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A Response to Professor Feser

Edward FeserProfessor Edward Feser is an intrepid philosopher, who is not afraid to confront error head-on and expose it for what it is. That is an admirable trait. He is also a former atheist, who now defends religion from a traditional Roman Catholic perspective. In his book The Last Superstition (St. Augustine’s Press, 2008; available here ), Professor Feser takes on all four of the “New Atheists” – Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris. David Oderberg, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Reading, England, and a former atheist himself, was highly impressed by Professor Feser’s robust defense of the rationality of belief in God:

Anyone who comes away from The Last Superstition thinking that potboiler atheism has anything to recommend it, or that belief in God is irrational, will not be convinced by anything. For the rest of us, the book is, to use an apposite term, a godsend. And the caustic humour peppering the book adds just the sort of spice this fraught subject needs. If the Faithless Foursome were at all interested in a serious rebuttal, they now have it.

Professor Feser is a very insightful metaphysician, and I have been struck by his perspicacity more than a few times, while reading his blogs. His ability to articulate and defend Aquinas’ Five Ways to a 21st century audience is matchless. It is therefore a great pity, in my opinion, that he perceives ID as antithetical to Aquinas’ philosophy, and as an obstacle to his intellectual endeavor of convincing skeptics that the existence of God can be demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt.

What is Professor Feser’s beef with ID, you may ask? Actually, he has a few objections to ID, but his principal complaint is that it is tied to a mechanistic conception of life. Here is his argument, taken from his recent post, “Intelligent Design” theory and mechanism (10 April 2010):

Take Dembski’s discussion of Aristotle at pp. 132-3 of The Design Revolution (which, if you don’t have a copy of the book, you can read for yourself here via Google Books). Dembski here identifies “design” with what Aristotle called techne or “art.” As Dembski correctly says, “the essential idea behind these terms is that information is conferred on an object from outside the object and that the material constituting the object, apart from that outside information, does not have the power to assume the form it does. For instance, raw pieces of wood do not by themselves have the power to form a ship.” This contrasts with what Aristotle called “nature,” which (to quote Dembski quoting Aristotle) “is a principle in the thing itself.” For example (again to quote Dembski’s own exposition of Aristotle), “the acorn assumes the shape it does through powers internal to it: the acorn is a seed programmed to produce an oak tree” – in contrast to the way the “ship assumes the shape it does through powers external to it,” via a “designing intelligence” which “imposes” this form on it from outside.

Now, having made this distinction, Dembski goes on explicitly to acknowledge that just as “the art of shipbuilding is not in the wood that constitutes the ship” and “the art of making statues is not in the stone out of which statues are made,” “so too, the theory of intelligent design contends that the art of building life is not in the physical stuff that constitutes life but requires a designer” (emphasis added). And there you have it: Living things are for ID theory to be modeled on ships and statues, the products of techne or “art,” whose characteristic “information” is not “internal” to them but must be “imposed” from “outside.” And that just is what A-T [Aristotelian-Thomistic - VJT] philosophers mean by a “mechanistic” conception of life.

Remember, this does not mean that A-T [Aristotelian Thomism] denies that living things are created by God; far from it. The point is rather that for A-T, the way God creates a natural substance is not to be understood on the model of a shipbuilder or sculptor who takes pre-existing bits of matter and rearranges them to serve an end they have no tendency otherwise to serve. For A-T, a natural substance is a composite of “prime matter” (matter having no form at all) and substantial form, rather than a piece of “second matter” (matter already having some substantial form or other) which has acquired some accidental form from outside it. And a natural substance’s causal tendencies, including biological functions in the case of living things, are inherent to it, a reflection of its essence or nature; it simply could not possibly exist as the kind of thing it is in the first place if it did not have those tendencies… The way God creates living things, then, is the same way He creates everything else, viz. by conjoining an essence to an act of existence…

With the greatest respect, I think that Professor Feser is misconstruing Professor Dembski’s argument. I consider myself an ID proponent, and I would be the first to affirm that living organisms have built-in ends, and that their biological functions are inherent to them. Nowhere in Professor Dembski’s book, The Design Revolution, does he deny these obvious facts. Let’s go back to Dembski’s exposition of Aristotle on acorns: “the acorn assumes the shape it does through powers internal to it: the acorn is a seed programmed to produce an oak tree.” Far from denying this observation, ID theory endorses and welcomes it. An acorn can produce an oak tree, precisely because its DNA is packed with functional complex specified information.

But where did the first acorn come from? More generally, where did the first life come from? It is all well and good to say that living things have inherent tendencies; but where did these tendencies first originate? Professor Feser’s response is that God breathed existence into an essence, as it were. Fine; but what about the essence of the first life form? Did it spring fully-fledged from the brow of the Almighty, as a Divine idea that God suddenly endowed with concrete existence, or was it “educed” from pre-existing powers lying latent in non-living matter?

The point that Professor Dembski was making in The Design Revolution was simply this: that the inherent tendencies which define living organisms and make them what they are, do not in any way explain how the first living organism came to be. To explain this occurrence, an act of external agency is required: in other words, a Designer who created the first life. Neither chance nor the laws of nature can explain the emergence of life, because they are unable to generate the functional complex specified information which characterizes life.

Now, Aristotle never addressed the question of how life on Earth originated, because he believed the world was eternal, and that the various species of living things had always existed. Aquinas, writing as a Christian theologian in the 13th century, rejected the view that the world was eternal, but he had the honesty to admit that Aristotle’s view was rationally consistent. We now know, however, that the Earth has not always existed. Additionally, there is very strong observational evidence that our Universe began in a Big Bang, approximately 13.7 billion years ago. We therefore have to confront the question: where did life come from?

Professor Feser would have us believe that this question is secondary. Even if there are some unknown laws of nature which explain the emergence of life, it does not matter; the really surprising thing is that there are laws of nature at all. To account for this striking fact, one must suppose that the various kinds of things we observe in the natural world (even things as simple as hydrogen atoms) have built-in tendencies to produce certain kinds of effects, under the right circumstances. But to say that a thing has a tendency towards a certain effect is tantamount to saying that producing that effect is not merely what is does, but what it ought to do. Laws of nature, then, are prescriptive as well as descriptive. Things have an “aboutness” built into them: what they are about is the effect they tend towards. But things lacking intelligence (such as hydrogen atoms) are not capable of being about anything unless an Intelligent Creator makes them to be that way. Likewise, things can only behave as they ought to behave if they were designed to behave in a certain way. That, in a nutshell, is Aquinas’ Fifth Way, the best exposition of which is actually to be found not in Aquinas’ Summa Theologica Part I, question 2, article 3, but in his Questiones Disputatae De Veritate, Question 5, Article 2.

However, what Professor Feser appears not to realize is that there is very good evidence, from Aquinas’ own writings, that he would have warmly supported Professor Dembski’s contention that the first life could not have originated by natural processes, had he known what we know today about biology. This is a bold claim to make, and I am of course perfectly aware that for Aquinas and his contemporaries, spontaneous generation was an unquestioned fact of life, owing to the defective biology of that time. What Professor Feser overlooks, though, is that Aquinas also expressly taught that at least some kinds of creatures could not be generated from non-living matter by natural processes, as too many conditions would need to be satisfied in order to produce creatures of such perfection. In ID parlance, these creatures contain too much functional complex specified information (FCSI). I will produce “chapter and verse” to support this assertion in a forthcoming post, and I will also explain why I believe that had Aquinas known what we now know about DNA, he would have held that even a bacterium could not have originated from non-living matter by natural processes. For now, all I will say is that evidence for these assertions may be found in both the Summa Theologica and the Summa Contra Gentiles. I am surprised that Professor Feser is unaware of this evidence.

Now, I happen to know that Professor Feser is a big fan of Aquinas’ First Way – the argument from motion. Why does he especially like this argument in particular, rather than, say, the argument that things require a first cause of their being (the Second Way)? I shall answer by quoting from an article he recommends in his post, Go to Thomas! (28 January 2010): Michael Augros’s article responding to “Ten Objections to the Prima Via”. On pages 85-86 of his article, Augros writes:

The Second, Third, and Fourth ways do not begin from motion, which most manifestly needs a cause. Aquinas says that “Everything which was not always manifestly has a cause; whereas this is not so manifest of what always was.” But in all motion there is something which was not always. Motion itself, because of the novelty in it, gets our attention – we wave our hands to be seen, and sit still to avoid being noticed. And once we notice something new, something changed, we spontaneously seek a cause, much more convinced that there must be one than when there is no change. It is a rare soul who wonders why a house that has long been in existence now continues to exist in its same accustomed condition – unless it was on fire the last time he saw it. But no one fails to see that a new house going up in the neighborhood is due to a productive cause, even if neither he nor anyone else among his neighbors has seen the work being done.

Life on Earth had a beginning, and it also exhibits motion. It therefore had a cause. The movements that we can observe, under the microscope, in even the simplest living cells make a deep impression on most people. Intuitively, they immediately grasp that these movements exhibit a kind of complexity that is the hallmark of intelligence. Since cells themselves are not intelligent, they must have been designed. Thus ID’s argument for a Designer is thus a modern-day via manifestor for John and Jane Citizen. Even without the benefit of Aristotle’s philosophy, they can readily grasp that the first living things must have been designed, if life on Earth had a beginning.

As for Professor Feser’s claim that Aquinas did not liken God the Creator to a shipbuilder, sculptor or artificer, allow me to quote from the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas himself:

For when we call the builder the principle of the house, in the idea of such a principle is included that of his art; and it would be included in the idea of the first principle were the builder the first principle of the house. God, Who is the first principle of all things, may be compared to things created as the architect is to things designed.
- Summa Theologica, Vol. I, q. 27, article 1, reply to objection 3.

Although creatures do not attain to a natural likeness to God according to similitude of species, as a man begotten is like to the man begetting, still they do attain to likeness to Him, forasmuch as they represent the divine idea, as a material house is like to the house in the architect’s mind.
- Summa Theologica, Vol. I, q. 44, article 3, reply to objection 1.

For just as an architect, without injustice, places stones of the same kind in different parts of a building, not on account of any antecedent difference in the stones, but with a view to securing that perfection of the entire building, which could not be obtained except by the different positions of the stones; even so, God from the beginning, to secure perfection in the universe, has set therein creatures of various and unequal natures, according to His wisdom, and without injustice, since no diversity of merit is presupposed.
- Summa Theologica, Vol. I, q. 65, article 2, reply to objection 3.

But should we speak here of life imitating art, or of art imitating life? Professor Feser contends that because the finality found in works of art is extrinsic, being imposed on a lump of lifeless matter by an external agent (e.g. a sculptor), we should think of art as a pale imitation of the intrinsic finality (or built-in teleology) found in all living things.

Again, this is perfectly correct if we are comparing the being of a living thing to that of a work of art. However, the intrinsic finality we find in all living things cannot account for the coming-to-be of the first living things. To explain this, we do need an artificer.

Now ID says nothing about the modus operandi of the Creator. An ID theorist is perfectly free to posit an act of Divine intervention at the dawn of life, or alternatively, a universe exquisitely fine-tuned by the Designer in its initial conditions as well as its laws, so that the subsequent emergence of life was inevitable. ID is a “big tent.” Theistic evolution, on the other hand, is not. Almost invariably, theistic evolutionists find the notion of God intervening in nature uncongenial. To them, it smacks of Divine tinkering, or of a “God-of-the gaps”; hence their visceral dislike of ID. It is particularly interesting, then, to discover that St. Thomas Aquinas did not share this dislike at all. On the contrary, he considered it perfectly appropriate for God, as a Divine artist, to intervene in nature whenever He pleased, even if He acts in a manner contrary to the normal course of natural occurrences:

[A]ll creatures are related to God as art products are to an artist, as is clear from the foregoing. Consequently, the whole of nature is like an artifact of the divine artistic mind. But it is not contrary to the essential character of an artist if he should work in a different way on his product, even after he has given it its first form. Neither, then, is it against nature if God does something to natural things in a different way from that to which the course of nature is accustomed.

Hence, Augustine says: “God, the creator and founder of all natures, does nothing contrary to nature; for what the source of all measure, number and order in nature does, is natural to each thing” [Contra Faustum, XXVI, 3].
- Summa Contra Gentiles, Book III, chapter 100, paragraphs 6 and 7, available online at http://dhspriory.org/thomas/ContraGentiles3b.htm#100

That sure sounds like an artificer to me.

Before concluding this post, I will briefly respond to Professor Feser’s second substantive charge against Professor Dembski, which is that he prevaricates on the nature of the Designer:

In some places he insists that the “designer” that ID posits could in theory itself be something in the natural order, such as an extraterrestrial, so that there is no truth to the charge that ID has an essentially theological agenda. But elsewhere he insists that “specified complexity” cannot be given a naturalistic explanation, and even allows that positing a designer who is part of the natural order would only initiate an explanatory regress – which would imply that a genuine explanation would require an appeal to the supernatural.

Is there an inconsistency here? Not at all. We need to distinguish between what can be established by a scientific argument, from what can only be established by a metaphysical argument. The scientific case for biological ID is built on the fact that the emergence of even the simplest living cell through low-specificity processes, such as the laws of nature, would be an astronomically improbable event, over the time period available (say, the first billion years after the Earth formed). The laws of nature, by themselves, are too blunt an instrument to generate the amount of functional complex specified information (FCSI) found in even the simplest living cell over that time period, and chance won’t do the job either. Intelligent beings, on the other hand, create FCSI all the time. Ergo, the most rational inference is that life on Earth was intelligently designed. This is a scientific argument which makes use of abductive reasoning but makes no controversial metaphysical assumptions.

By contrast, the argument that the Designer transcends the cosmos is far trickier to formulate, and does require certain metaphysical premises to yield its conclusion. One needs to show either that the cosmos had a beginning (as the kalam cosmological argument attempts to prove), which means that the first life-forms in the cosmos must have been created by a supernatural Being, if one rejects abiogenesis on probabilistic grounds, as ID proponents do; or that the laws of the cosmos must be designed by an Intelligent Being, who therefore transcends the cosmos (the fine-tuning argument and Aquinas’ Fifth Way can both be used to demonstrate this). Some metaphysical premises – very rational ones, I might add – are required to make these arguments work. Hence on purely scientific grounds we cannot show that the Designer of life on Earth is not an extraterrestrial, but on metaphysical grounds we can.

The value of ID for most people is that it “breaks the spell” of the scientific materialist mindset, which says that mind emerged naturally from matter, through an argument which is evident to most people and that practically anyone can grasp, even if their philosophical background is very limited. The specified complexity of life speaks for itself. Have a look here if you don’t believe me. And then read this and this. Whoever designed life is smarter than we are.

That doesn’t take us to an Infinite Being, but it’s a big step in the right direction. Someone who comes to recognize that life on Earth was designed by a superior Intelligence will then be much more receptive to the idea that the Designer is transcendent and not limited by anything else.

Professor Feser is an astute metaphysician, and I suspect he will ask: why take this roundabout route to God, when a good metaphysical argument will get you there? The short answer is: most people don’t trust metaphysical arguments which purport to prove conclusions which they find repugnant to their way of thinking. They tend to reject such arguments as “armchair metaphysics” – which is an unfair prejudice, but a sad fact of life. The value of ID is that it helps to break down this repugnance. Once people are persuaded that life on Earth had a Designer, the idea of God no longer seems so intellectually uncongenial.

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83 Responses to A Response to Professor Feser

  1. Very good post vjtorley.
    I particulraly liked when you (correctly IMHO) argued that, had he known what we actually know about biology, Aquinas should have recognized ID as an idea that is perfectly compatible with his theology.
    And this just because ID is (in your words) a “big tent”.

  2. I think that A-T would not claim that A-T-G-C can form in useful sequences by chance plus law.

  3. Great post VJ. Thanks.

  4. vjtorley:

    Brilliant essay!

    A thousand straight-from-the-heart thank-yous!

    More, please….

  5. Indeed it is an excellent essay, albeit one that could be submitted as evidence in any future court case for the argument that Intelligent Design is a stalking-horse for Biblical creationism.

  6. vjtorley:

    Thank you. You have fulfilled a desperate need.

  7. 7
    CannuckianYankee

    Seversky,

    In the same way that Darwinian ToE is a ‘stalking horse’ for atheism?

    Great post, VJ, is this your first?

    Feser: “In some places he insists that the “designer” that ID posits could in theory itself be something in the natural order, such as an extraterrestrial, so that there is no truth to the charge that ID has an essentially theological agenda. But elsewhere he insists that “specified complexity” cannot be given a naturalistic explanation..”

    Feser appears to imply that allowing extraterrestrial design contradicts Dr. Dembski’s contention that SC cannot be given a naturalistic explanation. I fail to see how this is a contradiction. Extraterrestrial design is not naturalistic. Any design by a designer is purposeful, not naturalistic.

  8. Dr Torley,

    A fine essay, though for most of it I have to admit that I don’t have a dog in that fight.

    Intuitively, they immediately grasp that these movements exhibit a kind of complexity that is the hallmark of intelligence.

    Intuition is an incredibly weak argument for deciding on something so far removed from our everyday experience. Intuition would leave science at the Aristotle stage.

  9. Torley, your three quotes from the Summa do not say what you say they say.

    In the first, Thomas is talking about the question of whether there is procession within the Godhead, as in the Nicene Creed, “proceeds from the Father and the Son.” He is responding to the objection that if God is the first principle, then to say that God (the Holy Spirit or Son) proceeds from God (Father) makes no sense since first principles can’t be second principles. Thomas’ answer is that God as first principle entails procession within the Godhead since that is the God’s nature. So, just as a builder (analogous to God the Father) and his idea (analogous to the Word, God the Son) does not mean that the builder and his idea are not, together, the first principle of the house to be built, procession within the Godhead does not violate the notion that God is the first principle of Creation.

    (I urge readers of Uncommondescent to consult the Summa from which Torley lifts the quote and see for yourself that he is taking it out of context in a way that really distorts the project on which Thomas is working. Go here: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1027.htm )

    But even on your out-of-context account of the quotation, Ed’s still right, since Thomas is saying that creating and designing are different activities. The analogy is between the idea of creation in God’s mind and the idea of the artifact in the architect’s mind. (Remember, Thomas has both Platonism and neo-Platonism in mind when he addresses these issues. And he also wants to offer Aristotelian account that incorporates some Platonic insights. So, his concern is with the notions of Being, Idea, and Act.).

    In the second Thomas is discussing the question of whether God may be the exemplar cause of man if God and man are of different species. Thomas answers that God’s causal relationship to man is not the same as one man begetting another. Rather, we still attain a likeness to God in the sense that we represent the divine idea, “as a material house is like to the house in the architect’s mind.” The analogy, again, concerns the relationship between idea and act. The anthropomorphisms are meant to be illustrative, not descriptive.

    Remember, Thomas is dealing with a complete different set of issues than with which the ID advocates are dealing. For this reason, you are reading Thomas anachronistically, and doing a real disservice to your readers on this blog. Consider, for example, Garrigou-Lagrange’s commentary on this passage ( http://www.ewtn.com/library/th.....ty1.htm#18 ):

    Humanity is not formally but only virtually in the divine nature, but the idea of man is formally and eminently in God as the terminus of intellection. So also the objective multitude of ideas is formally and eminently in God, whereas it is formally but not eminently in the angel, in whom there are many subordinate ideas. Hence the notion of idea is an analogical notion which is predicated only according to a similarity of proportion of the human idea, the angelic idea, and the divine idea, for, as Dionysius often says, “those things that are divided in inferiors are united as in one in superior beings.”

    In the third, Thomas is discussing the inequality of creatures. He compares God to an architect insofar as the architect makes a building with the good of the whole in mind. So, a squirrel or the headache I am feeling as a consequence of reading your bad reading of Thomas may not seem to serve much of a purpose isolated from the whole. But in terms of the “grand scheme of things” (i.e., providence), they do. It is the architect’s wholistic vision that is serving as Thomas’ analog to God’s providence.

    Reading Thomas is difficult, take it from me. I was blessed to have studied under some of the great Thomists of the 20th century such W. Norris Clarke, S. J. and Gerald McCool, S. J. But I still struggle to understand Thomas in several places. Thus, it is not surprising to me that your attempt to proof-text Thomas for your cause gets these results.

  10. 10

    “So, a squirrel or the headache I am feeling as a consequence of reading your bad reading of Thomas may not seem to serve much of a purpose isolated from the whole.”

    Dr. Beckwith, you are welcome to disagree with Dr. Torley in these pages. We will not even interfere with you when you express your disagreement in a caustic and uncharitable fashion. But I wonder if Thomas, whom you venerate so much, would have taken advantage of such a freedom. I will not venture an opinion on the subject but will leave it to experts such as yourself to ponder.

  11. fbeckwith:

    I will not enter into debate with you about the passages of Thomas over which you are disagreeing with Mr. Torley. I am surprised, however, that you have nothing good to say about the numerous points made in his article which do not depend on the specific interpretation of Aquinas.

    You seem to be determined, on your visits here, to point out only the things about ID which in your mind are wrong, and you seem unwilling to give any credit, grant any points, offer any praise. I don’t find this a very useful dialogical position.

    For example, Mr. Torley’s final point is an excellent one. It is the first principle of pedagogy that one starts with where one’s students are at. Not that one leaves them there, or panders to their prejudices, but one begins there. Plato and Aristotle both knew this very well, and their writings therefore frequently begin from an examination of common notions, which they do not immediately dismiss, but consider seriously, and often partly appropriate in their solution to the problem at hand. And even where they end up utterly rejecting a particular common notion, having started from that notion is what enables them to move their readers to a truer account.

    The modern mind, when it thinks of “science” and “nature”, has no conception of Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, final causes, formal causes, act, potency, etc. It cannot grasp the Thomistic lingo without intense training. But it *can* grasp an argument that shows that “chance” does not have the capability that popular science writers have attributed to it. A generation which learned its popular science from Asimov and Sagan will go blank on Aquinas and Gilson, but will immediately understand the logic of Behe and Dembski, who use the same language that Asimov and Sagan use, but come up with different conclusions.

    You fail to see that ID’s approach, in this culture, at this moment, is the appropriate one for reaching the majority of secular humanist readers who have open minds on the topic. Once Behe and Dembski et al. have opened the minds of those who are educable, and once those minds have absorbed the ID critique fully, it is almost inevitable that they will say: “OK, there’s design in nature — now what?” and start to ask the larger questions about nature that ID cannot answer. For example, how exactly did the design get into nature? ID cannot say; it can only detect the design, not account for its introduction into the world. At exactly this point, theology and metaphysics have much to say.

    Thus, if I were a Thomist (which I’m not, thought I stress that I greatly admire Thomism), I would be grateful for the rubble-clearing activities of ID. By humiliating materialism on its own playing field, ID leaves the thoughtful mind wondering about how materialism is to be transcended. And when it starts that wondering, the Thomists can be standing there with their business cards ready. Thomism has nothing to lose from the presence of ID in the world, and much to gain.

    T.

  12. Timeaus:

    You fail to see that ID’s approach, in this culture, at this moment, is the appropriate one for reaching the majority of secular humanist readers who have open minds on the topic.

    This would hold true for teaching theistic Darwinists like I once was who wanted to believe but found the evidence lacking.

    It was Jastrow and Denton’s non-metaphysical arguments that turned me to ID. Once I found ID convincing, then theology became meaningful and that inspired hope for finding metaphysical answers to certain questions (like the problem of evil).

    Metaphysics was good to answer the problem of evil and “bad design”.

    But as far as inferring whether Darwin was right, I think one has to turn to the physical evidence. We wouldn’t use metaphysics to measure the properties of the electron. Likewise, it would seem more the domain of science to measure the ubiquity (or lack there of) of natural selection over time.

    The problem is that a lot of Darwinism is propped up with theology, not hard-nosed empiricism. Thus it is good to see Darwinism challenged on both metaphysical and scientific grounds.

    Thus I agree with this:

    Professor Feser is an astute metaphysician, and I suspect he will ask: why take this roundabout route to God, when a good metaphysical argument will get you there? The short answer is: most people don’t trust metaphysical arguments conclusions which they find repugnant to their way of thinking.

    I’ll add, and no slight intended on metaphysicians, that even some people who don’t find the conclusions repugnant have a hard time finding metaphysical arguments convincing.

  13. An excellent essay, vj, with plenty of points with which one can agree and disagree. Also, I very much appreciate both your efforts and those of fbeckwith (comment #8) to provide references and direct links to evidence in support of your arguments. This is how I was taught that intellectual debates should be conducted, and therefore IMHO anyone dedicated to the pursuit of clarity via intellectual debate should follow your example.

    And now, some questions:

    It seems clear to me that your core argument in this essay rests on the assumption that “natural” processes (i.e. those described by the “laws of nature” as currently understood by empirical scientists) are insufficient to fully account for the origin of life (OoL) from non-living materials and processes.
    In paragraph 10, you wrote:

    “Neither chance nor the laws of nature can explain the emergence of life, because they are unable to generate the functional complex specified information which characterizes life.”

    It seems to me that you are asserting that the laws of nature as we currently understand them are insufficient to explain the OoL, and therefore something “outside” of “nature” must necessarily intervene in nature (i.e. in contravention of the “laws of nature”) to bring it about. Is this a fair assessment of your position?

    If so, then I am confused. Just two paragraphs later (i.e. in paragraph 12) you wrote:

    “Professor Feser would have us believe that [questions about the OoL are] secondary. Even if there are some unknown laws of nature which explain the emergence of life, it does not matter; the really surprising thing is that there are laws of nature at all. To account for this striking fact, one must suppose that the various kinds of things we observe in the natural world (even things as simple as hydrogen atoms) have built-in tendencies to produce certain kinds of effects, under the right circumstances.”

    Is this your position, or are you saying that this is Dr. Feser’s? If the latter, then I can understand why you disagree with Dr. Feser. However, if this is your position, then it seems to me to be directly contradictory with your earlier assertion that there are no “…unknown laws of nature which [might] explain the emergence of life”.

    The argument in paragraph 12 is essentially an argument for a “designer” whose creative powers are sufficient to design and put in motion a set of natural laws that can bring about the OoL without further intervention (i.e. without contravention of those self-same “natural” laws).

    Furthermore, as you have not made reference anywhere in this post to any “origins” following the OoL (such as, say, the origin of the chemiosmotic mechanism of ATP synthesis, the bacterial flagellum, or the vertebrate blood clotting cascade), and whereas many ID supporters do assert that intelligent design must be invoked to explain the origin of such things, is it safe to assume that your over-riding concern is with the OoL, and that you do not consider arguments for other “origins” (such as those listed above) to be either necessary or conclusive?

    In the same vein, since you have not cited any other “origins” as requiring the intervention of an intelligent agent into natural processes, if it could be shown that the OoL can be explained via purely naturalistic processes (i.e. “natural” processes put in place with the origin of the universe), then would you agree that any argument for the necessary intervention in nature following the origin of the universe and its laws would be rendered moot?

  14. To Barry: Thomas, I am sure, also had a sense of humor. I don’t take myself all that seriously, and neither should you.

    Timeaus, here’s my answer to your query:

    What I am saying is that some arguments–though seemingly helpful in the short run–put in place premises that serve to undermine rather than sustain a community’s faith. Take, for example, the case in which the social conservative offers evidence against Planned Parenthood that contraception dispensed to high school kids is ultimately ineffective. But the social conservative’s view is not that premarital sex is wrong because it has bad physical consequences and that PP’s measures don’t alleviate them. Rather, the social conservative’s view is that premarital sex is wrong regardless of the bad physical consequences, since a person is more than just a material collection of urges needing to be fulfilled. But by offering the social science data as one’s public argument the social conservative’s case is now vulnerable to the eventual perfection of contraception distribution to teenagers. For once that occurs, then the social conservative has lost the public argument, since he or she, by offering such an argument, “gives away the anthropological store” to his or her adversary.

    If, for example, the Dembski-Behe project teaches people the wrong lessons about Christian theism, it actually hurts Christian theism when the Dembski-Behe project in the short run is successful, just as the social conservative position is hurt when in the short run its advocates can show that PP’s ways to be ineffective in the goals they want to achieve.

  15. fbeckwith,

    If, for example, the Dembski-Behe project teaches people the wrong lessons about Christian theism,

    Perhaps, but the converse is also true for Defenders of Theistic Darwinism.

    What about if Ayala and Miller and Falk teach children science that is wrong but the wrong science still leads them away from theism.

    For example, the Prestigious Scientific Journal unwittingly supported Behe and just trashed Ken Miller: Nature Writes Back To Behe. Yet, it is easy to see people walking away from the faith because they still believe what poeple like Ken Miller have said.

    If we are to be fair, the vulnerability to falsification should be applied to Theistic Darwinists, not just ID proponents.

    As it stands, Behe, Sternberg are scoring points on the science front even despite an enormously hostile environment to their work.

  16. “Perhaps, but the converse is also true for Defenders of Theistic Darwinism.”

    You’ll get no argument from me on that, if (and this is a big IF) the Divine is merely a free rider. But not all forms of theistic evolution are like that.

  17. To continue:

    In paragraph 28 you wrote:

    “The scientific case for biological ID is built on the fact that the emergence of even the simplest living cell through low-specificity processes, such as the laws of nature, would be an astronomically improbable event, over the time period available (say, the first billion years after the Earth formed). The laws of nature, by themselves, are too blunt an instrument to generate the amount of functional complex specified information (FCSI) found in even the simplest living cell over that time period, and chance won’t do the job either.” [emphasis added]

    These are assertions, not evidence, and pertain to what are clearly still very open questions (i.e. they are not “facts”, any more than the common assertion that evolution is a “fact”). Dr. Dembski’s conclusions (like Darwin’s) are inferences, not “facts”, and like Darwin’s they depend fundamentally on a set of assumptions, most of which depend upon a very specific metaphysical world view.

    The Darwinian paradigm is based on four such assumptions:

    1) Variety: that there are significant differences between the structural and functional characteristics of living organisms;

    2) Heredity: that some of the structural and functional characteristics of living organisms are heritable;

    3) Fecundity: that the heritable structural and functional characteristics of living organisms can be replicated (albeit imperfectly) via reproduction; and

    4) Demography: that the heritable structural and functional characteristics of living organisms that have survived and reproduced will become more common among the individuals in a population than the heritable structural and functional characteristics of living organisms that have not survived and reproduced.

    I have on numerous occasions pointed out that nearly all ID supporters agree with evolutionary biologists on assumptions 2 through 4. That is, the real nexus of disagreement between ID supporters and evolutionary biologists is the source and quality of the variations that undergo the demographic “weeding out” process usually referred to as natural selection (i.e. the demographic process described in #4).

    By contrast, it seems to me that these are the assumptions that underlie the ID position (please correct me if I am wrong):

    1) the laws of nature are insufficient to generate the amount of variation in molecules (carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, and nucleic acids) and molecular assemblies (membranes, organelles, cells, tissues, organs, etc.) that together comprise a living organism, given the slowness (and randomness) with which such variations occur and the improbability of their producing the molecules and molecular assemblies in question; and

    2) to be specific, the laws of nature are insufficient to generate the amount of variation in the genetic material that specifies the construction and operation of the molecules and molecular assemblies in question.

    It seems to me that, for one to make these assertions (or the opposite assertions, for that matter), one would necessarily have some evidence that would allow one to judge the validity of these assertions. In science, this means that one must have empirical evidence to answer the following questions:

    • Are the laws of nature sufficient (or insufficient) to generate the amount of variation in molecules (carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, and nucleic acids) and molecular assemblies (membranes, organelles, etc.) that together comprise a living cell?

    and

    • Are the laws of nature sufficient (or insufficient) to produce the variation in the genetic material that specifies the construction and operation of the molecules and molecular assemblies that together comprise a living cell?

    Notice that, to qualify as science, the answers to these questions must be obtained empirically (i.e. not derived from axiomatic “first principles”).

    It seems to me that, rather than already having conclusive answers to these questions, we have only begun the long work of finding out how these processes work and how they might have come to be. We do know that purely natural mechanisms are sufficient to explain the origin and operation of living organisms now. That is, we can now explain (albeit imperfectly) the genetic and developmental processes by which non-living matter is reorganized into living organisms. That is, we can explain the origin of FSCI as the result of the replication of previously existing FSCI.

    What we do not yet have an explanation for is the origin of FSCI from non-FSCI (i.e. the origin of life from non-life). This was, as I pointed out in comment #13, the core of your argument. Would you therefore agree that, once life had originated (by whatever means), that no further intervention into “natural processes” by a “supernatural designing agent” would be necessary to get here from there?

  18. Professor Beckwith,

    Your objection to ID is that it might be proven wrong someday, and people will lose their faith because of it, when if their faith had rested in St. Thomas’s sure proofs, such would not be the case.

    The problem is that few people regard Aquinas’s proofs as convincing, right now. If we must rest our case on them alone, most people would claim we have no case.

    Better to rest our case on Aquinas’s proofs, the moral argument, the argument from reason, the historical evidence of Jesus, religious experience, and yes, ID.

  19. And by ID, I mean both cosmological and biological.

  20. Professor MacNeill,

    When Eugene Koonin can offer the multiverse as explanation for, not the origin of life, mind you, but a strand of RNA long enough to replicate, itself I think it’s safe to say that OOL research has reached the end of its rope.

  21. “Would you therefore agree that, once life had originated (by whatever means), that no further intervention into “natural processes” by a “supernatural designing agent” would be necessary to get here from there?”

    I personally see this as a second obstacle, and one that would have an even greater difficulty to arise, even after the original FCSI existed. How much greater or less is one we can debate. Again time and resources are the issue. There is no doubt that the processes inherent in the finished product of OOL can produce additional FCSI and sometimes this FCSI is completely new to the system. But what has appeared after OOL is often several orders of magnitude greater.

    To simplify this, let’s just say the information necessary for a functioning eye exceeds all that is necessary for OOL by a lot. Even if there exists a system for generating new FCSI, the improbability of this more complicated combination will dwarf the original.

    I am sure there are experienced biologists who could compare the two and express the differences between them in terms of information content or who could provide better examples.

  22. Dear Dr. Beckwith:

    Thanks for your gracious response.

    I understand your example of the social conservatives, and I agree with the point you are making about them. However, I would say that those social conservatives are spineless, and even from a pragmatic point of view extremely shortsighted. They are spineless because they won’t offer the argument that is truly in their heart — the argument about the proper role of sexuality in human life. And they are shortsighted because they risk the whole outcome on a single role of the dice, on a pragmatic argument which may turn against them tomorrow. Why not offer the whole range of arguments, pragmatic, principled, and every possible mixture of the two, to maximize the potential of winning the policy argument?

    Similarly, those ID supporters who are Christians are not going to rest their entire argument for the existence of God on a teleological argument based on mathematical or biochemical considerations. If asked why he believes in God, I imagine that Michael Behe would not cite irreducible complexity as the sole reason. I would guess that he would say something about the Bible, or about his rearing in the Catholic tradition, and perhaps something about the experience of moral conscience, and perhaps (for all I know) something about a personal religious experience, and perhaps he would give several other reasons. I do not know of any ID supporter who has suggested that theistic apologetic should rest entirely on a scientific argument. Do you?

    I have always seen the point of ID as this: *insofar as we can offer an argument for the existence of God in terms of the language of modern science*, teleological arguments of a neo-Paleyan sort (of which “cosmological fine-tuning” and “irreducible complexity” are two different examples) are all that are available. Those arguments for the existence of God which clearly lie outside of the concern of modern science, e.g., the “cosmological argument” (which is philosophical, not scientific), the argument from conscience, arguments from revelation, etc. all remain available to religious believers at all times, and lose not an ounce of their validity even if ID arguments utterly fail.

    I am still not sure why you are suggesting that Behe’s and Dembski’s arguments necessarily produce “the wrong lessons” about Christian theism. I do not see how arguing that the sonar system of the bat did not arise out of a series of random mutations modified by natural selection, but required some sort of co-ordination of means in light of ends, is in any way contrary to correct thinking about God. How is it spreading a false notion about God to argue that he acts with foresight? That is what providence – pro-videns – means in Latin. God sees ahead, in the sense of “sees to it” that the appropriate result comes about. If the appropriate results are trees, lions, and man, God makes sure that they come about. Darwinian processes, on the other hand, cannot guarantee that any particular result will come about – it is in their nature to be unguided. (Notice that I said “Darwinian” and not “evolutionary” — I have made no attack on “evolution” as such.)

    If what you are objecting to is the image of God as a tailor or welder or carpenter, building individual species one by one, by anthropomorphically stitching or fusing or nailing atoms or cells together, well, that image is not required by ID. ID is compatible with all kinds of metaphors for how God generates a designed nature. I would guess that Thomas Aquinas, in his writings, employs a variety of such metaphors, and is aware of their metaphorical character. Similarly, I doubt that most ID proponents imagine that the artwork of Michelangelo or William Blake is a literal representation of God’s creative action. And the choice of metaphors of ID people is not always 18th-century, mechanical and Deistic. For example, I believe that William Dembski has shown a great interest in the creation imagery of the Greek Fathers, and I don’t think you can accuse the Greek Fathers of having a mechanistic, Deistic conception of creation. In sum, I just can’t summon up the “wrong” mental picture of God that you seem to be worried about. In order to see it, I am going to need a concrete example of the error, not a general discussion of Thomist principles. I need to be shown that ID proponent X pictures God as creating in fashion Y, and why it is wrong to say that God creates in that way.

    Regarding your comment to another poster, where you object to versions of Christian Darwinism where God is a “free rider” — I think all ID people would say “Amen” to that. In fact, it is difficult to imagine how God can *not* be a free rider, if strictly Darwinian processes are involved in evolution. Darwin’s desperate plea that his mechanism can be seen as the means by which God creates rings false, since his whole system is built upon anti-teleology, the very opposite of divine providence. But of course evolution need not be conceived in a Darwinian manner. My complaint about most TEs is that they are wedded to a Darwinian vocabulary and conceptual framework, when there are and have been so many other options throughout the history of evolutionary theory: Bergson, Lecomte du Nouy, Denton, Sternberg, etc.

    T.

  23. fbeckwith: I don’t have time to cover everything in your post, so I will, for now, just deal with one of the salient points.

    —You wrote: “In the third, Thomas is discussing the inequality of creatures. He compares God to an architect insofar as the architect makes a building with the good of the whole in mind.”

    He is discussing a lot of things here, but “the inequality of creatures” is not his main theme. Indeed, the title provides the context:

    “THAT THINGS WHICH GOD DOES APART FROM THE ORDER OF NATURE ARE NOT CONTRARY TO NATURE”

    In the earlier passages he had emphasized the fact that God’s dispositions are congenial with a “rational plan.” One idea, among many others, is that since God is perfection and creatures cannot measure up, the variety contained in the differences in creatures and in the hierarchy of ordered things approaches that perfection more closely.

    The point of the later passages, the ones under this heading, is to dramatize the fact that, although God’s plan is rational, his activities are, in no way, bound by the nature of his rationally created things, or for that matter, his rationally created processes.

    ….”it is not contrary to nature when created things are moved in any way by God; indeed, they were so made that they might serve Him.”

    …”even if something else is impressed on the same thing by God, that is not contrary to nature.”

    So far, everything that has been said here by St. Thomas is consistent with ID and inconsistent with your views and those of the Biologos group.

    Here is another interesting passage:

    …”Furthermore, all creatures are related to God as art products are to an artist, as is clear from the foregoing. Consequently, the whole of nature is like an artifact of the divine artistic mind.”

    Interestingly, the emphasis here, is not on the “good of the whole,” which is obvious enough not to need emphasis, but rather on that fact that God’s relationship to his creatures in not unlike the painters relationship with his painting. Creation is, as it were, God’s artistic masterpiece. Even at that, the good of the whole, insofar as it is in play here, is an ID concept better known as “optimum design,” meaning that some elements that appear not to be well designed for the sake of their own survival are, nevertheless, perfectly designed to play a role in the survival of an integrated ecosystem.

    Getting back to the original idea, Aquinas writes,

    ….“But it is not contrary to the essential character of an artist if he should work in a different way on his product, even after he has given it its first form.”

    So, it should be evident that St. Thomas is open to the idea of God tweaking his own creation. By contrast, you seem to be reading into Aquinas the TE (Biologos) ideal of “functional integrity,” the idea that God would never work on his product after he has given it first form. If you have personal reasons for wanting to close the door on ID, then by all means have at it. But don’t try to use St. Thomas as your go between because, in spite of Ed Feser’s protests, there is nothing in Aquinas’ writings that conflict with ID.

    Since you think otherwise, it is high time that you cited the relevant passages and made your case. In other words, do the reverse of what I have just done [and what VJTorley did so eloquently in his post]. Cite a number of passages, provide the context, and then explain why their message conflicts with the ID paradigm.

    Put another way, don’t TELL me that I don’t understand Aquinas, SHOW me that you do.

  24. At 23, I wrote too hastily about the part as operating for the sake of the whole as being similar to the idea of optimum design. They are not quite the same thing. Also, it is fair to say that the terms “creating” and “designing” not convey exactly the same idea, but that doesn’t mean that the creator doesn’t design for heaven sakes.

  25. —fbeckwith: “What I am saying is that some arguments–though seemingly helpful in the short run–put in place premises that serve to undermine rather than sustain a community’s faith.”

    The Bible itself uses the intelligent design strategy. Romans 1:20, for example, is not a theological argument; it is an argument about a design inference. The things that are not seen [God, Designer, First Cause, Creator] are made evident by the things that are seen [patterns in nature, FSCI, Fine Tuning, DNA sequences] In other words, the non-believers are without excuse because they refused to believe the testimony of their own senses, and there is no need for them to understand a things “nature” in order to get it. That argument is pure ID, and does not rise to the level of Aquinas’ five proofs. On the other hand, it is perfectly consistent with them. Would you dare to say that it is not? Apparently so.

  26. #21 jerry

    “Would you therefore agree that, once life had originated (by whatever means), that no further intervention into “natural processes” by a “supernatural designing agent” would be necessary to get here from there?”

    I personally see this as a second obstacle, and one that would have an even greater difficulty to arise, even after the original FCSI existed. How much greater or less is one we can debate. Again time and resources are the issue. There is no doubt that the processes inherent in the finished product of OOL can produce additional FCSI and sometimes this FCSI is completely new to the system. But what has appeared after OOL is often several orders of magnitude greater.

    I agree about but think that the criticism you have just replied to is absolutely misleading and a bit unfair. It’s no sense to say that if one has asserted that A (OOL in this case) hasn’t any naturalistic explanation, so he has also asserted that any thing that was based on A has a naturalistic explanation.
    It’s simply a matter of commmon sense the fact that the first assertion does include the fact that anyway the originating think did not arise. full stop.
    For example, if I assert that reasonably it is not possible that by tossing coins it could be generated the perfect sequence (in binary form) of all the prime numbers till 10^80, I am not implicitly admit that in the same way it could be generated the algorithms for using prime numbers in cryptography.

  27. Sorry, obviously my text starts with “I agree about …”

  28. Personally, I think that much headway can be made if we take a breath and move away from origins for a moment. ID is not only about origins.

    Here’s the question – is the whole person only physics?

    If the answer to that question is yes, then ID is doomed, as we have no idea of intelligence to work with.

    If the answer to that question is no, then, even if we leave questions of origins out of it, ID is highly relevant to the study of non-material workings in our present world. See, for instance, my Applied Intelligent Design, pt 2.

    ID is the science of design. We debate a lot about origins, but ID is necessary even in total absence of origins discussions. The problem that ID runs into is that ID assumes that there is more to life than physics, and that is more than many in the academic community can countenance.

    If there is more to life than physics, then we should be able to detect such, characterize such, and reason about such, on their own terms, and that is precisely what ID tries to do. While it is very relevant to the origins debate, I think that sometimes origins is overemphasized – it applies to the present quite nicely.

  29. johnnyb @28,

    If there is more to life than physics, then we should be able to detect such, characterize such, and reason about such, on their own terms, and that is precisely what ID tries to do. While it is very relevant to the origins debate, I think that sometimes origins is overemphasized – it applies to the present quite nicely.

    Agreed 100%.
    Evolution does not address origins, so if ID is to replace it as a theory taught in schools, it must fill the hole left by the theory of evolution, which does not include the origin of life.

  30. Well, my post has attracted a lot of comments. I shall respond to Professor Beckwith’s comments first (#9).

    I seem to have upset Professor Francis Beckwith with my three citations of Aquinas referring to God as an architect, so let me be quite clear about what my aim was in making those citations. By the way, the online references are: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1027.htm#article1 (Summa Theologica, Vol. I, q. 27, article 1, reply to objection 3), http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1044.htm#article3 (Summa Theologica, Vol. I, q. 44, article 3, reply to objection 1 ) and http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1065.htm#article2 (Summa Theologica, Vol. I, q. 65, article 2, reply to objection 3 ). I have nothing to hide; readers are free to judge for themselves whether I have cited St. Thomas appropriately.

    My aim was simply to show that the intellectual gulf which is alleged by some Thomists to exist between Aquinas and Paley has been greatly exaggerated, and that according to Aquinas, the relation of God to his creatures is like (but not the same as) that of an architect to the things he/she designs, or an artificer to an artifact. This is what Aquinas says, in his own words: “God, Who is the first principle of all things, may be compared to things created as the architect is to things designed.” Hence the question of whether I have read Aquinas properly or badly mis-read him simply does not arise. Considerations of context are also irrelevant; my sole aim was to defend the legitimacy of the comparison.

    The citations I produced were in response to two comments by Professor Feser in his blog posts, in which he appeared to reject the comparison as theologically inappropriate. I hope I’m not doing him an injustice here, so I’ve included the relevant links for the benefit of readers. The two comments are as follows:

    (i) Professor Feser’s recent post (10 April 2010), Intelligent Design Theory and Mechanism, in which he wrote:

    The point is rather that for A-T [Aristotelian Thomism - VJT], the way God creates a natural substance is not to be understood on the model of a shipbuilder or sculptor who takes pre-existing bits of matter and rearranges them to serve an end they have no tendency otherwise to serve.

    (I’ll say more about this particular quote in my next comment, to appear below);

    and

    (ii) an earlier post by Professor Edward Feser (4 November 2009), entitled The Trouble with William Paley, in which Professor Feser argued that Paley’s Deity is not a God worthy of the name. At best, he could be described as a Great Architect, but not the God of classical theism:

    Or as the analytical Thomist philosopher Christopher F. J. Martin amusingly puts it in his very fine book Thomas Aquinas: God and Explanations:

    The Being whose existence is revealed to us by the argument from design is not God but the Great Architect of the Deists and Freemasons, an impostor disguised as God, a stern, kindly, and immensely clever old English gentleman, equipped with apron, trowel, square and compasses…
    The Great Architect is not God because he is just someone like us but a lot older, cleverer and more skilful. He decides what he wants to do and therefore sets about doing the things he needs to do to achieve it. God is not like that. As Hobbes memorably said, “God hath no ends”: there is nothing that God is up to, nothing he needs to get done, nothing he needs to do to get things done…But it is not that God has any special desire for oak trees (as the Great Architect might), and for that reason finds himself obliged to fiddle about with acorns. If God wants oak-trees, he can have them, zap! You want oak trees, you got ’em… God is mysterious: the whole objection to the great architect is that we know him all too well, since he is one of us. Whatever God is, God is not one of us: a sobering thought for those who use “one of us” as their highest term of approbation.
    The argument from design fails, then, because [as Martin argues earlier in the book] it is an argument from ignorance, because it confuses the final and efficient modes of explanation, and because even if it succeeded it would not prove the existence of God but of some Masonic impostor…. (pp. 181-2).

    After reading these blog posts, I happened to come across several passages in Aquinas, in which he stated that the relation of God to his creatures is like that of an architect to the things he/she designs, or an artificer to a work of art, or an archer to the arrow he/she aims. I thought that these passages were worth drawing to the attention of readers, because they showed that the contrast between Aquinas and Paley was not as great as is sometimes alleged. That was my aim, and nothing more.

    Now, Professor Beckwith will argue that these statements by Aquinas are metaphorical – they are “illustrative, not descriptive.” But I would reply that these metaphors mean something, or they would not be used at all.

    I would also like to ask Professor Beckwith a simple question: if he thinks that St. Thomas Aquinas was intelligent enough to use these metaphors in a non-literal sense, why does he assume that ID proponents are not intelligent enough to do the same?

    The claim that ID proponents believe the relationship between God and His creatures is exactly the same as the relationship between a human architect and his/her designs, is patently absurd and (I have to say) rather uncharitable. In particular:

    (1) ID proponents do not regard the difference between God and ourselves as being purely one of degree, and not of kind. Most of us grew up in the Judeo-Christian tradition; we know better than that.

    (2) Contrary to what Thomist philosopher Christopher Martin claims, ID proponents have never claimed that God sometimes needs to make one thing in order to create another, as a human architect might need to do. This imputation is particularly bizarre, as a significant number of ID theorists are creationists. Creationism means just what it says: making something without using any raw material – i.e. oak trees by Divine fiat, to use Martin’s own illustration.

    (3) Contrary to what Professor Beckwith suggests, ID proponents have never asserted, and would never dream of asserting, that God needs to have as many ideas in His Mind as creatures that He designs, or that God’s way of understanding is identical to that of human beings. ID proponents therefore have no quarrel with Professor Beckwith if he wishes to quote Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange as saying that God’s way of knowing things is very different from ours, and that God can, by one Divine idea, understand things which human beings and angels require multiple ideas in order to grasp. (I am, by the way, familiar with the writings of Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, as I spent hundreds of hours poring over his two-volume work, God: His Existence and Nature, in the early 1980s.)

    (4) ID proponents do not equate creation with design as such, so for Professor Beckwith to assert that “creating and designing are different activities,” according to Aquinas, is quite correct, but beside the point. We will happily grant that design occcurs within the Mind of the Creator, whereas creation results in a finite creature, distinct from its Creator. However, I will insist that whatever God creates is necessarily designed, and I think Professor Beckwith would agree with me on this point.

    In any case, I sincerely hope that Professor Beckwith has recovered from his headache, and I also hope that we’ve got our mutual misunderstandings out of the way.

  31. Prof. MacNeill,

    In your outline of the Darwinian principles, I would have said of Fecundity that the reproductive output of a population (including all inherited variations) is larger than the resource pool currently available. Populations do not evolve in a sea of unlimited resources, they simply grow.

    (It is also important to note that these principles are abstract and do not rely on a substrate of wet biology. Therefore GAs are not models of evolution, they _are_ evolution.)

    Your questions to Dr Torley are interesting, but I think almost all pro-ID contributors here on UD would hold onto the position that intervention and ‘design’ can happen at any point in time, at any point in a lineage. The 2001 monolith version of ID, if you will. Otherwise what is to distinguish ID and TE, if the last intervention of the Designer was the design of the Standard Model or the forceful construction of the ur-cell?

  32. This post is for Professor Feser.

    Firstly, I would like to thank Professor Feser for his courtesy in his response to my blog post.

    I’d like to discuss Professor Feser’s remark in his recent post (10 April 2010), Intelligent Design Theory and Mechanism, in which he wrote:

    The point is rather that for A-T [Aristotelian Thomism - VJT], the way God creates a natural substance is not to be understood on the model of a shipbuilder or sculptor who takes pre-existing bits of matter and rearranges them to serve an end they have no tendency otherwise to serve.

    All right. Let’s be as specific as possible. Let’s talk about proteins and DNA. Proteins are composed of (usually 100 or more) amino acids. These are the building blocks of proteins. One of the things that Dr. Stephen Meyer stresses in his book, Signature in the Cell, is that the properties of the building blocks of proteins do not determine the arrangement of the proteins themselves. Likewise, the nucleotide bases in the DNA molecule do not assemble in the sequence they do by chemical necessity. And it would be a very bad thing if they did:

    Suppose that every time adenine (A) occurred in a growing genetic sequence, it attracted cytosine (C) to it, which attracted guanine (G), which attracted thymine (T), which attracted adenine (A) and so on. If this were the case, the longitudinal axis of DNA would be peppered with repetitive sequences of ACGT. Rather than being a genetic molecule capable of virtually unlimited novelty and characterized by unpredictable and aperiodic sequences, DNA would contain sequences awash in repetition or redundancy – much like the arrangement of atoms in crystals. (Signature in the Cell, HarperOne, 2009, chapter 11, p. 250).

    On the previous page, Dr. Meyer invokes a striking analogy between the building blocks of life and the building blocks used by stonemasons:

    As origin-of-life theorists have taught us, monomers are “building blocks.” And like the building blocks that masons use, molecular building blocks can be arranged and rearranged in innumerable ways. The properties of stone blocks do not determine their arrangement in the construction of buildings. Similarly, the properties of biological building blocks do not determine the arrangements of monomers in functional DNA, RNA, or proteins. Nor do they determine the correspondences between DNA bases and the amino acids that constitute the genetic code. Instead, the chemical properties of the building blocks of these molecules allow a vast ensemble of possible configurations and associations, the overwhelming majority of which would have no biological function. Thus, functional genes and proteins are no more inevitable, given the properties of their “building blocks,” than the palace of Versailles was inevitable, given the properties of the bricks and stone used to construct it. (Signature in the Cell, chapter 11, p. 249).

    Now, is this anti-Thomistic? Is Dr. Meyer saying that life is nothing but a set of building blocks? Not at all. Rather, life is characterized by functional complex specified information (form) which enables a living thing to have a good of its own (intrinsic finality). As I read him, Dr. Meyer is saying that form and finality (both of which characterize life) go hand-in-hand: you can’t have one without the other. You can’t reduce one to the other, either. Both are ontologically fundamental. Information can’t be boiled down to goodness, or vice versa.

    To make this point clearer, I’d like to quote another passage in Professor Feser’s blog post:

    For A-T [Aristotelian Thomism - VJT], a natural substance is a composite of “prime matter” (matter having no form at all) and substantial form, rather than a piece of “second matter” (matter already having some substantial form or other) which has acquired some accidental form from outside it. And a natural substance’s causal tendencies, including biological functions in the case of living things, are inherent to it, a reflection of its essence or nature; it simply could not possibly exist as the kind of thing it is in the first place if it did not have those tendencies…

    Some readers at UD may be wondering exactly what a substantial form is, and what prime matter is, so I’ll attempt to translate into terminology that can be more readily understood. In modern parlance, prime matter is roughly the same as the modern physicist’s concept of “mass-energy.” Mass-energy is capable of being realized in many different forms. A concrete physical entity (or physical substance) is a particular way in which a bundle of mass-energy is realized or instantiated. If this bundle is a true substance, it will have certain behavioral dispositions which are essential to it, and without which it would be something else. A substantial form is the fundamental or defining attribute of a physical entity, which makes it the kind of entity it is. An accidental form is a non-defining attribute of an entity. Non-defining attributes may be either essential accidents or properties, or inessential accidents or properties. (If these “modernized” definitions set some Aristotelians’ teeth on edge, I’m very sorry, but that’s just too bad. Most of us can’t think in fourth-century B.C. philosophical Greek; translation to 21st-century-speak is therefore necessary. Good philosophy should be expressible in any language.)

    What Professor Feser is saying, then, is that life isn’t something tacked on to a pre-existing entity. It defines a new entity. A living thing is not an assemblage; it is an ontological unit, and there is no identity underlying it.

    Now think of an office building, which is not alive. To the extent that the cement blocks which make up the building acquire new causal powers or functions by being arranged in a particular way, these functions are purely relative to the purposes of an external agent (the architect, who designed the building for people to work in). The building has no good of its own; any finality it possesses is purely extrinsic.

    Moreover, when building workers construct an office block, the blocks themselves undergo no change of identity. The functionality they acquire in their new arrangement merely enhances them, without changing what they are.

    By contrast, a living cell does indeed have a “good of its own.” What’s more, when a new living organism is assembled, the constituents do undergo a change of identity, from the smallest particle up. The amino acids that go together to make a protein are no longer acids when the protein is fully assembled; rather, their functionality is subsumed under that of the protein itself. The modern concept of “embedded functionality” (living things are built from the bottom up, by intrinsically adapted parts whose entire repertoire of functionality is “dedicated” to supporting the functionality of the whole unit which they comprise) comes closest to expressing what I have in mind here. Living things are characterized by embedded functionality down to the level of the atom; assemblages such as office buildings are not.

    Embedded functionality is thus a useful concept, which enables us to distinguish the intrinsic finality of living things from the extrinsic finality of artifacts.

    Additionally, I would maintain that there are formal features which distinguish living things from artifacts. In particular, I would argue that:

    (i) the presence of a master program (until recently thought to be implemented by DNA in terrestrial organisms, although this now appears to be an oversimplification), controlling the organism’s internal structure, reproduction and development, as well as the internal interactions between its components; and

    (ii) a nested hierarchy of organisation (in which macromolecules are nested into organelles, organelles into cells [the building blocks of all living systems except viruses], cells are nested into tissues, tissues into organs, and organs into an organism), whose formation and maintenance is governed by the master program,

    are the formal features that distinguish living from non-living beings. I am not sure, however, that this is a sufficient set of conditions. Readers should note that as I envisage it, the master program controls not only the structure, but also the reproduction, assembly and development of an organism, and that the nested hierarchy goes “all the way down” to the level of the atom, and that it includes all of the components of a living thing.

    How does all this relate to what Dr. Stephen Meyer’s argument that the first cell must have been designed by an Intelligence?

    It is certainly true, as Professor Feser points out, that once the building blocks of a living thing are properly assembled, its causal tendencies, including its biological functions, are inherent to it. It would not be that kind of thing if it did not have those tendencies. I interpret Dr. Meyer as claiming that the substantial form, or defining attribute, of a living thing, consists of the functional complex specified information, which makes it a living thing of that kind (e.g. a jellyfish). And much of this FCSI will be found in the organism’s master program, which I mentioned above.

    Thus we cannot reduce life to its building blocks. Before the building blocks of a living thing are assembled, we cannot speak of a living thing at all. We have as yet nothing that has any tendency to produce an entity with a good of its own; for if it already had such a tendency, it would be in some sense alive. A thing either has intrinsic finality or it lacks it.

    Dr. Meyer makes an excellent case that there is no plausible mechanism for generating a living thing, with all its functional complex specified information, except through the agency of another living thing. If he is right, then the form and intrinsic finality which characterize living things do not “emerge” from matter. Nor are they “educed” from pre-existing potentials, as if matter could be “coaxed” into becoming alive, under the right conditions. It is mystical mumbo-jumbo to say that matter can magically generate large amounts of functional complex specified information. No; the only plausible explanation for the origin of the information which defines life is that it came from a plan made by an intelligent agent.

    In short: the intrinsic finality which characterizes living things can explain how they eat, grow and reproduce, but it can’t tell us how we got the first living thing. Attempts to explain the emergence of life by invoking “latent tendencies within matter” are reductionistic. And although Aquinas, like his contemporaries, accepted the reality of spontaneous generation due to the defective biology of his day, I shall argue in a subsequent post that it actually sits very awkwardly with his philosophical principles, and especially with his understanding of life.

    But perhaps Dr. Feser is not yet persuaded that life can only come from life. In that case, Professor Feser, would you care to put forward, or at least sketch, a scientifically credible, Thomist-friendly pathway that may have led to the first life? I’d be curious to hear about it.

  33. Brandon Watson has written a post, Thomism and ID II in response to my post on Professor Edward Feser. I’d like to reply to some of the points he makes.

    A. Do I equate living things with artifacts?

    In section 4 of his post, Brandon Watson writes:

    Throughout Torley continues to treat the analogy between art and nature as if it meant that there was no fundamental difference between the two.

    Actually, I’ve written at length on the defining characteristics of life. Indeed, I discussed it at length in chapter 1 of an online e-book ( see here ), way back in 2005.

    Additionally, Brandon Watson might like to have a look at my post immediately above (#32), addressed to Professor Feser, in which I very clearly distinguish living things from artifacts. I hope my remarks in the foregoing post will allay his concerns.

    B. Is ID’s rejection of abiogenesis mechanistic?

    In response to my original post, defending the view that life could not have been generated by chance and/or the laws of nature, Brandon Watson wrote:

    This [i.e. my assertion that neither chance nor the laws of nature can explain the emergence of life - VJT] means that living organisms do not have inherent ends qua living, because it is the claim that the ends that characterize life must be imposed by an act of external agency independent of the laws by which the natures organized into living organisms act. This is to say that life is an artificial form rather than a natural form; and artifical forms are accidental forms rather than substantial forms.

    I suggest that Brandon Watson might like to read my previous post (#32), addressed to Professor Feser, for my reply to this argument. In particular, I fail to see how the Aristotelian claim that living organisms have inherent ends entails that the first living thing could have originated naturally. Nor does the fact that life is characterized by functional complex specified information entail that non-biological processes can generate this information. I have to say that Watson’s logic escapes me here.

    And yes, there may be biological laws according to which organisms act; but it does not follow that there are laws according to which living things can self-assemble from non-living matter; and Dr. Meyer argues in Signature in the Cell.

    Finally, I am at a loss to see why the claim that a certain kind of thing must have been created by an intelligent agent entails that it possesses merely extrinsic finality, and is nothing more than an artifact, without a substantial form.

    C. Is ID tied to miracles?

    In section 3 of his post, Brandon Watson writes:

    Obviously Thomas Aquinas holds that it is possible for God to do “something to natural things in a different way from that to which the course of nature is accustomed”. Torley, quoting a passage in which Aquinas discusses this, says that these acts sound like the acts of an artificer to him. These acts are called miracles.

    Yes, I know, and I was fully aware of this point when I wrote my post. I can read, thank you, and I’ve been reading Aquinas, on and off, for more than three decades.

    Indeed, the very fact that these acts are miracles serves to illustrate the point I originally made:

    Almost invariably, theistic evolutionists find the notion of God intervening in nature uncongenial. To them, it smacks of Divine tinkering, or of a “God-of-the gaps”; hence their visceral dislike of ID. It is particularly interesting, then, to discover that St. Thomas Aquinas did not share this dislike at all. On the contrary, he considered it perfectly appropriate for God, as a Divine artist, to intervene in nature whenever He pleased, even if He acts in a manner contrary to the normal course of natural occurrences.

    Let me be even more explicit. Theistic evolutionists have a visceral dislike of miracles. Aquinas had no problem with miracles. Ergo, Aquinas certainly would have had no problem with God designing the first living things, as Dr. Stephen Meyer contends the Creator did in Signature in the Cell. Likewise, Aquinas certainly would have had no problem with God designing the body plans of the various phyla of animals, as Dr. Stephen Meyer contends He did in Darwin’s Dilemma. Aquinas and theistic evolutionists simply aren’t in the same theological camp.

    But there is more. Commenting on the fact that Aquinas defends the appropriacy of God’s miraculously intervening in the course of nature, Brandon Watson continues:

    It is precisely the point, which Torley does not see, that the sort of conflation of ideas Torley is suggesting would, if taken seriously, commit an ID theorist to claiming that ID is the scientific study of miracles, and that its central thesis is that many biological systems were the results of divine miracles. (Italics mine – VJT.)

    Watson is factually mistaken in claiming that I didn’t realize Aquinas was talking about miracles; but we’ll let that slide. I’d like to address Watson’s claim that ID the scientific study of miracles.
    The title of Chapter 100 in Book III of the Summa Contra Gentiles reads: That things which God does apart from the order of nature are not contrary to nature.

    Now, Aquinas certainly envisaged these acts as miracles. Indeed, at the beginning of chapter 101, he even goes on to write: “Things that are at times divinely accomplished, apart from the generally established order in things, are customarily called miracles…”

    Note the wording here: “at times.” This wording seems to asume that God occasionally intervenes in the order of nature, for His own special purposes. And if that’s what He is doing, then we can indeed speak of miracles – unless God is acting via undetectable quantum effects, as some theistic evolutionists suppose.

    But there is another possibility, discussed by Professor Michael Behe in The Edge of Evolution. God may have set the universe up with very finely-tuned initial conditions at the beginning of time, so that life would emerge in due course. The laws of nature would not be enough to generate life by themselves; the initial conditions of the universe would also have to contain a huge amount of complex specified information. There would then be no need for a miracle.

    What I’m suggesting, then, is that Aquinas was right to defend the theological appropriacy of God’s miraculously intervening in the affairs of the cosmos whenever it suits Him to do so; but that he may have been wrong in supposing that God could only act apart from the order of nature by performing a miracle. In the 21st century, we can now envisage other ways in which God can act apart from the order of nature without performing a miracle as such. In that case, ID is not tied to the assertion that God used miracles to create the first life and the first animals, although of course, He may well have done so. We just don’t know. What we can reasonably infer is that God designed the first life, and the main animal body plans.

    D. My reading of Aquinas’ Fifth Way

    In paragraph (2) of his response, Brandon Watson objects to my characterization of Aquinas’ Fifth Way. Now, I don’t claim to be an Aquinas scholar. All I will say is that I checked my understanding of Aquinas’ Fifth Way with Professor Feser himself, before composing my post. In an email I addressed to Professor Feser dated 28 January 2010, I thanked him for his particularly lucid exposition of Aquinas’ Fifth Way, which I rephrased as follows:

    If I understand you aright, what you are saying is that the world is not just a collection of facts, as Wittgenstein envisaged in his “Tractatus”; if we believe in causal powers, then there are normative (i.e. teleological) states of affairs too. When an apple falls to the ground, that is what it is supposed to do. Were this not so, it would be unreasonable to expect the next apple to fall. In other words, we live in a world where things behave as they should behave. Laws of nature are not mere regularities; they are prescriptive, not descriptive. But in the end, the notion of things in nature behaving as they should, or conforming to norms, even though they lack minds, can only be made sense of by positing a Transcendent Intelligence that makes them do so (i.e. God). Thus from the mere existence of causal powers we can reason our way to God. I haven’t ordered your books yet, but I take it that’s how you construe Aquinas’ Fifth Way. Have I got that right?

    I hope Professor Feser will not object if I quote his brief reply to my query (he is a busy man):

    Yes, your second paragraph is bascially right, though of course the details are all spelled out in The Last Superstition and Aquinas.

    However, if I failed to express myself properly in exposing Aquinas’ Fifth Way, then I am happy to stand corrected.

    E. Is the case for ID hard to understand?

    In section 5 of his post, Brandon Watson writes:

    The ID advocates have repeatedly made the claim that ID is more accessible than Thomism. This may be true; as I said before, since it conflates everything with everything else there’s less to keep track of. But to claim, as Torley does, that ID presents “an argument which is evident to most people and that practically anyone can grasp, even if their philosophical background is very limited” is blatantly false. Most people cannot follow the mathematical ideas Dembski with barely any explanation throws left and right in, say, No Free Lunch; even allowing that Dembski’s argument is flawless, it’s not an argument “evident to most people”.

    Now I agree that the mathematics in No Free Lunch is a bit beyond the abilities of Joe and Jane Citizen. But you don’t need to read that particular book to grasp the case for ID.

    Did Brandon Watson read the two sentences following the quote he cited from my original post, where I listed three online math-free resources which a very clear case for ID? I think not. So I shall reproduce the two sentences from my post:

    Have a look here if you don’t believe me. And then read this and this .

    What did I link to?

    (1) The Virtual Cell Animation collection. They say a picture is worth 1,000 words.

    (2) An article in The Journal of Creation (21(3), 2007, pp. 111-116) by Alex Williams. The article has NO EQUATIONS, and it’s a fascianting read. This article has a special significance for me. It’s what swung me round to being a strong supporter of ID. Before reading it, I was a kind of fence-sitter. I originally had a hard time coping with the mathematical ideas too. But I knew a little about programming. What leaped out at me from reading the article was that the programming code in the simplest cells is far, far better than anything that humans can create. That shocked me. I concluded that Whoever created the first living cell was an agent far, far smarter than we are – a Superior Intelligence.

    (3) An update by Alex Williams, in which he reports on new discoveries supporting his case. While I don’t espouse the author’s young-earth creationism, his exposition of the science is factual enough, and it’s very readable and jargon-free.

    Finally, I’d like to mention Dr. Stephen Meyer’s recent book, Signature in the Cell, which is about as readable an exposition of ID as you could possibly wish for.

    The case for ID doesn’t require lots of jargon, or high-falutin’ mathematics. All you need is the ability to follow an argument wherever it leads, and the integrity to act on what your intellect tells you.

    To sum up:
    Brandon Watson is a learned Aquinas scholar, and he is quite right to point out that living things and artifacts are fundamentally distinct. However, he is less than convincing when arguing that ID reduces living things to artifacts, or that anything possessing intrinsic finality should not need to be created by an external agent.

  34. Typo!

    The second-last paragraph of section B. in #33 above should read:

    And yes, there may be biological laws according to which organisms act; but it does not follow that there are laws according to which living things can self-assemble from non-living matter; and Dr. Meyer argues in Signature in the Cell that the existence of such laws is extremely unlikely.

    I shall respond to Dr. Allen MacNeill and Mr. Nakashima in about 24 hours. Right now, I’m dog tired. Thank you everyone, for the many votes of thanks. (And yes, Cannuckian Yankee, it is indeed my first post.)

  35. As I understand it, Dr. Feser’s central disagreement with ID has to do with the emphasis on complexity (specified or otherwise) as a hallmark of design.

    Thomists see design in all of nature – rocks, planets, trees, humans – there is no dividing line between life and non-life where divine intervention is suddenly “required”. All of nature requires a willful, sustaining God at every moment.

    To say that the origin of life “requires” design implies that the rest of nature doesn’t – hence the “giving away the store” criticism Dr. Feser so often levels against it. It’d be like looking at a novel and stating that the big words require design but the smaller ones don’t. It’s an absurdity. Why draw an artificial line in the sand when none is required?

  36. Dr Torley,

    I’ve always enjoyed our discussions. Congratulations on your first (I hope of many) OP here at UD.

    I think your quote of Dr Meyer’s Signature in the Cell, ch 11 p 249 is a key quote, and I’ll focus on just a few sentences.

    Similarly, the properties of biological building blocks do not determine the arrangements of monomers in functional DNA, RNA, or proteins.

    As has been brought up previously here at UD, there are slight interactions from base to base along DNA. In the main I agree with Dr Meyer, but even these slight interactions show that the real world is messier than any logical argument from first principles. There is a continuum of constraint, and DNA is at the low end, but the argument must deal with the continuum, not false fully constrained/fully free dichotomy.

    However for proteins he is badly wrong. For proteins the linear sequence of amino acids is far less important than the final 3D shape and charge surface, and this certainly is strongly constrained. It would be a lot easier to understand protein folding if Dr Meyer was right.

    Nor do they determine the correspondences between DNA bases and the amino acids that constitute the genetic code.

    Right here is where Dr Meyer is going “la la la I can’t hear you” about the whole stereochemical hypothesis, and the research program of such people as Dr Michael Yarus. Rather than engage it, Dr Meyer ignores it and pretends it does not exist. This is where the credibility of his argument and himself as a scholar falls off the table.

    Signature in the Cell’s whole argument is based on “I’ve examined and explained for you all the leading research, the various hypotheses for generating the information in the cell and the association of proteins and nucleotides, and they all come up short, except for ID”. Except he hasn’t, and he either knows he hasn’t and is being sly, or he doesn’t know he hasn’t and he is sadly ignorant of his subject.

    Instead, the chemical properties of the building blocks of these molecules allow a vast ensemble of possible configurations and associations, the overwhelming majority of which would have no biological function.

    In what context? There is no measure of function in the abstract, there is only function in context. Dr Meyer makes no distinction between function today and possible function in a pre- or proto-biotic context. Relative to enzymes of today, a small molecule might appear inert and functionless. But it only has to move a reaction a fraction in favor of one direction over the other, creation over dissolution, to cause the accumulation of the reaction products over long periods of time.

    I realize the bulk of your essay and the responses to it relate to the Thomistic arguments, so thank you for taking any time out to go over these points or others raised earlier.

  37. Re Nakashima-san in comment #31:

    Two points:

    1) In Darwin’s original formulation of his algorithm for natural selection, he asserted (following Malthus) that organisms have an innate tendency to reproduce at a rate higher than replacement. Indeed, in chapter 3 of the Origin of Species, Darwin argued that living things maximize their reproduction in such a way that it would be virtually impossible for all of the offspring of any reproducing pair (or individual, when speaking of asexual reproduction) to survive until reproducing.

    However, in more recent formulations of the “fecundity” criterion, absolute reproductive maximization is not necessary for differential reproduction. All that is necessary is that some pairs (or individuals) produce more offspring (per capita) than others.

    For example, even in an environment in which resources are virtually unlimited (e.g. an organism that has just entered an unpopulated adaptive zone), differential reproduction is still a possibility if some individuals/pairs are more fecund than others. That is, nobody has to die or fail to produce for relative differential reproductive success to produce significant reproductive skew.

    2) I agree with you that many ID supporters assert that the “intelligent designer” intervenes at multiple points during the evolution of life on Earth (indeed, some assert that this happens virtually constantly). However, the current essay under discussion concentrates virtually entirely on the origin of life (and, to a lesser extent, on the origin of the universal genetic machinery of living cells).

    In the light of this restriction of focus, it is perhaps educational to recall this quotation:

    “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

  38. Gentleman,

    I appreciate the desire to determine whether Thomas Aquinas’ writings are supportive of ID or not. But isn’t the more fundamental question, with respect to the Christian God, how the Christian God would wish us to view the hypothesis of Intelligent Design?

    For starters, as VJTorley points out:

    I am of course perfectly aware Aquinas and his contemporaries, spontaneous generation was an unquestioned fact of life, owing to the defective biology of that time.

    God would not have us believe something false would He, nor would He have us build a system of thought on something false would He? So perhaps we have to siftout theological ideas that are rooted in faulty biological understanding. I would suppose Thomas would have us do this on his behalf.

    Feser writes:

    The point is rather that for A-T, the way God creates a natural substance is not to be understood on the model of a shipbuilder or sculptor who takes pre-existing bits of matter and rearranges them to serve an end they have no tendency otherwise to serve.

    But rearranging matter to an end they have no tendency to otherwise serve is exactly what we see empirically!

    Dead matter has a natural tendency to stay dead, without an outside agency, it will remain so.

    Dead things don’t have the power in and of themselves to come to life. If it were otherwise, the resurrection of Lazarus would not have been so meaningful.

    Fesser argues:

    And a natural substance’s causal tendencies, including biological functions in the case of living things, are inherent to it, a reflection of its essence or nature; it simply could not possibly exist as the kind of thing it is in the first place if it did not have those tendencies

    But that is misleading. Biological systems have a natural tendency to dysfunction as well, that is why they eventually die! Life proceeds with a conflicting set of tendencies. One cannot suggest life has an inherent tendency to stay alive without acknowledging it also has a tendency to die.

    For the balance to tip in favor of being alive for a short space of time, an external agent must act on non-living matter. Thus in that respect, one could equally argue the essense of life is not inherent in the parts that compose it. It comes from an external agency.

    It seems evident, that there must indeed be a Giver of Life which does not regress simply to the creator of matter.

    What we know suggests that there was a distinct act of creation for matter and then another distinct act for creation for life. God created matter that had a tendency to remain dead, and then created life which was at variance with the natural tendency.

    I don’t agree with the notion that somehow God is wrong for making matter that tends to behave one way only go against the tendency of His own creation. The account of Lazarus is a good illustration. He created Lazarus with the capacity to die, but it was that capacity that God was able to use to demonstrate a miracle.

    Miracles are meaningful because nature goes one way, and miracles go another.

  39. In comment #34 vjtorley wrote:

    “…there may be biological laws according to which organisms act; but it does not follow that there are laws according to which living things can self-assemble from non-living matter; and Dr. Meyer argues in Signature in the Cell that the existence of such laws is extremely unlikely.” [emphasis added]

    Personally, this completely unsupported assertion by Dr. Meyer strikes me about as plausible as Lord Kelvin’s assertion that heavier-than-air flight is impossible, based on the known physics of the time. He made this assertion less than eight years before the Wright brothers falsified his hypothesis at Kitty Hawk.

    As Arthur C. Clarke once famously noted,

    “If an elderly but distinguished scientist says that something is possible, he is almost certainly right, but if he says that it is impossible, he is very probably wrong.”

    Dr. Meyer is neither as elderly nor as distinguished as Lord Kelvin, nor do his assertions carry any more authority than the great Scot’s, especially as they lack empirical support.

    Furthermore, “self-assembly of living things from non-living materials” happens all the time. Viruses self-assemble inside their host cells, cells assemble themselves from carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, and nucleic acids, and babies assemble themselves inside their mothers (or their eggs). The problem is not self-assembly of living things from non-living materials, the problem is self-assembly of the genetic machinery that guides the assembly of non-living materials into living organisms, absent any “template” genetic material to guide such self-assembly.

    And so, once again, we return to the origin of life, which (as the quotation from Darwin illustrates) is neither contradicted by evolutionary theory nor a necessary part of it. Indeed, the portion of the quote from Darwin in bold is the only place in his published works in which Darwin addressed the question of the origin of life.

    Ergo, if the origin of life is the only valid application of ID (as implied in vjtorley’s essay), it has no direct relevance to evolutionary biology at all.

  40. In comment #37 Sal Cordova wrote:

    “Biological systems have a natural tendency to dysfunction as well, that is why they eventually die! Life proceeds with a conflicting set of tendencies. One cannot suggest life has an inherent tendency to stay alive without acknowledging it also has a tendency to die.”

    Actually, this is only the case for animals and some annual plants. All bacteria, almost all protists, almost all fungi, and virtually all perennial plants do not have a “tendency” to die. Yes, they can be killed, but if they are not, they are effectively immortal.

    For example, the bacterial cells in our large intestines are several billion years old. Yes, they divide every 20 minutes or so (under optimum conditions), but if nothing kills them, they keep on dividing by binary fission indefinitely.

    The same is the case for almost all protists, most fungi, and most perennial plants. Only animals have a “tendency” to die at a species-specific age. There is currently some dispute among evolutionary biologists over whether or not the limited life span of animals is a side-effect of our developmental biology or the result of natural selection (i.e. an evolutionary adaptation). There is empirical evidence in support of both hypotheses, although more recent work seems to favor the second.

    So, rather than degeneration and death being the inevitable fate of all living things (and while death by misadventure is always a possibility), it appears to be an innate characteristic only of animals.

  41. Allen,

    I stand corrected. Thank you.

    Sal

  42. 42
    William J. Murray

    Allen MacNeill;

    re: #38

    I assume that in order to properly qualify Dr. Meyer’s assertion as “unsupported”, you have read the argument he presents in “Signature in the Cell” as to why natural law and chance are categorically insufficient to generate the kind of information necessary for life?

  43. Yes, I have. Once the spring semester at Cornell is over, I will be posting an in-depth analysis of Dr. Meyer’s assertions about the inadequacy of natural processes to produce new information on my blog:

    http://evolutionlist.blogspot.com/

    Watch for it!

  44. —Sal: “I appreciate the desire to determine whether Thomas Aquinas’ writings are supportive of ID or not. But isn’t the more fundamental question, with respect to the Christian God, how the Christian God would wish us to view the hypothesis of Intelligent Design?”

    Perhaps, but there is a big public relations issue going on here. A large contingent from my church, the Catholic Church, is scandalously trying to use the name of Aquinas, one of the greatest thinkers who ever lived, to discredit ID with the Church’s hierarchy and a billion other Catholics on the grounds that ID is either [a] too Darwin-like with its “mechanistic approach,” [b] too narrow to make the full case for God’s existence, and [c] philosophically incompatible with Thomism. In effect, they are using [b], which is true, but is no problem, to sell [a] and [c], which are unfair characterizations. Ironically, many of them are quasi Darwinists themselves. It wasn’t Aquinas’ birthday they celebrated last year.

    Further, some of them are trying to say that my Church, the Catholic Church, is anti ID, when that clearly is not the case. ID covers somewhat different ground than St. Thomas, but the two approaches are not incompatible. Plenty of Catholic Thomists are pro ID, including George Weigel, Father Thomas Dubay, Bishop Donald Wuerl, Benjamin Wiker, the late William F. Buckely, and a long list of others. In keeping with that point, ask yourself how St. Thomas, a young-earth creationist, could possibly be anti-ID, when creationism is ID and them some. Ridiculous.

    As far as I am concerned, this anti-ID PR campaign is what last years “Vatican conference” on Darwin was all about. These half truths coming from Catholic theistic evolutionists are far more dangerous to ID than Richard Dawkins’ irrational rantings could ever hope to be.

  45. StephenB,

    Thank you for your insights.

    It seems I’ve deeply undervalued the importance of this debate. I stand corrected. Thank you.

    Sal

  46. StephenB,

    I’m no Catholic (though I was raised one), and I’m only a recent convert to Thomism, so I cannot speak for the Catholics or the Thomists, but I see Dr. Feser’s points as extremely valuable regarding ID.

    Were Aquinas alive today, I doubt he’d be an ID proponent for the same reason I no longer am – it sells God short. Remember that Thomism states that God is necessary for every form that matter takes, at every moment. How could a person who believes that advocate the position that life – because of specified complexity – requires a designer? That’s a huge leap backwards!

  47. Allen_MacNeill (#39)

    Thank you for your post. You cited Arthur C. Clarke:

    If an elderly but distinguished scientist says that something is possible, he is almost certainly right, but if he says that it is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

    True; but Dr. Meyer did not say that anything was impossible, but only that it was very unlikely. As I put it in the passage you quoted from me:

    …there may be biological laws according to which organisms act; but it does not follow that there are laws according to which living things can self-assemble from non-living matter; and Dr. Meyer argues in Signature in the Cell that the existence of such laws is extremely unlikely. [emphasis added]

    I have discussed this possibility in a previous post on UD at http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ent-347561 . I’ll reproduce here what I wrote there:

    Because ID is agnostic regarding the Designer’s modus operandi, it allows for the possibility that scientists might one day discover bio-friendly laws, which, when combined, constitute a “magic pathway” leading from simple substances to complex life. But these laws would themselves have to be highly specific (e.g. relating to particular molecules), extremely numerous (perhaps numbering in the tens or hundreds of thousands), and in some way sequential (so that together, they would make up a series of stepping stones leading to life and complex animals). In short, they would be quite unlike any laws discovered to date, as the laws we know are general, relatively few in number, non-sequential and information-poor.

    Personally, I wouldn’t mind at all if someone discovered a magic pathway like this. However, I should point out that one ID advocate has undergone an intellectual odyssey leading in the opposite direction from what you suggest. At one time, Professor Dean Kenyon wrote a book entitled Biochemcial Predsetination, but by the 1980s he had come to doubt it.

    Still, it pays to keep an open mind.

  48. Chucky_Darwin (#35)

    Thank you for your post. You write:

    As I understand it, Dr. Feser’s central disagreement with ID has to do with the emphasis on complexity (specified or otherwise) as a hallmark of design.

    Thomists see design in all of nature – rocks, planets, trees, humans – there is no dividing line between life and non-life where divine intervention is suddenly “required”. All of nature requires a willful, sustaining God at every moment.

    To say that the origin of life “requires” design implies that the rest of nature doesn’t – hence the “giving away the store” criticism Dr. Feser so often levels against it.

    Not so. For my part, I have defended Thomistic arguments for God on UD many times. Here is an example, taken from what may be our longest thread (746 posts):

    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ent-311713

    What followed was a very lively exchange of views from all sides. You are welcome to peruse the debate and offer your own critique, if you wish. The point I wish to make here is that it is not easy to argue from “There are laws of nature” to “There is a Deity.” But if you think you can do a better job than I did, then by all means do, and good luck to you. For my part, I think ID is a via manifestor, a more obvious way, for most people.

    By the way, there is a non sequitur in the second paragraph I quoted from you, above. Thomists do indeed see design in all of nature – rocks, planets, trees, humans, but it does not follow that there is no dividing line between life and non-life where divine intervention is suddenly “required”. Indeed, as I shall show in a forthcoming post, St. Thomas did in fact argue for the existence of a dividing line. He just placed it at a different point from the boundary between life and non-life, owing to the defective biology of his day. Were he alive today, I am confident that he’d decalre abiogenesis to be impossible. Stay tuned.

  49. Dr Torley,

    I think Dr Meyer is mistaken in characterizing the “magic pathway” which scientists might discover in the future, which connects simple substances to organic life.

    Rather than new laws, by the thousands, the stepping stones on this pathway are merely specific circumstances which must arise consecutively in time and space, which allow the existing and relatively well known laws of nature to operate. We could in theory trace this magic pathway from the Big Bang through the formation of galaxies, stars, planets, surfaces, atmospheres, etc. until we arrived at the spot where, like Chinese fast food Happy Family, lipids, proteins and RNA were being mixed together.

    Now this still might be a list of thousands of circumstances. If we multiply through the probabilities, we would find that only a vanishingly small proportion of the space and mass of the universe meet those conditions. And lo, it is true! Most of the universe is empty and dead.

    But the main point is that it is much easier to discover circumstances than laws. The universe has rules less complex than Mornington Crescent, no matter what Dr Meyer might say.

    Unless he says “Ealing Common!” ;)

  50. Here’s my reaction to Prof. Feser’s remarks as quoted by vjtorley at the start of this thread:

    It appears that Prof. Feser wants to argue that if God operates on already existing “matter”, then it is no longer “prime matter”, and that this is not the way the God acts.

    If he really believes this, then he shouldn’t be so much concerned with ID as he should with Darwinism, because Feser is basically saying that each species is brought into existence by God–which, of course, is special creation, the very thing that Darwin railed against.

    vjtorley:

    My aim was simply to show that the intellectual gulf which is alleged by some Thomists to exist between Aquinas and Paley has been greatly exaggerated, and that according to Aquinas, the relation of God to his creatures is like (but not the same as) that of an architect to the things he/she designs, or an artificer to an artifact. This is what Aquinas says, in his own words: “God, Who is the first principle of all things, may be compared to things created as the architect is to things designed.” Hence the question of whether I have read Aquinas properly or badly mis-read him simply does not arise. Considerations of context are also irrelevant; my sole aim was to defend the legitimacy of the comparison.

    IMHO, you are correct and fbeckwith is wrong. Yes, indeed, the reply to the objection has to do with the precessions that are found in the Divine Nature; however, the objection is basically that if there is more than one ‘idea’ within God, then a separate ‘nature’ has come into existence which is no longer contained within the “first principle”. I would interpret the quote statement of Aquinas to be simply point out that if an ‘idea’ of God exists outside of God, then it has a separate nature and is no longer part of the ‘first principle’, just as the ‘idea’ of an architect exists outside of the architect. I don’t see how this isn’t analogizing God and created nature as between architect and designed objects.

  51. Sal, @45: Thank you for your comments.

  52. Allen MacNeill and Mr. Nakashima

    Thank you for your posts. I just wanted to tie up a few loose ends from your earlier posts, which I didn’t have time to respond to earlier.

    Mr Nakashima (#31)

    Otherwise what is to distinguish ID and TE, if the last intervention of the Designer was the design of the Standard Model or the forceful construction of the ur-cell?

    Allen MacNeill (#13)

    Furthermore, as you have not made reference anywhere in this post to any “origins” following the OoL (such as, say, the origin of the chemiosmotic mechanism of ATP synthesis, the bacterial flagellum, or the vertebrate blood clotting cascade), and whereas many ID supporters do assert that intelligent design must be invoked to explain the origin of such things, is it safe to assume that your over-riding concern is with the OoL, and that you do not consider arguments for other “origins” (such as those listed above) to be either necessary or conclusive?

    In the same vein, since you have not cited any other “origins” as requiring the intervention of an intelligent agent into natural processes, if it could be shown that the OoL can be explained via purely naturalistic processes (i.e. “natural” processes put in place with the origin of the universe), then would you agree that any argument for the necessary intervention in nature following the origin of the universe and its laws would be rendered moot?

    Allen MacNeill (#17)

    What we do not yet have an explanation for is the origin of FSCI from non-FSCI (i.e. the origin of life from non-life). This was, as I pointed out in comment #13, the core of your argument. Would you therefore agree that, once life had originated (by whatever means), that no further intervention into “natural processes” by a “supernatural designing agent” would be necessary to get here from there?

    I think the origin of life is one of the clearest examples of specified complexity that could not have originated by a combination of chance and necessity. That was why I used it in my article. However, I would not say it was the best. The origin of animal phyla seems to be an even better example, judging from the following papers, since the jump in FCSI with the appearance of new cell types in animals appears to have been larger and even more sudden than the jump in FCSI that occurred when the first life-forms appeared, four billion years ago:

    Questions about the Cambrian Explosion, Evolution, and Intelligent Design

    The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories by Dr. Stephen Meyer, at http://www.discovery.org/a/2177

    The Cambrian Explosion: Biology’s Big Bang by Stephen C. Meyer, Marcus Ross, Paul Nelson, and Paul Chien at http://www.discovery.org/scrip.....038;id=639

    Deepening Darwin’s Dilemma by Dr. Jonathan Wells, at http://www.discovery.org/a/12471

    If the Cambrian explosion and the origin of life could be explained by purely natural processes, then of course I would allow that the same holds true for the mechanism of ATP synthesis, the bacterial flagellum, or the vertebrate blood clotting cascade.

    Although I focused on the origin of life in my article, I would also agree with Dr. Michael Behe’s arguments (presented in Darwin’s Black Box and subsequent articles) that (i) cells do indeed contain many kinds of irreducibly complex structures; (ii) that the origin of these structures (or for that matter, any irreducibly complex structures) as a result of neo-Darwinian evolution is extremely improbable; and (iii) that design is the best explanation for these structures. While these cases are impressive, however, I would say that the origin of life is an even more impressive argument for design.

    Dr. Michael Behe has argued (in The Edge of Evolution) that belief that life on Earth was designed does not require the Designer to interfere with nature, as the same results could be achieved by fine-tuning the initial conditions of the universe, in addition to its laws. However, physicist Dr. Rob Sheldon has argued for a contrary view. He seems to believe that not even God could create a universe where life could unfold without the need for Divine intervention, unless it was life of a pretty boring kind (which life on Earth is not). He also clarifies the differences between ID and TE:

    Best Evidence for Intelligent Design?
    The Front-Loading Fiction
    Intervention, Part 1
    Intervention, Part 2

    I don’t consider myself competent to assess Dr. Sheldon’s arguments regarding Turing machines, but I’d like to bring them to the attention of readers anyway. I’d be curious to see what people think, especially the scientists.

    I was also interested in Mr. Nakashima’s latest remark on the idea, which I discussed previously, that there could be a “magic pathway” leading to life:

    Rather than new laws, by the thousands, the stepping stones on this pathway are merely specific circumstances which must arise consecutively in time and space, which allow the existing and relatively well known laws of nature to operate.

    That’s an interesting way of looking at it. I’ll have to think about that.

    The main point I think we should take home from all this is that it’s most unwise to attempt to put God in a box and set limits to how He can intervene in His own cosmos. If God wants to intervene often then that’s fine; and if He does so rarely, that’s fine too.

    For ID, the most important point is that on mathematical (i.e. probabilistic) grounds alone, we can identify certain patterns in nature as having been designed: namely, those which exhibit a high degree of functional complex specified information. Abductive reasoning tells us that design is the best explanation here.

    That does not mean, however, that other patterns we observe in nature were not designed. Of course, a theist (especially an Aristotelian-Thomistic theist) would say that any law-governed process that tends towards a definite end must have been designed by God. And that’s perfectly true. It should be apparent to anyone who really thinks about the way the world works, and who is able to appreciate the sheer oddity of anything working on a regular basis at all.

    Sir Arnold Lunn once asked the captain of a ship whether he’d ever met a sailor who was an atheist. The captain said no. Sir Arnold asked why. “Sailors have time to think,” the captain replied.

    Some people are afraid to think that deeply. We are therefore fortunate that among the many patterns God has made in nature, there are some whose design features are so obvious that they can be grasped almost at once, by anyone who takes the trouble to look at them.

    Mr Nakashima (#8)

    Intuition is an incredibly weak argument for deciding on something so far removed from our everyday experience. Intuition would leave science at the Aristotle stage.

    For laypeople, I think intuition is generally enough. There are some things we can recognize as having been designed. However, I agree that science needs more than that: hard numbers must be supplied. That’s where probabilistic calculations play a vital role. I would argue that to date, ID has met the mathematical challenges posed by skeptical scientists, and that it looks likely to do so in the future.

  53. Dr Torley,

    Thank you for the reply.

    In may be a bit difficult to compare the jumps in FCSI which may have occured during OOL or the Cambrian Explosion, without a solid definition and calculation procedure. As much as FCSI is talked about here on UD, those things aren’t part of the writings of Dr Dembski, etc.

    In any case, does whole genome duplication generate FSCI? WGD seems to be a leading candidate for innovation.

  54. VJ Torley:

    The point I wish to make here is that it is not easy to argue from “There are laws of nature” to “There is a Deity.”

    It’s actually not that hard – since it necessarily follows. The difficulty I’m sensing is more that atheists find such arguments unconvincing. No surprises there. We all find arguments we don’t agree with “unconvincing”. I wouldn’t judge the validity of an argument by assertions leveled against it, but rather by the substance of the arguments raised. In my brief history of arguing for Thomism, the substance of the arguments raised against it has been minimal and easily answered.

    St. Thomas did in fact argue for the existence of a dividing line. He just placed it at a different point from the boundary between life and non-life

    Actually, by my understanding (which may very well be wrong), Aquinas’ distinction between living and non-living matter was one of form (i.e. “soul”). Thus, by making that distinction, it would be impossible for non-living matter to become living matter. This has nothing to do with complexity, information, or probability. It has to do with formal and final causes.

  55. In comment #53 chucky darwin wrote:

    “…Aquinas’ distinction between living and non-living matter was one of form (i.e. “soul”). Thus, by making that distinction, it would be impossible for non-living matter to become living matter.”

    Non-living matter becomes living matter all the time, everywhere, under virtually all conditions currently pertaining in the biosphere. And, of course, the same thing happens in reverse all the time, everywhere, etc. Atmospheric nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and water (plus small amounts of minerals eroded out of rocks) are biochemically transformed into living organisms who, when they die are decomposed back into those non-living materials by bacteria and fungi. That this is clearly the case has not been a matter of serious dispute for over a century.

    However, I have many times had discussions with creationists and ID supporters who deny that this is the case, and assert some updated version of Bergsonian vitalism. They believe that some kind of “magical force” (shades of Obi-Wan Kenobi) infuses living things and “makes” them alive, and somehow departs from them when they cease living.

    This is one of those inferences that seems staggeringly obvious to almost everyone (i.e. it is one of the strongest “intuitions” to which we are prone), and it is just as clearly false. There is absolutely no detectable difference between the non-living components of the Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, and crust and those same materials in living organisms.

    The components – the materials – are exactly the same. What is different is the way they are arranged. Life, in other words, is an emergent property of the organization of the materials of which living organisms are composed. So, as Watson and Crick both quipped back in April of 1953, the “secret of life” that they had discovered is the organization that the genetic material imposes on the materials of which living organisms are composed.

    Despite the tremendous advances in our understanding of molecular genetics and development since April of 1953, we are still in the earliest stages of understanding how the genetic information is made manifest in the organization (i.e. the “life”) of living organisms. To me, it seems highly presumptuous to assert (as do partisans on both sides of the EB/ID divide) that we know how the genetic information is made manifest in living things, and that it must/can’t be explained by purely natural laws.

  56. Therefore, the real question becomes, what kind of research program is most likely to elucidate the mechanisms by which the genetic information that organizes non-living materials into living beings itself came into being? To me, the answer seems obvious: a research program that actually tries to figure out what those mechanisms are, and how they work, and why they work. This is what biologists have been doing for the last century and a half: investigating the mechanisms by means of which living organisms come into existence, do the things they do to stay alive and to reproduce, and then how they go out of existence.

    Yes, this means that one of the foundational metaphysical assumptions of biologists is that life is a mechanism and as such it is not “magic”, nor is it incomprehensible. Do we know to some reasonable degree of certainty that there cannot be a purely “natural” mechanism by which the genetic machinery came into being? No, we do not. Ergo, would it make sense to see if one exists? Yes, it would.

    But that’s not the approach suggested by Drs. Behe, Dembski, Meyer, and Wells. They are absolutely confident (on the basis of “first principles”) that no such mechanism can possibly exist, and that therefore trying to determine if one does exist is a waste of time (and perhaps potentially dangerous).

    Which of these two approaches looks more like science?

  57. Allen,

    No one in the ID camp is making absolute claims based on the science. It is always a probabilistic one. There is always the possibility of a naturalistic explanation for anything.

    ID is accused of absolute claims all the time and my guess is the reason this is done is to pigeon hole ID supporters as not logical or scientific. ID is very reasonable and accepts nearly everything that most scientists accept.

    When people go to explanations beyond science, they are basing these conclusions on something that is non-scientific but is faith based. These faith based conclusions could be very rational but the empirical content does not reach the level of modern science. If someone postulates a vitalism they are leaving ID and entering some speculative area. We all do this but when we do it is no longer ID or science.

    I have specific religious beliefs but ID does not affect those beliefs nor do my religious beliefs affect my understanding of ID. They are separate and also no way in conflict with each other. I might go to something beyond science to understand the implications of ID but that is not ID and not science.

    What I find is that many people in this game let what is not in science determine what they believe is science or has been shown by science. And when they are arguing science what they are really arguing is this other belief system.

    The one obvious example is that whatever is the current evolutionary synthesis, many claim it explains all of life’s transitions since the first life appeared 3.5 billion years ago. A lot of people hold this but this is not based on science. Also if a biologist wants to postulate that there are other not verified naturalistic processes that explain the current gaps, that is fine but it also is not science. What really is happening is that this “other” unspecified set of faith based beliefs is impinging on what they claim is science.

    But the curriculum never teaches this and the student is then led to believe that certain issues are settled science when what is taught is a belief system in the guise of science.

  58. “They are absolutely confident (on the basis of “first principles”) that no such mechanism can possibly exist, and that therefore trying to determine if one does exist is a waste of time (and perhaps potentially dangerous)”

    That is nonsense.

  59. –Allen: “But that’s not the approach suggested by Drs. Behe, Dembski, Meyer, and Wells. They are absolutely confident (on the basis of “first principles”) that no such mechanism can possibly exist, and that therefore trying to determine if one does exist is a waste of time (and perhaps potentially dangerous).”

    Allen, Please tell me this is a typo.

  60. Sworn testimony by Dr. Michael Behe at Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial, cross examination, day 12 (October 19, 2005), PM Session [ http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/dover/day12pm.html ]. Q=Eric Rothschild, attorney for plaintiff; A=Dr. Michael Behe, witness for defense:

    Q. And I’m correct when I asked you, you would need to see a step-by-step description of how the immune system, vertebrate immune system developed?

    A. Not only would I need a step-by-step, mutation by mutation analysis, I would also want to see relevant information such as what is the population size of the organism in which these mutations are occurring, what is the selective value for the mutation, are there any detrimental effects of the mutation, and many other such questions.

    Q. And you haven’t undertaken to try and figure out those?

    A. I am not confident that the immune system arose through Darwinian processes, and so I do not think that such a study would be fruitful.

    Q. It would be a waste of time?

    A. It would not be fruitful.

  61. Dr.William Dembski:

    “As for your example, I’m not going to take the bait. You’re asking me to play a game: “Provide as much detail in terms of possible causal mechanisms for your ID position as I do for my Darwinian position.” ID is not a mechanistic theory, and it’s not ID’s task to match your pathetic level of detail in telling mechanistic stories. If ID is correct and an intelligence is responsible and indispensable for certain structures, then it makes no sense to try to ape your method of connecting the dots. True, there may be dots to be connected. But there may also be fundamental discontinuities, and with IC systems that is what ID is discovering.

    Source: ISCID Forums, 18 September 2002 09:01 [ http://www.iscid.org/ubbcgi/ul.....000152;p=3 ]

  62. Quote from review by Darrel Falk, co-president of the BioLogos Foundation and a biology professor at Point Loma Nazarene University, of Dr. Stephen Meyer’s Signature in the Cell:

    “There is no question that large amounts information have been created by materialistic forces over the past several hundred million years. Meyer dismisses this without discussing it. What about at the very beginning, 3.5 billion years ago? Everyone doing the science, Meyer notwithstanding, would say the jury is still out. There are some very elegant feasibility experiments going on at the present time. However, it is far too early for a philosopher to jump into the fray and declare no further progress will be made and that this science is now dead. If the object of the book is to show that the Intelligent Design movement is a scientific movement, it has not succeeded. In fact, what it has succeeded in showing is that it is a popular movement grounded primarily in the hopes and dreams of those in philosophy, in religion, and especially those in the general public. With all due respect for the very fine people associated with the ID movement, many of whom I have met personally and whose sincerity I greatly appreciate, our hopes and dreams need to be much bigger than this. The science of origins is not the failure it is purported to be. It is just science moving along as science does—one step at a time. Let it be.”

    Source: The BioLogos Foundation (December 28, 2009) [ http://biologos.org/blog/signature-in-the-cell/ ]

  63. MacNeill do you care to be the first to provide a detailed molecular pathway?

    “There are no detailed Darwinian accounts for the evolution of any fundamental biochemical or cellular system, only a variety of wishful speculations.” – James Shapiro, a biochemist at the University of Chicago

    Michael Behe on Falsifying Intelligent Design and Unfalsifiable Darwinian Evolution – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N8jXXJN4o_A

    Bacterial Flagellum – A Sheer Wonder Of Intelligent Design – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/3994630

    Genetic Entropy Refutation of Nick Matzke’s TTSS (type III secretion system) to Flagellum Evolutionary Narrative:
    excerpt: …..Comparative genomic analysis show that flagellar genes have been differentially lost in endosymbiotic bacteria of insects. Only proteins involved in protein export within the flagella assembly pathway (type III secretion system and the basal-body) have been kept…
    http://mbe.oxfordjournals.org/.....t/msn153v1

    “One fact in favour of the flagellum-first view is that bacteria would have needed propulsion before they needed T3SSs, which are used to attack cells that evolved later than bacteria. Also, flagella are found in a more diverse range of bacterial species than T3SSs. The most parsimonious explanation is that the T3SS arose later,” Howard Ochman – Biochemist – New Scientist (Feb 16, 2008)

  64. Quote from a review by Alan D. Gishlick, National Center for Science Education, of Icons of Evolution by Jonathan Wells:

    “…the scholarship of Icons is substandard and the conclusions of the book are unsupported. In fact, despite his touted scientific credentials, Wells doesn’t produce a single piece of original research to support his position. Instead, Wells parasitizes on other scientists’ legitimate work. He could not have written the “Haeckel’s embryos” chapter without the work of Richardson et al. (1997, 1998), or the “peppered moths” chapter without Coyne (1998) and Majerus (1998), or the “Archaeopteryx” chapter without Shipman (1998). Even then, Wells’s discussions are rife with inaccuracies and out-of-date information. Wells seems to think that scientific theories are supported by certain “keystone” pieces of evidence, removal of which causes the theory to collapse. Paradigms in science work when they provide solutions and further research; their health is not tied to single examples. The paradigm of evolution is not tied to a single piece of evidence.”

  65. So MacNeill, do you care to defend the fraudulent drawings of Haeckels embryos, or the peppered moth cyclical variations as proof of macro-evolution?

  66. Source for the quote in comment #64:
    National Center for Science Education, (November 23rd, 2006) [ http://ncse.com/creationism/an.....conclusion ]

  67. Frankly MacNeill, I find it hilarious that a evolutionist would accuse a ID advocates of shoddy science, especially since evolutionists are continually being falsified in their foundational premises, such as most recently Junk DNA;

    Human Genome “Infinitely More Complex” Than Expected
    Hayden acknowledged that the “junk DNA” paradigm has been blown to smithereens. “Just one decade of post-genome biology has exploded that view,” she said, speaking of the notion that gene regulation was a straightforward, linear process – genes coding for regulator proteins that control transcription. “Biology’s new glimpse at a universe of non-coding DNA – what used to be called ‘junk’ DNA – has been fascinating and befuddling.” If it’s junk, why would the human body decode 74% to 93% of it? The plethora of small RNAs produced by these non-coding regions, and how they interact with each other and with DNA, was completely unexpected when the project began.
    http://www.creationsafaris.com.....#20100405a

  68. Re bornagain77 in comment #65:

    Defending Haeckel’s drawings of embryos and using color variations in peppered moths as proof of macroevolution were not the point of my comments. Rather, I indicated in my comments that the attitude toward scientific (i.e. empirical) research of the four ID supporters cited was not to present empirical research supporting an alternative viewpoint, but rather to dismiss scientific research as misleading or a waste of time. I have posted citations supporting this argument. If you wish to rebut, then post citations to the contrary (i.e. don’t try to derail the argument by changing the subject).

    If you are genuinely interested in Haeckel’s illustrations or color variation in peppered moths, I recommend the primary references to the peer-reviewed scientific literature from which Dr. Wells lifted his deliberately misleading quote-mines:

    Re Haeckel’s drawings of embryos:

    Richardson, M. K., J. Hanken, M. L. Gooneratne, C. Pieau, A. Raymond, L. Selwood, and G.M. Wright. 1997. There is no highly conserved embryonic stage in the vertebrates: implications for current theories of evolution and development. Anatomy and Embryology 196:91-106.

    Richardson, M. K., J. Hanken, L. Selwood, G. M. Wright, R. J. Richards, and C. Pieau. 1998. Haeckel, embryos, and evolution. Science 280:983-984.

    Re peppered moth (Biston betularia) color variation:

    Coyne, J.A. 1998. Not black and white. Nature 396:35-36.

  69. Re comment #67 by bornagain77:

    You have attempted to rebut my argument using a tu quoque diversion, a logical fallacy and evidence that you do not have a legitimate rebuttal.

  70. MacNeill I am sorry to derail you in the middle of you slandering ID advocates, that was so rude of me;

    So I will just ask you, whenever you get a chance after you are through with your busy work of belittling Dembski, Wells, Behe etc.., to provide a detailed Darwinian account for a much simpler machine than the Flagellum,,, ATP Synthase:

    Evolution Vs ATP Synthase – Molecular Machine – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4012706

    Molecular Machine – The ATP Synthase Enzyme – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4380205

    Probability’s Nature and Nature’s Probability: A Call to Scientific Integrity – Donald E. Johnson
    Excerpt: “one should not be able to get away with stating “it is possible that life arose from non-life by …” or “it’s possible that a different form of life exists elsewhere in the universe” without first demonstrating that it is indeed possible (non-zero probability) using known science. One could, of course, state “it may be speculated that … ,” but such a statement wouldn’t have the believability that its author intends to convey by the pseudo-scientific pronouncement.” http://www.amazon.com/Probabil.....1439228620

  71. Personally, I don’t accuse ID supporters of doing shoddy science, as they generally don’t do any science at all, if by “science” one means “empirical primary research published in the peer-reviewed primary literature”. None of the four ID supporters listed in comment #56 has published any empirical research in the peer-reviewed literature either falsifying hypotheses formulated by evolutionary biologists nor supporting hypotheses formulated by ID supporters. Writing critiques of the published works of evolutionary biologists, even if those critiques contain complex mathematical analyses of theoretical models, is not empirical science.

    Furthermore, your characterization of falsified hypotheses as “shoddy science” indicates to me that you don’t understand the basic principles of empirical science. Hypotheses, such as Ford and Kettlewell’s hypothesis about the color variation exhibited by peppered moths, are not “wrong” if they are later contradicted by empirical evidence, nor are they “right” if they are not contradicted by empirical evidence. Hypotheses that are eventually falsified by empirical research are just as useful (indeed, perhaps more useful) than hypotheses that are not falsified by empirical research.

  72. MacNeil as I said I am sorry for derailing you in your belittling of Dembski Behe Wells etc,,,,

    I am just patiently waiting for you to get a break in your busy schedule of railing against them so as to actually provide a detailed molecular pathway for ATP Synthase,,, I know you will probably have to scrounge around to find the evidence for it so it may take you a while to find it. But I will wait,,, though I may need to remind you again and again,,, Hey I have an idea MacNeill, could you give me some search words to google under to look for it? Perhaps we can search under panspermia for a viable solution?

    Richard Dawkins Vs. Ben Stein – The UFO Interview – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4134259

  73. Re bornagain77 in comment #70:

    Happy to oblige:

    Rotary DNA motors. C. Doering, B. Ermentrout and G. Oster. Center for Nonlinear Studies, Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico 87545, USA:

    “The evolution of ATP synthase is thought to be an example of modular evolution, where two subunits with their own functions have become associated and gained new functionality. This coupling must have occurred early in the evolution of life as evidenced by essentially the same structure and processes of ATP synthase enzymes conserved in all kingdoms of life. The F-ATP synthase shows large amounts of similarity both functionally and mechanically to the V-ATPase.[1] However whilst the F-ATP synthase generates ATP by utilising a proton gradient the V-ATPase is responsible for generating a proton gradient at the expense of ATP, generating pH values as low as 1. The F1 particle also shows significant similarity to hexameric DNA helicases and the FO particle shows some similarity to H+ powered flagellar motor complexes. [1] The ?3?3 hexamer of the F1 particle shows significant structural similarity to hexameric DNA helicases; both form a ring with 3 fold rotational symmetry with a central pore. Both also have roles dependent on the relative rotation of a macromolecule within the pore; the DNA helicases use the helical shape of DNA to drive their motion along the DNA molecule and to detect supercoiling whilst the ?3?3 hexamer uses the conformational changes due rotation of the ? subunit to drive an enzymatic reaction.[2]

    The H+ motor of the FO particle shows great functional similarity to the H+ motors seen in flagellar motors.[1] Both feature a ring of many small alpha helical proteins which rotate relative to nearby stationary proteins using a H+ potential gradient as an energy source. This is, however, a fairly tenuous link – the overall structure of flagellar motors is far more complex than the FO particle and the ring of rotating proteins is far larger, with around 30 compared to the 10, 11 or 14 known in the FO complex.

    The modular evolution theory for the origin of ATP synthase suggests that two subunits with independent function, a DNA helicase with ATPase activity and a H+ motor, were able to bind, and the rotation of the motor drive the ATPase activity of the helicase in reverse.[2] This would then evolve to become more efficient, and eventually develop into the complex ATP synthases seen today. Alternatively the DNA helicase/H+ motor complex may have had H+ pump activity, the ATPase activity of the helicase driving the H+ motor in reverse. This could later evolve to carry out the reverse reaction and act as an ATP synthase.

    [1] http://www.ebi.ac.uk/interpro/...../Page2.htm

    [2] Laurent O. Martinez, Sébastien Jacquet, Jean-Pierre Esteve, Corinne Rolland, Elena Cabezón, Eric Champagne, Thierry Pineau, Valérie Georgeaud, John E. Walker, François Tercé, Xavier Collet, Bertrand Perret and Ronald Barbaras (2003) Ectopic bold beta-chain of ATP synthase is an apolipoprotein A-I receptor in hepatic HDL endocytosis. Nature 421, 75-79 (2 January 2003)|doi:10.1038/nature01250 [ http://www.nature.com/nature/j.....ml?lang=en ]

  74. Allen,

    You have not provided anything of consequence for your argument. In two of your comments you have taken snippets of remarks from Behe and Dembski which are not relevant to your point and then you used two anti ID sources to express opinions, one of which has no relevance to the point you made.

    If you want to have a discussion on this then we can and maybe searches of the literature might show a few instances to support your claim. People write a lot of stuff and Behe and Dembski have written a lot of stuff so if they are absolute as you say they are there should be whole discussions on this.

    My recollection of Behe’s Edge of Evolution is that he said it is extremely unlikely that Darwinian processes could hurdle the obstacles faced in creating novel complex capabilities not that it was impossible. All of ID is based on probability arguments which are not absolutes. The probabilities may get so low that the only logical conclusion is that it did not happen that way but there is always the possibility some unknown process will show up.

    ID would give up its quest if only main stream science would admit that but they don’t and imply the evidence has already shown the way to how it was done.

  75. “Writing critiques of the published works of evolutionary biologists, even if those critiques contain complex mathematical analyses of theoretical models, is not empirical science.”

    I am not sure you want to go to the wall on this. If someone takes a data set that exists and analyzes it in a new way that provides different insights into the processes of nature, everyone on the planet would be applauding it as great science. I think there was a patent clerk who did similar things.

  76. MacNeill lets see how many “concrete” words we got in your reference:

    1, is thought to be an example

    2. This coupling must have occurred early in the evolution of life (Why not a actual demonstration Allen?)

    3. The modular evolution theory for the origin of ATP synthase suggests (Again why a suggestion and not a actual demonstration?)

    4 This could later evolve to carry out the reverse reaction and act as an ATP synthase.

    Ok Allen I know you probably think this storytelling qualifies as science, and can probably give me 10 references as to why the storytelling you presented is science, but if you don’t mind could you please evolve a ATP synthase from scratch, I know that is probably too much to ask, so how about evolving just one of the sub-unit modules that was “borrowed” in the “modular evolution theory” from material processes. Or if that is to tough, (I know I am being pushy ain’t I?) could you just evolve one functional protein from purely material processes found in nature. Not tell me a story of how it might have evolved mind you,,, but an actual demonstration.

  77. —Allen, you normally write with admirable clarity, however, I have no idea how your links and quotes justify this earlier claim:

    —”They are absolutely confident (on the basis of “first principles”) that no such mechanism can possibly exist, and that therefore trying to determine if one does exist is a waste of time (and perhaps potentially dangerous).”

    What is the connection between [a] first principles and [b] a waste of time.

    On the matter of the mechanism, Behe is simply saying that the burden of proof for proving what evolutionary biologists claim is on them. Why should he have to chase it down? He is not the one making the claim.

    Have you had your coffee today?

  78. —Allen Quoting Dembski:

    “As for your example, I’m not going to take the bait. You’re asking me to play a game: “Provide as much detail in terms of possible causal mechanisms for your ID position as I do for my Darwinian position.” ID is not a mechanistic theory, and it’s not ID’s task to match your pathetic level of detail in telling mechanistic stories. If ID is correct and an intelligence is responsible and indispensable for certain structures, then it makes no sense to try to ape your method of connecting the dots. True, there may be dots to be connected. But there may also be fundamental discontinuities, and with IC systems that is what ID is discovering.”

    What exactly are you trying to prove here? ID paradigms do not deal with mechanisms, they merely detect the presence of intelligence. Isn’t it good science to know the limits of one’s paradigm? Shouldn’t one know what he/she can and cannot demonstrate with it? I am not getting your point at all.

  79. Allen MacNeill (#55)

    Thank you for your post. I’d like to address your comment on what life is:

    Atmospheric nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and water (plus small amounts of minerals eroded out of rocks) are biochemically transformed into living organisms who, when they die are decomposed back into those non-living materials by bacteria and fungi. That this is clearly the case has not been a matter of serious dispute for over a century.

    However, I have many times had discussions with creationists and ID supporters who deny that this is the case, and assert some updated version of Bergsonian vitalism. They believe that some kind of “magical force” (shades of Obi-Wan Kenobi) infuses living things and “makes” them alive, and somehow departs from them when they cease living.

    This is one of those inferences that seems staggeringly obvious to almost everyone (i.e. it is one of the strongest “intuitions” to which we are prone), and it is just as clearly false. There is absolutely no detectable difference between the non-living components of the Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, and crust and those same materials in living organisms.

    The components – the materials – are exactly the same. What is different is the way they are arranged. Life, in other words, is an emergent property of the organization of the materials of which living organisms are composed.

    That living things are made of the same chemicals as non-living things is something which nobody would now deny, although some vitalists held this bizarre view between the seventeenth century and the mid-nineteenth century. However, Aristotle would have readily acknowledged that living things were made of the same elements as non-living matter, as would Aquinas, even though both of them believed in final causes.

    The fact that living things have the same material constituents as non-living things, however, does not imply that living and non-living things differ only in their organization. That reduces life to mere structure, which is the mistake made by mechanism. On the other hand, it would also be wrong to say that living things have some kind of some kind of “magical force” that “makes” them alive (where “makes” is construed as some kind of mysterious activity performed by some spooky agent). That’s animism – a folk philosophy which has no place in the 21st century.

    Is there a via media? I would argue that there is. You might like to re-read my comment #32, where I discuss the characteristics of a master program, nested hierarchy of organization and dedicated functionality, which (I would suggest) characterize life (subject to the conditions I laid down in that post). The first two conditions are more “formalistic”, while the third is more “finalistic.” What is important, however, is that the formal and final characteristics of life, while mutually irreducible, nevertheless go hand-in-hand.

    Defining life in terms of finality alone would make it impossible for scientists to reliably identify life. However, defining life in terms of form alone would be to overlook the distinguishing feature of living things, which is that they have a good of their own. You can’t boil that down to structure.

  80. Chucky Darwin (#54)

    I was intrigued by your comment that it’s actually not that hard to to argue from “There are laws of nature” to “There is a Deity.” I tried composing a fairly rigorous argument this morning, and it took me about 20 steps, as I was trying to argue for a Deity and not just a Superior Intelligence. But if you’ve got a shorter argument, then I’d love to see it.

  81. Dr Torley,

    That reduces life to mere structure, which is the mistake made by mechanism.

    An unproven assertion.

    I admit to being ignorant of vast swaths of philosophy, Aristotelian or not. What is a “good of its own”, that distinguishes living things? Thinking of things such as a salt crystal, a forest fire, a prion, a virus, a short RNA, a long RNA – which of these has a good of its own?

    Sorry for being clueless.

  82. —vjtorley: “Defining life in terms of finality alone would make it impossible for scientists to reliably identify life. However, defining life in terms of form alone would be to overlook the distinguishing feature of living things, which is that they have a good of their own. You can’t boil that down to structure.”

    This is what Einstein meant when he said, “I wouldn’t give a nickel for the simplicity on this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” The above represents the latter.

  83. Dr. Torley: I was intrigued by your comment that it’s actually not that hard to to argue from “There are laws of nature” to “There is a Deity.” I tried composing a fairly rigorous argument this morning, and it took me about 20 steps, as I was trying to argue for a Deity and not just a Superior Intelligence. But if you’ve got a shorter argument, then I’d love to see it.

    Each of Aquinas’ five ways are argued from (largely) undisputed empirical premises – the fifth way being my favorite.

    It is basically this:

    1) There are objects in nature which, having no intellect of their own, consistently and predictably act towards an end as if it was their ‘goal’ to do so.

    2) Goal-seeking is exclusively the product of intellect.

    3) Therefore, all of these objects must be directed by an intellect capable of such a feat.

    4) An intellect capable of such a feat would be equivalent to what most of us on this planet would call “God”.

    There it is.

    The other four ways are just as short and each ends at what we would call “God”.

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