Home » Biology, Darwinism, Intelligent Design, Philosophy, Religion, Science, The Design of Life » ID and the Science of God: Part VI

ID and the Science of God: Part VI

To test the real difference that theodicy makes to ID, Timaeus posed a thought experiment (see post 33) involving a team of scientists of various religious persuasions who conclude that the malarial cell is a designed entity. However, the scientists’ ability to infer why a deity would have created such a malignant cell is impeded by their religious differences, which have no natural resolution. Moreover, Timaeus wonders, even if after much discussion these differences were somehow resolved into a common theodicy, to what extent would that theodicy have been based on their scientific work or, for that matter, the theodicy would be capable of justifying that work. The implied conclusion of this thought experiment is that theodicy is not a necessary feature of ID’s conceptual framework but a controversial add-on.

First, a technical point: One shouldn’t assume – as the thought experiment does — that each religion (or even each denomination) has its own unique theodicy. The same theodicies can be found across many religions. With that in mind, let me illustrate two ways in which the conduct of science and views of theodicy provide mutual support.

Sociologically speaking, in the case of malaria, a ‘folk theodicy’ is already built into the science, insofar as malaria is treated specifically as a problem of disease control and eradication (i.e. a problem in medicine) rather than itself a solution to a larger ecological problem (i.e. how to cull the surplus population of poorly adapted humans). Malaria is a challenge from which humanity may learn and ultimately overcome – say, through improved living conditions, vaccines, etc. While modern medicine rests on secular scientific foundations, its basic hostility to anything that threatens human life is a residue of an Abrahamic world-view.

In contrast, a strict Darwinian rooted in Malthus’ views of population control would find this ‘folk theodicy’ a bit sentimental and might even object to the very term ‘disease’ as displaying an anthropocentric prejudice against the effectiveness of malaria-carrying mosquitoes as vehicles of natural selection. Indeed, the ‘racial hygiene’ movement in German medical faculties in the half century leading up to Hitler decried the proliferation of vaccines as creating ‘counter-selective’ environments that threatened ecological instability in the long term. For them, mosquitoes should be allowed to do the job for which they were designed.

There are subtler distinctions to be drawn within both general paradigms, in terms of, say, whether (in the case of the first theodicy) some small level of malaria would be tolerable or (in the second theodicy) some high level of malaria would be intolerable. However, the implications of the theodicy for the science are clear: Medicine is not a branch of environmental science in the first case, but it is in the second. More generally, I believe that theodicy, even if only in an unreflective ‘folk’ form, is presumed in our understanding of how scientific disciplines relate to each other.

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58 Responses to ID and the Science of God: Part VI

  1. I am now at a loss for words, which in this case is a fortunate turn of events.

  2. OK Steve, you win. I’ll play.

    Science has already provided plenty indications about God’s character.
    Let’s try a few of them on for size.

    —–Physicists have speculated about the weight of the stone at the time of Christ’s resurrection and have concluded that the Roman guards could have lifted it.

    So science, (speculative science at least) tells us that Jesus Christ, who claimed to be God, most likely rose from the dead. I trust that no one will propose that flying spaghetti monsters rise from the dead.

    —–Medical doctors have aided the Catholic Church in its canonization process by determining whether or not a medical miracle can be attributed to the special intervention of a saint.

    So, science confirms that God is merciful and even willing to suspend the laws of nature from time to time as a means of proving it.

    —–Medical doctors are perplexed by the phenomenon known as the “Stigmatist.”

    Apparently, some saints have asked to participate in the sufferings of Christ to show their appreciation for his sufferings. It seems that their prayers were answered in ways that are empirically verifiable. So, it seems that God will allow some of his creatures to do his heavy lifting.

    —–Statisticians have calculated the improbability that 459 Old Testament prophecies about Jesus Christ would become realized as historical events as reported in the New Testament.

    So science confirms that Jesus Christ is most likely God, and, while being supremely powerful, is also humble enough to dispense with using that power and to degrade himself by living with his own creatures even to the point allowing them to torture him to death.

    How much more information about God’s character do you want science to provide?

    Here is a prediction: You will most likely say, against my arguments (about which I am quite serious), that you are not convinced that science has accomplished those things that I attribute to it.

    So, the next step back would be to suggest that science shows that God designed the universe, (equally evident) a point that I suspect you would reject as well.

    Thus, the final step back is to indicate that at least that a designer was involved at some level, and it may not have even been God. Welcome to ID and its self-consciously modest claims, a refreshing balm for agnostics who reject everything else and who strive mightlily to reject even that.

  3. StephenB

    I think your game is a bit different from mine because you seem to want to want a consensus that I don’t believe is necessary here. There’s nothing scientific about getting people to settle on a bargain basement notion of design that doesn’t stray far beyond the evidence. Yes, it avoids fights but it doesn’t promote inquiry.

    Science makes progress when someone comes along with a theory that makes sense of the widest range of relevant evidence. That means operating with a framework that forces you to think beyond bits of evidence and show how they might be linked together. Simply accumulating a stock of cases that point to design is not science: It’s butterfly collecting.

    Part of the point of my response to Timaeus is that Darwinism is itself a secularised theodicy. ID needs one or more theories that systematically interrelate various sorts of evidence to provide a worthy competitor. While I’m no big fan of Paley’s approach, he at least was thinking along the appropriate lines.

  4. Steve, that is only possible if the designer is predictable in ways parallel emininently predictable natural laws. Once design and creative innovation enter the picture, things change. Insofar as the designer provided natural laws, we already know the mind of the designer to that extent. That is a lot to know. Inasmuch as we do not yet know (scientifically, that is) why they are the way they are, we don’t know the mind of the designer.

    But notice when I approach the problem of theodicy, modestly and in a fragmented way to be sure, your main concern about justifying the ways of God to man suddenly gets subordinated to your concern about functional integrity. Are you now insisting on a theodicy that also conforms to elements of predictability. You seem to be setting the bar awfully high here.

    Even so, an earlier point on another thread still holds. If, ID can transform itself into something more extravagant, and I am not saying that it can, it can only do so when some genius comes along and provides the apprpriate paradigm just as Dembski and Behe provided a paradigm for the more modest approach. Until that happens, it does no good to suggest that the “ID movement ought to do it.” It can’t do it until the genius makes is possible. What about that?

  5. Steve, let me put it another way:

    [A]Intelligent design theory is parallel to the creative innovation that Mozart summoned to compose his music.

    [B] Darwin’s theory is parallel to the laws pertaining to the way his piano hammer strikes the strings to create a musical sound.

    From what I gather, you want to explain the [A] phenomenon in [B] terms. If we cannot discover the innovative “process” in the mind of a musical genius, how are we to discover the innovative process in the mind of God.

    Further, it would seem to be the case that God is not bound by his own laws. Thus, any theodicy that presumes to justify God by simply gaining further knowledge about “processes” cannot possibly present an accurate theodicy without taking the non-scientific element into account.

    It matters a great deal whether or not God’s first creation was spoiled by man’s indiscretions. Can science validate the originality of original sin? If, on the other hand, Christian theology is wrong, that is, if God used a cruel process such as life and death cycles to form his creation, everything turns on whether he had a good reason for it that we cannaot discern.

    Does science have the tools to find a hidden favorable theodicy in back of nature’s apparent cruelty? If not, then what is the point? Anything short of a comprehensive answer is no answer at all. In fact, an incomplete answer would seem only to replace ignorance with error, and I submit that the latter is a greater liability than the former, meaning that we could assign to a benevolent God a malicious motive or, for that matter, the reverse. You seem to want science to do theology’s job. If that was possible, we would have no need for theology.

  6. “Simply accumulating a stock of cases that point to design is not science: It’s butterfly collecting. … Darwinism is itself a secularised theodicy. ID needs one or more theories that systematically interrelate various sorts of evidence to provide a worthy competitor.”

    May I disagree?

    Biology really IS “butterfly collecting”. It’s observation, exploration, the electron microscope. But we’re still under the pall of theoretical physics and Karl Popper. Well, physics may be theory, but biology is description. There is no theory of biology—Dobzhanski to the contrary. Biologists describe what they see. [Now before this elicits outrage, let me say that all disciplines use observation and reason—it’s just that biology is heavy on the former and physics on the latter.]

    But you do bring up interesting points.

    I’ve always suspected that materialism can be blamed in part on the theologians. The theologians have been reductionists, reducing God to a set of transcendant omnis, divorcing him from Genesis 1:26-28, and eventually for many casting him from reality itself. Benjamin Wiker’s “Moral Darwinism” does a great job of tracing one strand of materialism’s story, someday I’d like to see a good historian investigate this other, the role of the theologians in the rise of modern materialism.

  7. How much more information about God’s character do you want science to provide?

    It’s helpful when we can determine science harmonizes with something in the Bible, or at best doesn’t contradict it. But it’s still the Bible providing evidence of God’s character (and Jesus’ also) and not science.
    From a religious standpoint, science is nearly irrelevant. It gives circumstantial reasons to believe in the Bible as a whole. But neither ID not any other known scientific method are going to support the specific beliefs of any religion (unless that religion is based on scientific knowledge.)
    Right now there’s a scientific orthodoxy that denies the possibility of a creator.
    If we follow this course of using science to figure out God, then in 100 years the scientific community will accept a creator, and they’ll make up something off-the-wall that doesn’t resemble anything you or I believe in. That will be the new consensus, and we’ll be right back where we started.

  8. The implied conclusion of this thought experiment is that theodicy is not a necessary feature of ID’s conceptual framework

    This single sentence fragment sums up about 10,000 words in six articles.

  9. I think we all will admit that there are apparent imperfections in the designs we see in nature. The question is are those imperfections real or only apparent?

    Steve Fuller in his presentation at Oxford laid out near the end a potential interpretation of the theodicy problem but this interpretation is not in sync with traditional Christian theology. I also assume that it is not in sync with Judeo theology or Islamic theology. But I am not knowledgeable of either.

    So what can we learn about the designer by both the designs implemented and the imperfections that accompany the designs. My guess that discussions of both the types of designs implemented and the types of imperfections could be part of the ID agenda and as such reflect somewhat or maybe a great deal on the nature of the designer.

  10. 10

    jerry you say, “I think we all will admit that there are apparent imperfections in the designs we see in nature. The question is are those imperfections real or only apparent?”

    Christian Scientists believe that All and Everything is perfect, because everything is God’s creation. If you are ill, or not seeing IT that way, then that is “error.”

  11. StephenB:

    First, I’m glad you grant that by knowing natural law, we have some access to the divine mind. Historically that was an important concession in terms of empowering people to do both science and politics in senses that broke away from religious authority (with the stress on ‘authority’ here).

    The additional business about everything having to fit together is important for raising a set of issues: a) things may not be perfectly designed when seen alone but make sense as part of some larger design package to which it contributes (this is important to counter Darwinists); b) we may be designed to complete some of the imperfections in nature and bring God’s design to complete fruition (this is how Newton’s theory became a basis for the Industrial Revolution).

    As for innovation, unpredictability, etc., it is unclear whether they reflect real novelty or simply our current ignorance of how design works, which may be alleviated through further inquiry. I don’t see any need to declare a priori that certain things are simply beyond rational comprehension.

    On a related point, it makes no sense praying for ID to be graced by a ‘genius’. Dembski and Behe are very smart and very bold guys but what they did – as Darwin, etc. did – is to take ideas already in currency in one domain and transfer them to another to bring together phenomena that had been previously seen as separate. (In Darwin’s case, I’m thinking mainly about his generalisation of Malthus’s theory of human population control as the principle of natural selection.) ID simply needs more of that activity going on by more people – which will in the short term continue to generate enormous controversy that will life unpleasant for those concerned.

    After all, the time that elapsed between Copernicus and Newton – the beginning and the culmination of the Scientific Revolution — was almost 150 years. Even in the case of Darwin, it took a good 75-80 years before his theory of evolution is unequivocally regarded as the cornerstone of biological science. My guess is that the ID revolution will take less time – but it requires more people to get actively involved on the theoretical end.

  12. Stephen B:

    Your second post deals more specifically with matters of theodicy that I will pick up in a separate post, since they are related to the main theme I am working on.

  13. Michael Haanel said

    “Christian Scientists believe that All and Everything is perfect, because everything is God’s creation. If you are ill, or not seeing IT that way, then that is “error.” ”

    I am not denying that your statement is true. That is why I use the term “apparent imperfections.” The so called imperfections are from our point of view and may not reflect imperfections from God’s point of view. The term I came up with to describe the theodicy issue is the “Perfect Imperfect” Which is why I found the discussion of the “Best of All Possible Worlds” intriguing.

    Let me give an example in terms we can all understand and that is ecology. If any or a few of the many thousands of organisms which make up an ecology became the best they could possibly be to use a current advertising theme, then they might destroy the ecology with their success and eventually themselves. But the fact that they are sub-optimal is optimal for them. So they are the optimal sub-optimal.

  14. All and Everything is perfect

    Here is something to ponder: what does perfect mean and who gets to set the standard?

  15. If the Bible didn’t tell us otherwise, most likely we would think that this is how the world is supposed to be. Also, if there was no death, we probably would have run out of room by now.

  16. Steve Fuller said-
    “we may be designed to complete some of the imperfections in nature and bring God’s design to complete fruition”
    I’m glad you said that, because it coincides exactly with the concept of Tikkun Olam, which can be translated as repairing or perfecting the world. I like the idea because it’s as if God has given us a role in Creation itself. I had been meaning to bring that up.

  17. And concerning theodicy, the question as to the existence of suffering is addressed in the Bible.

    “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

    The Lord’s answered “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”

    If you believe in Jesus, you don’t have to go beyond this with regard to theodicy. You know God is good because of His commands and His sacrifice

    I wonder what kind of world it would be without natural suffering from disease and earthquakes and such. Paradise? I don’t think so. I think people would find a way to rationalize burning babies alive for good luck. It’s something that has happened before in relatively advanced society.

    Or maybe instead of putting them in flames we’d just burn their lungs with a saline solution.

  18. tribune7,

    There is a cemetery in Carthage where first born sons were buried after they were supposedly sacrificed. They were sacrificed for good luck.

    There is a story that Hannibal was threatened by his father that he would sacrifice him if he didn’t promise to take revenge on the Romans. It was a promise he lived up to.

  19. Prof. Fuller (#3):

    I agree with you that Darwinism can be understood as secularized theodicy. What I don’t understand is how knowing this helps ID to formulate its theories or investigative methods.

    I understand why you think that ID needs some overarching theoretical perspective, and cannot settle for being simply a set of interesting observations about apparent design. But why that overarching theoretical perspective has to be a theodicy, or any part of theology, entirely escapes me.

    ID says: If there is a designer, then we would expect to see integrated complexity all over the place; so let’s go out and investigate nature and see if we do in fact find integrated complexity all over the place. Why do we need to raise questions of theodicy in order either to ask or to answer the question whether or not nature displays integrated complexity?

    We need to raise questions of theodicy only if we find that nature IS designed, but that we don’t like the design. The question of whether or not we like the design is both logically and chronologically posterior to the question whether or not there is a design to like or dislike. This makes design detection, both in its methods and conclusions, independent of theodicy.

    Further, our repugnance to this or that design feature in nature reflects our aesthetic, moral and theological tastes, and varies from person to person and from culture to culture, and hence is scientifically irrelevant. The great claim of modern science (which may be false, but nonetheless is its claim) is that it has produced a body of knowledge that is trans-religious, trans-cultural, trans-moral, and trans-political. Water boils at the same temperature at sea level whether you are a Hindu or a Muslim. The law of gravity holds Christians and pagans to the earth with equal firmness. Planets travel in ellipses even though the Greeks preferred circles. The world is the way it is, and our likes and dislikes are no part of that description. This is why the Royal Society from the beginning eschewed all questions of religion and politics. That policy only made sense in the light of the belief that nature is the way it is, outside of all human preferences.

    Repugnance to bad design is also practically irrelevant. If I have a horrible disease, I want my doctor to understand the design of the one-celled creature that is causing it, so he can throw a monkey wrench into its works with the appropriate chemicals, radiation, antibiotics, etc. I’m not the slightest bit interested in my doctor’s theological opinion why God allows such horrible diseases to exist. He is no more qualified to answer that question than a clergyman who dropped biology in the 10th grade. Further, even if the doctor has the right theological opinion, that opinion will not in any way affect his diagnosis or prescription, which will be based entirely on physicology, biochemistry, pharmocology, etc., not theology.

    Similarly, I don’t ask my auto mechanic why the automakers put out cars that need to be repaired so often; I just want him to know how my car is designed, so that he can fix it. If I want to know why the auto industry puts out “evil” cars, I don’t ask a mechanic, I ask a “theodicist” like Ralph Nader.

    You seem to be suggesting that the practice of science and the study of theodicy need to be integrated into a seamless unity. If this is what you are suggesting, I disagree. A mechanic does not need to understand the arguments of Ralph Nader to do his work, and a physician does not need to understand the arguments of Paley (or of Darwin) to do his. Nor does a design theorist need any prior opinions about God (other than openness to the possibility that some sort of designer exists) to conduct a comprehensive study of design in nature.

    In fact, I would suggest that what biological theories of design need is not more theodicy, but more mathematics. The overarching theory of design you are looking for will require vastly more mathematics than most biology professors have typically taken. First-year calculus is hardly enough. Probability theory, combinatorics, 3-D geometry, topology, engineering and architectural mathematical concepts, computer programming concepts — all of these, especially if integrated under a broadly Platonic conception of the nature of mathematics (rather than the purely utilitarian concept of mathematics held by most working biologists), will contribute to the broad theoretical perspective you are talking about. Already Michael Denton and Richard Sternberg have divined this.

    I for one don’t want to see a wave of Christian biologists, mostly with rank amateur status in theology, dabbling in theodicy. I’d rather they learned their math better, and particularly I’d rather they recovered the Platonic and Galilean insight about the mathematical form of physical reality. If biologists can be trained to view mathematics in this way, Darwinism will soon be history, because no one imbued with the true spirit of mathematics could find Darwinism a plausible explanation for the design of life.

    T.

  20. Timaeus,

    Design is a normatively stronger notion than ‘integrated complexity’, which is only about mathematical patterns. Before you can talk about design, you need to embed this ‘integrated complexity’ in some system, in terms of which you can talk about the complexity’s ‘function’, ‘purpose’ – what it is designed FOR. And how do you select the appropriate system perspective? Well, theodicy offers a menu of possibilities, and Darwinism itself descends from one of them. While design can be specified in mathematical terms, it is not a purely mathematical notion.

    Because ID theorists have been reluctant to admit the normative assumptions of their argument, they have been easily sidelined by mathematically adept critics who reduce complexity-based claims about design to claims about mere patterns that could have been generated in any number of ways without a prior plan. And the critics are right if the arguments for ID are exclusively based on the formal properties of things, as the current ‘butterfly collecting’ approach ID tends to favour.

    So my view is that simply to believe that nature is designed presupposes that we have a sense not only of the difference between design and not-design but also of good and bad design. ID tends to focus on the former contrast, but the latter is equally relevant, especially in terms of how we humans fit in the overall design of nature: Is bad design simply our failure to see the higher good it serves, or is it a call for us to finish the job God started? Again, a question for theodicy. And just because widely different answers to these questions have proposed, it doesn’t follow that there aren’t better or worse answers.

    Contrary to your suggestion, the Royal Society banned the discussion of politics, religion and ethics at its inception, long before there was there a general agreement over what was ‘objectively true’ from a scientific standpoint. They banned the discussions because they believed that no resolution could be reached on politics, religion and ethics in mid-17th century England without threatening a rather fragile political order. That’s not an admission of the relativism of values but simply a pragmatic decision to engage in some self-censorship. In that sense, the Royal Society was motivated much as ID people today are who feel burned by how the Establishment Clause has been applied and so want to avoid associating ID with anything that goes beyond ‘the evidence’, understood with as little theoretical interpretation as possible. In any case, it’s clear that the major players throughout the history of the Royal Society were motivated by quite distinctive theological views, which they kept out of sight for purposes of the Society’s activities.

    This is not to deny that people of all faiths can understand, grasp and accept the same scientific truths, but I don’t believe that all faiths motivate the pursuit of those truths equally well. Moreover, it’s clear from the historical record that not even all versions of the Abrahamic faiths help science equally well, and this is why to open the door to theodicy in ID is frankly to court considerable theological disagreement. But in the context of science education, where we need to motivate students to devote their lives to the peculiar activity that is science, we should risk discussions of the larger purpose that pursuit might serve. Our ability to do so would be a measure of just how much we have matured over the 350 years since the founding of the Royal Society.

  21. Timaeus and Dr. Fuller

    Timaeus, great post at 19!!

    Dr. Fuller, the materialists made their mark on the claim that their views were based on objective, “scientific” findings.

    ID shatters their claims under the rules they set.

    Bringing questions as to whether the design is good or bad into this very small arena would cause us to forfeit a game that we are going to win.

    Our opinion is irrelevant as to whether the design is good as Timaeus pointed out.

    And remember a good fuse breaks.

  22. Tribune 7

    You and I must live in different worlds. But maybe you can help me understand yours if you tell me how this victory you anticipate is going to come about, especially given the limited way in which you (and Timaeus) interpret ID.

  23. 24

    tribune7,

    “Here is something to ponder: what does perfect mean and who gets to set the standard?”

    Can we humans ever perceive an un-designed universe, animal, landscape? Isn’t All and Everything either designed or not designed?

  24. But maybe you can help me understand yours if you tell me how this victory you anticipate is going to come about, especially given the limited way in which you (and Timaeus) interpret ID.

    Those who don’t want to honor God use science as their excuse. ID definitively strips this from them. Granted they will find some other excuse — maybe even point to the inability of ID to ID the designer, since scripture, after all, says most will choose the broad path

    But with ID, the gifts of science and reason will return to their rightful place as supporters of good and those who honestly seek truth will not be led astray by those who misuse them.

    Which is a good thing.

    Now, I’ll tell you one thing that can’t be done and that is to reconcile childhood cancer with the goodness of God.

    With the sinfulness of man, yes, but not with God’s goodness.

    Consider this — would there be more or less suffering without natural suffering? If nobody ever got sick, if food was delivered to you by angels when ever you wanted, and you were never too cold or too hot?

    I think there would be much, much more since the vast majority of suffering is caused by humans against other humans.

    Natural suffering forces people to work together to overcome common obstacles (and the degree to which this work is willingly done the less the suffering caused by natured, please note).

    So it seems there are only two forces to stop the evils man is capable of conceiving — nature or reconciliation with God.

    According to Scripture most people will willfully reject reconciliation.

  25. —-Professor Fuller: “Before you can talk about design, you need to embed this ‘integrated complexity’ in some system, in terms of which you can talk about the complexity’s ‘function’, ‘purpose’ – what it is designed FOR.”

    Let’s speculate about some possible purpose scenarios and try to link it to science.

    [A] There was no designer, and life has no purpose. The universe is just as absurd as the radical existentialists claim that it is.

    [B] An incompetent designer fashioned a flawed design. So, the creator, if ethical, must apologize and say, “oops!, sorry about all that suffering. Why not take the good with the bad.” In any case, the “purpose” of the universe is a failed experiment. It was just one of those things. There is no hereafter.

    [C] A competent yet sadistic designer fashioned an evil design. So, the creator uses his helpless creatures solely for his own entertainment. Our purpose is to be degraded and thrown away. As the famous bumper sticker claims, “Life is a bitch and then you die.”

    [D] A competent, loving designer created a universe characterized by free will, drama, and soul-making, all of which prepare us for the next world in which there will be no suffering. Meanwhile, what we endure is a compensation for offending Divine justice after “the fall.” At the same time, the Creator uses suffering as a means of transforming mediocre creatures into noble ones, allowing them to learn wisdom, compassion, and courage. All the while, God stays partly hidden so that faith as well as reason can play a role in human development.

    [E] Plug in your own story if you don’t like any of the above.

    Now, let’s suppose the ID scientist wants to probe the purpose of the design. Surely, such design is either nonexistent, or is meant to serve one of the aforementioned purposes. Let’s even assume that, through some unexplained miracle, the scientist discovers EVERYTHING about the creator’s process, step by step. We now know ALL the facts about the origin of life, including time, means, place, and circumstances—I mean everything!. So, the big question persists: Why does the process exist at all?

    Let’s say that the ID scientists really go for broke, transform their science into an operational theodicy, and establish a probability chart with respect to our purpose scenarios such that [A] promises a likelihood of one chance in a googleplex, [B] holds forth at about one chance in a thousand, [C] appears as a fifty-fifty proposition, and [D] carries a seventy-five percent probability.

    So, let’s go ahead a read the report’s executive summary: (Followed by my comments)

    —–“Based on our twenty-five year study, we have concluded that the big bang is consistent with the Biblical principle which hold’s that God said, “Let there be light.”

    (Wait, we already knew that something cannot come from nothing. So, science simply bids us to return to the responsible philosophical principles we abandoned when we started worshiping science. Meanwhile, multitudes of scientists now are positing infinite multiple universes—proof that even when science does uncover a profound truth about the source of nature’s laws, they [and the academy] are not interested if it means that they must also accept the lawgiver).

    —–“Further, the evidence indicates that archangels and dominions uphold the laws of nature under the loving supervision of thrones. We further conclude that God has ordained it to be so, and that all previous claims that the universe powers itself are invalid.

    (Wait, philosophy taught us two-thousand years ago that all movement must be explained. It is one of the first principles of right reason. Still, the majority will reject the point and promote the notion that an mindless “principle in nature” can create a universe)

    —–“Finally, we hold that, as a result of the fall, man’s intellect was darkened and his will was weakened. As a result, he must now struggle to understand that which was once easily apprehended. Further, he now has an inborn tendency to do evil and must struggle against his own lower nature in order to restore some semblance of humanity. We further conclude that every human malady can be traced back to one event in history and that the functional integrity of the universe was designed to facilitate a restoration to its original order and that the creator anticipated all these combinations and permutations in advance.”

    (Wait that idea has already been rejected by Western culture and replaced with the cult of self-esteem and the philosophy of nihilism)

    Meanwhile, sciences technical achievements have outrun its ethics by a country mile, and few people seem to mind. Would anyone care to clone human beings as sex slaves? Step right up, our scientists are ready. Is anyone interested in designing a human pig hybrid? Have no fear. It’s in the works and government funding is on the way.

    If we really wanted wisdom and guidance we would honor “natural moral law,” which is written in every human heart. That is the closest we will ever get to the mind of God. Even if we do the theoretically impossible and uncover a theodicy of science, it can do no more than send us back to Plato, Aquinas, the Bible, and the Church for further instruction. We are not looking for answers, we are looking for loopholes.

  26. StephenB, great post at 26.

    I guess I should also add to my earlier post that natural suffering teaches empathy — bad things happen to ordinary people which include you and me — and gives us reason and opportunity to show kindness.

  27. Good point trib.

  28. Professor Fuller (#20):

    Thanks for this post. I think I understand you better now.

    One of your most interesting statements is this:

    “So my view is that simply to believe that nature is designed presupposes that we have a sense not only of the difference between design and not-design but also of good and bad design.”

    My first reaction was to disagree with this, but there may be something to it. And if it is right, your argument connecting ID with theodicy becomes much more sensible. So let me think about it for a while, and get back to you if I have any useful thoughts.

    Based on the above, I infer that by “normative assumptions” in the ID argument, you mean something like: ID proponents are consciously or unconsciously applying notions of “good design” when they claim to detect design. So that design detection, as practised by ID proponents, isn’t the simple activity of objectively detecting “what’s there” by empirical and mathematical means, but is laden with value judgements? Is that your point?

    I think that many ID proponents would want to dispute the following claim:

    “Because ID theorists have been reluctant to admit the normative assumptions of their argument, they have been easily sidelined by mathematically adept critics who reduce complexity-based claims about design to claims about mere patterns that could have been generated in any number of ways without a prior plan.”

    There is a huge difference between the geometrically intricate pattern of a snowflake and the integrated complexity of a cell or cardiovascular system. I don’t believe that the Darwinist critics of design have come anywhere near showing that living systems “could have been generated in any number of ways without a prior plan”. To date, they haven’t shown how even one significant system could have been generated in this way. The eye made Darwin “shudder”, and 130 years later Richard Dawkins, in The Blind Watchmaker, offers a How and Why Wonder Book explanation for the eye, completely unmathematical and not even plausible physiologically, which makes no theoretical advance on Darwin’s desperate flailings.

    As for “mathematically adept”, the loudest critics of ID in the popular realm are Michael Ruse, Richard Dawkins, P.Z. Myers, Eugenie Scott, William Provine, Barbara Forrest, Daniel Dennett, Kevin Padian, Ken Miller, etc. – mostly philosophers or empirical biologists, none of them with even an undergraduate degree in mathematics, and none of them known for high-level mathematical ability. And ID supporters include many, many engineers, computer programmers, professors of information science, probability theorists, physicists, etc. – all of whom are more “mathematically adept” than the rank and file biologist (with his one freshman calculus course and his one population genetics “stats” course) who accepts Darwinism uncritically. The mathematically knowledgeable – at least, those who have taken the time to investigate the biological claims in some detail – are frequently on the ID side, or at least highly skeptical of Darwinism. (In the latter group you have David Berlinski.)

    I’ll defer to you on the motivation for the Royal Society’s ban on political and religious discussion, because I suspect you know the history better than I do. Nonetheless, my general point – that modern science purports (rightly or wrongly) to stand aloof from political and religious bias – still holds. And this means that if ID purports to be science, it must claim that design in nature can be detected by neutral means, and can be recognized equally by a Christian, a Jew, a Buddhist, an agnostic, etc. I suspect that you disagree with ID proponents about that.

    I agree with you that there is need of discussion of the larger purposes of science. I doubt this bears much relation to getting more students to study science, however; students will study science as long as they think there are good jobs in the field, and at present there are not enough good jobs for all the graduates, so we have a surplus of science degrees, not a shortage, and we don’t need a stimulus for recruiting purposes. Nonetheless, I do think that being an educated person, as opposed to a mere technician, entails reflecting on why you do what you are doing, and I think such reflection should be part of science education. At present almost no university anywhere requires science majors to take even one course in the history or philosophy of science. I think that should be changed. I think all science students everywhere should have to do, at some point in their undergraduate education, at least one full-year course, or two American semesters, in the history and/or philosophy of science, or in the history and/or philosophy of their particular discipline (biology, geology, physics, etc.). If nothing else, this would make biology grads less insufferably narrow, and might cause a few of the brighter ones to start questioning the crude, creaky, hopelessly outdated, 19th-century mechanistic-materialistic thinking which underlies Darwinism.

    T.

  29. Timaeus (#29) wrote: “As for “mathematically adept”, the loudest critics of ID in the popular realm are (list) – mostly philosophers or empirical biologists, none of them with even an undergraduate degree in mathematics, and none of them known for high-level mathematical ability.

    Mark Perakh is a “loud critic” of intelligent design creationism, and author of “Unintelligent Design” (Prometheus Books, ISBN 1-59102-084-0). He is a professor emeritus of Mathematics at California State University, Fullerton in Fullerton, California. He is particularly skeptical of some of the arguments proposed by William Dembski, which he alleges are pseudomathematical. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Perakh, from which part of this comment is abstracted.)

  30. PaulBurnett,

    It seems that Mark Perakh is ill informed if he uses the term intelligent design creationism. As such how can one take anything he says seriously if he makes such a basic mistake.

    Why don’t you bring his arguments here and defend them and we can see where it all leads to. Is his book a polemic based on bad information about ID or does it have some valid points? Take the lead on this and we should have an interesting discussion.

  31. Jerry (#31) wrote: “It seems that Mark Perakh is ill informed if he uses the term intelligent design creationism.

    My mistake: Dr. Barbara Forrest uses the term Intelligent Design Creationism. Dr. Perakh uses the term “Unintelligent Design”.

    I’m out of town, away from my copy of Dr. Perakh’s book. Google the line

    “Unintelligent Design” Perakh

    and see where it leads.

  32. PaulBurnett,

    I will wait for your summation or for any specific points Perakh makes. I have read a lot of anti ID books and pro Darwinian evolution books to know what a lot of them say so I am not averse to reading all sides on this issue. One of the interesting things is that I never see any real criticism of ID that isn’t mostly assertions or mis representations or stretches of the imagination. I will say that since I do not understand the mathematical details of Dembski’s work, I am not in position to evaluate it. So I look forward to what you say.

    If you have the book at home, then you should feel comfortable presenting Perakh’s arguments here and getting feedback. I am especially interested in what he says about Behe.

  33. —-Professor Fuller: “So my view is that simply to believe that nature is designed presupposes that we have a sense not only of the difference between design and not-design but also of good and bad design.”

    Everything turns on your definition of “good.” Here’s mine:

    A thing is good if it operates the way it was designed and intended to operate. A good can opener is one that opens cans. A good pen is one that writes. If someone tries to use a pencil as a can opener, not only will he not open the can, he will ruin the pencil.

    What is a good man? A good man or a moral man is one who behaves the way he was designed and intended to behave, one who is on the way to fulfilling the destiny for which he was created. If God created a “moral universe,” by that I mean a stage on which men cultivate morality, then a good man is one whose behavior conforms to the natural moral law and one who is pursuing his final end, union with God.

    If he pursuing some other end, that is, something for which he was not made, such as living like an animal, then he is not a good man. Further, he is similar to a pencil that assumes the role of a can opener, meaning that he is acting contrary to his nature, and, like the misguided pencil, will ruin himself.

    What, then, is a “good” design or a well fashioned universe? Everything turns on the intent of the creator. If a good God created the universe as a moral stage (and the earth as a privileged planet) so that his creatures can cultivate virtue and prepare for another life, then it is a good design if it advances that cause. On the other hand, if the creator is not good, then there can be no such thing as goodness, so it is futile to speak of good design.

  34. 17- tribune7 Since the man had been born blind and they are asking if he had sinned then they must mean in a previous lifetime.

  35. I like it (not really) when detractors say “intelligent design, creationism – whatever it’s called now”.

  36. SteveB:

    I am happy to grant that to be good is to realize what was intended by the Creator. But I don’t believe what you say necessarily follows. Here’s how I think about the situation by analogy. Nanotechnology is enabling us to create ‘nano-bots’, molecules specially designed to do certain useful things for us without too many side effects. Humans should perhaps be seen as God’s nano-bots, but with quite a lot of undesirable side-effects that get cancelled out over time, either because the nano-bots reconstitute themselves or God ‘specially creates’ new and improved nano-bots. Now, in this scenario, God is in ultimate control of the game but exactly how he will win remains open, and much turns on our own performance.

    I present this analogy because if science is humanity’s ultimate achievement, then God should be seen as the ultimate scientist. Suppose a scientist invents not merely a nano-bot but a robot that designed to carry out everyday chores and manage the household under a variety of contingencies. For a variety of mixed motives – including pride in workmanship and tolerance of modest deviation – the scientist will likely let the robot continue apace until the consequences are unbearable, in which case the scientist will replace it with an improved model. Considering the effort that the scientist put into the original robot model, this moment is likely to come with considerable reluctance and then regret. But none of this denies the scientist’s ultimate capacity to effect the change or that s/he meant all along to bring about a certain desirable end.

    Clearly we are meant to be the robot in the analogy. And I realize that for certain conventional Christian believers, my assumptions are heretical. I’ll just list them here:
    (1) God NEEDS to create in order to demonstrate his/her/its divinity. Otherwise, God is indistinguishable from matter. Here God is understood as the ultimate ordering principle (the logos) in an otherwise unruly nature. In this respect, God does not have the option of inhabiting a Buddhist nothingness devoid of matter. In contrast, to say that God merely ‘chooses’ to create is no more than an anthropomorphic concession to the Darwinist point that order in nature arose by accident. In other words, you are doing God no favours by extending his/her/its power to encompass sheer arbitrariness.
    (2) Not surprisingly, given the deity’s continual need to distinguish itself from matter, God does not create all at once, and whatever satisfaction the deity enjoys in his/her/its creation is relative to what has gone before and will go afterward. This means that it is an open question whether every creature is as good as it could be, until one has discerned the overall design in which the creatures are shown to serve a specific function. This is what theodicy is all about – and it is a matter of considerable controversy, which is as it should be.
    (3) God clearly controls the overall framework of creation to such an extent that we can believe that the deity will get its way. However, the natural laws that do really seem to work – i.e. those of physics – are not specified in the detail that determine how particular creatures, especially humans, can conduct themselves. This is not necessarily because ethics belongs to a different realm from physics – the standard secular argument against theology’s relevance to this discussion. Other options are available: (a) God is a ‘big picture’ being who counts on his/her/its creatures to sweat the details. (b) We need to live longer, and experiment more boldly, to discern the details that God has already written into natural law.
    Now, before you judge what I have said here, consider the following: If you are, in any way, a ‘creationist’, what exactly do you think follows from that belief, especially if you take seriously the idea that we have been created in the image and likeness of God? God hasn’t spent his time simply basking in his reflected glow. He/she/it did something – a lot –first to earn that level of self-respect. And isn’t science simply our own way of doing what the deity did, only in a more specific and diminished fashion?

  37. I present this analogy because if science is humanity’s ultimate achievement, then God should be seen as the ultimate scientist.

    There is a lot to disagree with in that statement.

  38. Prof. Fuller:

    I don’t follow all of your speculative drift here. Perhaps you have developed these ideas more fully in your newest book? But in any case, I am starting to see the radical difference between your understanding of “design” and the conventional ID approach.

    You will be familiar with the idea held by many early moderns that science is “thinking God’s thoughts after him”. The notion is that God has vouchsafed to us mere mortals the ability to grasp, after the fact, what he has done (even though we never would have been clever enough to do it ourselves). It is the gift of reason that allows us to do this.

    You are suggesting that science should be something more than “thinking God’s thoughts after him”. You are suggesting that science should be “thinking creatively, like God”. That is, the scientist is not simply an analyst and critic of God’s artistry, but a God-in-training.

    This latter notion, like the first, is a common early modern motif. It can be found in Renaissance thought, and in Bacon (who prudently muted it, with his mastery of rhetoric, so that it often looked more like the first or humbler notion).

    In the 20th century, the West (and the whole world in imitation of the West) adopted the Baconian view of science. I am not speaking of Bacon’s creaky methodology, which was useless, and jettisoned by all working scientists almost as soon as he set it forth, but of his vision of the aims and goals of science, and of the radical humanism which went with those aims and goals. In that vision, being “in the image of God” means unleashing the radical powers of “human creativity”.

    The difficulty with the Christian form of ID, from your point of view, is that it is still based on the older, humbler notion of the meaning of “being in the image of God”. In that older notion, only God can “create”; man is not a creator but a creature, though one who, by the grace of God, shares in God’s reason and can understand and admire what God has created. “The image of God” makes us rational; it does not make us semi-divine co-creators.

    So yes, your theological notions are “heretical”, as you seem to understand. But they’re hardly novel or shocking. Most of modern Christianity is heretical, having long since re-interpreted itself in order to accommodate radical human freedom and creativity. The history of modern Christianity is one long history of accommodationism to the juggernaut set in motion by Bacon, Hobbes, Descartes, etc. The reason that so many mainstream clergy and theologians today are utterly contemptible is that they have allowed themselves to be reduced to the role of flatterers of modernity. They have accepted that “science” defines reality, and that Christianity is merely to supply the nebulous “spiritual values” that guide the use of science. It’s a pathetic, diminished view of Christianity, but that’s the humiliating role the clerical and theological leaders accepted as the price of being allowed to stick around in the modern world. In essence, the Church was booted off the football team, and offered a spot on the cheerleading squad in compensation. Not exactly the view of Augustine or Aquinas.

    Your critique of ID implies that, in the metaphysical battle between “the ancients” and “the moderns”, the moderns were right, and that Christianity has been correct to re-write its theology in order to formalize the victory of the moderns. Some of us are unwilling to do this. We are of the view that the quarrel between the ancients and the moderns needs to be re-opened. It is not clear to us that Descartes and Kant had a more correct understanding even of external nature, let alone of the human mind, than Plato and Aristotle, and it is not clear to us that Bacon and Teilhard de Chardin have a deeper or truer conception of Christianity than Augustine or Aquinas.

    And now, perhaps, you can see why I have to conceal my identity from modern professors of religious studies and theology. The views I have expressed here are precisely those which will guarantee that one will never find employment in a secular religious studies environment, and least of all in most Protestant seminaries. As Darwinists are a vindictive lot to untenured faculty who hold the views of Behe, and as philosophy professors consciously destroy the careers of untenured young teachers who imprudently voice their opinion that Plato is wiser than immoral and culture-destroying nihilists like Derrida, so modern humanities and theology professors are vicious to those who will not embrace the vapid secularized Christianity of the seminaries and the academy.

    T.

  39. Timaeus,

    An interesting response, to be sure. I agree with you about the unfortunate state of theologians who are simply flatterers of modernity. Neither theologians nor philosophers, for that matter, should be underlabourers for today’s science. I even agree that we need a more unified understanding of science, one enhanced by the resources of theology and philosophy. (You should understand my remarks about ‘God as scientist’ in that spirit.) Where we disagree, I think, is that you seem to think that this would require that we go back to Plato, Aristotle, etc. and that this unified vision would have inherently conservative consequences.

    I realize that’s a common position to hold but it’s not an obvious one – not even within the Christian tradition, where arguably modern science has been its most distinctive contribution, when compared with the other world-religions. In any case, one can say that Bacon, Descartes and Kant didn’t get everything right yet admit that, in various ways, they pushed the general enlightenment of humanity forward.

    Too strong a rejection of modernity puts you in a difficult position with regard to science itself – and here I mean from at least Newton onward. If we have gone so badly off the divine trail, modern science should not be as efficacious, and indeed beneficial, as it has been. To be sure, it has not been perfect but, on the whole, humanity would be much worse off without it. Any version of ID that cannot honestly accept that judgement turns out to be a science-stopper, as its Darwinist critics imagine.

    I do not write here as some slavish follower of scientific fashion. In the circles in which I normally travel, I am usually seen as a ‘science critic’ – and that was long before I had anything to do with ID. However, there is an issue that will continue to haunt ID supporters who want to turn back the clock too far: How is it possible that we are acquiring greater and greater creative powers over nature, especially through biotechnology? Yes, these powers are far from perfect and I’m sure there are many disasters yet to befall us relating to them. But in the long view of history, we are acquiring such powers. Rather than ban, deny or demonize them, we should think creatively about a normative regime in which we can live them. It will be a test of our maturity as a species, and I believe we are up to the challenge.

  40. It nevertheless still appears unlikely that the broad-based ID movement will find useful agreement about theodicy. The following is a brief list of possible camps (except for the first) and the personal relationship to the “Theos” of theo–dicy:

    Naturalism
    I — it
    (A “secularised theodicy”?)

    ————-

    Shamanism, Paganism, Polytheism, Hinduism
    I — them

    Deism, certain Monotheistic camps
    I — Him

    Adolescent Theism
    I — Thou

    Mature Theism
    THOU — i

    Each of these theologies will certainly have a significant influence on resultant views of “theodicy,” your confidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

    If I may say so, while you appear to deny the possibility of an intimate, communicative relationship with God, there are those among us who testify of that MOST momentous aspect of our existence. For me anyway that has a major impact on theodicy.

    I grew up steeped in naturalism. With little help from science I slowly traversed the spectrum towards a “Mature Theism” that I hope to permanently attain. It would have been so nice, back then, to have seen just a little hesitancy by the science establishment, expressed by the idea that many features of the world around us have all the characteristics of intentional sentient inventiveness.

    Cheers

  41. As a diversion that may be extremely relevant to this discussion, I suggest that those interested go to Cornelius Hunter’s new website and to the section which he calls “The Fact of Evolution”

    http://www.darwinspredictions.com/#_6_The_fact

    It is not too long but in this initial draft (the whole website appears to be the beginning of a serious attempt or book about the evolution debate) there is a discussion of the philosophical aspects of the evolution debate. In it he has a Darwin like tree that traces the various intellectual arguments. It seems that maybe Hunter should go further back in time than the does because he starts with Leibniz, Malebranche and someone called Burnet.

    Hardly anyone has paid attention to this website since it was brought up here last week. The thread about it has 10 comments and most of those are not about the site or its content which I thought was interesting. There are dozens of topics buried there waiting for discussion and since the current thread is about one of them, maybe there is something there of interest.

    Maybe Hunter would like to see the discussion here in order to enhance his discussion of this topic.

  42. For a more amusing side bar to this discussion, those who like Isaac Asimov science fiction might want to read his famous short story, “The Last Question” written in 1956. It is a story about the nature of God, from a atheistic science fiction writer who says that humans not only invented the concept of God but actually invented God himself

    http://www.multivax.com/last_question.html

  43. Steve Fuller in 37,

    Great! I wholeheartedly agree with your theodicy, but perhaps those committed to the theology of the Church Fathers will have to dissent.

    Three great points to ponder, though:

    1) God needs to create, i.e., God is preeminently a Creator, an Agent, which flies in the face of the theologians’ Deity of Being that exists outside of time and thus outside of any on going agency.

    There’s an old rabbinical argument, don’t remember where I heard it, that inasmuch as “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good,” and inasmuch as the Psalmist says, “Hashem is good,” then God has no choice but to create.

    2) A hands on God, if I get you right, just as the Hebrew God of History. That’s why I tell people that Evolution is Evidence. The only evolution that we can observe is that of our own technology, and that is by design. Given that the natural world evidences evolution, then that is evidence of Design, not Chance and Necessity.

    3) God is the boss and will get his way.

    Maybe rather than saying that ID must expand into theology, maybe it’s the other way around: Theology needs ID. That way a broad spectrum of believers and nonbelievers remain welcome in ID, and theology can finally profit from the findings of science.

    Remember, the battle is now mostly political. The case has been made for design, with the reaction being argumentum ad hominem, ipse dixit, obfuscation, and silly queries of “but is it science?” ID needs all its allies, agnostics, orthodox theists, unorthodox theists, Day Agers, New Agers, Young Earthers, the churched and the unchurched.

    Steve Fuller, you’re a courageous and valuable friend of ID. Always better than “group-think” is a little reasoned dissent—this even within ID.

  44. —–”Great! I wholeheartedly agree with your theodicy, but perhaps those committed to the theology of the Church Fathers will have to dissent.”

    I suppose if one can posit any kind of God one wants, then one can just as easily design a theodicy that will conform to that image. On the other hand, if God isn’t the same one as envisioned by the Church fathers, why is a theodicy needed? One would expect, after all, that a flawed creator would produce a flawed design.

  45. Timaeus,

    Could you expand upon this idea that ‘Only God can create’? It seems to me – perhaps wrongly – to primarily be concerned with an understanding of what man is doing. Meaning, when humans invent vaccines, etc, the modern view may be ‘I’m creating! I’m improving on nature!’ whereas the ancient view may be ‘I’m not creating, certainly not in the way God ultimately creates. But I am participating in nature, and what I do may either improve or corrupt that which already exists.’

    Am I right in this? If not, what’s a better explanation? And if so, isn’t there still a way to regard some analogy between God and man insofar as design and creation goes, while at the same time recognizing just what the extent of the gulf and difference in kind between them still is?

  46. “Clearly we are meant to be the robot in the analogy. And I realize that for certain conventional Christian believers, my assumptions are heretical. I’ll just list them here:”

    Dr Fuller,

    Sometimes I get this thought that you are some kind of “Trojan Horse”. Just kidding, I think LOL.

    Yes certain Christians would think you are heretical and I guess that is the reason you are encountering criticis of your ideas, that is they are unscientific.

    Theodicy is a metaphysical problem that science will never be able to speak to, or at least that is my current position. I do not want ID to be that which Darwinism is, which is metaphysics disguised as science.

    I do however welcome and very much appreciate your contributions and you ideas, even though I do not agree with them. But I have changed my mind before by convincing arguments and I will try to keep an open mind. So far I think Stepehen and Timmaeus express pretty much where I am at the moment.

    Vivid

  47. “It will be a test of our maturity as a species, and I believe we are up to the challenge.”

    All of history, and all the evidence available seems to me to contradict that we as a species will pass the test.

    Vivid

  48. StephenB (#45):

    I agree. People have written millions of pages asking the question why an all-powerful, all-wise, all-loving God would create or even allow evil or suffering, especially suffering that seems wholly gratuitous and does not seem to serve any educative purpose. It is hard to imagine people writing so extensively about why a limited God (who has to struggle with matter and can’t make it do exactly what he wants) would allow evil. The answer is implicit in the definition of such a limited God.

    A similar answer applies to Zoroastrianism. If one asks why Ahura Mazda, being good and wise, allows evil, the answer is easy: because he is opposed by an equally powerful evil God, Ahriman. One could call that a “theodicy”, in a sense that it’s an explanation for evil in a world where God is just, but it’s not a theodicy that requires hundreds of years of debate to work out. It’s implied in the dualism of good and evil gods that neither God will entirely get his way.

    Of course, people in every culture have asked why there is evil. But it’s only in the strict monotheistic cultures that the existence of evil has produced such lengthy rationalizing, and in Christianity the rationalizing is the most extensive of all.

    T.

  49. I very much like Steve’s comment at #40.

    Nihilism is not an accident or a fad. It is just what Nietzsche said it was: a natural resistance in the mind to the dividedness of philosophy and its conceptions of “the good.”

    Return to the past? Impossible. The philosophers glorify intellect and its power to produce happiness. This compels them to equate “the good” with intellect. All major philosophers who speculated about transcendent being, starting with Plato and Aristotle and including all theologians under their spell, made this equation.

    But the problem is that equating intellect with “the good” leads to divided descriptions of transcendent value. This was already apparent at the beginning. Since transcendent values must be pure in order to be transcendent, Plato characterized “the good” as pure intellect and negated the value of any combination of intellect and matter.

    As his famous student pointed out, however, this method of describing “the good” leads to nothingness. Plato cannot produce any substantive description of “the good” after negating the goodness of the values that presently exist. Pure intellect is nothing more than pure resistance to the unhappiness of material existence. It cannot give us any concrete information about the nature of the good because it will not tolerate embodiment of the good. All it can do is produce allegories about the good, like the Republic; hence Thomas’s complaint that Idealism produces “nothing but metaphors.”

    Aristotle tried to overcome the problem of nothingness by describing “the good” not as pure intellect but as some sort of convoluted ratio of intellectual and material causes. Supposedly “the good” comes into being just at the point where the difference between these causes disappears; where the ratio itself obtains the purity of “pure act,” the polar opposite of Idealism’s nothingness. But then “the good” loses its transcendent resonance and is drawn directly into existence. It becomes the same thing as the unhappiness that we now experience.

    Any attempt to glorify intellect through philosophy leads to the same divide because there is a difference between intellect and sense. Descartes’ love of pure intellect leads to nothingness in science as well as philosophy, while Kant’s attempt to identify a murky middle ground between the nothingness of Rationalism and our own conceptions of being leads to the utterly incomprehensible metaphysics of Hegel—and ultimately to the longing for nothingness and annihilation of being seen in the nihilists.

    Strangely, however, the materialistic science inspired by Nihilism and its antipathy to “being” is now pointing beyond anything ever imagined by the philosophers to a realm of reality that truly does transcend human understanding. The mechanics and information technology of the cell is just one example. So is fine tuning. So are gravity and light. Behe only just scratched the surface of the complexity of the blood clotting system. In fact, it is so complex that sympathetic and parasympathetic can be described as either cause or effect—the final arbiter apparently being nothing more than point of view.

    So we find ourselves, after all of our boastful science, essentially back to the position of Job. The questions Job finds himself being asked when he finally makes a break with human discourse (philosophy) and walks out to greet the storm are the same questions we should be asking ourselves right now. God is not intellect; philosophy is dead. But this is a Greek conception of God. The Bible makes a very different claim, and it is far from having been exhausted.

  50. —–“Great! I wholeheartedly agree with your theodicy, but perhaps those committed to the theology of the Church Fathers will have to dissent.”

    I suppose if one can posit any kind of God one wants, then one can just as easily design a theodicy that will conform to that image. On the other hand, if God isn’t the same one as envisioned by the Church fathers, why is a theodicy needed? One would expect, after all, that a flawed creator would produce a flawed design.

    Please know that I intended no slur of the Church fathers. We all have to root our faith in something. For some it’s the Church, for others sola scriptura, others add chazal. If we are to talk to one another we have to take into account these sensibilities. There is the need, I believe, for a discussion where everything is on the table, though individuals may come with differing nonnegotiables (Scripture, Church authority, the age of the earth …).

    The point, as I understood, is that the divorce of science from theology hurts both science and theology. Theology needs to be grounded in reality, in the real world, in science—not, of course, under some Magisterium of Science but within a freedom of inquiry that has been impossible since Darwin was declared infallible.

    It does no good to constantly recite the omnis and hurl “flawed creator” epithets at one another. Is God outside of time? It all depends. If ontology rules then maybe so. But if the most important aspect of the Divine is Agency, then maybe no.

    None of us really fathom ultimate reality. What we do know is that there is a designer, and that there is both good and evil in the world.

  51. Rude, I agree with you when you say that theology needs to be grounded in the real world. The theology of the Church Fathers, along with the testimony of Scripure, speak of the Fall of creation as a direct result of the Fall of Man. If we see this Fall as being rooted in space and time, (to borrow some words from theologian Francis Schaeffer), then we have a real solution to the problem of evil. For purposes of this discussion here, we can then frame the issue this way: the reason there is evil, or “bad” design is because the Designer’s original design has been corrupted.

    Now I realize that not everybody, including a lot of Christians, will accept this. That’s fine. But I think it does provide the best intellectual framework to handle the problem. It represents a theodicy that, in my view, best accounts for all the facts.

  52. Allanius:

    You have given a sketch of Nietzsche’s account of philosophy, and why he rejected philosophy. I could object to some of the details, but let’s say it’s roughly accurate.

    It is important to note that Nietzsche does not end up at your conclusion. He does not conclude, from the falsehood of philosophy, that we must turn to revelation or the God of the Bible. He concludes that “art is worth more than truth”, and teaches us that we must henceforth become “creators of our own values”. Neither of these are Biblical teachings. Also, Nietzsche is quite as harsh with the Bible as he is with philosophy, and even harsher on the New Testament than he is on the Old.

    I take it that you don’t accept Nietzsche’s view of the Bible, or criticism of the Bible, and that you would say that he is being grossly inaccurate and unfair. I would suggest to you that if he is grossly inaccurate and unfair about the Bible, he may be grossly inaccurate and unfair about other things.

    In particular, I would suggest that you take Nietzsche’s lumping together of all “the philosophers” with a grain of salt. Nietzsche ignores some substantial differences between the ancient and modern philosophers.

    It is dangerous to suggest that philosophy is dead, in the sense that you suggest it. If philosophy is dead, we have no reliable way of evaluating the difference between the “revelations” of Christianity, the Bahai’s, Mohammed, the Mormons, Voodoo, or Jim Jones whose cult members committed mass suicide. Without the disciplined use of reason, the claim of any private delusion or sectarian enthusiasm is as good as the claim of any ethical monotheism or “world religion”.

    The main stream of Christianity has always argued that revelation, though going beyond reason in some respects, is in crucial ways in step with or compatible with reason. Hence Augustine, Aquinas, Erasmus, Thomas More, etc. The Pope in his Regensburg speech emphasized the alliance of reason and revelation. And for all of them, the Greeks provided the paradigm of reason.

    Many, influenced by Nietzsche, have abandoned not only philosophy, and not only reason itself, but also God. Some, however, seeing that the greatest critic of the Greeks was also the harshest critic of the Bible, have smelled a rat, and have reinvestigated Greek philosophy.

    I would commend to you a close reading of Plato’s Republic. After that (not before) you should read Allan Bloom’s masterful commentary on the Republic. Of course, Bloom was not a Christian, but he is excellent on Plato. More Christian in orientation is Eric Voegelin, and his commentary on Plato is well worth reading (but again, only after you have read the relevant dialogues). There is also a tiny little book called Time as History, in which a thoughtful Christian philosopher named Grant criticizes Nietzsche out of Platonic and Christian sensibilities.

    One last small point to be made in response to your post is that Job’s conversation partners argue as theologians, not philosophers. When Job breaks with human discourse, to use your terms, he is breaking with the typical arguments of theologians. When God rebukes the other speakers, he is rebuking bad theology, not philosophy as such. In fact God in Job is rebuking a good deal of “theodicy”, which ironically is what Prof. Fuller says we need more of. Note that there is very little “theodicy” in the writings of Plato and Aristotle. Theodicy is the preoccupation of the theologians, who are very confident that they know why God does what he does. The ancient philosophers, at least Plato and Aristotle, handle the subject of God with much more circumspection and restraint.

    T.

  53. Professor Fuller:

    I submit that if non-design thinking scientists have achieved great strides, it is mostly because design-thinking scientists once took the scientific genie out of the bottle and set something in motion that was bound to unfold into what we now know as progress. You have made a similar point with glorious eloquence [and I don’t pass around idle compliments], so I gather that you would agree with me that all scientists, even atheists, begin with the same the same rational principle even if they do it unconsciously. I contend, then, that they carry on in spite of, not because of their modernism [postmodermism].

    In any case, to be a Platonist or Thomist is not to be anti-progressive or to quarrel with enigmas such as quantum mechanics or chaos theory. Traditional philosophy, that is, sound philosophy, simply insists on [and makes explicit] three points that modern philosophy and much modern science typically ignores: [A] We live in a rational universe, [B] we have rational minds, and [C] there is a correspondence between the two. Traditional philosophy does not place constraints on rationality’s expressions, even when they appear in the form of paradoxes, mysteries, or unknown causes. Indeed, traditional philosophy, as opposed to post-modernist irrationality, is the only thought system that can accommodate paradoxes and retain rationality at the same time.

    Modern philosophy recognizes neither rationality nor paradox, which is why it cannot do its job of illuminating science. On the contrary, modern philosophy (and theology) have ignominiously demoted themselves to the status of science lite and, as a result, have become complicit in the crime of deifying science. Put another way, modern philosophy and modern science have entered into an incestuous truth-denying enterprise. That a large portion of the scientific community worships at the altar of Darwin and takes seriously the idea of infinite multiple universes while, at the same time, ignoring the powerful evidence for a creator and an immaterial mind, ought to tip us off that something is wrong and that the principles of right reason are being ignored. That some modernist scientists can stand on their predecessors’ shoulders and continue to provide mind-blowing innovations is not all that surprising. It is very easy to regress in philosophy; it is almost impossible to regress in science.
    Accordingly, science cannot find its rightful intellectual slot, which should be third place in the hierarchy of truth. More precisely, science has managed to seize first place, mostly because philosophy and theology have become too corrupt to do what they are supposed to do—-illuminate science. Another reason for science’s ascendency, it must be conceded, is that it has achieved much toward the goal of enhancing human comfort. Still, science is attempting to illuminate theology and philosophy, a development which has already produced a kind of intellectual suicide. [“If we can do it, we should do it.”]

    You will notice, for example, that I drew on traditional philosophy to describe what, for me, qualifies as a “good design,” namely one which serves the purpose of the designer. Modern philosophy simply doesn’t have the tools to analyze things that way because it has been so tainted by subjectivism that it cannot get past the investigator to make its way to the investigation. Ask a modernist about what the “good” is, and he will no doubt reduce it to the subjective, meaning that it is whatever he says it is at the moment, or that it is whatever we can make it. That is another way of saying that it doesn’t exist at all (a point that requires a great deal of explaining before they get it). A modernist will have a very hard time describing a “good” design, because, for all practical purposes, he as already abandoned the vocabulary and the logical tools to make such an articulation.

    To deny teleology, design, first principles, or objective truth (any and all) is to end rational discourse. Accordingly, some want science to provide only that which can come from philosophy and theology, and yet modern philosophers and theologians, which ought to be in the business of explaining meaning and significance, don’t want the job because it sends them right back where they came from—God. So, to avoid having to confront something greater than themselves, they have agreed to alternate between two contradictory forms of irrationality. First, they challenge moderate dualism, the only realistic approach to understanding the world, and cling to the fashionable monism of their age. Today, it is materialism, but not that long ago it was idealism. Second, they deny “realism,” the only epistemology with which one can reason toward truth, and choose rather to alternate between the extremes of rationalism and empiricism. Meanwhile, the culture descends farther and farther down the road of mindlessness and nihilism, always embracing one extreme and then the other.
    Many who come to this blog and deny design have already been steeped in both the metaphysical and epistemological reductionism of their day, and require long-term remedial care to even know what we are talking about. It is fairly easy to recover from bad science, but it is exceedingly difficult to recover from the perverse philosophical framework that informs it, because there is no getting away from it. Post-modernism is not just in our minds; it is in the cultural air that we breathe.

  54. My dear Timaeus—I heartily agree with you about the “blonde beast.” Reread my comment. Your description of my view of him is entirely of your own imagining, I assure you. Perhaps you read a little too hastily.

    Philosophy is divided between the concept of pure negation—pure resistance to any construct of intellect and sense, as in Idealism, Augustinianism, Cartesian Rationalism, and, yes, Nihilism—and the notion of pure reciprocal action, as in Aristotle, Thomas, Kant and Hegel. It is not possible to get past this divide and also glorify intellect as “the good.” The philosophers themselves knew this and often commented on it.

    Having said that, one would have to concede that it is at least possible for some new genius to arise who can find a way to move philosophy forward and reestablish the connection between intellect and the good, which was annihilated by Nihilism. What is probably needed is some new construct that purports to be capable of synthesizing Nihilism itself with the new concepts of being emerging from basic science. It would have to be some sort of reverse synthesis—leading us back from actual nothingness to a convincing conception of being.

    It would be foolish to deny that such a “folding in” of Nihilism is possible—essentially a return to the premodern thought-world—but there are good reasons to be skeptical. First, any attempt to equate intellect with “the good” requires a method of reading intellect directly into nature; e.g., through mathematics. We already know about the descriptive limitations of mathematics when it comes to nature—just as we know the problem of the divide between ideal mathematics (Descartes) and synthetic mathematics (Newton); or in our own time, between relativity and quantum mechanics.

    A more stubborn problem is the intractable difference between intellect and sense. It may be possible for someone to dream up a more ingenious construct of being than Hegel’s synthesis of being and nothingness—a construct that appears to be more highly evolved and advanced—but if even Hegel, the subtlest of all philosophers, could not overcome this difference, then it seems likely that most other writers are going to feel discouraged from even trying. In other words, the strategies for glorifying philosophy appear to have been exhausted.

    Fortunately Steve is not trying to resurrect the ancient regime. And I feel a great deal of sympathy for what he’s trying to do. But in my humble opinion his comment at #40 reflects a more fruitful strategy for undermining materialism than any of his actual posts.

  55. Allanius (#55):

    If I misunderstood your post, it’s because of the way that you wrote it. You introduced it with a reference to Nietzsche’s critique of philosophy. You then gave several paragraphs in which you criticized the shortcomings of philosophy, with direct reference to the vocabulary of Nietzsche which you established in your opening. These paragraphs appeared to present Nietzsche’s critique of philosophy in your own voice, as if you agreed with his critique of philosophy.

    However, it is possible that you were merely setting forth his critique of philosophy, and not endorsing it. But in that case, at the end of the summary, you should have indicated that you disagreed with his dismissal of philosophy. Far from doing this, you declared, in the last paragraph, *in your own voice* (it had to be your own voice, not Nietzsche’s, because in that paragraph you endorse the Bible in a way that Nietzsche never would have), that “philosophy is dead”. Any normal reader would conclude from this that you agreed with the critique of philosophy which you had presented.

    The way you wrote your piece, what came across was:

    1. Nietzsche claimed that all philosophy is characterized by X.

    2, Nietzsche (and I agree with him) *proved* that all philosophy is characterized by X.

    3. Nietzsche concluded (and I agree with him) that X is false, and therefore that philosophy is dead.

    4. But I, Allanius, unlike Nietzsche, say that the death of philosophy is not a cause for despair; we can still turn to the Biblical God, who is not the God of philosophy.

    That’s how your post read. If you didn’t mean roughly that, some expositional changes are definitely recommended.

    By the way, regarding your second-last paragraph in post 50, where you say that materialistic science was inspired by nihilism: I don’t know if that is you or Nietzsche speaking (again, an expositional problem), but I think this is historically false. “Materialistic science”, if by that you/Nietzsche mean the science of Newton and Laplace, was not inspired by nihilism but by theism: the doctrine that God had created a world ordered by mathematical law. Nihilism was a later cultural development, as some people understood modern science to imply atheism and a pointless universe. Nietzsche himself understood modern science in that way. But that says more about the dark emotional pathology of Nietzsche (reminiscent in some ways of Luther and Pascal, two other depressing examples of the unhealthy side of Western thought), than about science. The order of nature points not to atheism, but the Mind of nature’s Maker.

    And regarding God, while it is true that God is not exhausted by the notion of “intellect”, “intellect” is an important component of God. The Biblical side of Christianity emphasizes the non-intellectual side of God, but does not deny the intellectual; and it was people trained by the Greeks who worked out some of the implications of the intellectual side of God, and this working-out produced, among other things, modern science. The tradition of natural law is another positive thing we owe to the Greek side of Christianity. And for that matter, the existence of universities. Pitting Greek philosophy against the Biblical God is counter-productive. And especially we should be on guard of criticisms of Greek philosophy coming from Nietzsche, who hated the Christian God, and hated Greek philosophy precisely because it reminded him of the Christian God.

    On the other hand, Nietzsche’s criticism of Kant was bang-on.

    T.

  56. Dr. Fuller:

    I’m not sure why comments aren’t being allowed on your new post on Marxism and materialism. Was it your intention not to receive them, or are comments being blocked by some technical oversight?

    T.

  57. If it’s ok to post this there’s a discussion in theodicy (for all intents and purposes) at
    http://tinyurl.com/af4pq4 if you want to hone your debating skills. You have to be able to ignore some of the posts.

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