all that much, I just don't think ID works as a theory, as a form of prediction or as a tool to widen our scope of knowledge, in the same way that, say Quantum mechanics does. It seems to be that the theory consists of, there's certain things that we can't explain, such as the examples that Lydia uses, and these are proofs of design. It doesn't draw links between all the different examples, to connect them, to form of fully constructed theory, to show this design.

Which is why I keep perceiving it as, substantively, a philosophical critique of science in general

I think this is correct, the critique of naturalism is a critique of most of modern science, but the only major problems that seem to arise, are in the biological sciences.

I disagree with the philosophy that underlines Darwinism as well, and alot of the science.

I think this is correct, the critique of naturalism is a critique of most of modern science, but the only major problems that seem to arise, are in the biological sciences.

If string theory is right, physical science is destined to upset itself and all others with it.

As it stands, the implications of quantum entanglement and the fact that at the big bang everything was entangled - that space is an illusion - could make Bishop Berkeley look pretty savvy one day.

Is the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics an intelligent design of the universe? I say, yes. ID cannot account for it. I say it is the maintainment of disorder in the universe as a whole that allows for pockets of order. If I say it is the presence of statistical disorder that proves intelligent design, I have at least as much evidence to support me as IDers. There is so much evidence of the need for the 2nd Law in creation that to not be able to explain it disqualifes IDers who hold order as their sole criteria for intelligence.

The Chicken

Bauman said, "He, not me, and not the fathers, is the measure of Christianity."

Then why in Heaven's name accept any of the Church Councils or any of their formulations of particular doctrines achieved through mere dialectic and philosophical reasoning?

PB:

Are you saying that the only possible way to interpret those observations is through intelligent design and if so explain why?

Any scientist can tell you that it's foolish to make statements that strong. If we speak merely of possibilities, and I hear noises in my attic, squirrels aren't the only _possible_ way to explain the noises. Gremlins are also a _possibility_. But that's not the way to bet. Squirrels may well be, given all my evidence, the _best_ explanation. So, no, I'm not careless enough to say anything that strong. But, yes, I think intelligent design is the _best_ explanation of those observations. Why? Because the probability of those observations is enormously higher on intelligent design, given what we know about intelligent agents, their ability to plan ahead, to make means-to-end engineering decisions, etc., than on non-design explanations which involve no agent having that ability to make means-to-end plans.

MC--I think you're going to have a bit of a hard sell on the 2nd law, but it wouldn't, in fact, rule out the ID explanations of the order found. One always makes explanations at the relevant level. If the 2nd law somehow "wouldn't have been put into place" without intelligence, the relevant level of consideration there is all the other possible laws that could have been put into place, or something of that sort. (I find inferences at that level very vague and unsatisfactory, which is why I'm dubious about this one, but that's your problem, not mine.) The level at which we consider ID arguments involves taking the 2nd law as a given, as background, and considering the probability of what we find given no intelligence and the laws as we know them to exist. There is no conflict here of the type you have previously stipulated. One just needs to keep straight in one's head what is already established and taken into account for whatever inference one is doing. An analogy: (_Merely_ an analogy. Not to be taken literally. Merely to illustrate the epistemology.) I could be justified both in an inference to intelligence if I find a working machine and also if I find that that machine has had its operation interrupted in a particular way. The existence of the Rube Goldberg machine is evidence of the existence of the person who built it. Finding that the ball has been stopped on its way around the Rube Goldberg machine is evidence of the existence of the person who stopped the ball. It would merely be confused to say "How can both the running of the ball around the machine and the stopping of the ball be evidence of design?"

So here: You want to say that the _existence_ of the 2nd law is evidence for design. Suppose you're right (which I'm not convinced of). But if so, fine. Still and all, the occurrence of an event which involves _counteracting_ the on-going operation of the 2nd law and the imposition of particularized, specific order where it otherwise would not have occurred, can also be evidence for intelligence and intervention. Indeed, that's what happens all the time in design inferences to the existence of finite designers and actors. When I find my daughter's room dusted, I know that _someone_ has been interfering with the mere continued operation of the 2nd law and the on-going development of disorder which involves the even spread of dust over her furniture. This in no way makes it impossible for you to infer intelligence in the existence of the 2nd law in the first place.

Prof Bauman:

Michael L: When Paul deals with the pagan Greeks, he deals with them as persons who must be told about "the unknown God." When he sets about explaining this "unknown God" to them, he explains Jesus and the resurrection -- because in Christ, in history, is how God is known. He declines to begin with things like the uncaused cause and the unmoved mover.

I'm afraid that doesn't answer my request for clarification. It had seemed to me that you were denying general revelation as distinct from special revelation. I quoted Romans 1:19-21 as evidence that Paul believed in general revelation. Since that evidence seems pretty obvious, I asked you to clarify what you meant, because you seemed to be denying the obvious. Now you tell me that Paul spoke to the Greeks only of the "unknown" God, and began to fill in their knowledge by talking about Christ, because "in Christ, in history, is how God is known." But in the passage I cited from Romans, Paul clearly affirmed another mode of knowledge of God as well, and said that pagans—or whichever pagans he was talking about—had "no excuse" for the loss of such knowledge. So, I'm still not clear on whether you agree or disagree with that passage from Romans. You have not addressed that passage at all; you have simply ignored it.

I suppose you could argue on biblical grounds that, even though there once was knowledge of God through general revelation, by Paul's time the only way to recover that knowledge was by accepting special revelation. That does not appear to have been the view of most of the Fathers of the Church, who lived much closer to that time than we do; but at least it's a case that could be made. What I don't understand is your refusal to acknowledge even that there had been a general revelation that some people had lost. That's the clear purport of Romans 1:19-21. Surely you don't have a problem accepting that passage as, itself, an item of divine revelation?

Bauman takes issue with the pagan Greeks?

This coming from the man who once exalted in his essay the pagan ideas of: The Good, The Beautiful and The True?

Not to mention, Bauman is said to hold such deep regard for one Desiderius Erasmus, who himself held a remarkable fondness and due reverence for the ancient Greeks -- that not only did the well-acclaimed humanist laud these venerable figures and their philosophic thought so graciously: he also promoted their ideals and Greek Thought itself to such heights, stating that not only did it serve as an adequate foundation for Christian morals but that it also advanced them. He found nothing particularly mutually exclusive about the two: indeed, he believed deeply that they complimented one another -- even amidst the opposition of the Catholic clergy who, quite ironically, believed as this Bauman did!

Sorry, everyone, I've been preoccupied with other stuff and neglected the thread. But to answer the apparently burning question of the week, yes, of course God can make a 747 and yes, if He did it would be an artifact rather than a natural substance. Why? Because in the actual world that's what 747s are: artifacts. They don't occur naturally. That is to say, given the way the world is actually set up, they don't naturally occur in the way rocks, frogs, and people do. Hence no 747 God would stick into it would be a natural object.

We can of course a different universe created in such a way that 747s naturally occur (or, perhaps more accurately since actual 747s are artifacts and thus don't have an essence in the strict sense, in which natural 747-like objects occur). And we can imagine Him tinkering with teh actual world so that 747s start naturally appearing. But that isn't in fact how He's made the actual world. Hence His creation of a 747 would be a miraculous intervention rather than part of His ordinary conserving action, so that (to repeat) teh 747 He creates would not be "natural" in Aristotle's sense but "art." Frogs, rocks, people, etc. are by contrast already natural objects, so when He makes one of those He's making something which is not and cannot be an artifact.

BTW, George's claim that while a natural substance is not a machine, a part of it might be a machine, is pure George-ism and has nothing whatsoever to do with A-T. (This would not be the first time George put forward such George-isms as "Aristotelian.") To say, for example, that a cat is not a machine but a natural substance, and yet its heart (or whatever) might a machine, is unintelligible. (Unless what is meant is that the cat's got one of Jarvik's artificial hearts, but I assume that isn't what George meant.) No doubt George thinks he's got some text from Aristotle to back him up. If so, I'd love to hear about it.

Why does George make this strange claim? Well, I'm never sure why George says the things he does, but my guess is that it's a way to try to salvage his program of reconciling A-T with ID. Not gonna happen.

One final BTW: Please don't waste time pointing out that many biological phenomena involve one part pushing into another, different parts working together, etc. "Gee whiz, how machine-like!" When A-T denies that biological phenomena are "mechanistic," it isn't denying the existence of that sort of thing. It's denying instead that the parts of an animal can be understood apart from the whole, since it holds that the parts are naturally "ordered to" the whole and in that sense immanently teleological. A "mechanistic" view, in the relevant sense, is -- as I've said now I think 1,000 times -- one that denies that there is any immanent teleology in the natural world, so that teleology is either non-existent (as naturalists hold) or imposed externally (as Newton, Boyle, Paley, ID, et al. hold). So pointing out "Wow this part moves this other part the way a clock gear moves another!" is entirely beside the point. The parts of a clock interact with each other etc., but have no natural tendency to do so. The parts of an animal do have a natural tendency to do so. That's why they're not "artifacts."

If we don't know how a species of frogs (say) first came to be, then isn't it just begging the question to categorize the species as "natural" in a sense which requires it not to have come to be in a particular way?

Or are you saying that we do know precisely how, in detail, frogs first came to be? That can't be the claim, obviously.

It seems to me that there is equivocation between origin of species - the first frogs, before which there were no frogs - and origin of particular animals going on here. I wonder if Aristotleanism, with it's eternal-universe roots, is well equipped to address origins of species as distinct from origins of signate creatures.

The parts of a clock interact with each other etc., but have no natural tendency to do so. The parts of an animal do have a natural tendency to do so.

Described at certain levels, yes, they do, and no, they don't, respectively. And described at other levels, yes, they both do or no, they both don't. Actually, there's no hard and fast distinction here of the type you keep insisting on, Ed. As I have pointed out a number of time, as well.

Oh, and if God can create a 747, and it would be a machine, then, Ed, your _entire_ critique of ID rests on the insistence that it's completely misleading to describe biological entities or their parts as "machines." There is no two-pronged attack of which the second prong is that this is "bad theology" because "that's not how God creates." There's only one prong, and it's on the biological objects side, not the "concept of God" side. Which would be a pretty major concession, because the God who makes a 747 is a 747-maker. Hey, that means God could also make a watch, which would make him a Watchmaker. Which means that the "watchmaker view" of God is _also_ not bad theology.

It seems to me that there is equivocation between origin of species - the first frogs, before which there were no frogs - and origin of particular animals going on here.

Zippy, bingo, exactly.

And it seems to me that there is something of that equivocation here, where Ed says,


That is to say, given the way the world is actually set up, they don't naturally occur in the way rocks, frogs, and people do.

But given the way that the world was set up umpety billion years ago, it appears that the first frogs did not naturally occur.

If people or aliens were to become incredibly brilliant at engineering and were to find a way to make self-replicating 747s that have what appear to be baby 747s for thousands of years, I doubt that it becomes the case at some point on the brand of Aristotelianism proposed here that they are regarded as "naturally occurring," and "natural objects," simply because they arise from others of the same kind and no one alive was there when the first one came into existence, we have no record of exactly how it happened, etc.

What if we're in something analogous to that situation vis a vis frogs? Or is the case on this A-T view that, if God makes some such thing and makes it self-replicating, it's then _by definition_ "natural" rather than "artifactual"? But if anyone _other_ than God makes what appears to be the _very same type of thing_ and makes it self-replicating in secula seculorum, it's _by definition_ an artifact rather than natural?

On this:

And we can imagine Him tinkering with teh actual world so that 747s start naturally appearing.

If God did that, then would the parts of the 747s, even if they appeared to be made of metal and so forth as they are now, have an underlying, "natural tendency to interact with one another," which they don't have now? Would it be indetectible?

If man is nothing more than machine, then there should be nothing wrong with cloning him not only as a means of promoting medical science for the very welfare of humanity (or, better yet, the machine collective) but also as the means for providing for various replacement parts. Also, like any machine, there should be nothing the matter of disposing inferior models at will, whether potentially (as in the case of babies anticipated to suffer from genetic defect(s)) as well as actually (as in the case of those already in their declining years who very well may have reached obsolescence).

Even further, if man is nothing more than machine, then perhaps it may very well be possible that my making man through artificial means (read: artificial lifeforms) could very well mean that I can also replicate the very essence of his "soul" that man himself supposedly possess.

After all, man is nothing more than machine.

Zippy and Lydia,

There is no equivocation whatsoever. There is no mystery whatsoever. "How do we know frogs are natural?" Are you serious?

We know frogs are natural because frogs come into existence and pass away every day as a regular feature of ordinary, everyday non-human reality. Just like rain, wind, snow, sand, sunshine, dogs, worms, and warmth. Human beings don't have to make any of these things. They are a "given," as it were. 747s, by contrast, are not. We have to take bits of nature and re-arrange them in order to make 747s. They don't grow on trees or spontaneously emerge from the muck. Is all of this really news?

Of course it's not. It's common sense. And that is, rather famously, where A-T begins. It begins with plain old common sense and goes from there. And part of common sense is that there is a distinction between natural objects and artifacts. Everyone knows this.

You don't need to know how a kind of thing got started to know whether it's natural. That has things totally backwards. Aristotle thought the world had no beginning, Aquinas thought it did, but they agreed that frogs are natural and beds (say) are not, because everyday ordinary experience is enough to tell you that. You don't need to know how the first frog or bed got here; all you need to know is how frogs and beds in general get here every day, and everyone knows the answer to that. That determines what we mean by natural vs. artificial. (The notion that the essence of a thing has to do with its origin is a typical naturalist error, by the way, and one commonly made by Darwinians. See Oderberg for a critique.)

Here, as so often in modern intellectual life, we make common sense problematic because we've imbibed several centuries of bad, modernist philosophy. So we start asking questions like "How do I know that there really is such a thing as 'good' objectively?" "How do we know anything really has a cause?" and "How do we know frogs are natural?" It's bad metaphysics, absorbed unreflectively from the surrounding intellectual culture, that makes these questions sound natural and reasonable and the defender of common sense sound like the oddball. Hence the guy who says that sodomy is wrong comes off like the clueless bigot and the guy who says "As long as consenting adults are fine with it it's morally OK" sounds like the paradigm of common sense -- despite the fact that most human beings historically, and most human beings even now outside the liberal West, would say that the traditionalist is just stating the obvious and the "live and let live" liberal is the lunatic. Similarly, when an A-T philosopher says "There's a fundamental difference between natural objects and artifacts," people tie themselves into knots trying to understand where he's coming from, as if he'd just told you he was an extraterrestrial. It's surreal.

Like I keep saying, the trouble with ID is that it takes for granted and operates with the same mechanistic -- and thoroughly modernist -- metaphysics of nature (and it is metaphysics, not science) that underlies naturalism. And people still ask "Gee, why are Thomists so opposed to it?" You really have to ask?

Onus Probandi:

Having doubts about the truth in Ed's highly technical use of the term "mechanistic" is, shall we say, nontrivially different from concluding that "man is nothing but a machine".

Ed:

There is no equivocation whatsoever. There is no mystery whatsoever. "How do we know frogs are natural?" Are you serious?
We know frogs are natural because frogs come into existence and pass away every day as a regular feature of ordinary, everyday non-human reality. Just like rain, wind, snow, sand, sunshine, dogs, worms, and warmth. Human beings don't have to make any of these things. They are a "given," as it were. 747s, by contrast, are not. We have to take bits of nature and re-arrange them in order to make 747s. They don't grow on trees or spontaneously emerge from the muck. Is all of this really news?

I don't think an appeal to common sense followed by foot stomping gets you where you need to go here; and I say that as someone who thinks that that is precisely what is called for in some cases. It is precisely the point that origin of species, as distinct from origin of baby frogs from parent frogs, is not a part of everyday human experience. Yet originate temporally the species must have, given that the world had an origin in time, the fossil record, etc. So it does look to me like you discuss "origin of baby frogs from parent frogs" and "origin of frogs as a species" equivocally, as if they were the same thing when they are most definitely not.

So no, no amount of "Really!? It is common sense! I can't believe you have to ask! No wonder ID is modernist claptrap!" is going to do the work here, and doesn't answer how an Aristotlean accounts for the origin of species at a particular point in time in the past, as distinct from the origin of particular baby frogs from parent frogs in the present day.

And yes, I am serious in asking how you can conclude that frogs are "natural", not in the everyday commonsensical use of the term by ordinary people talking about everyday experience, but in the technical way you use the term with its technical implications with respect to things nobody has experienced, to wit the origin of the very first frogs as a species from something that is not frogs.

George's claim that while a natural substance is not a machine, a part of it might be a machine, is pure George-ism and has nothing whatsoever to do with A-T. (This would not be the first time George put forward such George-isms as "Aristotelian.")

I didn’t say it was A-T. I said there was nothing in A-T that precluded it.

To say, for example, that a cat is not a machine but a natural substance, and yet its heart (or whatever) might a machine, is unintelligible.

Nice try, Ed, but I was making the distinction between substance and accident, not between natural and artificial. A machine can’t be a substance, for various reasons; but an accident may be a machine, whether natural or artificial. Of course the cat's heart is natural, but it is also a kind of machine. This is perfectly consistent with A-T.

(Unless what is meant is that the cat's got one of Jarvik's artificial hearts, but I assume that isn't what George meant.)

It’s interesting that you bring up the Jarvik heart: If the heart is in no way a machine, how is it that a machine can substitute for it?

No doubt George thinks he's got some text from Aristotle to back him up. If so, I'd love to hear about it.

The burden of proof is on you to show how it is contrary to Aristotle.

Why does George make this strange claim? Well, I'm never sure why George says the things he does, but my guess is that it's a way to try to salvage his program of reconciling A-T with ID.

Maybe I’m just trying to prevent readers from identifying A-T with the dubious arguments of certain Thomists.


Ed, it's common sense that frogs have baby frogs, but it certainly isn't by a long, long shot common sense that a carbon atom in the frog is literally not the same entity as a carbon atom in the ground, even though there is no detectible difference between them. Yet I've learned on another thread that this is apparently the implication of your insistence that the parts of the frog have a "natural tendency" to interact and the parts of a man-made machine do not. As I've pointed out again and again, in scientific terms this statement just will not hold up. The parts of the animal have a "tendency" to interact only because of and at the level of the _arrangement_ of the atoms and molecules, and, similarly, the parts of a clock have a tendency to interact because of their arrangement at a particular level. At the atomic level, there is no more "tendency" for atoms to interact to form a frog than a clock. Your position is that, because you "know" that frogs are "natural" in your highly technical sense, you also "know" that the atom in the frog is a _different thing_ from the atom in the clock and has a totally invisible and indetectible "formal substance" that confers this totally invisible and indetectible "natural tendency" on the atom-like entity in the frog to interact with all the others. In other words, your statements about "natural tendencies" and machines and animals are empirically vacuous, and you were very, very annoyed when I pointed this out as some sort of problem, your response being, more or less, "Damned straight it's empirically vacuous. You've got a problem with that? Are you a positivist or something?"

If all of _that_ is just supposed to be common sense, then I'm a monkey's uncle! Because it's also common sense that when someone starts talking about "natural tendencies" and making strong statements about how one _physical_ thing has a "natural tendency" to do something and another _physical_ thing doesn't, this claim had better have, yes, empirical content.

I've also been thinking about this:

Please don't waste time pointing out that many biological phenomena involve one part pushing into another, different parts working together, etc. "Gee whiz, how machine-like!" When A-T denies that biological phenomena are "mechanistic," it isn't denying the existence of that sort of thing.[snip]So pointing out "Wow this part moves this other part the way a clock gear moves another!" is entirely beside the point. The parts of a clock interact with each other etc., but have no natural tendency to do so. The parts of an animal do have a natural tendency to do so. That's why they're not "artifacts."

This is highly problematic. To put the matter no more strongly, it is unjust. Ed, you have a _major_ problem with machine-language for any part of biological entities. You insist that the use of such language is bad metaphysics and completely wrong, that such language must not be used. Even the insistence by some who use the language that it is metaphorical isn't enough for you. It's just gotta be outta here. Yet when people try to ask you to look at the facts that motivate such language--for, let me add, plenty of scientists who don't agree with ID as well as those who do--you literally say, "Don't waste time talking about that." In other words, "Don't bother me with the details, man."

You are apparently literally saying that the appropriateness of machine language has nothing to do with how machine-like the entities are as a matter of scientific fact! No matter how _precisely_ machine-like the entities are, you just don't want to hear about it; it can't make any difference. There's got to be a problem here.

I mean, what would it take? If we found little biodegradable outboard motors and computer codes and gears, would you stop telling us not to waste your time and start thinking maybe it might be okay to use terms like "nano-machines"? I have this picture in my mind of little biodegradable machines moving around and producing Morse code spelling out, "We are artifacts made by Yahweh (sorry, Aristotle)," and your saying, "Don't waste my time." Something has got to be wrong, here.

MC--I think you're going to have a bit of a hard sell on the 2nd law, but it wouldn't, in fact, rule out the ID explanations of the order found. One always makes explanations at the relevant level. If the 2nd law somehow "wouldn't have been put into place" without intelligence, the relevant level of consideration there is all the other possible laws that could have been put into place, or something of that sort. (I find inferences at that level very vague and unsatisfactory, which is why I'm dubious about this one, but that's your problem, not mine.) The level at which we consider ID arguments involves taking the 2nd law as a given, as background, and considering the probability of what we find given no intelligence and the laws as we know them to exist. There is no conflict here of the type you have previously stipulated.

Yes, there is. A theory cannot say x = a at one level and x = not-a at another level and satisfy the criteria for consistency that a theory is supposed to have. Either the presence of intelligent design involves improbable and specified complexity at all levels or the math is inconsistent. You claim, without proof, that the 2nd Law is at most a vague proof of intelligent design, but the Law would be specifically rejected by ID theory as being from intelligence. This result is not a false negative - it is failing to see a true positive and yet, every believing scientist holds the Law in high esteem as signifying some purposeful design in the universe.

No less an expert than Arthur Eddington said:

"The law that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell's equations — then so much the worse for Maxwell's equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation — well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation." — Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (1927)

It is possible to get order even assuming the 2nd Law by a process known as spontaneous symmetry breaking. I spent most of the 1990s studying this in graduate school. There is no inconsistency between the 2nd Law and SSB, however. Statistics can be used to show that both are consistent in a way that Dembski's statistics can't show. Classic examples of complex specified systems that would violate Dembski's definiton (since they are entirely natural process based on the 2nd Law) include Rayleigh-Bénard Cells in fluid mechanics and the Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction in chemistry.

In humor studies, mention is often made of the fact that humor is caused by incongruity and yet, there is no good theory of incongruity in print. I set out to develop one in the early 2000's. Incongruity (improbability) that, nevertheless, carries information is precisely what Dembski is talking about by specified complexity, so my research is directly relevant. I am sorry, but Denbski has not defined context with anything like a consistent definition. Failing that, he can make up any probabilities that fit his conclusions because he gets to define the context. Context is something that has been ill-defined up until now (we have made strides on doing so using lattice theory) and Dembski has done nothing to define it, himself. Before he can assign unambiguous probabilities to biological system, he must be able to do this. He must be able to specify the biological/environmental context unambiguously. Good luck doing it. That is why my work was done using abstract representations of general systems. I expect it to be a descriptive system in general and only predictive in well-controlled and highly specified contexts because of all of the difficulties involved in specifying systems. Although I have presented my work at international conferences, I haven't written it for publication, yet, because of other research I have been doing. The theory should be non-controversial, however, since it is fairly standard math used in dynamical systems theory (using spectra and the like to represent the state of a system). Physicists and chemists have to able to decide whether or not a signal is random and there have been good mainstream algorithms to do this since the late 1980s. Has Dembski availed himself of these? No. He made up his own. I could not, in good conscience, use Dembski's theory to show that a communication is a joke and not a random string.

He seems to have thumbed his nose at most pre-existing research except that which supports his own. This is not a good sign. One should always present counter-arguments, where possible. If he has done this, I will retract this objection. He should be able to present his material at a complexity conference hosted by mathematicians and physicists and get a hearing. I have used the standard techniques of dynamical systems theory to look for organizational structure in music and presented the results at an invited session on chaos in music at the Acoustical Society of America, for instance. The abstract is still on-line. Physicists are not against looking at novel theories. They are the competent audience to judge his theory work, not the general public nor philosophers, since he is proposing a mathematical theory first and foremost which is secondarily based on a philosophical/theological pre-supposition.

Heck, I firmly believe there is an intelligent designer, but I have profound problems with Dembski's approach in proving it. Most scientists do. When he starts doing testible science and consistent theorizing (at least something that most scientists would recognize as such), he will be accorded a better hearing.

I do not mean to be contentious. Something about his approach gives me a bad feeling in my gut, even though I agree with his sentiments.

The Chicken

"It's common sense. And that is, rather famously, where A-T begins. It begins with plain old common sense and goes from there."

It does not. It starts with a cheat and a falsehood: the epistemologically, metaphysically, and theologically question-begging cheat that mind and senses are reliable (even on matters of God), and the self-flattering falsehood that the noetic effects of sin do not severely hobble us (even on matters of God). So-called "plain old common sense" is just secularism in street clothes.

MC--I'm telling you what I think is correct. I'm not especially defending Dembski's specific system. I think I know what you mean about false negatives and true positives. I suppose one could call a "problematic false negative" and "obviously true positive" or something like that. But that rolls right off Dembski even in cases which are, IMO, much better examples than your 2nd law example. Even _evident_ false negatives are not, in his view, a problem. I think they should be. I do wish you would stop using the phrase "ID theory" as synonymous with "Dembskian neo-Fisherianism."

But as an epistemologist, I am telling you that *even if* the existence of the 2nd law is evidence of design, this would _not_ mean that the occurrence of unexpected order of a particular type _within_ the world governed by the 2nd law could not also be evidence of design. It's a matter of inference to the best explanation, and such inferences can be made using successive, different background information so as to create a layered, cumulative case. Both the existence of laws and the suspension of the natural order could, in principle, be evidence of design. I don't know if you think this is false or if you're just still stuck on the idea that the only "design theory" there can be is Dembski's highly specific system. To be fair, I think that if the matter of background information were straightened out, it might be possible to try to run a Dembski-style inference at the level of laws. Again, one is going to have to talk about the probability of this or that law given no design, if one can talk about such a thing, which is very important to Dembski's approach. But if you're saying that one can't run a design inference *of some sort* at both levels, then you are just mistaken. All inferences require clarity about what background is assumed. Once that is straightened out, there is no problem with doing the inference at each level.

Lydia:

Even _evident_ false negatives are not, in his view, a problem. I think they should be.
I hesitate to argue with an epistemologist on the matter, and I'm not defending Dembski's specific approach in detail. But when the objective is a proof-by-counterexample, doesn't our 'detector' only need to be capable of detecting one single counterexample, no matter how many undetected counterexamples - or counterexamples detected by other means - are out there in reality?

If I understand correctly an artifact is an object existing only because someone arranged natural objects in a way they would not arrange themselves. The point being, that natural objects do arrange themselves into natural objects when left alone.

Also, if I understood the last superstition correctly, that natural objects give rise to other natural objects only because it is in the nature of the old objects to result in the new objects under certain circumstances. Thus if I put a male rabbit and a female rabbit into the same cage they will soon form their food into new rabbits while same sex cohabitating rabbit won't. The point being, that new rabbits are already potentially present in different sex rabbits and sufficient food and it's impossible to make sense of the new rabbits without reference to this potential presence.

But then artifacts can't be made from unsuitable raw materials. For example, a 747 can't be made from clay or cardboard.

So my question is:
Might we not have been imparted with a limited power to transform substances into other substances by realizing the circumstances under which they naturally arise? Couldn't it be natural for objects to transform to more useful objects when interacting with humans in give ways? In other words, how are we sure, there are any artifacts in the technical sense?

occasional visitor:

I've wondered the same thing aloud elsewhere in these threads.

It strikes me as possible that one motivator for the resistance is that Aristotlean ethics might have to be re-thought if human beings are capable of 'transubstantiating' substances. But I don't think it necessarily follows that human beings are 'transubstantiating' substances when we build artifacts. Rather, what we are doing is facilitating the realization of certain potentialities and ruling out the realization of others. You can see where this leads though: if the telos of sexuality arises solely from nature understood in these terms, then why can't human beings "facilitate the realization of sexual pleasure while ruling out the realization of procreation". Stated more bluntly, if every act is a natural act then every act is permitted.

So that can be a big problem if the only source of teleology (purpose) is nature conceived in this precise way. ID, then, might be seen by a certain kind of Aristotlean as a "gateway drug" to permissiveness in sexual matters, just as an example, as odd as that may sound. And I say that as a person who believes contracepted sexual acts to be always and everywhere impermissible: but I don't think it is necessary to appeal to Aristotlean substantial forms to reach that conclusion, so I don't find the present discussion ethically alarming.

Of course I have no idea if any of this has occurred to anyone but myself, so take it FWIW.

I can't speak for our esteemed A-T philosophers, but the point Zippy raises is a concern, and I think it's the reason why A-T people are raising red flags about ID. If we adopt a metaphysics (and I'm not trying to wade into the debate whether ID does this or not) that either eliminates nature and telos, or universalizes them so as to render them meaningless, then we've lost a philosophical leg to stand on.

The arguments against abortion, same sex marriage, etc. are made stronger with an appeal to A-T ethics, so I ask Zippy: What do you think is the right approach, especially when dealing with someone who doesn't accept a purely religious argument?

Well, there is no one "right approach". Given that what we are talking about is true, there are many approaches to argue for the impermissibility of contracepted acts. But I'm not going to adopt false ones, nor am I going to hide weaknesses, perceived or real, in various arguments.

Of course I have no idea if any of this has occurred to anyone but myself, so take it FWIW.
Oh, yes, it absolutely has. By my recollection, both Ed and Frank Beckwith have alluded to such worries in this very thread. And a W4 commentator named Lamont (I hope he doesn't mind, but his comment is already public, albeit on a little-read blog) has just now come over to my personal blog and put a comment in a thread of mine on constitutional originalism, of all things, implying that somehow because I'm an "atomist" in biology--per these ID threads, presumably--I should accept all manner of bad constitutional law theory, because according to "atomism," "the world is nothing more than a constantly evolving flux of particles." Now when have I ever said something that implies anything like _that_??

But that's how people think. I often hesitate to use the phrase "slippery slope" as a criticism, because often in public policy matters the so-called "slippery slope" statement is merely a true and rational inductive prediction, but in these philosophical arguments, I think the criticism has a point, and this is pure slippery slope thinking. "Deny full-bore Aristotelian metaphysics for everything in nature and next thing you know, you have trouble criticizing early-term abortion [Frank Beckwith, above] and same-sex marriage."

On ethics, this old comment of mine in a thread about Locke may be relevant:

http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2010/01/the_ethics_of_property.html#comment-93218

Ed's response was that Locke himself said something that ruled out the option I was raising (to ground human nature and ethics regarding property and labor in the Divine plan for man), but that's no reason for _us_ to rule out that option--including for other ethical areas.

Zippy,

I don't think an appeal to common sense followed by foot stomping gets you where you need to go here; and I say that as someone who thinks that that is precisely what is called for in some cases.

Well, it's precisely because you're prone to it that I did a little of it here. "Zippy, of all people...!" and all that.

But only a little of it. For the remarks of my last comment were, of course, hardly meant to stand alone. I've elaborated the A-T position at great length both in the comboxes and in several posts, and when we get to questions like "How do we know frogs are really natural?" it seems to me we've reached the point of farce. Common sense is not irrelevant here, because I wasn't saying "It's common sense, dammit, therefore A-T is true! Stop questioning it!" I was saying "What A-T means by 'natural' builds on the common sense understanding of 'natural.'" The specific point was to clarify what A-T means, not to show (in that last comment) that the whole system is true, which is another question. What I said in that last post has to be understood in light of everything else I've been saying. And in light of that it is obviously not mere "foot stomping."

And, to repeat myself -- I have to do that a lot because it seems people are too busy trying to come up with the next retort to try to understand what is being said -- for A-T, just as for common sense, we can know what a thing's nature is without knowing where it came from. (As Jerry Fodor says in reply to naturalists who claim you need to know how something evolved in order to know its function, we quite obviously know that eyes are for seeing whether or not we think of them as having come about by evolution or by special creation.)

And the A-T "technical" sense of natural you refer to just builds on this common sense. When we judge, given the way they typically come about, that frogs are natural and 747s are not, it doesn't take much further thought to go on to note that the parts of a frog have a natural tendency to work together as a whole whereas the parts of a 747 do not. Why? Again, it's no mystery, to common sense, anyway: frog parts always get together the way they do as a part of the ordinary course of nature, and 747 parts do not. When the A-T philosopher describes this as an instance of immanent final causality, he is just codifying common sense. That is what is meant by saying they are "natural" as opposed to "artifactual." Again, my point here is not "A-T is common sense, therefore A-T is true!" but "Here is what A-T means -- its claims are just an extension of common sense. There's nothing mysterious about it." The stuff about substantial form, prime matter, etc. is just a further extension or codification of common sense along these lines, and unless one reads it that way one will misunderstand it. And again, the point isn't "Therefore it's all true" but rather a point about how to interpret the claims. (Yes, I do think that views radically at odds with common sense are false, and I do think you of all people should be suspicious of such views. But that is a separate question. And it is something I have arguments for -- a couple entire books, for example -- not mere foot stomping.)

The origin of frogs has, as I said, nothing at all to do with this. On the contrary, we have to know whether frogs are natural in the sense in question before we consider origins. And since we know they are natural in the sense in question, we know that they did not come about by means of an "artifactual" sort and that any method that insists on interpreting them that way is fundamentally misguided. Whatever caused them must do so in a way consistent with their having immanent teleology, substantial form and prime matter, etc., and it is simply unintelligible to say that they got that way via something like an artificer putting together parts the way a 747 builder does. That's why the A-T theorist brings to bear a different set of concepts, e.g. conjoining an essence to an act of existence. You might want to reject all this, but you need to know that to do so entails, whether you realize it or not, an extreme revision of common sense, and accepting a picture of the world that opens up all sorts of problems (about causation, about -- therefore -- whether it is possible to get from the world to a first cause , about whether things can really be said to have natures, and on and on. See The Last Superstition). There is a reason why mechanistic views were always suspected of aiding and abetting atheism and other unorthodox positions. Descartes, Newton, Boyle, and Co. tried to show otherwise, but they had to do violence to our conception of God and His relation to the world in order to do it, and it was a waste of time because the mechanistic tradition ended up going first deist and then atheist anyway, apart from a few outliers like ID. A historical accident? I don't think so, not for a second. But apparently you'd disagree. Anyway, just as an argumentum ad Zippum, I'd urge you toward extreme caution.

Like I've said, George, it's a waste of time arguing with you, and I will do so no longer. No more than I would argue with a self-described "Cartesian" who insisted that I prove to him that Descartes was a dualist, or a self-described "Nietzschean" who insisted that I prove to him that Nietzsche was an atheist, or a self-described "Randian" who insisted that I prove to him that Ayn Rand was a capitalist. You simply don't know what you are talking about, and your uninformed remarks are getting weirder by the moment. "Listen up, everyone! I, George R., anonymous combox guy, know what A-T really says. The Aristotle scholars and Thomists say otherwise, but they're all wrong. How do I know? Why should I tell you? It's up to them to prove me wrong!"

Uh-huh. Goodbye and good luck.

Ed:

Yes, as I said, sometimes an appeal to common sense, a stiff drink, and/or a kick in the *** is precisely what is called for. I'm first in line to affirm it. But that doesn't seem to be the case here, since we are discussing the origin of the species frog in time as an actual occurrence in the world: something no human ever experienced. Indeed, no human being has ever experienced the origin of a brand new species of animal radically different from anything which came before, as a frog is radically different from a single-celled prokaryote.

The origin of frogs has, as I said, nothing at all to do with this.
So the origin of frogs has nothing to do with your criticism of accounts of the origin of frogs? Really?
On the contrary, we have to know whether frogs are natural in the sense in question before we consider origins.
So at the end of the day you are just begging the question: an empirical question of historical fact about an actual occurrence of an actual event in time and space. I get it now. Seriously. And I hadn't gotten it from reading The Last Superstition, FWIW.

Lydia, I never said that every single thing that A-T says is just plain old main street common horse sense. I've said that A-T begins with and builds on common sense. And the working out of the system from there is complex; it isn't a matter of just saying "Frogs are natural, therefore here's the nature of frog atoms etc. Wow, that was easy!" Gimme a break.

Everything else you say in your 9:11 remark is also either question-begging or aimed at ridiculous straw men. Worse, it's all begged questions and straw men I've already answered many times over. I have never said "Never ever use machine analogies of any sort whatsoever!" I said that living things cannot properly be understood in terms that deny of them immanent teleology, and that their creation is not analogous to artifice. I never said that A-T is "empirically vacuous." I've said that the very general metaphysical issues dividing A-T and ID can be discussed without adverting to very specific empirical details such as those surrounding the blood clotting cascade. Etc. etc.

You begin one sentence:

Yet I've learned on another thread that this is apparently the implication of your insistence that...

With all due respect, Lydia, that's the problem. It seems to me that everything you know (or think you know) about A-T comes from what someone has said in a combox thread. And you react to every statement rather than trying to understand the A-T POV. That, it seems to me, is why you keep making points that have already been answered, keep attacking straw men, keep begging the question. I urge you to read a book like Oderberg's Real Essentialism that works out A-T metaphysics itself -- the nuts and bolts, without the focus on other issues (arguments for God's existence, ethics, etc.) that take up a lot of the attention in my books -- in systematic detail. There are others too, but his is the best for someone coming from an analytic background, which is why I keep recommending it. As for our own exchange here, it seems to me to be going around in circles.

So the origin of frogs has nothing to do with your criticism of accounts of the origin of frogs? Really?

Yeah, that's just what I said, Zippy. "The origin of frogs has nothing to do with my criticism of accounts of the origin of frogs." Good summary. Verbatim, in fact.

This is now beyond surreal.

Guess I'd better drop the sarcasm, because no doubt that "verbatim" stuff will be quoted against me next. So, no, of course that's not what I meant. What I did mean, Zippy, as I think should be obvious if you take that stiff drink, calm down, and go back and read it again, is that questions about the origin of a thing and questions about the nature of a thing are logically distinct, and that one should in this case address the latter before addressing the former. In other words, we should first determine what the nature of frogs is, and only then determine where they came from. You may or may not agree, but how that "begs the question," I have no idea.

It is plain, though, that this exchange is no longer worth whatever time I have left for it (which isn't much). "Here, Ed, here's yet another ridiculous caricature of your views that you've already answered a million times. So there! Hey, why are you getting annoyed at me?!"

Really, ID defenders are their own worst enemies.

Ed, this exchange is what I'm alluding to:

You:

He [God] would do so by causing the prime matter underlying the substantial forms of the atoms to lose those forms take on a new substantial form, viz. that of a living thing. The resulting substance would have as components elements that have some of the same causal powers the original atoms did, and the potency to be removed from the organism and take on the form of free-standing atoms like the ones that existed before the organism did, but they would not be exactly the same atoms as before since they would have an inherent tendency to function as part of the organic whole, which the original atoms did not have.

me:

Part of my reason for thinking that your Aristotelian view does not and never will call into question the hypothetical possibility of finite agents' building life is what appears to me, as far as I can tell, the complete empirical vacuity of the distinction you make so emphatically...[snip]In other words, as I understand this, a carbon atom that forms part of a DNA strand is, for all we can tell, just like a carbon atom that doesn't form part of a DNA strand. But it has a completely indetectible but incredibly important difference, namely, that its underlying "prime matter" has a completely indetectible different "substantial form," which it apparently ceases to have when the body of the animal dies and is, say, burned, and the carbon atoms go back to being carbon atoms that aren't part of a living body.

You, responding to the my criticism of empirical vacuity:

Well, I guess the substance/attribute distinction is "empirically vacuous" as well, right, since the empirical evidence will look the same whether we believe in substances or not. Out with "substance" talk! Also, talk of an "external world" is "empirically vacuous," since the empirical evidence will look the same whether we believe in an external world or not. Out with this empty "external world" talk! And so forth.

So, the reason you're not a Quinean naturalist is that you're a positivist. Is that it? Surely not.

See? And I've brought up again and again and again the fact that there is _nothing different_ about a carbon atom qua carbon atom in a living being and in ash after the living being has been burned, and that this calls into question your insistence that the parts of living beings have an "intrinsic tendency" to work together in a way that the parts of machines do not. As far as I can tell, this is your answer: Yes, they do have an intrinsic tendency, but it's a matter of pure metaphysics and is not detectible.

But in that case, you can't claim it's just building on common sense! I submit to you that when ordinary folk hear or say something about how the parts of living beings have an inherent tendency to work together, they are referring to a large-scale property of those parts which, when they come to know more science, they come to realize is _explained_ by the interaction of much smaller bits of matter and their _arrangement_. When you get down to the level of single atoms and even some single molecules in the living body, you have gone _down past_ the level of that "tendency," as that tendency is simply pointed to by common sense. When you insist that the individual atoms have that "tendency" in a completely indetectible fashion, you are not building on common sense but are rather taking common sense and throwing it out the window. Instead of allowing science to explain the origin of the common sense intuition in terms of the fantastic and wonderful arrangement of molecules and atoms that _gives_ them, at the _arranged_ level, that tendency to work together, you try to attribute that tendency to the smallest unit--the individual atom, and lose all the excitement that biology has in terms of explaining why things work the way that they do--in terms, in fact, of explaining the empirical facts that underlie common sense.

I have, as I pointed out, read your _Aquinas_, but I don't believe your statements above misrepresent your position. Frankly, I don't want, Ed, to attribute your views to all Thomists or even all Aristotelians, because they strike me as so idiosyncratic and, increasingly, yes, anti-scientific. So I'm willing to rest my view of your views on, inter alia, the comments you have made in these many posts and threads, from which I've learned a great deal about your position.

One more thing. You say:

I have never said "Never ever use machine analogies of any sort whatsoever!"

That's great. Then stop criticizing ID theorists for using such analogies. Accept my option number two way up above at the beginning of this thread--leaning hard on the analogy aspect--and accept one or more of the _several_ different ideas Zippy and I have suggested for an A-T adaptation of ID rather than a rejection. This would involve showing yourself actually open to the empirical evidence of the evidently machine-like nature of biological entities and ready and willing to try to incorporate it into your views, rather than appearing obscurantist by telling everybody not to waste time talking about it, rather than constantly, repeatedly, and insistently critiquing ID for "mechanism," and so forth. As we've said until we're blue in the face, I may be a "mechanist" or someone else may be a "mechanist," but the evidence is what it is, and it would behoove the A-T metaphysician to deal with the science and ask where it actually leads--maybe, to an inference of the intelligent design of the blood-clotting cascade or the immune system for _very much_ the _very reasons_ someone like Mike Behe gives. Which would mean that it would, after all, "look like" ID as presently constituted in a non-trivial and non-vacuous sense.

The trouble is, Ed, that you want neither to show an interest in accommodating this actual evidence _within_ your metaphysics nor, on the other hand, to admit the possibility that your metaphysics might be open to correction from this empirical evidence--that parts of living things or whole living things might be artifacts after all. You should do one or the other of these (accommodating the evidence within your views or changing your views), but instead of either, you want to hurl down metaphysical criticisms from on high on ID for its "mechanism" and then to shut off all criticism of your own metaphysics which is based on the empirical evidence ID uses. But epistemology and evidence don't work that way. Relevance is a two-way street.

I know all of this will annoy you, but I will point out, what I have tried to hint at several times--this issue languished for many months, but you have insisted on posting on it repeatedly recently, and therefore I have decided to weigh in as well. I would have been happy to let it rest. But I'm afraid your position, Ed, is simply untenable, and I'm very sorry to say that this becomes more clear the more often we discuss it.

Lydia,

You write:

You say: "I have never said 'Never ever use machine analogies of any sort whatsoever!' That's great. Then stop criticizing ID theorists for using such analogies.

What you fail to do is quote my very next line after the one you do quote, viz. "I said that living things cannot properly be understood in terms that deny of them immanent teleology, and that their creation is not analogous to artifice." And if you'd noticed that line, you'd know why I critize ID -- namely for the specific way it uses such analogies. Not to mention that I've acknowledged many times now that some specific ID points (e.g. about information) can be re-stated in terms acceptable to A-T. So spare me the "You don't even want to see ways in which A-T and ID might be reconciled" nonsense.

I'm afraid this is typical. You are, it seems to me, not even bothering to try to understand what I say. It's all just "Gotcha!" nonsense and endless, endless attacking of straw man. In this case, you take one of my sentences to score what you apparently think is a killer point, while failing to notice that my very next sentence undermines the point. And you haul out the old "anti-scientific!" and "You're ignoring the empirical evidence" chestnuts yet again, despite the fact that I've answered them many times.

Then you say:

I know all of this will annoy you, but I will point out, what I have tried to hint at several times--this issue languished for many months, but you have insisted on posting on it repeatedly recently, and therefore I have decided to weigh in as well.

What annoys me is not that you've weighed in, Lydia, You're welcome to. What annoys me is not that you disagree. We disagree about all sorts of things, and I usually find your disagreement stimulating and useful. What annoys me is that on this particular issue you show no sign either of knowing what you are talking about (vis-a-vis A-T, that is) or of trying to give a charitable reading of anything I say. It's really quite incredible, and depressing. Perhaps, like other IDers, you are so tired of attacks from the Darwinist camp that you are especially outraged to see criticism coming from fellow theists too, and take it extra hard. Who knows.

Anyway, as a reader just emailed me: "I can't understand how people who can read plain English can continue to miss your points." And lest anyone is tempted to distort that line, too, the point isn't "Anyone who can read plain English should agree with everything Ed says." It's rather "Anyone who can read plain English should see that Lydia, Zippy, et al. are attacking a bunch of straw men."

I think, actually, that I do understand your points. That's why Zippy and I have tried so often, as an irenic move, to suggest far more extensive and interesting ways than the off-hand comments ("I think ID has some interesting points against Darwinism," for example) in which you could actually develop an ID theory of your own and make common cause with them, which they would welcome and have been trying to suggest numerous times, rather than attacking them. You could, for example, accept openly and ungrudgingly the machine-like nature of living objects, insist that this must be understood merely as an analogy, and then do some probing as to what that actual, factual, machine-like nature might mean, epistemologically regarding design. This would also involve interpreting more ID statements--maybe not this one or that one, but more of them--in which machine language is used analogically, or merely restating them in your own way and making a qualification to them to the effect that we must be careful with them not to understand them literally. As Zippy pointed out above, this is the kind of thing some of your fellow Thomists are, I'm afraid, _doing all the time_ with Darwinism. Indeed, some are even less careful to qualify their joint endeavor with Darwinism! But you don't seem interested in doing something like this with ID. And so, yes, I can't help wondering why not. It's very strange to me. You claim to be able to accommodate modern science in your metaphysics, but you don't _do_ that accommodation when it comes to facts about the machine-like nature of biological entities. You show repeated impatience with people who bring up such facts, so, yes, you appear uncomfortable with them. But you were angry when I suggested on another thread that the problem may not with ID per se but rather that ID forces us to _focus_ on facts that don't sit well with your metaphysics construed as having scientific interest. By all means, prove me wrong.

Ed, we all get it that you are adamantly opposed to the use of machine language in any literal sense. As you say, you've said it a million times. Okay, so wouldn't it be more interesting, instead of continuing to insist over and over that ID is intrinsically "mechanistic," to _move on_ and ask what the facts might mean that give rise to the obviously legitimate use of that language at least analogically?

Lydia,

I just devoted a gigantic post to doing the sort of thing you're saying I refuse to do, when I addressed the origin of life question in my reply to Torley, and explained the sense in which A-T too holds that life cannot come from non-life. In doing so, I went well beyond the original theme of this series of posts, which was the overall incompatibility of the A-T and ID approaches given the latter's mechanistic conception of nature. Note that that, specifically, has been the theme -- not whether and how A-T might reinterpret and take on board this or that ID claim; not how A-T itself might be defended; not what A-T would say about this or that discovery of modern science; not how this or that biological phenomenon might be explained; not the deficiencies of Darwinism; not how many people might have become Christians because of ID; and not any of the other side issues various people keep bringing up. Those are all important issues, but they are not what my posts have primarily been about. I have been trying constantly to bring the discussion back to that main issue, but people keep wanting to get on to some other topic. I cannot possibly address all of them to everyone's satisfaction in a combox discussion, even if I had the time to do so, which I do not. And even when I do address one of them in depth -- again, the origin of life question -- I get no credit from you for doing what you say I should be doing. Apparently I also need to drop everything and devote posts to the nature of the atom, to the blood clotting cascade, and to who knows what else, otherwise I'm "uncomfortable with the facts."

So, I'd like to ask you to afford me the basic decency of considering how, given the enormous amount of discussion these posts have generated in various threads at this blog, at my own blog, and at other blogs, not to mention all the other things I have to get done professionally and personally from day to day, I would like very much to minimize the pursuit of complex side issues that are irrelevant to the main points I have been trying to make. Hence when you insist on e.g. pursuing questions about atomic structure and the like, I say "Look, this is a side issue, I've already answered it, you seem to me to be ignoring my answers and repeatedly begging the question, but if you really want to know in detail what A-T theory says about it, read someone like Oderberg." That, and not "discomfort with the facts" is all that is going on.

Do I sound annoyed when you suggest otherwise, while at the same time attacking the same old straw men and begging the same old questions? Damn right I do. Can't imagine why.

And BTW, Lydia, while you complain that I will not "move on" vis-a-vis the "mechanism" issue, there are, as you know, lots of critics of mine who will either not concede that ID is mechanistic, or not concede that it is to that extent therefore incompatible with A-T. So, for that reason, I have of course had to keep addressing the issue. But it would really be helpful if you could set all these people straight and just come out and explicitly say: "Yes, everyone, Ed is right about that much: ID is mechanistic in a way that is incompatible with A-T. So let's just face it and move on to other questions, like whether it is the A-T approach or the mechanistic one that is correct, and whether there are other issues ID and A-T might stiull be able to agree on."

As it is you seem to me to be trying to have it both ways: On the one hand you seem to want to avoid directly addressing my overall claim that A-T and ID are incomaptible vis-a-vis mechanism (though you do seem to me to agree with it), perhaps so as not to offend ID-friendly Catholics like Zippy, George, et al.; and on the other you want to say that ID is right and that A-T is all wrong, at odds with science, etc. So which is it? Again, an explicit statement from you would be very helpful in allowing at least some people to "move on," as you say.

FWIW, for my own part I am (surprisingly to myself) coming to the view that A-T is just false -- at least the sort Ed is defending. Prior to these threads I was under the impression that Ed's view was just that ID mostly misses the point. I understand that, but I didn't understand the urgency -- lots of people miss lots of points. But in these recent posts it has been set out in stark either/or terms: either ID is just flat false and a waste of time, literally irreconcilable even under the kinds of reinterpretations which have been suggested, or Ed's A-T is flat false and a waste of time. I'm inclined toward the latter, sorry to say, though I do plan to read Oderberg.

Ed:

Like I've said, George, it's a waste of time arguing with you, and I will do so no longer… You simply don't know what you are talking about, and your uninformed remarks are getting weirder by the moment… Goodbye and good luck.

I’m wearing him down, folks.

And BTW, Lydia, while you complain that I will not "move on" vis-a-vis the "mechanism" issue, there are, as you know, lots of critics of mine who will either not concede that ID is mechanistic, or not concede that it is to that extent therefore incompatible with A-T.

Well, obviously, that depends on how one defines one's terms. Since ID is a whole movement with a bunch of different people writing in it, it seems to me kind of silly to waste all this bandwidth on insistently identifying ID with "mechanism" and attacking it as such. We're analytic philosophers. There's a much easier, simpler way. Just say something like this: "Insofar as thinkers who write ID books literally believe that living organisms contain or are machines, I disagree with them strongly and think that they are saying something importantly false. Insofar as they are using such language analogically, or insofar as that language can be reinterpreted analogically, I agree with them that these things they are describing are remarkably machine-like, and I think that machine-like-ness has very interesting implications, the exact nature of which I'm still thinking over."

If, Ed, your point regarding living organisms is really _just_, as you keep insisting, that living things aren't really machines, that would cut it. That would do it. A simple disambiguation, a distinguo to delight a Thomist's heart. We'd be done, and you and the ID folks could make friends accordingly. You wouldn't be making what seems to me an extremely hasty dismissal of the ID project by saying (as you have repeatedly said) that if this thing were done right, it wouldn't look anything like ID. After all, you yourself have agreed that probabilities might have something to do with changes among creature-types, so maybe in the end that _would_ look noticeably like what some high-profile ID-ers write. You could think over some further implications of that machine-like-ness, and maybe, if you had time and were interested, you would decide in the end that it does indeed have something to do with design and with the need for, say, special creation among (some) different species having what you would call a "vegetable soul" or an "animal soul" (e.g., from bacteria to plants, or from animals without a blood-clotting cascade to those with it). Even if you weren't interested in doing further work on that, at any event you wouldn't have continued giving aid and comfort to all the theistic Darwinist Thomists out there and would also have shown yourself willing to consider the possibility of a compatibility between a recognizable _type_ of ID and your own views.

That, of course, is related to this:

But it would really be helpful if you could set all these people straight and just come out and explicitly say: "Yes, everyone, Ed is right about that much: ID is mechanistic in a way that is incompatible with A-T. So let's just face it and move on to other questions, like whether it is the A-T approach or the mechanistic one that is correct, and whether there are other issues ID and A-T might still be able to agree on."

Again, I have repeatedly disagreed, and have explained why I disagree, with your insistence that either ID must simply be defined as including "mechanism" or it is such a big tent as to be vacuous. If, for example, Behe's arguments can be given an Aristotelian gloss by you, then so much the better for the Aristotelians, and that will be recognizably and non-vacuously an Aristotelian ID (call it "aid," as in giving "aid" to us impoverished moderns). So, no, I'm not going to say that.

I'm happy to say that Ed is right that his views are incompatible with _mine_, because I'm a mechanist, as I've made no secret of. So _my_ way of integrating the ID arguments into biology, indeed, my view of biology, is incompatible with A-T. I think A-T is false, and have hardly been coy on this front. But heavens! Since when do my views simply define "ID"? They obviously don't.

On the one hand you seem to want to avoid directly addressing my overall claim that A-T and ID are incomaptible vis-a-vis mechanism

No, I don't want to avoid addressing that. I've just addressed it, I hope with sufficient clarity to avoid any suspicion that I'm trying to avoid offending anybody.

I've said it before and will say it again: If, Ed, you can cope with the facts of modern science and biology that _I_ think do refute Aristotelianism (because I think it should be thought of empirically), then you should be able to cope with ID. If not, then not. But since you insist that you are able to cope with those facts of modern science, bully for you. Then your views aren't incompatible with ID, and you can easily welcome them as suggested above and give an A-T gloss to them and to the ID arguments. Is this unclear? Is this an attempt to avoid alienating Catholic allies on my part? By no means.

on the other you want to say that ID is right and that A-T is all wrong, at odds with science,

Only when you keep insisting that the two are incompatible. The more you insist on that, the more you appear to be at war with the evidence, and the more I'm inclined to let you have your own way and to tell you that _your_ version of A-T is then, apparently, totally and utterly unable to cope with some facts of science, even with modification, and is, therefore, decisively empirically refuted.

I don't think, myself, that it absolutely has to be that way. I figure that if you can jimmy your Aristotelianism to deal with the Big Bang, vacuums, changes in the realm beyond the moon, a God who creates, performs miracles, and is incarnate, and a host of other things, you can probably make some other moves here and retain it, though at the cost of its being less and less empirically relevant. But you don't seem to mind empirical vacuity so far (e.g., when explaining the substantial form of carbon atoms) and seem to think empirical vacuity a wrong criticism to make, so I should think you could also make room for robust machine-like-ness and an inference thence to intelligent design.

But in the end, it's really your choice.

So I asked the blind watchmaker if he could tell me what time it was. He said, "No. I'm not from around here." - modified version of Steven Wright joke.

Zippy and Lydia,

Lydia keeps saying "machine-like"; to paraphrase Inigo Montoya in Princess Bride, "I don't think she knows what it means." At least, not for purposes of this discussion she doesn't. Certainly if she means "having lots of parts working together in a way like a clock" or some such thing, I think I'm going to scream, because for the millionth time, nobody denies that. Yes, an organism is like a clock in that respect. The way it is not like a clock is that the parts of an organism have an immanent tendency to work together as a whole. And therefore the way God makes an organism is not like the way a watchmaker makes a watch, or to generalize, the way a machinist makes a machine. To think that it is to deny the reality of immanent final causality, and denying that is what it means to be a mechanist in the sense under discussion here. It's not "Gee, that organism sure is 'machine-like' in some ways" that makes you a mechanist. It's "There's no genuine immanent final causality there" that does. As I've said over and over.

And that, Zippy, is not "my" presentation of A-T. That is just standard, plain old vanilla A-T philosophy of nature. Read any single book on the subject and you'll soon find out "Gee, I guess Ed didn't make it up after all!" Jeez.

And, BTW, good luck reconciling the denial of immanent final causality with the vast bulk of what has ever passed for Catholic philosophy. Or with traditional natural law theory. Or with the Thomistic arguments for God's existence. Not that a guy named "Zippy Catholic" would care, mind you, but, you know, just sayin'. But then, you've obviously thought this through, or at least read lots of combox stuff on it.

Lydia couldn't care less about all that, I know. She's more interested in repeating "empirically vacuous," and "can't cope with modern science," and in other ways begging all her favorite questions yet again. Oh, and in one more thing, too, so let's get at last to what I think is the key line:

you wouldn't have continued giving aid and comfort to all the theistic Darwinist Thomists out there...

Yeah, I'm sure Darwinists far and wide really loved my origin of life post. But see, I've never seen "giving aid and comfort" as what I was doing here. Silly me, I thought I was just debating philosophical and theological ideas. But that, as has become increasingly evident to me in every exchange I've had about ID, is not what it's about for some people. It's about who's getting the aid and comfort, about agendas, and big tents, and alliances, and all that other stuff which is fine when what you're doing is politics, but not so fine when what you're doing is philosophy, or theology, or science. I've wondered why it is that certain people seem absolutely hell-bent on missing the point, on distorting what I've said, on casually dismissing centuries of sophisticated thought based on what they've read in a combox or blog post. In short, on why some of these responses have come off like something out of PZ Myers' combox. But it's no mystery, really: ID, at least for too many of its defenders, is first and foremost a "culture war" issue. Well, if you want to warn me about who I might be giving aid and comfort to, let me send a kindly little tip of my own back your way: All you are doing with these antics is confirming one of the standard objections to ID made by its critics, viz. that it's too much politics, too little serious thinking. No, that charge is not entirely fair. But it's not entirely unfair either, as I think has been proved here.

Addendum: Looking back on that last paragraph, I want to make it clear, Lydia, that I am not accusing you of deliberately misinterprting my views etc. for political reasons. I am certain you would never do that. But it does seem to me that you and others in this discussion have been responding in a very emotional, knee-jerk way -- I see no other way to explain the degree of question-begging, point-missing, straw man attacking, etc. I see in many of the responses -- and it seems to me that that in turn owes at least in part to the political stakes many see in this debate.

Well, Ed, if it makes you feel any better, I think I 'get' your larger point and am inclined to accept it, as exemplified, in this:

"The way it is not like a clock is that the parts of an organism have an immanent tendency to work together as a whole. And therefore the way God makes an organism is not like the way a watchmaker makes a watch, or to generalize, the way a machinist makes a machine. To think that it is to deny the reality of immanent final causality..."

I am probably less amenable to the machine analogy than you are. My difficulty is that I have trouble seeing living organisms as anything like machines. The cause of their existence (and hence their mode of coming into being) are completely unalike, their animating priniciples utterly different, and their means of sustaining themselves in operation (which a machine can't do) likewise without compare. I suppose I'd find the analogy more useful if it flowed in the other direction: it's not that living things are like machines, but that machines are generally poor imitations of living things, like an airplane to a bird. The problem with machines is that they completely explicable, while a bird is a mystery. But since I'm hardly qualified to comment, it's probably not much help.

I don't have any problem with immanent teleology of wholes, and I don't have any problem acknowledging that the machine analogy is just an analogy ("seeing" my dog vs "seeing" the truth of the pythagorean theorem).

I've already discussed where the specific issues are for me: the main ones being the a priori limitations Ed imposes on what man is capable of getting nature to do, and especially in his a priori limitations on how God simply must and must not have done things in history; limitations I don't see other Thomists insisting on with such dogmatism, though maybe I just don't get out much. I probably have a problem with the animal-vegetative distinction, since it seems counter to the facts as we now know them. And I think criticizing someone's account of the temporal origin of the frog as a species while at the same time insisting that the facts about temporal origin of the frog as a species have nothing to do with the criticism is a big red flag that there is something very wrong in the machinery of the argument.

I will now be treated to bluster about how I can't read and this is all an irrelevant straw man in 3... 2... 1...

I think criticizing someone's account of the temporal origin of the frog as a species while at the same time insisting that the facts about temporal origin of the frog as a species have nothing to do with the criticism is a big red flag that there is something very wrong in the machinery of the argument.

How dare you imply there is anything machine-like w/r A-T!

Ed:

Certainly if she means "having lots of parts working together in a way like a clock" or some such thing, I think I'm going to scream, because for the millionth time, nobody denies that. Yes, an organism is like a clock in that respect. The way it is not like a clock is that the parts of an organism have an immanent tendency to work together as a whole.

For the millionth time, ID does not deny "that the parts of an organism have an immanent tendency to work together as a whole." Trust me, if you'd just eat some crow and admit that, you'd feel a lot better.

Well, Ed, at least you can't accuse me of not answering your questions or of attempting to keep allies at the expense of clarity or whatever. One of my great difficulties in all of this has been that there isn't some single, canonical, exceedingly detailed "ID position," and you keep talking as if there is. I've been trying to balance with clarity, honesty, and care the truth about my _own_ position, which is quite specific, with a true representation of the arguments made by high-profile ID writers, and in particular the ones I have found convincing.

Myself, I have never had a problem even with the _very_ big tent ID identification concerning only the detectibility of design in nature. That is a very controversial position, so it's not like an attempt to avoid controversy, and theistic evolutionist Darwinists who were honest should admit that they _don't_ really think design is rationally detectible in nature, at least not in the biological parts of it.

But even if we narrow that definition so as to say that to be "making an ID argument" or to be "ID-friendly" or whatever one must think that design is detectible in nature by some argument that bears significant resemblance to the arguments prominent ID writers have made, I still cannot see that someone who takes your position, Ed, must deny that. Especially since, by your own account, you haven't examined those arguments in detail, and especially since you acknowledge a level--changes within Aristotelian taxonomic categories--at which probabilities might play a role in deciding whether (for example) special creation has taken place.

I think your position is _wrong_. I'm not an Aristotelian. But I don't think there is this necessary conflict that you think there is. There's nothing at all inconsistent about my saying that. One could often say, "I think so-and-so is wrong, but I don't think that his position is incompatible with this other thing that I think is true." The only way for you to _make_ a necessary conflict is, it seems to me, for you to reject not simply ID but the scientific facts on which it is based, which to me you do sometimes appear to be doing but which you say you do not do. So the whole thing is very baffling, but I have tried to be clear and honest throughout.

Recent attempts of Ed's own blog commenters to gain clarity of meaning of 'mechanistic' went unanswered...Well thanks to VJ Torley's new post at UD, we have a superb treatment of this term and the current debate around it.

VJ's bringing-up Scotus is personally uncsnny, as I had just yesterday come to the realization that Ed's A-T v ID debate was nothing more than the perennial Catholic-Protestant paradigmatic clash of

'You cannot reach truth save thru the Church teachings' vs 'God gives us intelligence to use for ourselves'.

I do not say this to start rock throwing. I have been on both sides of this debate throughout my half-century of life, and I simply mean to say that this seems to generally summarize things.

it's not that living things are like machines, but that machines are generally poor imitations of living things, like an airplane to a bird.

That's spot on, Bill. And that's part of the problem with mechanistic attempts to analyze living things: We only understand what an "artifact" is by contrast with what is "natural" (in Aristotle's senses of those terms). Yet mechanism wants to reverse this, to redefine the natural in terms of the artifactual. It's ultimately incoherent, because if there aren't immanent teleological links between the natural world's elements, then ultimately we cannot understand the way the entire world causally "hangs together," which is why the moderns are stuck with Humean problems about causation. The situation is analogous to the sort of Berkeley-style idealist metaphysics which starts with the common sense distinction between physical object and our perceptions of them, and then tries to redefine a physical object as a collection of perceptions. (Except that mechanism is even less coherent than Berkeleyan idealism.)

Anyway, it's these large-scale, deep conceptual problems that I have tried to keep the focus on here and have discussed in depth in The Last Superstition . But people want to keep changing the subject, and then accuse me of not addressing the issue. Go figure.

it's not that living things are like machines, but that machines are generally poor imitations of living things, like an airplane to a bird.

Not always the case, Ed. Next time you go to a far away conference, hop on a hummingbird.

My artificial hips are pain free, my natural ones were excruciating.

Zippy writes:

I don't have any problem with immanent teleology of wholes

Then you're not a mechanist. Good for you.

the a priori limitations Ed imposes on what man is capable of getting nature to do, and especially in his a priori limitations on how God simply must and must not have done things in history; limitations I don't see other Thomists insisting on with such dogmatism, though maybe I just don't get out much.

The limitations derive from the metaphysics, Zippy. If you admit immanent teleology, then you're committed to the claim that a natural object is not properly analyzable as a kind of artifact. The "limits" this imposes on God are conceptual, analogous to when we say that even God can't make a round square. And once again, this isn't some weird view of mine, but just standard A-T stuff. Why you are so offended by it, I do not know. What is it exactly that you think we ought to be able to think of God doing that I am ruling out? I've already made it clear that the A-T view does not entail that God did not specially create living things (which is a separate question). It's just that the metaphysics of creation have to be understood differently; it isn't like watchmaking. You can even imagine a first organism popping into existence, on camera, if that's what you're looking for. What more do you want, exactly?

I probably have a problem with the animal-vegetative distinction, since it seems counter to the facts as we now know them.

That distinction is another separate issue, which is why I haven't focused on it. It's an element of traditional A-T thinking that doesn't stand or fall with the rest of it, and as I've said, I'm trying to minimzie getting into all these side issues. I am willing to bet cash money that you don't really know what the distinction is even all about, though. Why do I say that? Because all of your comments make it pretty obvious that you don't have much familiarity at all with A-T and are shifting your position with every remark I make. For example, one moment you say you're inclined toward mechanism, the next you are saying that you have no problem with an immanent teleology of wholes. Well, Zippy, if you don't see the manifest contradiction, it's pretty obvious that you're at sea here and don't really understand what the dispute is even about.

If that sounds unkind, I'm sorry, but I'm rather tired of being hit with outraged criticisms and accusations by people who manifestly do not know the stuff. Get out of the combox and hit the books.

And I think criticizing someone's account of the temporal origin of the frog as a species while at the same time insisting that the facts about temporal origin of the frog as a species have nothing to do with the criticism is a big red flag that there is something very wrong in the machinery of the argument.

Same ridiculous caricature again, I see. I'll say it again, Zippy: What I was talking about is the difference between the nature of a frog (what a frog is) and the origins of frogs (where the species came from). I was saying that we need to see that these are distinct questions. You keep ignoring this distinction except to say that I have somehow begged the question or "raised a red flag" or whatever. Once again, it seems to me that the real problem is that you just don't even know what the dispute is about and are simply shooting your mouth off.

I will now be treated to bluster about how I can't read and this is all an irrelevant straw man in 3... 2... 1...

Cute. Zippy, you accused me of holding that "the origin of frogs has nothing to do with my criticism of accounts of the origin of frogs." If you can't at last man up and admit that that was a ridiculous caricature of what I said and/or that you simply did not undertand what was at issue, then there is no point in continuing this.

Lydia writes:

One of my great difficulties in all of this has been that there isn't some single, canonical, exceedingly detailed "ID position,"

But I have been specific, Lydia. I have said, first, "Here's exactly what I mean by mechanism, and here's why it is incompatible with A-T." And then you say, in effect, "By golly you're right, Ed, and therefore A-T is incompatible with Lydia McGrew's version of ID." OK, that's one down. Then I say "Now let's talk about Dembski's version of ID, since it's such a prominent version of it," and I go on to show that Dembski's version too is incompatible with A-T. I also respond to people like Torley and Fuller who have commented on this debate. But you're response is, in effect, "I don't want to talk about Dembski or the others. Let's talk about me some more." You insist on talking only about Lydia McGrew ID theory and then complain that what I say in our exchanges does not apply to ID generally!

The only way for you to _make_ a necessary conflict is, it seems to me, for you to reject not simply ID but the scientific facts on which it is based, which to me you do sometimes appear to be doing but which you say you do not do.

You keep asserting that I reject them, Lydia, but it seems to me that mere assertion is pretty much all I've seen. I've said many things in response to your various allegations vis-a-vis the alleged incompatibility between A-T and modern science, and you've ignored it and just re-asserted the allegations. Then you get annoyed when I decline to take an extra hour or two out of my day to re-state my responses yet again only to have them ignored yet again. Or you complain that A-T is thereby made "empirically vacuous," not realizing, it seems, that your own mechanism is thereby made equally "empirically vacuous," since they are alternative metaphysical descriptions of the very same empirical facts. (In any event, as I have also said before, the issue of empirical content is more complicated than you seem to realize.)

Like I've said, the reason I don't pursue various specific issues further (the metaphysics of atoms, the blood clotting cascade) is that doing so is not necessary to the main issue of the overall incompatibility of A-T with ID (or with mechanistic versions of ID, if you prefer), and I only have so much time to devote to combox exchanges as it is. As I said in my reply to Bill above, there are in any event clear big picture difficulties with mechanism (vis-a-vis causation, vis-a-vis the question of whether things have essences, vis-a-vis the moral implications of the essentialist issue, vis-a-vis the conception of God that mechanistically-based design arguments lead to, etc.) that I have addressed at length in many posts (and in The Last Superstition), that are clearly far more fundamental to evaluating the A-T versus ID debate than atoms or the blood clotting cascade are, and which no one here wants to talk about.

You might say "But I don't have time to get into all that, Ed!" I'm sure you don't, but in that case try to understand that I also don't have time to get into every issue you raise that, from my point of view, I've already addressed (and had my comments ignored or caricatured) and which aren't central to the main issue anyway.

So the whole thing is very baffling, but I have tried to be clear and honest throughout.

I know you have, Lydia. As usual, I have nothing but respect and high regard for you and don't think for a moment that you have intentionally been unfair. I do think you have been unfair, though, albeit unintentionally.

For example, one moment you say you're inclined toward mechanism, the next you are saying that you have no problem with an immanent teleology of wholes.
No, Ed, no. One moment I say I'm inclined toward thinking that there is something wrong in your metaphysics, and the next I say that I have no problem with immanent teleology.

See: no contradiction.

"It sure looks like there is something wrong with Ed's metaphysics, and here is why" doesn't mean what you insist it means. It doesn't mean that I am leaning toward being a bad Catholic, or I'm a moron, or an ignoramus, or that I can't read, or any of the other implicit and explicit pompous jackassery that you pepper your rhetoric with. (That is part of what makes your books fun to read despite the inherently dry subject matter, and part of why I recommend them to others. But it does have its limits).

I do agree with you that there is no point in continuing this. So lets drink to that.

or with mechanistic versions of ID, if you prefer

I do prefer, very much.

In any event, Ed, the thing is that you could have at any time, and could still now, "draw in your horns" on the sweeping claim--which you've repeated a lot but which I don't have time to dig up a link to--that correct design arguments "won't look anything like ID arguments." By dint of careful and patient probing, Zippy and I have both elicited areas where--even if one waives a lot of other stuff--*by your own account* probabilistic arguments could be relevant. Without at all saying that you have to go right now and do those probabilistic arguments, I think it would only be fair on your part to admit that you *don't know* whether those probabilistic arguments would or wouldn't "look anything like ID arguments." I think you will admit that Behe's arguments are "ID arguments." What if arguments that you could accept and assimilate to your A-T views would look recognizably like those? I don't see how you can possibly know that they wouldn't until you check, which you say you don't have time to do. That's fine, but in that case, why not revise your claim about how the right arguments "wouldn't look anything like" those? It is that refusal to retrench and make your claims more modest that, more than anything else (except perhaps some of your highly impatient references to claims of machine-like-ness), that makes you appear to have a problem with data and empirical investigation rather than with ID.

Ed:

And that's part of the problem with mechanistic attempts to analyze living things: We only understand what an "artifact" is by contrast with what is "natural" (in Aristotle's senses of those terms). Yet mechanism wants to reverse this, to redefine the natural in terms of the artifactual.

Must it be like this? Must you provoke us “anonymous combox guys” to contradict you at every turn? Well, here goes…(but remember, this is going to hurt me more than it's going to hurt you):

Sorry, Ed, wrong again. IDers do not base their judgments of natural things upon what is known of artifacts because they’re seeking “to redefine the natural in terms of the artifactual,” but because the fact that artifacts have been designed is more easily and more certainly known by us. Nobody denies that artifacts are designed. Even the Darwinists don’t deny this, (although some modern academic Thomists may deny it, I don’t know). Thus, in good Aristotelian fashion, the IDers are simply proceeding from what is more known to what is less known. This is how knowledge is advanced.

Btw, crow is still on the menu today. It's not as bad as you'd think; I've eaten plenty myself.

Good move Zippy, cuz it seems as if Ed was probably to kick you off this blog - oh wait...

Let's let Mr. Torley have the final blog post on the matter:

http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/in-praise-of-subtlety/

I'm going to cast the discussion into language everyone can follow (my eyes were starting to glaze over reading these long posts).

I am a masked chicken. Am I a plane that thinks it's a bird or am I a bird that thinks it's plane? I am chicken; if you pluck me, do I not cluck?

Seriously, God created the mess. I think he should know what he meant to do. Anyone want to ask him?

If ID ultimately requires God, then I have no problem with it; it A-T ultimately requires God, then I have no problem with it. If they both lead back to God, then I have no problem with either one of them. The problem at this stage in history is that ID is only a mid-level theory, not a theory of absolutes, whereas, A-T is a high or ultimate level theory and is a theory of absolutes. Until ID starts using the word God as their intelligent creator, I think the discourse levels between the two areas of philosophy are incommensurate and we have an example of two philosophical planes flying at different altitudes above or below each other all the wile thinking that they are going to crash.

At the current time ID has not identified God as the Intelligent Designer (capital letters). Until they do, it is necessarily a mechanistic theory that is incommensurate with A-T because all lower-level theories are mechanistic theories. One doesn't escape mechanistic theories until one reaches a designer who is perfectly free.

Which one. ID or A-T is empirically-based? In my opinion, neither one. They are both observationally-based, but neither philosophical viewpoint has led to a single experiment, made a single prediction, or been verified by another independent experimenter. Could we stop using the word empirical? Neither viewpoint has a right to the modern use of the word.

I'm going back to my hangar and unload the passengers. After that, I think I'll have some bird seed.

The Chicken

Zippy writes:

It doesn't mean that I am leaning toward being a bad Catholic, or I'm a moron, or an ignoramus, or that I can't read, or any of the other implicit and explicit pompous jackassery that you pepper your rhetoric with.

I never said either that you were a bad Catholic or leaning toward being one. Rather, I expressed surprise that a rather publicly militant Catholic like yourself would be so glib as to express a willingness to dismiss ideas that have been so central to the Catholic intellectual tradition, on the basis of a half-digested combox exchange. I said that you really ought to think more carefully about this before drawing the sorts of conclusions that you seemed to be drawing. That seems to me to be perfectly in bounds. Nor did I ever say you were a moron etc. I said that your comments indicated that you didn't have enough familiarity with A-T to be making the kind of sweeping statements about it that you've been making. Again, I was recommending caution, and I think I did so gently until you persisted in saying things that seem to me to evince lack of familiarity with the relevant issues.

I also said, rightly, that you had misrepresented my position, in at least one case absurdly so. And I think you'll find that it was only after you refused to acknowledge or retract that particular misrepresentation that I got particularly testy with you.

As to pompous jackassery, someone with your reputation for, shall we say, strident moralism, really ought to think twice before chucking that particular stone. Anyway, I assumed that since you like to dish it out, you could take a bit of it. Keep in mind also that when I'm getting it from all sides, as I have been here, my general irritation is bound to rub off in my response to any particular person, as it probably has in your case, as I think others have been nastier than you have. So, if in some cases I've been too harsh with you, I apologize. Again, though, in our exchanges the gloves only came off on my side when you refused to own up to the absurd caricature you had presented of what I said about the nature/origins distinction. You still refuse to own up to it, I see.

That is part of what makes your books fun to read despite the inherently dry subject matter, and part of why I recommend them to others. But it does have its limits).

The Last Superstition is that way. My other books are not. Again, let's be accurate.

Lydia,

It depends on what the arguments are arguments for. For example, suppose we judge that it is improbable that standard Darwinian processes could account for such and such a specific organ, and we do so without using arguments that presuppose mechanism or some other assumption A-T rejects. OK, so far so good. But what exactly does that show? It certainly would add to the probability that a completely Darwinian account of living things is wrong -- as I've frequently acknowledged it would. But does it show that naturalism in general is false? No. Does it show that a designer exists? No. Does it by itself provide the basis for a new approach to biology? No. In short, it doesn't do any of the things ID is sold as doing. That doesn't mean it isn't important, but if we're considering here what an ID reinterpreted in A-T terms might look like, the whole project seems a waste of time vis-a-vis the questions of whether ID poses a challenge to naturalism, or gives us a good design argument, or opens the door to a new science. From an A-T point of view, whatever else a reinterpreted ID argument might do (e.g. undermine some specific Darwinian claim) it is not going to do the big things claimed for it, and is thus not worth the amount of attention it is getting. The right place to look for those big things is either metaphysics (vis-a-vis the issues of naturalism and God's existence) or metaphysics-plus-science (vis-a-vis a revolution in biology).

Now, if you agree that ID is not properly seen as necessarily doing all the gigantic things some people claim for it, then it seems to me that you should be critical, not of me, but of prominent ID people who make these big claims. Instead of saying "But why isn't it enough to poke a hole or two in Darwinism, Ed? Why judge ID on whether it contriutes to these big issues?" you should be directing some fire at people like Dembski and saying "Hey, stop making these ridiculous claims like 'Naturalism is the disease; ID is the cure!' etc!"

I suggest a single malt, with just a dash of water. Bottoms up!

Ed, I see these as empirically based inferences to the best explanation for design in specific cases. I think that you could reinterpret them in your terms, as far as I can tell. I think that "poking a hole or two in Darwinism" is far too _narrow_ a description of what such an inference to the best explanation accomplishes and that "curing naturalism" is far too _broad_ a description. The IBE construal does correct the impression that this is a purely negative enterprise, an impression to which, I'm afraid, Dembski's reconstruction is rather liable to give rise. And, again, I see no reason why you could not interpret the IBE in your own metaphysical terms, if you desired and had the time, and I think you should at least be open to that possibility. In particular, I think such an IBE does give us reason to believe that a designer exists, though it doesn't "show" it as in a metaphysical proof. But to know whether the inference from the evidence given to what would be, I gather in your view, special creation of creature-types works, you would have to examine it in more detail.

Dembski and I aren't in contact, and he isn't my fellow blogger or as good or recent a friend as you are. We were never particularly good friends. I think we saw ourselves as having some significant agreements, though we have also had many disagreements, which sometimes became a bit "hot," as I recall. If he put up a post here saying that ID is the cure for naturalism, I'd criticize the statement as over-the-top, though I think not as sweepingly and harshly as you do, and I know not for all the same reasons.

There is, btw, no contradiction in my saying that you should focus neither too narrowly on my particular views on the metaphysics of biology nor on Dembski's remarks about Aristotle. For one thing, Dembski's remarks about Aristotle aren't even central to his _own_ ID structure, which are meant to apply to all sorts of "non-mechanistic" things like paintings and so forth. It's also entirely possible to get a "specification" in his sense for biological entities with no reference to mechanism, vis a vis functions like reproduction, ability to move, etc. Moreover, his "explanatory filter," for which he's famous, isn't an empirical argument in itself anyway but is meant to represent the structure of design inferences generally. In my opinion, the fairest approach to ID is vis a vis the particular empirical arguments which, as it happens, I do find convincing. That's what I've been getting at when I urge that you neither focus your attention on my views (and I'm a nobody in the ID camp anyway) nor on Dembski's reconstruction, which is not in itself empirical argument. So no contradiction.

Zippy, my friend, it only ever pains me to be at odds with you, and Lydia. And nothing takes away the pain like a single malt. I especially prefer something peaty (Laphroaig is a favorite, and a bargain at Trader Joe's), but will not press the matter if others dissent. So, let us drink up indeed. I will have one in your honor this evening, and since I don't know if Lydia is a fan of the stuff, I'll have a second one in her stead as well just in case.

I'm with Shylock Chicken at 2:03.

Laphroaig is a favorite, and a bargain at Trader Joe's

Small world. I just had my first tasting of Laphroaig at an office party (one of the management insisted on having it on hand) and was quite impressed and am tucking a little extra cash away to get a bottle for myself.

Lydia,

RE: an IBE to a designer from a failure of a Darwinian explanation, it depends, of course, on what further considerations we bring to bear on the inference. And the problem, it seems to me, is this: On the one hand, if we bring to bear mechanistic-oriented considerations, we'll both be assuming something A-T regards as false and get only to a demiurge in any case, a conception of God A-T rejects. On the other hand, if we bring A-T friendly non-mechanistic metaphysical conceptions to bear (a world understood in terms of act/potency, form/matter, etc.) then those assumptions will already lead straight to the God of classical theims all by themselves (so A-T claims) and questions about how to account for the specific thing Darwinian accounts failed to account for become redundant vis-a-vis an argument for God. Hence ID arguments, considered as anything more than targeted arguments against this or that Darwinian account (which is, as I say, still important), are bound for A-T to be not worth all the fuss, not where natural theology is concerned, anyway.

All I can say is, doesn't anyone drink Tequila anymore?

All I can say is, doesn't anyone drink Tequila anymore?

I'll bet most of us used to. And then we had the bad experience. :)

And let us not forget to toast the good V J Torley, whose modernist Thomism can embrace ID.


Cheers!

g

Look at it this way, Ed: When the guys at Lourdes or wherever it is investigate a claimed healing miracle, part of their inference to the best explanation for a miracle is investigating the probability that non-miraculous means brought about the event. Treat the investigation of the adequacy of Darwinian accounts for the origins of a biological entity as similar to the investigation of, say, medical healing or spontaneous regression of a cancerous tumor. The inference that a miracle has occurred in the case of Catholic investigations of saints' miracles is a probabilistic one, because there could be some unknown non-miraculous cause of the healing. Their conclusion that, nonetheless, the best explanation is a miracle is, of course, inter alia an argument for the conclusion that there exists One who does miracles. (The statement, "God did a miracle here" entails "God exists.") Now, you can say that if, in the course of their medical and scientific investigations, they are true to A-T concepts and come to have an A-T-compatible understanding of the working of matter and so forth, these understandings will "lead straight to the God of classical theism all by themselves" and hence, will be "redundant vis a vis an argument for God." I don't agree with all of that, but I'm not an Aristotelian.

But I very much doubt that you would say that a probabilistic investigation of the occurrence of a miracle and a conclusion that a miracle has happened are not "worth all the fuss."

I'm not even sure that this is just an analogy, by the way. I think there may be a very close connection here to ID arguments, but this is because I, unlike most ID writers I know of, think "divine front-loading" or "nudging" of mutations or what-not are implausible. I'm more inclined just to attribute these things to direct divine intervention outright and the special creation of species. (So that shows you how impolitic I am in the ID cause. I wouldn't admit that publicly if I were trying to avoid alienating potential allies who have an allergy to Divine intervention.)

I doubt I could handle Laphroaig, but I'll drink a toast in Shiraz in the near future...

To being impolitic, especially when dealing with naturalists.

Lydia,

Re: Lourdes, yes, but that's because God's existence is already assumed on independent grounds. It's not an argument for God's existence. The claim isn't "This sure looks like a miracle; so, probably God exists." It's rather "We already know God exists; and given that plus the specific evidence at hand, this looks like it is probably a case where He has caused a miracle." In general, A-T writers tend to approach the question of miracles only after establishing God's existence (e.g. as part of an apologetic for Christianity specifically) rather than using miracles as themselves an argument for God's existence.

Try Laphroaig, Lydia, while reading some A-T stuff -- the A-T will seem to you fantastic by comparison. ;-)

Burl,

I'll toast to Torley. He's a good sport. I'll be replying to him at my own blog before long.

Scott and John,

The bad experience in my case (one of 'em, anyway) was (most of) a cheap bottle of Club brand Long Island Ice Tea. On an empty stomach. Real classy. Late 80s and I'm still getting over it...

MC,
The FAA frowns upon rogue passenger chickens, especially masked ones. It would be horrible if you joined so many of your brethren in a cage. For the sake of all that is aerodynamic and feathery, please don't let this happen.

I'm more inclined just to attribute these things to direct divine intervention outright and the special creation of species.

I'd like to thank God in his inifinite love, wisdom, and unbounded creativity for taking time out one very busy day to specially create...the tapeworm.

Warning: not for the weak of stomach.

Heya all,

I'm coming in late here, but I did want to mention one aspect of ID I think isn't being emphasized enough here, however. ID, from what I've read again and again, is not about disproving evolution. Not even Darwinian* evolution (here meaning mutation and selection giving rise to new species and novel traits, etc) or even abiogenesis. To be sure, these may be favored tacts of particular ID proponents, but given what I've read by Thomas Cudworth and even William Dembski, they aren't necessary for ID. What's supposedly necessary and sufficient to be an ID proponent is to present arguments and evidence for [all or part of] nature being designed, and for these to be scientific claims.

(* I've seen some claims that Darwinian Evolution has "unguided, undirected, & without purpose" built right into its definition. Naturally I think any ID proponent viewing things as both evolved and designed would have to reject such evolution. Then again, I also regard such claims as the stuff of metaphysics, not science, and have never seen a good argument for thinking otherwise.)

Also, I wanted to mention how glad I am that the conversation (primarily between Ed, Lydia, and Zippy) taken a turn for the more civil and friendly even if still maintaining disagreement. So compliments to all of you.

A Chicken writes, "At the current time ID has not identified God as the Intelligent Designer (capital letters)."

But that's just it: ID theorizes creation to the very exclusion of God as actually being its Creator and reasons to something other as being the responsible cause (a temporal agent, whether alien or otherwise).

Thus, for a Christian to suppose that ID actually advocates the Christian point-of-view is as silly as supposing that the Big Bang Theory likewise advocates it simply because it theorizes creation ex nihilo.

It's quite ironic as it is silly, really.

Glenlivet is what they have here, so Glenlivet is what I'm drinking, raising a glass to Ed and my friends at W4.

Bill, the tapeworm may, for anything I know to the contrary, have been a result of Satanic messing with some entirely benign critter previously made by God. :-) Call it demonic biological warfare, like the human weaponizing of anthrax.

Lydia,

I think you're right in suggesting that ID methods are very similar to the investigations to determine whether a miracle took place. You are also right to add that confirmed miracles effectively prove the existence of God. For, while metaphysical proofs are more convincing to the intellect, sensible evidence is often far more convincing to us, since that which is perceived by the senses makes more of an impression on us. Let's face, men are far more likely "to believe their own eyes" than to believe a rational demonstration.

Post a comment


Bold Italic Underline Quote

Note: In order to limit duplicate comments, please submit a comment only once. A comment may take a few minutes to appear beneath the article.

Although this site does not actively hold comments for moderation, some comments are automatically held by the blog system. For best results, limit the number of links (including links in your signature line to your own website) to under 3 per comment as all comments with a large number of links will be automatically held. If your comment is held for any reason, please be patient and an author or administrator will approve it. Do not resubmit the same comment as subsequent submissions of the same comment will be held as well.