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John Scotus Eriugena – a 9th century advocate of “intelligent design”

While cleric Michael Heller disparages Intelligent Design, Chuck Colson observes: “John Scotus Eriugena is considered perhaps the first proponent of “intelligent design.” See: Learning from the Irish, Chuck Colson

“Observe the forms and beauties of sensible things,” he wrote, “and comprehend the Word of God in them. If you do so, the truth will reveal to you in all such things only He who made them.” . . .

See Colson’s full “Breakpoint” 3/17/2008

Colson cites: T.M. Moore in “Glory All Around”, 2/19/2008
In his article, Moore comments on ERIUGENA

. . . John Scotus Eriugena (AD 810-877) was the only pure philosopher/theologian of the Celtic Christian era. Coming at the end of the period, his works are of variable importance, but he more than any of the other Celtic Christian writers devoted himself to the examination of God’s works, and the revelation of God hidden therein.

His massive Periphyseon (On the Division of Nature) is an attempt to categorize all created reality according to a strict philosophical and theological scheme. In it he can be seen to have been an early advocate of what today is referred to as “intelligent design.”

Eriugena explained that the order, complexity, and beauty of the cosmos argue the case for an intelligent designer, and, further, that that designer must be nothing other than divine and triune. Nothing exists by itself; everything that is has its being, as well as its purpose and explanation, from God, the Creator. God the Word, Eriugena explained, “in an ineffable way runs through all things that are, in order that they may be.”. . .

See Moore’s full article: “Glory All Around”
Other links:
* John Scotus Eriugena: Catholic Encyclopedia. An Irish teacher, theologian, philosopher, and poet, who lived in the ninth century.

* John Scottus Eriugena: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Some consider Eriugena the founder of pandeism. Eriugena’s magnum opus is De divisione naturae (“The division of nature”) also titled Periphyseon. e.g. See: Johnannes Scottus Eriugena: Periphyseon by E. Jeauneau

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34 Responses to John Scotus Eriugena – a 9th century advocate of “intelligent design”

  1. Also, the Bible itself makes a reference to Intelligent Design in Romans 1:20:

    For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse

  2. “Eriugena explained that the order, complexity, and beauty of the cosmos argue the case for an intelligent designer, and, further, that that designer must be nothing other than divine and triune.”

    Love it. Too bad modern day advocates of intelligent design feel compelled to leave off that last clause!

  3. i would argue that Paul was the first ID’er in Romans 1

  4. interested at 2
    Good thinking.
    See Intelligent Design Timeline at ResearchID.org
    ID principles go back a bit further before Plato as follows:

    * Anaxagoras of Clazomenae (500-428 BC) was a mediator between the ancient Ionian philosophical tradition and the emergence of the Greek tradition. ”Both Plato and Aristotle regard him Anaxagoras as the first to attribute the evident structural harmony and order in Nature to some form of intelligent design plan rather than the change concourse of atoms.”‘

    (Source: Barrow J & Tipler F (1986) ”The Anthropic Cosmological Principle”. 1986/1988, p 32, ISBN 0192821474.)

    * Plato (427-347 BC) introduces an idea that predates his writings, wherein, “All things do become, have become, and will become, some by nature, some by art, and some by chance.”

    See: Plato (360 BC) The ” Laws”, Book X, Athens, Greece.

    ** This framework of chance, necessity, and design, is a causal framework of science proposed by intelligent design theorists.

  5. Deleted: Please add objective/constructive comments, not ad hominem attacks. DLH

  6. OK. I’ll generalize. The idea that the Bible and Darwin are compatible is illogical unless one ignores the points that have been made on 1 through 4. It’s a clear cut case of [A] Bible teaches design; [B] Darwin teaches no design. TE’s don’t RECONCILE God with Darwin, as they claim, they SUBORDINATE God to Darwin by negating [A] and affirming [B]. I think that is a fair and relevant point.

  7. In a book reviewed in this week’s Nature, David Sedley “argues that, for the philosophers of ancient Greece, the central cosmological question was this: is the world, and all that it contains, the handiwork of an intelligent designer?”

  8. “Observe the forms and beauties of sensible things,” he wrote, “and comprehend the Word of God in them. If you do so, the truth will reveal to you in all such things only He who made them.”

    I suppose that the Materialist would say that we project God and His attributes from the qualities of the physical world, while the spiritual person would say that the physical world is a projection from the Mind of God. This is what it comes down to, is it not?

    C.S. Lewis hits this point in the Chronicles of Narnia, the Silver Chair. In one scene the children heroes are trying to explain to the Prince, who has been deceived, brainwashed, and held in an underground world by an enchanting witch, the realities of the above ground world. They are attempting to describe the sun. The enchanting witch counters with the argument that the children merely observed a lightbulb and then created an imaginary huge lighbulb in their minds, silly things. Of course no such thing exists!

    I guess the question for the Materialist is, why would the evolved human always have such a desperate need for an infinite mind, infinite love, infinite peace, infinite strength, endless life, etc. Why not be satisfied with what nature has provided? Why not be content with survival and reproduction? Why not happily die when death is best for the tribe. And why do dying people so frequently see the Great Light, the Spirit Beings ready to transport, the departed loved ones, the total acceptance and embracing of the very death they so much wanted to avoid?

    Oh, sure, we know, Evo Psych explains it all, without even breaking a sweat.

    Make one suspicious of contrived Materialist explanations, does it not?

  9. Gerry Rzeppa: “Love it. Too bad modern day advocates of intelligent design feel compelled to leave off that last clause!”

    What is it about the evidence for ID that compells you to believe in a triune God (and I do)? Are Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons excluded from the ID tent?

    The danger of putting your own beliefs in God front and centre is that the debate on ID quickly becomes theological, not scientific, and yes, I understand the definition of theology that includes science. That distinction will be lost on those turning away once they encounter religious language.

    It’s not dishonest, and it’s not bait-and-switch. It’s an honest appraisal of what the evidence can tell us. Biological life would appear to require advanced intelligence to design. There is nothing, however, to indicate that only God could possibly create life.

  10. OFF TOPIC: Conservative radio talk show host, Rush Limbaugh (20 million weekly listeners) mentioned “Expelled” on his show today. He was given a private screening of the film yesterday by Ben Stein and made the following comments about the film: “Damn, it was powerful…It is just fabulous…Interviews [of Darwinists] were shocking”

  11. SCheesman asks, “What is it about the evidence for ID that compells you to believe in a triune God (and I do)?”

    See my article on the Trinity on William Wallace’s blog: http://blog.coincidencetheories.com/?p=114

    SCheesman asks, “Are Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons excluded from the ID tent?”

    They can certainly recognize design in universe, and are, in fact, without excuse if they don’t (Romans 1:20). But they mustn’t stop there, and it’s our job as Christians to do all we can to see that they don’t stop there, Acts 4:12. It’s not our job to merely get them facing the right hill; we’re commanded to take them all the way to the foot of the cross and beyond.

    SCheesman says, “The danger of putting your own beliefs in God front and centre is that the debate on ID quickly becomes theological, not scientific, and yes, I understand the definition of theology that includes science. That distinction will be lost on those turning away once they encounter religious language.”

    “Necessity is laid upon me”, SCheessman, “Yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!”, 1 Cor 9:16. I’m instructed to “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine”, 2 Tim 4:2. If they “turn away once they encounter religious language” they’re not my problem. Someone else will have to scratch their ears, 2 Tim 4:3.

    SCheesman says, “It’s not dishonest, and it’s not bait-and-switch. It’s an honest appraisal of what the evidence can tell us.”

    It’s an honest appraisal of some of what the evidence can tell us — Romans 1:20 suggests there’s enough evidence there to lead one, without excuse, to “the eternal power and Godhead” Himself.

    SCheesman says, “There is nothing, however, to indicate that only God could possibly create life.”

    Don’t be silly. Who else is up to the job?

  12. Gerry Rzappa, “See my article on the Trinity”.

    ‘Seems like your case is that there are a few phenomenon in nature that work as metaphores of the trinity. Is that about it?

  13. bFast says, “Seems like your case is that there are a few phenomenon in nature that work as metaphores of the trinity. Is that about it?”

    No, my case there is that all of the most ubiquitous and fundamental aspects of the universe, as they are normally and constantly perceived by every single creature able to perceive them, and as every such creature can’t help but perceive them, appears to be the work of Someone who is trying to illustrate, to “learning-disabled” beings like us, what He is like.

  14. And one of the ways that he illustrates to us “learning-disabled” beings is to have some metaphores of triunity in nature?

  15. Gerry Rzeppa: “Don’t be silly. Who else is up to the job?”

    At present, we don’t know of anyone else, but are you completely certain that in a thousand years we couldn’t create even a simple, novel form of life?

    Universe-creating would be a more certain attribution.

    The fact is, there is a continuum of what we mortals can accomplish that runs from can-do to can’t do, and life is not ruled out on the can-do list yet. We have managed at this point to create matter from energy, and many materials unlikely to exist at any other place or time.
    I think there are all kinds of things that are clear evidences of God’s creation, our creativity included, and the original creation of life as well (someone had to be first).

    So preach away brother, but in my experience the tract-pusher finds a lot more people are “not their problem” than someone who leads people, one soul at a time, gently down the path to salvation. What you’re engaging in seems a lot like the former to me. Our understanding of the world does not necessarily increase with the number of scriptures quoted, and not scattering scripture references through our posts should not be construed as lack of devotion.

    This happens to be a blog devoted to the scientific evidences and socialogical implications of intelligent design. I’d rather preach the gospel in person, and do so when speaking in person to people about ID.

  16. 16

    Ekstasis,
    That’s one of my favorite parts in all of the Narnia books. Especially when Puddleglum stomps out the fire and makes his speech about the how the reality he is arguing for “licks your world hollow!”. Lewis sure had a way of presenting the issues!

  17. Golly gee, since the number 3 is amazingly significant in nature, just think what we can do with the number two! Ask any 2nd grader. Hot and cold, up and down, black and white. The Dualists are gonna love this game! Prove the source of the cosmos by determining the significance of numbers, fantastic!!

    Are we getting a bit carried with this?

  18. By the way, the Tao have a Trinity as well. Hmmmm.

  19. 19

    Eriugena was also one of the first advocates of polyphony in music, which many listeners thought discordant and chaotic but which Eriugena insisted contains a greater order that awaits revealing. Eriugena’s insights on that sound a lot like Michael Heller on evolution: to me, those who make noise about how evolutionary biology and faith cannot be “reconciled” sound like medieval critics who insist that the only real music is found in the tunes they can appreciate.

  20. This post points out a significant difference between ID research and the methodology of evolutionary biological research. DLH finds evidence for intelligent design in a statement by a 9th-century authority. Biologists think of ID research as poor science, because the biologists rely upon observation and measurement of the natural world, and the analysis of facts. They should realize that ID research employs an entirely different process. ID research gathers evidence from statements of authorities, and proposes hypotheses based upon analysis and interpretation of those statements. This is foreign to mainstream biologists, and they unjustifiably denigrate it because it differs from their concept of research and the nature of evidence.

    Heh, I was tempted to just zap this one but I thought you guys might have fun tearing this one apart. — P

  21. 21

    Very interesting, gotta love Chuck Colson.

    Happy belated Saint Patrick’s Day folks.

  22. 22

    Oh by the way, if anyone is ever in doubt about Darwin’s racial ideas. Check out what the fuhrer has to say about the Irish.

  23. 23
    irreducible_complacency

    Patrick some of what Al Kafir the troll is saying is true. We will never have access to the same scientific resources that the materialists do. It is likely that this will never change, in other words we should be asking ourselves the question “What happens if tomorrow never comes?” If it is true (and I believe that thermodynamics and revelations both predict this) that things are going to get worse in the world then we must remember that the one true purpose for spreading the word of design to the unbelievers and atheist scientists is that they must be saved before they die. All else pales before that fact.

    Trolls like Al don’t realize that the ancients knew a lot of things in the 9th century that most people don’t know today.

  24. In a deep kind of way John Scotus Eriugena (not to be confused with Eugene Scott) could be called a theological existentialist.

  25. Al Kafir at 21
    “ID research gathers evidence from statements of authorities, and proposes hypotheses based upon analysis and interpretation of those statements.”

    Your statement is the opposite of reality.

    ID examines evidence and applies methods like the Explanatory Filter to determine if any appearance of design is due to physical law, chance, or design (e.g., quantified as Complex Specified Information.)

    Eriugena began with “the examination of God’s works, and the revelation of God hidden therein.”

    Eriugena thus applies this method: Examining the empirical evidence in nature and from that detecting evidence of intelligent designer – “the creator.”
    This is the opposite of the appeal to authority (which the Aristotelian philosophers did at the University of Piza while Galileo studied nature – did experiments.)

    Your post sounds suspiciously like:
    Al-Kafir Akbar!

    “Al-Kafir Akbar! upholds rational secularism specifically from the perspective of Objectivism. Reason, science, individualism, laissez-faire, limited government – and, ultimately, the greatness of man’s mind -

    If you seriously want to read about

    that colossal fraud called ‘religion’ (especially Christianity), that are simply going to take priority over my fledgling blog for now.

    then start with “Mere Christianity” written by the (former) Atheist C.S. Lewis. If you posted:
    ID: A Con of an Argument
    Then recommend you begin seriously reading about ID rather than broadcasting your ignorance. See
    *Ingelligent Design
    *ResearchID.org
    The Essential ID Bibliography etc. Then try to understand Reverse Engineering.
    After that if you can have something constructive to say do so.
    Otherwise don’t waste our time with such declarations as above.

    {PS DLH corrected “design (e.g., quantified as”, per Bob O’H at #30 below.}

  26. 26

    You might want to check out the Gospel for Everyone series by Anglican bishop Tom Wright too.

  27. DLH responds (#25): “ID examines evidence and applies methods like the Explanatory Filter to determine if any appearance of design is due to physical law, chance, or Complex Specified Information.”

    My comment was intended to be descriptive, not normative.

    There are myriad examples of arguments for ID by quotation and exegesis of authorities.

    But when has the Explanatory Filter actually been applied to a particular biological system? What specific evidence was input to the filter? How much Complex Specified Information was found? What positive and negative controls were employed for validation of the results?

    As to Eriugena, do we know what particular physical evidence he examined, or what sort of scientific tests produced “the revelation of God” hidden in His works?

    NB: Al Kafir had not heard of Al-Kafir Akbar until you mentioned him. I am an ordinary unbeliever, not a great one.

  28. Hmm, Al-Kafir Akbar, a Randroid troll! Facinating!

  29. ID examines evidence and applies methods like the Explanatory Filter to determine if any appearance of design is due to physical law, chance, or Complex Specified Information.

    So is CSI now a causative agent? I had thought it was just a number(*).

    Can you point to examples of the Explanatory Filter being used to infer the action of CSI in creating the appearance of design?

    (*) and not therefore a free man.

    {DLH Thanks for the catch Bob O’H. Oh the differences between what I wrote and what I intended! I’ve corrected it above.}

  30. Gary Rzeppa (#11): “….it’s our job as Christians to do all we can to see that they don’t stop there, Acts 4:12. It’s not our job to merely get them facing the right hill; we’re commanded to take them all the way to the foot of the cross and beyond.”

    Here we go again, getting into sectarian theology, and the erroneous presupposition that ID is at core a specifically Christian belief system.

  31. Off main topic
    Al Kafir at #28
    Thanks for the clarification and good question. Following are some examples where the probability step of the explanatory filter is estimated:

    Douglas Axe estimated that for amino-acid sequences with this hydropathic signature, only one in 10^64 formed a “working domain.” (with a 150-residue domain of the TEM-1 beta lactamase.)
    Douglas D. Axe,
    Estimating the Prevalence of Protein Sequences Adopting Functional Enzyme Folds Journal of Molecular Biology Volume 341, Issue 5, 27 August 2004, Pages 1295-1315

    Hubert P. Yockey (Information Theory, Evolution,and the Origin of Life, 2005 p 160) calculates that:

    “From Table 6.3 there are 2^371.42 = 6.4352 x 10^111 functionally equivalent “master sequences” in the “all residues” set for 1-iso-cytochrome c.”

    with 113 amino acid sites – using 2^NH of the full Shannon-McMillan-Breiman theorem (Section 4.1)
    (not the simple 20^v where v = number of sites in the sequence.)

    For major references see: Mathematics of Evolution

    Sir. Fred Hoyle estimated probability of macroevolution of 1 in 10^-4000.

  32. Thanks, DLH, for the citations. But what are these probabilities relevant to? All Axe tells us is that random amino-acid sequences that have a working active site are rare. I don’t know that anyone denies this. Yockey and the others are similar. I’m not saying they’re wrong; they seem irrelevasnt as inputs to the explanatory filter.

    My understanding is that the explanatory filter should be able to indicate design vel non for some specific evolutionary pathway claimed to be within natural constraints—for example, could SIV have evolved into HIV-1, or could the AncCR gene have evolved into present-day vertebrate GR and MR genes over 450my, as described in Science Express 16 August 2007/ Page 4.

    So you need to select a specific A to B pathway, and determine the probability that that pathway was due to chance. If this turns out to be very small, then you need to determine whether natural mechanisms could have produced that pathway. You must of course include Darwinian mechanisms at this step. In fact, you must include _all_ natural laws or theories—even those that are not yet known! (This seems to me to be the greatest hurdle—in fact, probably an insuperable one, unless you can invent something like a Good-Turing estimator to account for those mechanisms of which we are presently ignorant.) Then and only then will you come out with a probability for design. (And only if you assume, as Dembski does without proof, that design is the set-theoretic complement of chance and natural law.) This is the “experiment” that seems to me never to have been run through the explanatory filter for any specific developmental pathway that might have evolved or might have been designed.

    I noticed that your latest comment did, however, relate some ID research of the “theological” type that I described in my initial comment: “Sir. Fred Hoyle estimated probability of macroevolution of 1 in 10^-4000.” My exegesis on that one is that Sir Fred was a great cosmologist, and I really enjoy reading his stuff, but he didn’t know beans-all about evolution.

  33. Al

    could the AncCR gene have evolved into present-day vertebrate GR and MR genes over 450my

    determine whether natural mechanisms could have produced that pathway

    Here’s the deal.

    We already know intelligent agents with fancy lab equipment can delete, insert, and modify genes in any manner they please. The J. Craig Venter Institute littered an artificial genome they cobbled together with corporate watermarks, for instance. We need no further proof of the adequacy of intelligent agency to produce patterns we find in living things.

    Where is the demonstration that law and chance alone can produce any pattern we find living things?

    All that has actually been demonstrated of law and chance alone is generation of trivial patterns that we all agree are within the reasonable bounds of law and chance. Anything beyond that is imaginary.

    So here’s where we stand. ID theorists have a proven adequate mechanism that exists today but we cannot reasonably prove that there was an instance of the mechanism predating modern times. On the other hand chance & necessity theorists have an unproven mechanism but they can reasonably prove it existed in the distant past. In any objective view that appears to be a stalemate. To break the stalemate ID must reasonably prove intelligent agency existed in the past and NDE must reasonably prove the mechanism adequate to produce the observed results.

    The problem is that one theory is, by majority opinion (like science is a democracy), judicial fiat (like science is jurisprudence), and persecution of proponents (like Gonzalez isn’t a good astronomer because he believes the cosmos is intelligently designed) granted the status of being the greatest theory of all time and proven as well as any scientific theory (like the course of evolution can be predicted as well as the course of the earth around the sun). Give me a break. Equally unproven theories deserve equal consideration.

  34. DaveScot, shakrun for your explanation. However, what I’m really looking for is a walk-through of how the Explanatory Filter has been applied to some specific case—that is, an ID experiment of the kind that scientists do in their research and publish in journals for each other to admire (or to rip apart).

    As an anlogy, Einstein was big on gedanken experiments of his general relativity theory, and they were certainly enough to engage astronomers’ interest. However, the theory had to be verified in actual applications—such as the mesaurement of Mercury’s perihelion that differed from Newtonian mechanics, or the bending of light around the Sun.

    What would be appropriate here is to demonstrate a detailed, step-by-step application of the EF to some specific biological systems—preferably, at least to one that we know findependently is within natural law, and to one that we know from other evidence is designed, to test for false positives and negatives. Such an actual experiment would seem to answer criticisms that ID performs no research of the scientific kind. But, as far as I know, no such experinmet has yet been attempted.

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