Home » Intelligent Design » Ed Feser and Intelligent Design, Pt. 1 – ID is not an Apologetic!

Ed Feser and Intelligent Design, Pt. 1 – ID is not an Apologetic!

I’m going to do a series of posts analyzing a talk given by renowned Thomist philosopher Ed Feser. The full video is available at the end of this post. In any case, the Thomists are well worth responding to, given that they are some of the most vocal Christian critics of Intelligent Design. Or are they? I contend that the biggest issue is that the Thomists misunderstand what Intelligent Design is, much the same way that atheists and creationists do.

From the first part of the video, Feser criticizes ID because – lo and behold – ID is not worthwhile as an apologetic! I wonder if Feser realizes that perhaps the reason that ID is not a worthwhile apologetic is because it was never meant to be one?

Here’s what Feser says:

(a) arguments from the world to the existence of God should be based on a philosophy of nature NOT on natural science
(b) philosophy of nature, while being objective, is not a science in the modern sense of the term
(c) arguments from science alone cannot get you to classical theism, because the arguments could also point to a variety of other possibilities including pantheism, animism, demiurges, etc.
(d) ID, taken alone, does not give you classical theism

Now, I should point out – isn’t this exactly what ID’ers have said all along? ID does not function in the place of apologetics – one requires additional, *philosophical* arguments in order to use ID to argue for God.

Thus, I believe that the Thomistic issues with ID are based on a misunderstanding of what ID’ers are trying to do. Instead of analyzing ID as part of the sciences (such as biology and chemistry), they are improperly comparing ID with a philosophy of nature, and coming to the (correct) conclusion that ID doesn’t work as a large-scale philosophy of nature.

Dear Thomists – please consider ID as it is offered, not for what you wish it to be!

  • Delicious
  • Facebook
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter
  • RSS Feed

37 Responses to Ed Feser and Intelligent Design, Pt. 1 – ID is not an Apologetic!

  1. I wonder if Feser realizes that perhaps the reason that ID is not a worthwhile apologetic is because it was never meant to be one?

    Feser’s reply is going to be (based on what I’ve read of him) that not only is ID not an apologetic, but that the metaphysical assumptions ID requires to get off the ground are utterly incompatible with the metaphysical assumptions of classical theism, including Thomism, which he himself defends.

    So the problem isn’t just that ID doesn’t get one to God. It’s that ID, in Feser’s view, takes on away from a proper understanding of (and actual arguments for) God.

    It’s a little like a hypothetical mormon argument for an intelligent designer. Such an argument would conceivably require materialism to be assumed at the outset. It wouldn’t do good to reply to a classical theist, “Okay, so the argument doesn’t get you to God. But it does get you to an intelligent designer, and that’s progress!” because the classical theist will reject materialism from the outset – so in their view there’s been no progress at all. Just more error.

  2. Feser’s points are deranged as presented. If (a) is true then we can logic our way to God, or the Nothing, or the FSM, or what have you, by way of extending our knowledge backwards to unresolvable epistemic ignorance.

    But then (c) cannot be true. For modern science attempts to argue backwards through time in an absurd number of cases. To extend our knowledge backwards to unresolvable epistemic ignorance.

    This requires that Feser does not accept ID or Darwinism as science, and so suitable for apologetics, or that he does accept them as science. But if he accepts them as science then he accepts that science can argue successfully backwards into epistemic ignorance and so science is suitable for apologetics.

    This is simply not a resolvable affair. Even if you split the notion, as I do, of ID and Evolution over the use of the theory. Where the empiricism is science, and the non-empirical time-machine dregs are pure philosophy.

  3. Feser’s objections are based both on a misunderstanding of Aquinas (He thinks St. Thomas’ philosophy of nature requires secondary causality–it doesn’t) and a misunderstanding of ID (he thinks ID rules out secondary causality–it doesn’t). Apparently, he doesn’t read ID literature and, even after repeated requests, provides no quotes from the Angelic Doctor to support his anti-ID posture. At the same time, he ignores quotes provided by Jay Richards, VJTorley, and others (including yours truly) to show that he is misinterpreting St. Thomas. I have never heard him use the word “evidence” in any presentation, and he appears to be impervious to correction. Several of us have made it clear that the Thomistic philosophy of nature is readily compatible with ID.

  4. Thank God.

    I’d much rather read this than long threads about ID and the social sciences. Ugh.

    If you want to do theology, do theology.

  5. Whatever Feser’s issues I enjoy reading his critiques of ID. They do make me think. Some things don’t.

  6. I do have a question for Johnnyb, though. Did I understand you to say on another thread that ID *does* presuppose design?

  7. 7

    Indeed, ID is not an apologetic. I would even argue it is consistent with atheism:

    http://appliedintelligentdesig.....m-are.html

    It is even consistent with materialism, if one can hypothesize some form of intelligent matter. The one thing ID is not consistent with is all forms of determinism.

  8. 8

    Here I lay out why ID is not a good apologetic at all:

    http://appliedintelligentdesig.....itely.html

    What kind of apologetic is ID if it is logically consistent with both atheism and materialism? Not a very good one, that’s what kind of apologetic ID is!

  9. I think I answered it there, but I’ll answer it again. Think of it this way, if ID does not presuppose design, what are we comparing against when we say “this is designed”? ID presupposes that there is at least a theoretical idea of design, against which we can measure a given process/artifact, and determine design.

  10. One big mistake that some thomists make when judging ID is to think that ID purportes and interventionist scenario where material mechanisms, understood as secondary causes, must be replaced by the direct agency of a supreme Intelligence. This is presented as an error for not not correctly appreciating the difference between the creative power of “God” as primary cause and the role of secondary causes in Nature. This is a critique usually made by Feser but also by William Carroll (Notre Dame University) or Michael TKacz: «Thus, despite their many shared cultural and religious concerns, those who do philosophy in the Thomistic tradition and those who have devoted themselves to the Intelligent Design Movement find themselves on opposite sides of the crucial issue of the nature of divine agency». M.W. TKACZ, Thomas Aquinas vs. The Intelligent Designers. What is God’s Finger Doing in My Pre-Biotic Soup.

    These authors don´t see that ID discourse is not about secondary or primary causes but about efficient versus formal and final causes. And this is precisely a discourse within the realm of philosophy of nature. As Dembski very clearly states in his book “The Design Revolution”, (chapter 23) some critiques are just equating “secondary causes” with material mechanisms. But this is not the point IDers are making. What they say is that secondary causes as material mechanisms, are just efficient causes within a naturalistic and materialistic realm. ID is claiming that a nominalist, mecanicist, and reduccionist explanation is not enough to account for the emergence and evolution of living organisms.
    Design is about the problem of biological form, is about teleology; so, is about formal and final causes. In fact is the only scientific and philosophical explanation that fits into the essentialist view of nature and the world that people like Feser and the like are supposed to believe in.

  11. Johnnyb, it is true that design in nature must exist in order for us to find it. It is also true that we must at least consider the theoretical idea of design in order to affirm its presence.

    However, to “presuppose” design in a logical argument, or in a scientific argument, is not merely to hypothesize design, or to consider the theoretical idea of design, it is to assume the fact of design at the beginning of a line of argument–to assume the conclusion–to engage in a tautology–a meaningless, trivial, circular argument

    ID represents a legitimate inductive process that yields new information. To draw a legitimate inference to design from evidence is to argue the following: “this DNA molecule contains FSCI, therefore it is designed” To “presuppose” design is to say “this DNA molecule is designed, therefore it is designed” In the first case, we are presenting new information; in the second case, we are just repeating ourselves.

  12. johnnyb, I think I understand now how you are using the term. In an inference to the best explanation, one must, in a sense, assume the existence one of the alternatives in order to make a choice. When ID critics use the term, however, they mean to suggest that ID is not really making a legitimate abductive inference because, one gathers, it smuggles religious belief into the alleged scientific inference.

  13. nullasalus:

    So the problem isn’t just that ID doesn’t get one to God. It’s that ID, in Feser’s view, takes on away from a proper understanding of (and actual arguments for) God.

    Thomists, in my experience, feel as if Thomistic philosophy cannot be surpassed, and, hence, they resent anyone or anything that thinks can replace it. I suspect that is Feser’s view. But, of course, as johnnyb points out, they, for whatever reason (hidden from me) choose to understand ID simply as a philosophical assault on materialism/secularism when, in fact, we know that we are trying to point out the inadequacy of Darwinism as a natural science.

    While there are philosophical consequences to ID’s conclusions, this does not make it a philosophical program. Fr. Stanley Jaki had the same jaundiced view of ID as Feser; and, for the same reasons.

  14. PaV –

    Actually, which we will get into more in depth in my next post, is that the Thomists view ID as *part* of materialism/secularism.

  15. OK, nullasalus, I’ll bite:

    “It’s a little like a hypothetical mormon argument for an intelligent designer.”

    What is this argument you refer to?

  16. What is this argument you refer to?

    Are you asking me to direct you to where you can find the hypothetical argument?

  17. Sure, if you have a reference, I’ll check it out, but it sounded like you had something in mind. In basic terms, I’m just wondering what ‘a hypothetical mormon argument for an intelligent designer’ is?

  18. johnnyb:

    Well, the title of Feser’s talk makes his discomfort with ID clear: ID is NOT part of “natural theology.” I would agree. I don’t think that ID is an argument for God existing. Thomas’ “proofs” are sufficient—philosophically. But we can’t “scientifically” prove that God exists.

    If that’s the purpose of ID, well, IMO, it’s doomed to fail. OTOH, if ID’s purpose is to argue that biological complexity can be reasonably explained only by intelligent agency, then it has something going for it.

    If you’re a YEC, my view might seem pessimistic and wrong; but I don’t think God wants to make Himself subject to proof. And, as a Transcendental Being, his Existence is not amenable to scientific analysis. As Doubting Thomas was told: “Blessed are those who have not seen, and who believe.” If God’s existence could be proved, then what place is there for belief?

    But maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree.

  19. PaV:

    But we can’t “scientifically” prove that God exists.

    If that’s the purpose of ID, well, IMO, it’s doomed to fail. OTOH, if ID’s purpose is to argue that biological complexity can be reasonably explained only by intelligent agency, then it has something going for it.

    Amen. ID is a very limited enterprise and should not be used as an evangelical tool to bring someone to a particular brand of theism. It is not intended to do that, cannot do that, and will fail in the attempt.

    ID can tell us whether there was a designer. ID can also tell us some limited information about the designer: e.g., the designer must have had the requisite capabilities and knowledge and understanding and expertise to bring about the design. But beyond that, ID says precious little. It is a disservice to ID to attempt to apply it in ways beyond its realm of inquiry.

  20. Eric,

    Sure, if you have a reference, I’ll check it out, but it sounded like you had something in mind. In basic terms, I’m just wondering what ‘a hypothetical mormon argument for an intelligent designer’ is?

    Well, I’m not aware of one. Really, that’s why I called it hypothetical.

    The point was that Mormons are materialists, or at least this is a very common claim about Mormon metaphysics, even by Mormons themselves as I understand it – they believe God exists, but God is made of matter and co-eternal with it – the matter, admittedly, is of a currently unknown type. So presumably, a specifically Mormon argument for God’s existence is going to point towards a God that is material. A Thomist isn’t going to be able to accept this argument as ‘progress’ or something that gets you part of the way towards God’s existence, because classical theists reject, on some pretty fundamental grounds, that God is composed of matter.

  21. ‘But we can’t “scientifically” prove that God exists.’ – Pav (Eric Anderson concurring)

    What agency, then, could either of you, or anyone else, imagine, would have the necessary omniscience, omnipotence and personal relationship with the individual human being, necessary to identify when the observer (all of them) is able to be pursued by light at its absolute speed, irrespective of his own speed, as he travels in the same direction, and to effect that pursuit with a 100% success rate?

  22. As the New York taxi-driver was reported to have said to his passenger, when they were caught up in a traffic jam, when the Pope arrived in New York: ‘This guy must have connections…’

    Same, goes for the said agency, if it isn’t the Almighty, eh?

  23. Thanks, Axel, but I’m afraid you lost me @ 21.

    —–

    Nullasalus @ 20:

    OK, I’m familiar with the eternal matter idea (which probably enjoys a strong following, but AFAIK is not an actual fundamental mormon doctrine — more like an old strain of thought that enjoys support). There are some pretty interesting questions around the basic concepts of existence, first cause, something from nothingness, etc., and we could have a very worthwhile discussion about these principles sometime.

    I would question, however, the “fundamental grounds” for rejecting a corporeal God. Certainly most Christians accept the idea of the Word being made flesh at a real historical moment in time with real physical matter. Traditional Christianity also accepts a real corporeal resurrection, with a body that is capable of eating, touching, interacting with matter. The Bible is pretty replete with divine beings having corporeal form and interacting with matter in a real, physical way. Seems that the only way to get away from that is to posit either (i) the physical interaction was just an illusion, or (ii) Christ, in some unknown way, at some unspecified time, and for no apparent reason, lost the resurrected body at some point after the resurrection, so as to no longer be corporeal.

    And on the other side of the coin, mormons, while believing in a corporeal god, don’t reject the idea that there is something beyond the physical and the material (call it a spirit, an intelligence, or whatever) that is a fundamental part of god’s being. So in that sense, they would seem to accept the idea that god is not just a material entity in the same way that a boat or a car is. So I guess I’m not seeing why a mormon couldn’t approach the question of god’s existence in much the same way as others — at least in the sense of fundamental existence, first cause, etc.

    Anyway, didn’t mean to get sidetracked too far, just curious about what you were referring to.

    I agree with you that if Feser is arguing that ID takes away from a proper understanding of god, then he does not understand the one or the other.

  24. Eric,

    I would question, however, the “fundamental grounds” for rejecting a corporeal God.

    Sure, and I’m sure people could do that. But Thomists and classical theists have different commitments right out of the gate, and those commitments are incompatible with a Corporeal God. If you think they’re wrong, alright, that’s fine – but they don’t think they’re wrong. They believe they have proofs, demonstrated by argument, for the God they believe in. And those proofs conclude a God who is not material.

    How this fits in with the resurrection, etc, are fine questions, but that’s getting way beyond the scope of the example.

    And on the other side of the coin, mormons, while believing in a corporeal god, don’t reject the idea that there is something beyond the physical and the material (call it a spirit, an intelligence, or whatever) that is a fundamental part of god’s being.

    My understanding is that, for mormons, the “spiritual” is just another kind of matter. Granted, some esoteric kind, unusual kind of matter, but matter all the same.

    I agree with you that if Feser is arguing that ID takes away from a proper understanding of god, then he does not understand the one or the other.

    Well, I didn’t say or intend to say that, so my apologies if I said anything confusing here. My own view on the matter is more complicated – I think ID has a lot more value than Feser appreciates, to say the least. But I think his concerns with ID are legitimate in their own right – I just wanted to try and communicate what those concerns in fact are.

  25. 25
    CentralScrutinizer

    Eric Anderson: I would question, however, the “fundamental grounds” for rejecting a corporeal God.

    There is a difference between a corporeal God and an incarnate God. Spirit incarnates matter, but it does not become matter. As for the NT theology, not only is God non-material “spirit”, but so are you and me, human spirits incarnated into material without becoming material.

  26. Granted the mysterious, paradoxical nature of the deepest truths, such as those relating to Christ as fully divine and fully human, Eric, a ‘spiritual light-physical’ light continuum would seem to be not inconsistent with that.

    Furthermore, the discovery that photons carry information (in one state even infinite!?!?) would also seem consistent.

    ‘True light and creator of light’ is how God is addressed in on of the prayers in the Roman Catholic Breviary. But maybe that should read, ‘True light and begetter of light?’ Quien sabe?

  27. Well, Eric. I can’t help wondering if it is somehow too simple (rather than simplistic!) for it all to register with technical people of a scientific and/or a philosphical persuasion.

    Perhaps you will be able to immediately identify some lunacy in the following that renders all of it lunatic; but this is something that, at the moment, I can see no other way of interpeting than the one I delineated above.

    Light must be propelled – assuming photons are not self-propelled/self-created/random-chanced into existence and motion.

    What agency then propels photons?

    It must be eternal (and with an indestructable life?) Isn’t that what physicists currently acknowledge.

    It surely be omniscient, in order to be able to locate its subjects, with a view to striking them with the photons at their absolute speed, irrespective of the speed at which they are moving in the same direction, or whether they are stationary; and just as certainly be omnipotent, in order to be able to do so.

    This agency must, moreover, be very personal, since it treats each and every subject identically, irrespective of the speed the latter might be travelling at in the same direction, or whether he is stationary.

    My only reservation is that it seems more likely that light remains absolute in all its facets, yet somehow, with divine foreknowledge, have provided for the subject to duly adjust HIS speed of travel, in a manner that would not affect the speed at which the light hits him, whether he is stationary or moving.

    The latter musings must be highly speculative, though, since we are totally unfamiliar with the proper reference- frame of photons; just that it isn’t space time – so that it is no given that their interactions in space-time will ever be anything like fully accessible to our understanding – the fabled ‘promissory note’, notwithstanding.

  28. On a pedantic note, I think that should be, ‘indestruct – i -ble’.

  29. I’m thinking of Jesuit palaeontologist, Teilhard de Chardin’s Cosmic Christ, and what at the time seemed his weird obsession with a layer of knowledge surrounding the earth.

  30. 30
    CentralScrutinizer

    Axel: Granted the mysterious, paradoxical nature of the deepest truths, such as those relating to Christ as fully divine and fully human

    Absolutely nothing mysterious about that. The spirit was divine, the flesh was human. Simple as that. And nothing in the NT says otherwise. Just FYI. Leave it to the Roman church to “screw up a free meal”, so to speak.

  31. You mean a hybrid, CentralScrutinizer? Half God and half man? Half creator and half created. Neither one nor t’other, properly?

    Interrrestttingggg…. but.. puts binoculars down… not sensible.

    Man, properly so-called, i.e. fully of that creaturely nature physiologically, comprises a body and a spirit, not just a body.

  32. 32
    CentralScrutinizer

    Axel, using your usages, we’re all “hybrids.” All of us are conscious entities attached to matter via brains. Jesus was no different.

    There’s nothing at all “divine” about matter. And nothing “divine” about the physical human body of Jesus. Jesus’s body was composed of ordinary matter. He had the same kind of DNA and the same kind of cellular “machinery.” When he ate, the molecules were absorbed by the molecular cellular machinery as yours and mine is. His urine and excrete was of the same nature as ours. When strands of his hair fell of, nothing “divine” fell off. It was ordinary matter. The difference between him and us is that his spirit, aka, his consciousness, “the real thing”, was the same consciousness that ordered the world. Ours is not. Otherwise the relation of consciousness to matter is the same.

    There’s the True Theology Lesson for today.

  33. nullasalus:

    My understanding is that, for mormons, the “spiritual” is just another kind of matter. Granted, some esoteric kind, unusual kind of matter, but matter all the same.

    Well, it is a very interesting question whether spirits are composed of some sort of physical substance that can be seen or otherwise perceived by someone. There are lots of Biblical experiences in which someone saw a spirit person. So the logical explanations are: (i) the experience was real and there was actually something there that could be seen, (ii) the experience was not a real experience, but rather an imagined, virtual experience, or something that existed in the person’s mind only, or (iii) all the stories were just made up anyway (presumably believers in the Bible would reject this third possibility). Anyway, the idea of spirits, angels, messengers from the eternal realm, having some kind of substance is certainly not far out there.

    On the question of materialism, however, AFAIK most mormons would still believe in some kind of essence beyond the purely physical and material. Some kind of innate persona or will or agency, that they might call an “intelligence.” (Incidentally, not unlike some of the concepts of “intelligence” in ID.) What the mormons call the “intelligence” perhaps other Christians would refer to as the “spirit” or “soul” or some other word — I don’t know. But I’m not sure there is a big disconnect, other than vocabulary.

    Incidentally, I looked this up tonight and thought it was interesting (note particularly the last sentence):

    Intelligence, however defined, is not created or made (D&C 93:29); it is coeternal with God (TPJS, pp. 353-54). Some LDS leaders have interpreted this to mean that intelligent beings-called intelligences-existed before and after they were given spirit bodies in the premortal existence. Others have interpreted it to mean that intelligent beings were organized as spirits out of eternal intelligent matter, that they did not exist as individuals before they were organized as spirit beings in the premortal existence (Abr. 3:22; JD 7:57; 2:124). The Church has taken no official position on this issue.

    http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Intelligence

    Anyway, interesting stuff. Perhaps some thoughts that will keep us thinking and merit further discussion another time . . .

  34. Well, CentralScrutineer, I fear you that you don’t understand Christ’s mortal, incarnate nature, even in terms of its paradoxical dimensions.

    After the descent of the Holy Spirit, baptised Christians in good faith, are already beginning to share in the very life of the Trinity, as ‘other Christs’, albeit by adoption, where his divine life is, of course by right of his proper nature. So your separating Christ’s divine spirit as antithetical to his corporeal humanity is wrong.

    No, it is Christ’s soul (memory, will and understanding) that is at issue. When the Catholic church states that Christ’s nature was both fully human and fully divine, it means that he or the Father (who are one!) made a decision for him to assume all the limitations of our human condition, including that he should learn experientially, as any other child would.

    We are also told that he learnt obedience through suffering – this latter susceptibility not proper to our almighty impassible* God.

    Moreover, concerning ‘when heaven and earth will pass away’, Christ had this to say: “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

    Do you get it now? How can he be fully divine, when he limits his powers to that of a human being – albeit an extraordinarily bright one? I suppose since it is by his own choice. It may even be that in that choice he was also demonstrating his humanity (made in the image of God, why not!), since we know what we choose to know: voluntarism. Much of Christ’s Gospel preaching would be misconceived were it not so.

    In some of his parables he reproaches people on grounds which, particularly to our perverse, materialistic ears, amounted to no less than sensible behaviour, even demonstrating the virtue of prudence.

    According to our worldly criteria, the man who ‘tore down and built bigger barns’, to accommodate the surplus from his bumper harvest, was just being sensible, but God called him a fool, and required his life that very might.

    But clearly, to be judged in that way, he must have been culpable in some way, to have transgressed wilfully, and not through innocent ignorance. Certainly, in that society, the worldly-wise farmer/businessman would have been taught God’s priorities for us, what we were to focus on.

    I’ve just found this slightly more emollient sermon on the Net, explaining the parable; though personally, I’m not sure ‘expanding one’s business’, at least beyond modest limits, is an acceptable exception – which is perhaps implict in the very pith of the parable.

    However, although Christ’s general teachings were always couched in absolute terms (knowing us for the inveterate backsliders we are, always looking for the thin edge of any wedge, any wriggle-room, we find in the Gospel accounts that when it came to actually treating with living people, with individuals, unless it was with religious leaders, he, the very source of our compassion, was very understanding of our frailty in a cruel and often confusing World – just concluding with the command to sin no more, in the case of the woman caught in adultery, for example.

    http://dailyencouragement.word.....ger-barns/

    * God is said to be impassible and beyond any possibility of our knowing Him in any kind of exhaustive way. However, although the point tends to be neglected in favour of other messages in some of his parables, he repeatedly makes the point that we are not to see Him in that way, but, on the contrary, as a loving father, as the Good Shepherd, we know that, in the form of Christ, he proved himself to be, laying down his life for us at the hands of monsters.

  35. Now that cloning has been discovered, the nature of the Mystical Body of Christ has become a little more intriguing; with Christ, the vine and we, the branches, his Spirit, the sap that feeds us with his life, each of us retaining his own distinct personality, then fully* deified in Christ: oddly enough, ultimately, our true nature.

    * Fully, in our terms, not in God’s.

  36. 36
    CentralScrutinizer

    Eric Anderson: So the logical explanations are: (i) the experience was real and there was actually something there that could be seen, (ii) the experience was not a real experience, but rather an imagined, virtual experience, or something that existed in the person’s mind only, or (iii) all the stories were just made up anyway (presumably believers in the Bible would reject this third possibility).

    There is another possibility, a combination of (i) and (ii), where the perceived entity is not really “out there” in space-time, but rather is a projection within the mind, but the mental projection no mere hallucination but is caused by the alien entity “fiddling” with the brain of the perceiver. (This is what I suspect such experiences are. No need to elaborate here.)

  37. 37
    CentralScrutinizer

    Axel: Do you get it now?

    I understand the Roman view. And I think it’s largely non-Biblical poppycock. But this is neither the time nor the place.

Leave a Reply