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Professor Feser’s Puzzling Assault on ID

In an earlier column (27 March 2010), I offered constructive criticism of the position of Francis Beckwith, who had implied an incompatibility between the ID and Thomist approaches to design, and had condemned ID for advancing or at least implying a bad form of Christian theology:

http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/what-francis-beckwith-gets-wrong-about-intelligent-design/

Prof. Beckwith responded once to my article, but only touched on a couple of points, and in the course of his discussion misrepresented both my motivation and some of my arguments.  When I clarified my position (in Comment #8 below the article), Beckwith did not respond to the clarification.  Thus, he left the impression that he had demolished my argument, when in fact he had rebutted only a misrepresentation of just part of my argument.

I here undertake a constructively critical response to some arguments of Professor Edward Feser, who like Prof. Beckwith has contrasted ID unfavorably with Thomist design arguments and has accused ID of faulty theology.  I am hoping that Professor Feser will reply, here or on his own site, and will engage more fully with my comments than did Prof. Beckwith.

On his own blogspot, Professor Feser has lately published a lengthy reply to vjtorley, alleging that vjtorley has misunderstood both Feser’s own argument, and the position of Thomas Aquinas:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/04/id-theory-aquinas-and-origin-of-life.html

I will not enter into the particulars of the Feser-Torley debate, as I am sure Mr. Torley will wish to defend himself.  Rather, I would like to focus on a couple of statements made in the cited article by Mr. Feser, statements which seem to me to point to characteristic blind spots in the Feser-Beckwith critique of ID.

First, when describing the Aristotelian-Thomistic critique of atheistic, materialistic metaphysics, Feser writes:

“What all A-T theorists agree on … is that life could not possibly have arisen in a purely mechanistic universe of the sort presupposed by naturalism, so that no naturalistic explanation of life is possible even in principle.”

In other words, naturalism fails in its own terms.  This is an argument straight out of the ID playbook.  If ID does not differ from Thomism over the assertion that naturalism fails in its own terms, what is Feser’s objection to ID’s attempt to confront naturalism on its own terms? 

Second, Feser writes:

“… when God creates a living thing, He does not do so in the manner in which an artificer constructs an artifact. And any method for studying living things which (like ID) proceeds on the assumption that He does is simply making a fundamental metaphysical and conceptual error that cannot fail to lead to serious misunderstandings of God’s relationship to the world, and thus to serious misunderstandings of how to reason from features of the world to the existence and nature of God.”

I have more than a passing acquaintance with ID literature.  I have read most of the major theoretical works of the ID proponents, and a good number of their rejoinders to their critics.  I have not seen any ID proponent say that God creates living things “in the manner in which an artificer constructs an artifact”.  In fact, I have not seen any ID proponent describe how God creates living things at all.  On the contrary, ID has been repeatedly criticized by the Darwinians precisely for not describing, in terms of past events and their efficient causes, how intelligence was involved in the origin and/or evolution of species.  I don’t see how ID can be criticized for describing God’s creative activity in the “wrong” way, when it has never described that activity at all.

ID makes use of the artificer analogy not to establish a historical claim about some past act of physical construction (e.g., “When God created the flagellum, he took an existing bacterium and sewed the base of a wavy new organelle into the cell wall”), but to establish the fact that, like a machine, a living system or organism involves the adjustment of means to ends, and, like a very complex machine with integrated systems interrelated in mutual feedback loops, it does not come into existence without a design, and therefore without a designing intelligence.  In other words, ID focuses only on establishing the existence of design; how the design is realized by God is not ID’s concern.

Being silent on the question of “how”, ID cannot be guilty of contradicting the Thomistic understanding of “how”.  ID has said nothing, for example, against the “four cause” analysis of Thomism.  Nor, contrary to what Feser seems to imply elsewhere in his article, does it insist that such teleology as exists in living things has been imposed purely externally, and has no immanent aspect.  ID simply does not deal with such questions.  Feser, like Beckwith, seems to believe that ID is posing as a rival theology or rival metaphysics to Thomism, but ID does not claim to offer a theology or a metaphysics at all.

Feser and Beckwith are misled by ID’s use of the analogy of the designer or craftsman.  And what is odd about this is that both Aristotle and Aquinas make extensive use of this analogy, and neither Beckwith nor Feser complains about it.  Why don’t they?  Surely because they understand that in the case of Aristotle and Aquinas, the analogy was meant to be pressed only so far, and not intended as a photographic representation of how God (or in Aristotle’s case, nature) operates.  The question is:  Why they don’t extend to ID theorists the same intellectual courtesy, i.e., the assumption that ID theorists are bright enough to recognize the limited character of all analogies, and sensible enough not to take them as literal descriptions of divine action?  

Many ID people are friendly to Thomism for its unwavering affirmation of a close connection between rationality, nature and God.  ID people wish to remain on good terms with Thomists, and to ally with Thomists against atheistic Darwinists, and against those among the theistic evolutionists who divorce God from reason and nature and whose understanding of origins is distinguishable from that of atheistic Darwinism only by a private “leap of faith”.  We do not understand why Beckwith and Feser are launching this attack against us.  Are there not enough “erroneous” non-Thomist theologies of nature out there (e.g., affirmations of wholly naturalistic evolution supplemented by Barthian and other fideisms), to keep Thomist metaphysicians busy, that they have the time and energy to attack ID for theological positions that it does not in fact hold?

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38 Responses to Professor Feser’s Puzzling Assault on ID

  1. Cudworth quotes Feser as writing: “What all A-T theorists agree on … is that life could not possibly have arisen in a purely mechanistic universe of the sort presupposed by naturalism, so that no naturalistic explanation of life is possible even in principle.

    That’s just another restatement of the logical fallacy “argument from personal incredulity” (or even “argument from ignorance”). Just because nobody has figured out yet how life happened doesn’t mean it didn’t happen – or that it was therefore supernatural. Both conclusions are equally absurd as well as illogical.

    One of the problems anti-ID folks find with ID is that while ID (publicly) posits an anonymous Intelligent Designer, ID folks are silent about the unmentioned and invisible – but necessary! – Intelligent Creator. And some religious scholars have pointed out the heresy implicit in such a duality.

  2. PaulBurnett,

    That’s just another restatement of the logical fallacy “argument from personal incredulity” (or even “argument from ignorance”).

    Do you think this a bad thing? Some things are considered impossible, even though there is not a known explanation in sight. It is like saying that I make an argument from personal incredulity when I say that I will not fly, unaided, like an eagle tonight. Is that an argument from personal incredulity, and therefore absurd? There is nothing logically impossible with me flying like an eagle, it is not like saying a square circle, but yet we know what is involved in such a claim, and that it is so improbable as to be considered impossible. The argument from incredulity is a perfectly valid argument in certain instances when the improbability is so great and the probability so small, that we then draw the proper, and perfectly valid, conclusions.

  3. It’s not an argument from personality incredulity. If you read the actual article, Feser talks about what it would mean for life to be ‘made’ in a laboratory, or for life to have originated by ‘natural processes’ at some point in the past. His point is that thomists have a radically different view of nature than mechanists, and that same hypothetical event would be understood in drastically different ways by thomists and mechanists. If you read Feser’s original post, some sense of the nuance he’s speaking with comes through.

    It’s closer but not identical to saying “on an eliminative materialist view of the world, the mental does not exist”. It’s not an ‘argument from incredulity’, it’s what follows given the metaphysical commitments.

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

    This disagreement was bound to happen – and is likely to become more open in the future – as ID people are more explicit about what they take to be the nature of the ‘intelligence’ behind ‘intelligent design’. When one says things that ‘life is coded information’ or ‘cells are nano-machines’, does one mean such things literally or merely figuratively. ID takes these descriptions literally, and that’s the basic problem – at least for the Thomists.

    The difference between the Thomist and ID position boils down to questions of ‘divine predication’. In short, ID takes talk of God as ‘artificer’ literally, the Thomists analogically. This was also the difference between those behind the West’s 17th Scientific Revolution and their Catholic opponents. ID gets called ‘bad theology’ in this context because it claims to understand how God works by imagining that it’s an infinitely extended version of how humans work, capitalising on a very literal reading of the idea that we are created ‘in the image and likeness’ of God.

    Frankly, I think ID should simply openly embrace the position that the Thomists are trying to stigmatise as ‘bad theology’ and place the discussion of the ‘I’ behind ‘ID’ on the table, once and for all. In this respect, I find Cudworth’s answer a bit too coy to satisfy anyone who wishes to take the discussion forward.

  5. 5
    Granville Sewell

    That’s just another restatement of the logical fallacy “argument from personal incredulity” (or even “argument from ignorance”). Just because nobody has figured out yet how life happened doesn’t mean it didn’t happen – or that it was therefore supernatural

    If you look at any physics textbook you will find claims about the inability of natural forces to repair wrecked automobiles, to recreate demolished buildings, etc, that are similar to that made by Faser. Are these also statements of personal incredulity? No, they are statements of the second law of thermodynamics.

  6. 6

    Steve,

    At one minute you say that we must explore the nature of the designer if ID is ever to be a complete theory, and then the next you say that by doing so we force ID into a theological disagreement.

    ID is based upon empirical evidence that anyone can share regardless of their theological position, whether they have a particular theological position or not?

    Life DOES operate from encoded information, and cells DO have molecular machinery to accomplish life’s processes. Acknowledging that fact does not tell us anything particularly insightful about the “nature of the intelligence” other than the general idea of “wow would you look at that”.

    What it does tell us that if we want oxygen to attach to hemoglobin and be carried to the bodily tissues for replenishment and respiration, then there will need to be some actual, physical mechanisms for causing those things to happen within a coordinated system. It tells us that the systems we see are necessary, and the evidence we find is real. It also tells us that an explanation for a cause to bring about such information processing systems does not exist in the laws of physics that cause rust, weather, and geosynchronous orbits.

    If such a patently obvious acknowledgment causes another round of history for some brand of Christian to (oh joy) point fingers at other Christians and tell em what they are doing wrong – then so be it.

    I hope that those that who hold the position are ready for the long haul. There is no non-intelligent cause for the origin of biological systems coming around the bend on which to justify their doubt.

  7. 7
    Granville Sewell

    Upright BiPed, thanks for your really excellent comments (#6).

  8. Upright Biped,

    I’m glad you’re prepared for the ensuing theological battle, which is not so different from the scientific battle already underway. (You get Ken Miller either way!)

    However, my sense is that you don’t appreciate the full implications of the following claim, which you toss off so casually:

    Life DOES operate from encoded information, and cells DO have molecular machinery to accomplish life’s processes. Acknowledging that fact does not tell us anything particularly insightful about the “nature of the intelligence” other than the general idea of “wow would you look at that”.

    Thomists and other even more pious folk would say that references to ‘coded information’ and ‘molecular machines’ are mere analogies, if not metaphors — no bases for theorising in a way that ends up making God look like The Big Engineer in the Sky.

    My own view is that ID does indeed gravitate in that direction. Here’s a reality check: How would you characterise the image of the bacterial flagellum on this blog’s masthead? ID people don’t simply believe that’s a cute suggestive image but an ideal version of the real thing. That raises the Thomistic hackles.

  9. 9

    Steve,

    The claim I “toss out” is an easy one. The arrangement of C-T-A does indeed code for Leucine, A-G-T codes for Serine, and T-A-T codes for Tyrosine. No analogy is necessary.

    The image at the top of the page?

    I don’t care what it looks like. It is how it works that matters in constructing an explanation. It is that explanation that is in question, not an conceptualized rendering of it.

    To suggest that ID has a problem because of its artwork is hogwash.

    Again, if acknowledging blantantly obvious empirical facts is a call for hackles, then so be it.

  10. 10

    During these discussions I have to admit my ignorance of Thomism. I have learned that apparently Thomism doesn’t posit any sort of mechanistic relationship between God and nature. That makes absolutely no sense to me at all. Even saying that God has some sort of aura to which natural things gravitate suggests a mechanism, unless the claim is made that protons and neutrons have their own free will. Apparently Thomists believe that God’s presence alone encourages certain things to happen in nature that has nothing to do with a design or a naturalistic mechanism. What exactly does it have to do with then? The Thomist position appears to be that what happens happens because God is God. It sounds like a bad bumper sticker.

    But I simply don’t understand how this would conflict with ID even if I could make any sense of it. Certainly God created nature to have this aspect which Thomists claim that it has. Certainly God understood how his creation would act and made it so with an intention, a purpose in mind. That and low probability is enough for a design inference. Fine-tuning appears to be accepted by Thomists, when fine-tuning is a design inference of exactly the same kind made by ID theorists. If Thomists wish to argue that this inference cannot be made for the information in DNA, then that’s a perfectly acceptable disagreement which can be discussed. But they cannot argue against the design inference in general and then out of the other side of their mouths use it in fine-tuning arguments.

  11. Steve Fuller stated:
    “How would you characterise the image of the bacterial flagellum on this blog’s masthead? ID people don’t simply believe that’s a cute suggestive image but an ideal version of the real thing. That raises the Thomistic hackles.”

    And Steve, exactly how do you think the bacterial flagellum in this following video should be characterized???

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

    Would you characterize it as a machine or merely a suggestive image of a machine that is not really a machine?

    Biologist Howard Berg at Harvard calls the Bacterial Flagellum
    “the most efficient machine in the universe.”

    and Steve If you really are convinced that it is merely a “suggestive image” that is only a result of purely evolutionary processes and that is not a machine in the true sense, Do you mind producing one these “suggestive images of a machine” in the lab just so to soothe the doubts of those of us who think that it might actually be a machine that far surpasses man made machine in efficiency parameters?

    Bacterial Flagella – A Paradigm for Design – Scott Minnich – video
    http://www.vimeo.com/9032112

  12. Steve wrote “In short, ID takes talk of God as ‘artificer’ literally, the Thomists analogically.”

    One problem is that ID proponents claim they do not wish to identify the designer, but then make use of analogies to human intelligence in their work.

    This does lead to the theological belief in the imago dei as you say.

    My own view is that the analogy is real and useful. I don’t see much use with an analogy that is considered not real. However, if the designer of nature is absolutely like a human being then that would no longer be an analogy, but would be perfect literalism. For a real analogy to work there has to be some difference between the two, but not complete difference.

    Hume’s characters Demea and Cleanthes were divided over these questions. Demea accused Cleanthes of being an anthropomorphite and reducing God to man’s level. This Demea believed would lead to atheism, Cleanthes saw Demea’s God as unknowable ‘ineffibly sublime’ and a form of atheism already.

    There has to be a balance between the two positions. Analogies have to be real to be useful, but must maintain some difference between God and man. God is not so elevated as to be unknowable, and not so reduced to man’s level to lose his divinity.

  13. born again77,

    You misunderstood me. I DO believe that the flagellum is literally a machine. And that is the ID position. But the Thomists do not believe this — they believe that ascribing mechanism to the natural world is at best suggestive and at worst sacrilegious. (tragic mishap has figured this out.)

    Andrew Sibley clearly understands what’s at stake here, though he treads rather gingerly. There may be a sense in which the theological debate is a bit of a ‘dog whistle’ issue in the ID community — only certain people hear it.

  14. 14

    All I meant to say Steve is that if a Thomist cannot accept ID then he cannot accept fine-tuning either. Since Thomists appear perfectly capable of accepting fine-tuning, then they must also be perfectly capable of accepting ID, despite their objections. If this is wrong, please explain how. It appears to me they are significantly perverting their own philosophy to make it appear incompatible with ID. Therefore I believe their motivation for doing this has absolutely nothing to do with philosophy at all, and the real error is not in Thomism but very human indeed.

    Different topic. From Professor Feser’s blog post here:

    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.co.....-life.html

    “When a torch is used to light another torch, what is in the effect – fire – is in the cause in the same way in which it is in the effect. But when fire is caused instead by striking a match, the fire was in the cause only in the sense that that specific cause has an inherent power to generate fire that other things do not have; when a builder builds a house, the features of the house are not in him in the way they are in the house, but rather in the form of his idea of the house he is to build; and so forth. To use the Scholastic jargon, if what is in the effect is not in the cause “formally,” it must still be in the cause “virtually” or “eminently.”

    Here’s a question for the SAT:

    An idea of a house is to the house what a (_________) is to the (___________).

    A. match; fire
    B. plan; action
    C. Platonic form of a chair; chair
    D. simulation; reality

    I might answer “C”, perhaps “D”. But Professor Feser appears quite capable of answering “A”, the option that makes the least sense.

    This I do not understand. If Thomism says that chemical reactions are equivalent to intelligent foresight in terms of causation, then they are in complete agreement with the naturalistic philosophers.

  15. OOOPs sorry Steve,, I did misread you. Though you are right, the theological issue is a “dogwhistle” for me for I find it inconceivable that anyone would imagine the flagellum is merely a suggestive image of a machine without at least a demonstration that such a perfect machine could be had without intelligence. But as you know, whenever a evolutionist is asked for such a demonstration of evidence to generate this complexity, instead of evidence we are greeted with much storytelling and never a demonstration. When we question the “peer-reviewed storytelling” we get only the condescending reassurance that such embellished storytelling is “real science”, for as you know evolution is as much a proven fact as is gravity, just don’t ask for them to actually prove the fact at the molecular level.

  16. 16

    LOL. Could I say that this error is “immanently” in Feser and not “formally” in Thomism?

    LOL.

  17. 17

    A side note: Could scientists, then, generate life in a laboratory using purely inorganic materials? If a mechanistic account of the natural world were true, the answer would be: Absolutely not.

    What utter nonsense! Are scientists and engineers completely incapable of reproducing mechanisms?

  18. Somebody asked “Could scientists, then, generate life in a laboratory using purely inorganic materials?

    “tragic mishap” (#17) responded: “Are scientists and engineers completely incapable of reproducing mechanisms?

    A century ago scientists and engineers were completely incapable of reproducing a transistor. Someday scientists and engineers may become completely capable of reproducing stuff they can’t today, such as bacterial flagella or whateveer.

    But just because they can’t do that today is no reason to say “Goddidit.”

  19. 19

    PaulBurnett,

    But just because they can’t do that today is no reason to say “Goddidit.”

    But it is perfectly reasonable to say that “nothing-of-any-intelligence-whatsoever-did-it”? Please.

  20. I wrote: “But just because they can’t do that today is no reason to say “Goddidit.”

    And Clive Hayden replied: “But it is perfectly reasonable to say that “nothing-of-any-intelligence-whatsoever-did-it”? Please.

    As has been pointed out before, over billions of years (not the creationists’ 6,000 years) of time, in billions of cubic miles of potential biosphere from the ocean depths to the highest atmosphere, at the invisibly small molecular and macro-molecular scale of pre-cellular / proto-cellular pre-life, with energy inputs from sunlight and other ionizing and non-ionizing radiation including passing cosmic rays and neighborhood supernovae, lightning, vulcanism (including underwater vulcanism – see “black smokers”), tides and other pressure gradients – yes, basic chemistry and physics, random variation and blind trial and error CAN account for all this. It didn’t require intelligence, just a few quintillion tries to get it right. That makes more sense to me than invoking supernaturalism.

  21. 21
    CannuckianYankee

    Paul Burnett,

    If you carry your logic as far as it can go, it is perfectly logical then to conclude that humans may one day invent reality.

  22. 22

    PaulBurnett,

    yes, basic chemistry and physics, random variation and blind trial and error CAN account for all this. It didn’t require intelligence, just a few quintillion tries to get it right. That makes more sense to me than invoking supernaturalism.

    Not to me. And intelligence doesn’t mean supernaturalism, by the way. And what was “trying’? What “trial and error” are you referring to? That’s all design language, there are no tries if there is nothing to try anything intentionally, especially for nothing to “try” something quintillion times. You’re welcome to think that the world and all of its chemicals and temperatures produced life, but this is a belief, nothing more, it is, quite frankly, the fallacy of incredulity. Since you don’t know what created life, nature must have done it, right? That is exactly the fallacy committed by you with which you accuse others.

  23. 23

    A lot of water has gone under the bridge here, but I hope the following clarifies the field of play a little – since to my mind the science-religion relationship is the most interesting challenge raised both by and for ID.

    To simplify matters, I will speak of what I think motivates the Thomists here. While Thomas Aquinas himself might have changed his mind if he knew what we know now about science, today’s Thomists are actually operating from a more principled standpoint. They basically want the keep the distinction between science and religion very clear. From their standpoint, if you say that cells are literally machines, then you’re on a semantic slippery slope to saying that science finishes the work of theology because God turns out to be a super-mechanic whose modus operandi we come to fathom by studying the mechanics of nature – and extending and improving it through our technology.

    To be sure, God doesn’t necessarily disappear from this picture (after all, we’re trying to catch up with him), but much of the mystery associated with religion does. And that fact can be easily interpreted as heresy and even sacrilege. And of course, that’s exactly what happened in the aftermath of the Scientific Revolution, which began very much with the sort of semantic dispute we’re having now with Thomists.

    Here you’ve got to imagine that ID is like the original Protestant scientists (and Catholic heretics like Galileo) up against a ‘church’ that is now a two-headed hydra, represented by, say, the Thomists (i.e. the theological orthodoxy) and the National Academy of Science (i.e. thes scientific orthodoxy).

    Moreover, the fact that machines are not self-sufficient and require a non-mechanical mechanic (a point that ID people often raise in self-defence) doesn’t really halt this process that the Thomists are worried about. On the contrary, it invites deeper study into how the human creative process works as clues to how divine creativity works. And historically that also happened – as psychology emerged from theology and philosophy faculties. The Thomists want to keep this all in check by policing the way we talk about things so that theology keeps its subject matter from bleeding away into secular disciplines, as has already happened.

    My own view is the theologians should not be so defensive but, on the contrary, should reassert a strong sense of ‘natural theology’, perhaps an updated version of Paley, that more aggressively appropriates current scientific research to make theological points, including about the nature of God. I think Dembski (among others in ID) is inclined along these lines but the potential here for internecine Christian strife is tremendous, which helps explain why prima facie fellow travellers like Simon Conway Morris refuse to say anything nice about ID. He hears the dog whistle.

  24. 24

    Steve Fuller (@4):

    I’m responding to your earliest post above.

    I agree that there is no reason why ID or any other position should simply capitulate to the Thomist understanding of nature, God, science, reason, understanding, causality, etc. I have immense respect for Aquinas, but I do not regard Aquinas, much less “Thomism”, as intellectually unassailable. Not only did Thomas make numerous mistakes in what we now call “science” (which even Beckwith and Feser concede), but in my view even Thomas’s metaphysics and epistemology are far from beyond criticism (as the entire history of modern philosophy demonstrates, not to mention pre-modern criticism from the Platonist side). I therefore do not take it for granted, as Beckwith and Feser apparently do, that Thomism has the last word on teleology in nature, the mode of creation, or design inferences.

    However, in your comment, you are clouding the issue which I have been raising with Prof. Feser. Both Feser and Beckwith have criticized ID for affirming *an incorrect notion of divine action*, that is, an incorrect notion of *how God creates*. But in your discussion of whether the bacterial flagellum *is* a machine or is only *like* a machine, you are concerned with the correct phenomenological description of *the results of God’s creating*. Another way of putting what I have just said: the analogy I am speaking about is the analogy between the creative action of God and the creative action of man, not the analogy between a flagellum and an outboard motor.

    I have not asked Feser whether, and in what respects, the bacterial flagellum is a machine, or is only like a machine. But I have asked Feser about the mode of divine action, and the status of the analogy between God as creator and man as artificer. I have pressed him for further clarification on that subject, and I hope that he will focus on my question rather than yours (important as yours is in other respects).

    However, if I may now address you rather than Feser, I do not agree that ID understands artificer-talk literally, if you are talking about *the mode of divine action*. Of course, if you mean that some ID proponents, insofar as they are churchgoing Christians with particular theologies, envision particular acts of creation at particular moments of prehistory, rather than a naturalistic process in which God never intervenes directly, then yes, they do. But I would wager that even those ID proponents who think that God made Adam in 4,004 B.C. are not committed to any visualizable model of how the dust of the earth was brought together, or of how God “breathed” life into his creation. And I would wager that even those ID proponents who believe that God made all the land animals within a 24-hour period do not imagine God as employing hands and fingers, and assembling the bones of each animal as a child puts together a model kit of a dinosaur skeleton. And certainly Paley’s analogy of the watch does not imply that God looks like a chubby Swiss grandfather and constructed the human eye at a workbench. To speak more generally, ID proponents and Paleyans do not picture God as nailing, weaving, sewing, gluing, welding, etc. Whatever creative activity produced the first cell, or the first lizard, or the first man, whether instantly via divine fiat or gradually through a long evolutionary process, that activity is not visualizable in anthropomorphic terms. The artisan metaphor for divine action (which is found in both Aquinas and Aristotle, a point which Feser downplays) is just as much analogical for an ID proponent as for a Thomist. The *mode* of God’s creative action remains mysterious and unspecified. Feser, like Beckwith, attacks ID for a view which it does not espouse.

    Finally, I am not being “coy”. ID, insofar as it can claim to be scientific, is limited to the inference of design, and is absolutely powerless to say (1) anything about the mode of divine action, and (2) anything about the nature of the designer (other than that the designer is intelligent, possesses sufficient power to produce the effect in question, and desires the end in question). If ID stays within the bound of this very limited conclusion, it confirms the teaching of Aquinas on two points: (1) unaided reason can confirm the existence of God; (2) unaided reason cannot get beyond God’s existence, to attain to the truths of Christian revelation. This position has the advantage of being compatible with official Catholic teaching, and compatible with some versions of Anglican, Lutheran and even Calvinist thinking. It thus gives ID a wide “generic appeal” across Christian denominational boundaries. True, it rubs the fideistic elements in the Protestant tradition (e.g., the Barthians) the wrong way, but you can’t please everybody.

    It is true, as you say, that most ID proponents in fact have religious views about such things as the mode of divine action, the nature of the designer, and the purposes of the designer. Apparently you see this as an opportunity to turn ID from a modest adjunct to religion into a Christian theology in its own right. I have my doubts. I have conversed with ID folk from the major players down through the humble rank and file, and I have found ID supporters to be “all over the map” theologically, philosophically, and culturally, with no unifying theme (other than that Darwin and Dawkins are wrong and that chance did not create life or species). Some are anti-evolution, some pro-evolution; some Catholic, some Protestant; of the Protestants, some are Calvinist, some Arminian; some belong to large traditional churches, some belong to small sects; some affirm famous statements on Biblical inerrancy, some reject them; some are impressed by Pope Benedict, some by Alvin Plantinga, some by Stanley Jaki, some by C.S. Lewis, some by Francis Schaeffer, some by Ken Ham; some are trained in the natural sciences, some in the humanities, some in engineering and computer science; some teach in secular universities, some in fundamentalist colleges. In light of all this, I am skeptical about the likelihood of the emergence of an “ID theology” of the type you seem to desire. Any attempt by one group within ID to force its theological perspective upon the other groups would lead to internecine warfare and the dissolution of ID as a social force. I don’t think the ID people will take this risk.

    This doesn’t prevent individual ID theorists or their supporters from writing books promoting their own personal Christian theologies, laced with ID-type arguments on the apologetic side. That’s already happening, and will keep on happening. But there is a tacit agreement among ID supporters that such writings are not binding on the movement as a whole, and represent the writers “only in their private capacity”, so to speak.

    ID, for the foreseeable future, will not become a theology or a metaphysics. And I’m quite happy with that. Its historical mission is not to compete with Aquinas or Aristotle or Calvin or Luther or any modern theological system. Its historical mission is to show that Darwin, Gaylord Simpson, Dawkins, Coyne, Gould, E. O. Wilson, etc. have failed miserably, even by their own standards of “science”, to explain the origin of organized complexity in living nature. And it is doing quite well on that front, despite, if I may say so, receiving little or no help from Thomist quarters. As a result, if ID ever does end up on the winning end of the culture wars, the Thomists, having picked the wrong side in the theological and cultural battle, and being (by their own confession) of no earthly use to the progress of modern science, will seem even more medieval and irrelevant than they do to most people now.

  25. “CannuckianYankee” (#21) commented: “If you carry your logic as far as it can go, it is perfectly logical then to conclude that humans may one day invent reality.

    Before we can invent reality, we need to keep working to see deeper into it and understand it. Every generation brings our species closer to understanding reality, because we can see it in greater detail. And it is certainly possible that someday, having figured out how it works, creating a plurality of realities could happen. After all, quantum physics posits multiple realities.

    Do you think there will still be a place for the supernatural?

  26. Thomas,

    I don’t want to drag this out longer than need be, but I am indeed talking both about the nature of divine creation and the nature of the things so created. And ID differs from the Thomists on both points, which our Thomist friends seem to see better than you do. Not only are cells machines but also God is a mechanic. Or, if that sounds too harsh, consider this: Not only is DNA a code but also God is a code-maker. That is simply ID 101, and that’s what the Thomists don’t like.

    The more we rely on talk and images of machines, information, computers, codes, etc. to make sense of the biological world – and the more they bear interesting empirical and practical fruits – the more reason we have for taking these so-called analogies literally — both in terms of what they say about the created AND the creator. It’s only a certain sense of tact that conceals this point.

    Most of Dembski’s (and others’) theorizing will have been a waste of time if what I’ve described is not the core positive ID position. You seem to want to define ID in purely negative terms – i.e. capturing what the other paradigms fail to catch. But as our Darwinists chums never stop reminding us, they don’t need ID to tell them the shortcomings of their own position. And as some of our chums on this blog have said, the Thomists managed to discover the idea of a fine-tuned universe without signing up to ID.

    Indeed, if we take your proposal seriously, the aim of ID is simply to assimilate into mainstream science and theology by making the fewest theoretical demands on the establishment as possible. So you end up reducing ID to a set of empirical observations about design in nature that hardly anyone would deny – especially since you don’t seem to want to draw any strong theoretical conclusions from those observations. I can see how this politics of compromise and coalition formation would appeal to the Vatican, but I thought we had bigger fish to fry here…

    In any case, I’m not inventing a theology for ID: It already exists. It just needs to be recovered, and that’s why I say we are somewhat re-treading the road that led to the Scientific Revolution in the 17th century. The ID people are following the Franciscan route of univocal predication, led by the great scourge of Thomas, John Duns Scotus, which spawned the heretical theologies that informed first the Reformation and then the Scientific Revolution itself. We live in much more interesting times than you seem to realize.

  27. 27

    Prof. Fuller:

    The most difficult parts of your answer for me to respond to are those which speak as if I have some political agenda. You speak of my position as trying make few “demands” on “the establishment” (the Darwinists?) and later in the same paragraph of the “politics of compromise and coalition formation”. All of this appears to me to be motive-mongering. My central point is a theoretical one, i.e., that the alleged difference between Thomism and ID over the question of teleology in nature is being greatly exaggerated.

    If there is any “political” point it is the very simple and obvious one that ID and Thomism (both teleological) are natural allies against Darwinism (anti-teleological), and that the Thomists are violating the normal rules of political prudence by appearing to cozy up to the Darwinists (even if it’s not Dawkins/Coyne but the TEs, most of them are still Darwinists — Ayala, Miller, etc.). Not only is Thomism closer theoretically to our position, but in cynical worldly terms, the Thomists will be punished by the world later on, when ID insights are victorious over Darwinism.

    But back to the theoretical question: I have no problem with God as a code-maker, and, I contend, neither should the Thomists, and, even more strongly, I contend, neither would Thomas himself, especially if he knew what we knew today about genetics and development. I do not disagree with your restatement of Feser and Beckwith’s objections; I think they are objecting along the lines you present. Where you and I differ is that you take for granted that Feser and Beckwith adequately represent modern Thomism, and especially Thomas himself.

    So far, when challenged on passages, their ability to argue from the texts of the Angelic Doctor has been almost nil. They appear to have received training more in systematic theology and Aristotelian philosophy and less in textual studies, because they prefer to remain in the realm of “big ideas” and to avoid discussing inconvenient statements in Aquinas. Of course, this is the perennial vice of all systematic theologies, Thomist, Calvinist, etc. We ID people tend to have more empirical minds — “Show us where it *says* that in Aquinas”. And so far, at least on this blog and over at Feser’s, we are winning the quote war. That should not be happening. If Feser and Beckwith really know their Thomist metaphysics and epistemology as well as their confident tone suggests, they should be able to rattle off Latin passages, and titles and numbers of Summa articles, without even looking them up. This is why I suspect a degree of bluffing.

    The other point is that Dembski has directly refuted the Thomist charges of “mechanism” in another current thread here on UD. Beckwith has responded there with his typical autobiographical narrative, without addressing a single point Dembski raised. Over on Feser’s blogspot, an anonymous poster has raised some clear metaphysical questions for Feser to field about ID, Thomism, analogy, etc., and he hasn’t responded. In an earlier column of mine, a few weeks back, Beckwith ducked out after my first rebuttal. I am not as convinced as you are that these people are on solid ground regarding Thomism, and I *know* they are misrepresenting ID. Thus, their argument for a radical contrast between ID and Thomism remains in serious doubt.

    Finally, on the deeper issue, I agree with you that the analogies pointed out by ID should be taken *seriously* — more seriously than our Thomist opponents are taking them. I agree with you that living systems are in some important respects *really like* machines, and I agree with you that ID should not be afraid to say so. But taking machine analogies *seriously* is not the same as taking them *literally*, i.e., as exhaustive descriptions of nature. Similarly, taking the artificer/God or designer/God analogy seriously does not warrant a claim to have exhausted the nature of God’s essence or of divine action. God is incomprehensible and no analogy from human life, whether that of carpenter or of code-maker, is adequate to capture his nature or his mode of activity. He is *like* a carpenter, and he is even more *like* a code-maker, but he is *more than* either a carpenter or a code-maker. And it is because ID gladly acknowledges that he is *more than a code-maker* that there is no contradiction between ID and Thomism. This is a point I made carefully in my last reply to you, and you have not yet responded to it. Nor have Feser and Beckwith responded to the point when it has made by me or others.

  28. Thomas Cudworth@24,

    ID, for the foreseeable future, will not become a theology or a metaphysics. And I’m quite happy with that. Its historical mission is not to compete with Aquinas or Aristotle or Calvin or Luther or any modern theological system. Its historical mission is to show that Darwin, Gaylord Simpson, Dawkins, Coyne, Gould, E. O. Wilson, etc. have failed miserably, even by their own standards of “science”, to explain the origin of organized complexity in living nature. And it is doing quite well on that front, despite, if I may say so, receiving little or no help from Thomist quarters.

    A few comments here, from someone very interested in both ID and thomism.

    * Every thomist I’m aware of can get on fine with the project you speak of particularly above – showing that current attempts to explain what we find in nature is sorely lacking. Not a one I am aware of think these specific empirical criticisms of darwinian evolution, the origin of life, etc, are incompatible with thomism. Certainly neo-darwinism doesn’t need to be true for thomism to be. It is, in their view, specifically the inference to ‘intelligence’ where things go wrong. At least, according to what I’ve seen them say lately.

    * Yes, there certainly has been ‘little to no help’ from thomist quarters. But why should there be? By their own rights, thomists deal with metaphysical, philosophical questions. They simply aren’t in the empirical claims business, and admit as much (though empirical findings certainly are ones which need to be interpreted in light of thomism, etc.) And in more material senses, Beckwith has been supportive of ID in terms of legal questions, while Beckwith and Feser have agreed that ID proponents have been treated poorly and abused in some cases.

  29. 29

    Thomas,

    Thanks for your response. Let me just deal with the issue at the end that you want me to answer.
    At the minimal level you’re pitching the concern for agreement, then, yes, ID and Thomism agree that God is more than a code-maker. However, the spirit of the agreement is not the same. For the Thomist that’s a reason to stop talking about nature as a literal code. However, ID people don’t stop there. In fact, the positive scientific project is all about articulating the nature of that code. Thus, the people at the Biologic Institute in Seattle are seeing whether the formation of Chinese characters might offer a clue into the processes of protein folding in genes. That’s a strange thing to do if you don’t take the code idea literally.

    The Franciscan theology that opposed Thomism basically holds that God is the infinite extension of all human virtues brought together in one ultimate being. Such a being is very hard – perhaps too hard – for a human to understand because we normally find these virtues in varying finite degrees in various people. But it’s not in principle inconceivable that one might grasp such a being, and our progress from our fallen state consists in trying to come to such an understanding.

    Thomism rejects all this as opening the door for science to displace, rather than complement, religion. And historically that has happened, especially after the Protestant Reformation. What Thomists want is a clear sense of where science stops and religion begins: Gould’s NOMA principle. This is why they LIKE Darwinism – not the New Atheist stuff but Darwin’s original brand, which Gould promoted. Darwin simply kept God out of the picture, so the Thomists can bring the deity back in as a mysterious grounding first principle. ID demands a much clearer relationship between God and nature – calling the relationship ‘interventionist’ is a bit misleading; but certainly God’s signature needs to be present and detectable, as the idea of ‘intelligent design’ implies.

    So, it’s not clear to me why ID people feel some special need to gain the acceptance of Thomists. The concern about God is a relatively superficial point of similarlity.

  30. 30

    Prof. Fuller:

    A good answer, clear and helpful. I will have to learn more about the Franciscan theology of which you are speaking.

    Your point about the attempt to find mathematical patterns (whether from Chinese letters or elsewhere) in protein folds is a good one. This approach has impeccable Western antecedents: Galileo’s statement about God as a mathematician, and of course the whole Platonic tradition of philosophy. If there are genuinely mathematical patterns realized in the set of relevant protein folds, it will be hard to deny design at the heart of living nature. But again, to say that God geometrizes in his creation of the protein folds is not to unduly anthropomorphize God (Thomas Aquinas did not object to the claim that God could think), and it is not to be committed to a “mechanical” philosophy of nature, as the Thomists are charging. Ask any engineer if he thinks that pure mathematicians have good mechanical minds! The ID God is looking less like a watchmaker these days, and more like a professor of some abstruse branch of pure mathematics, perhaps topology. Have the Thomists got a beef against math as well as against engineering?

    I suspect that the Thomists in question would not like your association of their position with NOMA! Yet you are certainly on to something regarding TE. I believe it is true that a good number of *non-Thomist* theistic evolutionists subscribe to something very close to NOMA (though they would angrily deny it). Many of the TEs say that evolution by Darwinian mechanisms (which in Darwin were implicitly and often explicitly non-teleological) is true in science, while divine design (explicitly teleological) is true in theology, and this is not a contradiction, because never the twain must meet. I find it hard to imagine that disciples of Thomas Aquinas could live with a schizophrenia like that. For Aquinas the realms of reason and revelation are distinct, but not completely severed, as they are for many TEs. But you can regard this as an aside.

    On your last point, I wouldn’t say that ID people “need to gain the acceptance” of the Thomists. It is not as if ID people went around knocking on the door of Feser, Beckwith, or any other Thomist, asking for donations. This current attack was spontaneously initiated on the Thomist side. So ID’s stance here is defensive, not evangelical. It is not saying: “You Thomists must join us.” It is saying: “Why on earth are you Thomists publically attacking us, and apparently at least tacitly endorsing Darwinism, when we’re both on the teleological side of the fence, against Darwinism which is anti-teleological?”

    Thus, we aren’t asking for Thomism’s *permission* to offer design arguments, as if Thomism has the right to dispense philosophical validity to anything (as the Roman Church used to claim the right to dispense indulgences). We don’t recognize the authority of Thomism to referee on metaphysical questions. (And truth be told, neither does 90% of the philosophy professoriate of the world recognize Thomist authority in that area.) At the same time, we respect Thomism as a major tradition in Western thought, containing an affirmation of final causation in nature which seems to cry out for co-ordination, if possible, with our own project of discovering finality in natural objects. So we would like to have a healthy dialogue. Unfortunately, so far it looks like a monologue in which the Thomists purport to be the teachers and we are supposed to play the docile schoolchildren, eager to learn our lessons. We would prefer a more collegial relationship than the one they are offering.

  31. 31

    nullasalus:

    The Thomists in question blow hot and cold. On the one hand, they have agreed with us on the freedom of speech issue, and they have agreed that criticism of Darwinian mechanisms can in principle be valid. On the other hand, suppose for the sake of argument that ID should prove successful in convincing everyone in the world, on the level of biochemistry and mathematics, that unguided, purely naturalistic evolution cannot account for the biological phenomena? It sounds to us as if the moment we take the next step, and infer a design (whether instantiated via special creation or via some mode of guided or programmed evolution), that the Thomists will be all over us for bad metaphysics and bad Christian theology. Indeed, it sounds to us as if they think that our project is *in principle* philosophically invalid. Is that what they believe?

    That would not shock us; the atheist Darwinists and the majority of non-Thomist TEs have been telling us, albeit from the science end rather than the philosophy end, the same thing all along: no design inference from the particulars of nature is possible. If the Thomists believe the same thing, I wish they would say it straight out. Then we could simply disagree with them, abandon all hope of co-operation with them, and get on with our business.

    If that is not what the Thomists are saying, they need to write more clearly. If they are saying that design inferences from particular arrangements within nature *can* be, in principle, valid, they need to tell us what must be done (outside of submitting to Rome) in order to make our proposed design inferences valid. They must engage us in our discussions of flagella, protein folds, the universal probability bound, etc., and tell us where and when these kinds of things can legitimately be employed to infer a cosmic Mind. But so far, they have shown no interest in doing that.

    Oddly enough, some of the Calvinists, who are supposed to be less friendly to natural theology than the Thomists, seem much more open to design inferences than our Thomist friends are. Of course, this does not apply to the extreme Calvinists, i.e., the Barthians. But those who are closer to the original Calvin (who did not reject a limited natural theology) are onside. This is where our Thomist friends are very frustrating. They are not representing the standard position of their own tradition. They are not clearly affirming what Thomas Aquinas undeniably affirmed, i.e., that the unaided human reason, sans revelation, can reason from nature to God. Do they still affirm that? It is not clear to me that they do. They sometimes sound to me more like crypto-Barthians. I wonder why such ardent defenders of Thomism should sound so elusive.

  32. Thomas Cudworth,

    Well, clearly the thomists make “design inferences” themselves, so they can’t be put in the same category as atheists (amusing as the thought is) or even many TEs. But A) their ‘inferences to intelligence’ are based on very different understandings than what is in play than what we see in ID, and B) thomists don’t seem interested in ferreting out mere ‘intelligence’, but God. And not ‘a god’ either, but the God of classical theism.

    Compare the example you just gave to an earlier post by Edward Feser. The ‘intelligence’ you’d be able to infer from your hypothetical project could be just about anything. A powerful alien, or even aliens. Multiple designers. Long-dead designers. And not the God of classical theism either, because said God is simply not one of a number of possible suspects – or so the thomists (and others of a classical theistic bend) strongly contend.

    Now, I’d ask you: Is the previous incorrect? Particularly the point about how the absolute best ID can hope for is to infer ‘an intelligence’ of some kind. It’s been to the credit of so many ID proponents I’ve seen that they clearly say: No, ID doesn’t get you to God. It gets you to an inference of intelligence at best if our project succeeds. On the flipside, the thomists (And Ed Feser in particular has never been coy about this. Have you read The Last Superstition? The man is blunt), if their arguments succeed, get one to God. Again, not merely ‘a god’, or ‘an intelligence’, but the God of classical theism.

    So again, let’s take stock of what’s going on with the thomists here.

    * They haven’t been nearly as hostile individually to ID as so many TEs, to say nothing of atheists. In fact, Beckwith stood by his defense of ID even while delivering his criticisms at Biologos, and decried the poor treatment of Bob Marks and Guillermo Gonzalez. Ed Feser has recently remarked about his own lack of faith in the ‘naturalistic’ OoL project. They certainly do not treat Darwin as a saint and neo-darwinism as if it cannot be questioned severely. And it’s clear that ID’s negative arguments (criticisms of evolutionary explanations, etc) are compatible with thomism.

    * Nor do they meekly stand by during these disputes, twiddling their thumbs while saying the entire question of God’s existence is a mystery with no solution. They give their own arguments for God’s existence, treated as a philosophical and metaphysical question. The Last Superstition is anything but ‘crypto-barthian’ – that much I can attest, having read it personally. Defending Aquinas’ Five Ways doesn’t strike me as very Barthian. So it’s not as if thomists aren’t engaged in a (at least in some ways) similar project as ID.

    * But again, I think the consistent position of ID proponents forces a distinction to be admitted to. ID, its own proponents claim, gets one no further than ‘intelligence’ if it happens to work. Thomism, its own proponents claim, gets one to ‘God’ – a single God, and specifically the God of classical theism. I can understand why many Christian or western theistic ID proponents may see thomists as having a compatible project. But can you see why thomists may be far more worried about the ID project?

  33. 33

    nullasalus:

    Thanks for a thoughtful post.

    I don’t deny that Feser and Beckwith give their own arguments for the existence of God. And no ID supporters that I know of – not even the hard-core Protestants who have no use for Thomism or Catholicism in any form – have publically criticized those arguments, calling them bad theology and bad metaphysics. However, Feser and Beckwith have criticized ID’s arguments for the existence of God as bad theology and bad metaphysics. I think it’s important to note this context for this debate.

    In your presentation, the shortcoming of ID’s inference to a designer is that the designer could be anyone, not necessarily the God of classical theism. True; but the inference doesn’t exclude the God of classical theism, either; at least, not as I would use the phrase. But since “classical theism” is a vague umbrella term which depends on what counts in someone’s mind as “classical” and what “theisms” are included, I would rather say this: the design inference doesn’t exclude the God of Christianity. Beckwith and Feser, however, appear to be saying (Beckwith here on UD, and Feser on his blog) not merely that ID doesn’t precisely identify the designer, but that the ID designer cannot possibly be the God of Christianity, because ID is based on a notion of nature that is incompatible with the existence of the God of Christianity. That’s a much more aggressive criticism of ID than the mild one you’ve given above. To say that the conception of God yielded by ID is incomplete (while potentially compatible with a full and correct conception) is quite different from saying that the conception of God yielded by ID is wrong, heretical, etc.

    If Feser and Beckwith mean nothing more than what you have suggested, then they can clarify by stating that their only criticism of ID’s designer is that it is not yet the full-blown Christian God, and therefore can at best lead one into the antechamber of Christianity, not to Christianity itself. No ID proponent would contest that. However, it sounds as if they are saying that ID will lead one not to the antechamber of Christianity, but to the antechamber of some heretical or erroneous religion. Look at this from one of Feser’s latest posts:

    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/

    “It isn’t just that a mechanistic starting point won’t get you all the way to the God of classical theism. It’s that a mechanistic starting point gets you positively away from the God of classical theism.” (“Dembski Rolls Snake Eyes”, April 20th, 2010).

    I think that’s pretty clear, and I think that one doesn’t need to look too hard to find equivalent statements in Beckwith’s writings. The gauntlet has been thrown down. Thus, whereas ID says: “Gee, ID believes there is inferrable design in nature, and Thomism has been saying that for 700 years; maybe we should get together and compare notes, and see if we can learn from each other, and strengthen each other”, Beckwith and Feser are saying: “ID believes there is inferrable design in nature, but for the wrong reasons, since it has the wrong understanding of nature, and the wrong understanding of God. There’s little point in our getting together to compare notes; the only point in getting together would be for the Thomists to teach ID people how to think correctly.”

    That Beckwith defended ID on academic freedom issues is irrelevant. ID proponents also defended him when he was fighting his tenure battle. In both cases the deeds were noble, but we are talking here about the Thomists’ view of nature and God, not their views on academic freedom.

    In Beckwith’s Biologos posting, which you seem to be defending, he runs through his main arguments for rejecting ID, outlining the intellectual incoherence and theological unorthodoxy of ID, and closes with:

    “I hope that what I shared in these two blog entries will help others to better understand the sort of internal deliberations that go on in the minds of many of us who are committed Christians wanting to live the life of the mind with full integrity.”

    The implication of course, is that ID proponents do not “live the life of the mind with full integrity”. And Beckwith chose to make that statement from the platform of Biologos, an organization run by TEs who have (with only a few exceptions) been gunning for ID for years, and have often been more hostile to it than Dawkins or Coyne have been. Beckwith has every right to reject ID philosophically, theologically, or any other way, and I would bear him no personal animus for doing so; but he chose to state his disagreement, not on his own web site, but in precisely the forum where it would have the most knifing rhetorical effect. Remember that Beckwith used to be an ID supporter. The optics are similar to those of Lois Lane deciding to leave Superman for Lex Luthor.

    I could make other complaints. There is Beckwith’s charge of “God-of-the-gaps”, refuted many times and therefore no longer excusable on the grounds of ignorance, but still maintained by him, and Beckwith’s response to several reasoned arguments here on UD with complete evasion, coupled with accusations of hidden culture-war motivations on ID’s part. All in all, I think it is fair to say that your comments, though admirably pure in intention and correct regarding the basic intellectual issues, overlook the rhetorical context. ID is under attack, and it is under attack by people who are not very good listeners, and not really interested in dialogue.

    Your own style of writing about ID is one that I would commend to Drs. Beckwith and Feser – you listen, you summarize positions without distorting them, you don’t impute doctrines, you are non-aggressive, you are non-condescending, and you are collegial. This is the kind of Thomist conversation partner that ID people are looking for. I believe that there are Thomists like that. I hope that we will eventually hear from them.

  34. Thomas Cudworth,

    First off, I appreciate the kind words – and naturally, I think you (and some others here at UD) are being very civil and thoughtful in this whole conversation. I should clarify I’m not a thomist. I’m very inclined to accept the thomist’s arguments I’ve seen and understood so far, but as an amateur at best in the company of several who’ve clearly devoted more time and study to the subject, I don’t want to pretend I have much authority here.

    Further, I wasn’t defending Beckwith’s piece at Biologos. In fact, I thought the entire display was downright bizarre – I may be an amateur, but I know enough to realize that whatever problems a thomist may have with ID, there are problems of equal or greater concern represented over at Biologos. And, pseudonym’d nobody though I am, I made my criticisms on this very site. At most, I wanted to point out some ID-friendly points Beckwith has made. What can I say, I openly wish ID proponents and thomists to get along better.

    But anyway, on to the meat of the conversation…

    * You talk about “ID’s arguments for the existence of God”. But my response is that ID as ID has no such thing, by the admission of their own proponents. Dembski admits (even stresses) ID doesn’t get one to God. Behe admits it. I think even you’d say the same – maybe you meant that ID infers intelligence, but the intelligence ID infers may be God, though that conclusion is reached by argument and consideration independent from ID alone?

    Either way, it’s my understanding that ID at absolute best infers the work of an intelligent agent in nature.

    * With the previous in mind, I want to stress what I see as the key thomist claims and concerns here.

    A) First, it has nothing to do with the negative arguments. That darwinism may not be capable of X with any reasonable probability, or chemical reactions in the wild may not be capable of same, are manifestly not claims incompatible with thomism. I only point this out because I see these criticisms as an important part of the ID project, and usually those with criticisms of ID come at the question from this position. Every thomist I’ve read speaking about this has admitted this is not a problem – those cases are to be judged on their merits.

    B) Thomists do believe that “design can be inferred in nature”, speaking broadly. But the arguments and proofs thomists make for God are not probablistic (“There’s a real good chance God’s responsible for intrinsic teleology, and only a small chance alternate choice X is!”) or empirical (“I don’t think any natural process could possibly produce apparent artifact Z, while an intelligent agent certainly could! Of course if such a natural process is found, I’m wrong.”)

    This is important for two reasons. First, it helps to explain why thomists – in a culture where so many people seem to think arguments only come in those two forms – have a strong reaction against having their (metaphysical, philosophical, logical) arguments taken as “ID arguments”. Especially when this is apparently not an accidental or misunderstood aspect of ID, but a core commitment. Is the “Big Tent” of ID meant to include non-scientific arguments as well? That doesn’t seem to be the case, but then I’m not the one deciding these things.

    Second, it stresses the different aims of thomism and ID. ID is expressly limited to inferring ‘intelligence’, and intelligence of a general sort – at most, a powerful/capable agent. Thomism, meanwhile, strives to prove – not infer in a probablistic way, but prove through logic, philosophy, and metaphysics, as certainly as is possible – God. And not ‘a god’, but the God, the Logos, the One, the Ultimate. And these proofs are not subject to being called into question by some natural explanation, or some amazing and unexpected origin of life discovery, etc. If the thomists are right, then ID has no use as ‘proving the existence of a ‘greater intelligence”. Thomists already have their proofs of such. At that point, science is only capable of finding out how the certainly-designed-and-sustained-by-God nature operated and operates, and perhaps uncovering a miraculous act (again, while knowing just Who would have been responsible for it ultimately.)

    * Hopefully I did a fair and reasonable job of explaining why, in my amateur view, I see thomists as having a problem with ID. And with all that said, I want to stress at least one way I think thomists and ID proponents could and should cooperate.

    William Dembski has recently said he rejects a mechanistic view of nature himself, though he prefers Plato to Aristotle when it comes to metaphysics. He’s also stated that he sees ID as a kind of arguendo practice – [in my interpretation] showing that, even if we take a mechanistic view of the world, it absolutely does not grant atheists what they so desperately want: Mind and God ‘explained away’ as part of the explanation for our universe, our planet, our animals, ourselves, etc. That, in fact, we can – within that mechanistic approach and worldview – find great reasons to suspect and infer (even strongly) some kind of intelligence being responsible for each and every one of these things.

    If Dembski is serious about this – that one can be an ID supporter even if one merely sees ID as a kind of arguendo case – then I cannot for the life of me see why this would be incompatible with thomism. Now, maybe an individual thomist may consider it a bad move in a rhetorical sense (maybe they’d prefer to deal with atheists rather than pagans, though personally give me the pagans any day of the week). But certainly a faithful thomist can point out what realities are really in play for someone with a differing metaphysical view than themselves.

    Ed Feser himself, in this blog post, actually comes close to doing exactly this. The difference is that he seems to think it’s a waste of time and energy for someone wishing to prove God (of course, meaning the God of classical theism), and may serve only to confuse issues further. But again, Dembski, in speaking of accepting a mechanistic metaphysic “for the sake of argument” can have another aim. It can show that the mechanistic view does not do what so many hope and expect it to do after all (namely, get rid of any and all gods or mind-as-responsible for what we see in nature). And I happen to think that is valuable, even if thomism is correct. Again, I don’t think thomists are forbidden from demonstrating unexpected ‘problems’ in others’ metaphysics.

    Anyway, hopefully I’ve represented all sides fairly here. I think the heated rhetoric that so often pops up in these conversations is unnecessary, even if both sides have valid points and criticisms to speak of.

  35. Steve Fuller,

    Suppose that it does raise the hackles of certain Thomists when people talk about the genetic code, especially when people notice that it is not merely “like” a code. There is no analogy. It is a true code, and translation really decodes symbolic information.

    How is this in any sense a problem for ID, or a fault of ID? ID proponents did not create the code and could not take it away if we wished.

    How is this not purely and simply a devastating problem for that narrow so-called Thomist* perspective?

    [*Side point: As indicated by Thomas Cudworth, as well as Jay Richards, I too am skeptical about the claims of certain Thomists to faithfully represent the actual position of Thomas.]

  36. —nullasalus:” Thomists do believe that “design can be inferred in nature”, speaking broadly. But the arguments and proofs thomists make for God are not probablistic…”

    True, and no one disputes this. The edgy part is when neo-Thomists, whose knowledge of Thomism seems limited to textbook definitions, declare that the ID probabalistic arguments are incompatible with Thomas’ philosophical arguments. That is like saying that a physician who measures blood pressure to confirm that a patient is alive has compromised the idea that humans have souls. To look at something from a different vantage point is not necessarily to violate the unity of truth. Indeed, it is the principle of unity that allows for all the multivaried disciplines to be a part of a larger understanding of reality. Feser and Beckwith, to be consistent, would have to say that detecting design in cosmological constants militates against the idea that God created the universe.

    In any case, I have already posted the names of several Thomists who disagree with their point of view, and I have even made a few abbreviated arguments of my own. I, and others, have also asked our critics to provide passages from St. Thomas to defend their novel interpretations. They didn’t bother to respond to any of these points.

    Here is something to consider. St. Thomas Aquinas taught that God created humans in finished form. That means that his philosophy of nature could not possibly be in conflict with a God who tweaks his creation. That is a very simple point that anyone can understand, and one needs no formal education in metaphysics to get it.

    In keeping with that point, anyone who insists on the unity of truth and the fact that God’s revelation in Scripture is consistent with his revelation in nature is a Thomist in principle. Scripture holds down the Dogmatic end, Thomas holds down the philosophical end, and ID holds down the scientific end. Feser and Beckwith are simply wrong to say that any one part of that triad could possibly militate against the other.

  37. StephenB: “St. Thomas Aquinas taught that God created humans in finished form. That means that his philosophy of nature could not possibly be in conflict with a God who tweaks his creation.”

    Not only that, but Aquinas was explicit about the fact that both Adam and Eve were created by transforming preexisting material, i.e. the “slime” of the earth, Adam’s rib.

    The post “Response to Michael Tkacz’s Critique of ID” by Jay Richards examines this in light of one so-called Thomist critic of ID.

    So I am doubly mystified as to how such critics can then fault ID for being “mechanistic” concerning how God created, in spite of the fact that an ID inference is not able to determine the specific means.

    I don’t see how Thomas Cudworth could have been more clear.

    Being silent on the question of “how”, ID cannot be guilty of contradicting the Thomistic understanding of “how”.

  38. Thomas Cudworth, have you yet found any Thomist critic of ID in any venue to seriously and reasonably engage the issue you’ve so clearly raised?

    TC: Being silent on the question of “how”, ID cannot be guilty of contradicting the Thomistic understanding of “how”.

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