ID and the Science of God: Part V
|January 22, 2009||Posted by Steve Fuller under Philosophy, Intelligent Design, Darwinism, Religion, Science, Creationism, The Design of Life, Atheism, theistic evolution|
In this instalment, I begin to address both Andrew Sibley’s and Timaeus’ (see post 33) questions concerning my interest in reviving a full-blooded (i.e. early modern) sense of theodicy, especially as part of the ID agenda. I will need another post to complete this task because more assumptions about theodicy in its original robust form need to be put on the table. My apologies if this does not seem blog-friendly but hopefully we’ll able to continue discussing in this medium issues that show the essential unity of concern among theologians, philosophers and scientists.
With Sibley and Timaeus, I agree that to defend ID without recourse to philosophy and theology is to fight with one arm tied behind your back. Darwinism presupposes its own philosophy (aka the pseudo-doctrine of methodological naturalism) and an ‘atheology’, but it need not be explicit about them because of its paradigmatic status in science. ID is clearly disadvantaged in the current intellectual climate, which is not helped by the peculiarly restrictive interpretation of the Establishment Clause of the US Constitution. Had Steven Jay Gould never introduced NOMA, he could have rest assured that it was already inscribed in the American legal system.
To begin: Why is it easier to accept ID in physics than in biology? Whereas ID supporters – not to mention many non-ID physicists – are happy to adopt the ‘anthropic’ assumption in matters of cosmology, they seem reluctant to extend this assumption to biology. But why? After all, the point of the anthropic assumption is that were the physical universe not as it is, we would not be here to witness it. In other words, the focus of the anthropic principle is on the specifically intellectual aspect of our being. Put bluntly, the principle is indifferent to the existence of creatures incapable of doing physics. To think otherwise is to court a kind of naturalism that most Christian theologies have associated with paganism.
This comment is not meant to endorse the mass extermination of species, though one might say that the deity has already engaged in quite a lot of this activity. Nevertheless, from the standpoint of theodicy, there is an open question of what to make of the proliferation of such apparently bad things as death and destruction, if these are seen as – in some sense – part of the intelligently designed character of nature.
(Here’s where I’m coming from, when I stress ‘intelligence’ so much: Even if we are divinely created with the bodies we have, it does not follow that everything about those bodies reflect the full realization of our divine nature. Isn’t this why the monotheistic religions place such great emphasis on self-discipline, i.e. resist the passions associated with our ‘merely’ animal natures? In that case, one could argue that the divinely privileged creativity of humans enables us to carry forward the project of self-discipline to such an extent that our successor species is not defined in mainly animal terms. We need not go so far as Ray Kurzweil’s consciousness-to-computer scenarios (though I note the Discovery Institute’s interest in this matter), but even a partial move toward ‘cyborganisation’ – ranging from silicon prostheses to horizontal gene transfers — would completely sideline the core Darwinist assumption that species-identity is established through sexual reproduction. (Here I think ID people could learn from the delegitimation of Freud, whose sex-fixation was partly inspired by The Descent of Man.) I realize that this is to open a very large can of worms, but it is one that should be on the menu of at least 21st century theologians, if not philosophers more generally, who take ID seriously.)
Back to the main point: Theodicy offers two basic options for explaining/justifiying death and destruction, from which the two main modern theories of (secular) philosophical ethics have descended. I associate them with, respectively, Leibniz (the source of utilitarianism) and Malebranche (the source of Kantianism). These are the two late 17th century protagonists I identified when I first mentioned Steven Nadler’s new book.
Without further adieu: What should we make of all the very bad things that nature displays?
(1) Leibniz: God has embedded those bad things to enable us to come to a greater understanding of the distinction between good and bad, right and wrong, etc. Such a deity expresses his concern for us in utilitarian terms: Sacrifice some in the short term to benefit the rest in the long term. Death is never merely death: It is always significant. The vision is ambiguous in terms of whether we are meant simply to accept this rationalization or to do something to minimize the appearance of God’s negative signs in the future. Voltaire’s satirical portrayal of Dr Pangloss in Candide suggests the former reading of Leibniz.
(2) Malebranche: God always acts ‘in principle’, so that he remains unaffected by the consequences of his actions. That divine intentions might not be fully realized in nature reflects the resistance of matter, rather than any malice on the deity’s part, since God intends his will to be universal (hence Kant’s categorical imperative). This explains why the laws of nature, though laid down by God, are indifferent to the fates of particular creatures. However, humanity’s divine privilege implies that we can (must?) bring the God’s plan to fruition, the capacity for which is signalled by our God-given intellects that enable us to imagine things being much better than they are.
You won’t find here an understanding of God that ‘feels’ our pain in any obvious sense. If anything, God appears to deal in ‘tough love’: No pain, no gain. It’s easy to see why this sort of theodicy fell out of fashion. It did little for Christianity’s pastoral mission, much of which involves dealing with the immediacy of people’s suffering. As heirs of Descartes, Leibniz and Malebranche associated God with that aspect of our being – our intellects – that is most remote from our physical being. Unfortunately, talk of ‘the bigger picture’ provides small consolation to those grieving for loved ones in the village church.
Nevertheless, such an intellectualised view of God did inspire enormous confidence that humanity could come to a detailed rational understanding of the reality; hence, the Scientific Revolution. In a previous post, I mentioned Descartes’ analytic geometry, which suggested that we can know at least the formal character of times and places far removed from our personal experience. Thus, our knowledge is not simply a greater version of the kind possessed by animals – a point that has yet to sink into the minds of today’s Darwinists, at least based on how evolutionary psychology conceptualises its putative subject matter.
But this proposal also hit a barrier. Leibniz, the most ambitious of the theodicists, postulated an understanding of space, time and cause that Newtonian mechanics refuted. While Leibniz and Newton were largely engaged in the same enterprise, Newton backpedalled the theology and took greater care with his calculations. Kant, who also lived in a time fraught with religious tension, famously denounced theodicy in Critique of Pure Reason as displaying an arrogant faith in the human intellect that leads to error in both science and theology. This view has continued to prevail – even though Leibniz was at least partly vindicated with Einstein’s theory of relativity. But by then theology had lost any strong claim to the cognitive unification of human knowledge (i.e. COMA).
My point is that Kant may have been premature in his condemnation of Leibniz but unfortunately theologians – not to mention an increasingly anti-theological academy — were all too willing to believe in a de-privileged humanity, and so were happy to accept Kant’s verdict on theodicy as final.
But more anon…