What Role Naturalism? 2 – Insights from Thomas (RJS)

Aquinas.jpg

Last Friday and Saturday Francis Beckwith, Professor of Philosophy & Church-State Studies at Baylor University, posted an essay describing his journey through the concepts of intelligent design, philosophical naturalism, and Christian philosophy. Beckwith has been no stranger to controversy the last five or six years – for a wide range of reasons from his criticism of the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District decision to his return to the Catholic church and resignation as president of the ETS. He doesn’t seem one to take the easy way out – or to go along with prevailing opinion. His essays are worth reading – Intelligent Design and Me, Part I: In the Beginning and Intelligent Design and Me, Part II: Confessions of a Doting Thomist to gain some insight into thinking about the issues in intelligent design.

In what follows I am going to reflect on one piece of the discussion in Beckwith’s essay. Toward the end of the second post Beckwith gives two quotes – one from Dembski ‘s book No Free Lunch and one from Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologica – and includes some observations.

First Dembski as quoted by Beckwith:

The “gaps” in the god-of-the-gaps objection are meant to denote gaps of ignorance about underlying physical mechanisms. But there is no reason to think that all gaps give way to ordinary physical explanations once we know enough about the underlying physical mechanisms. The mechanisms simply do not exist. Some gaps might constitute ontic discontinuities in the chain of physical causes and thus remain forever beyond the capacity of physical mechanisms. (p. 334-335)

Christian advocates of intelligent design will agree, I think, that God is present in all of nature and that his design is found throughout all of nature, including natural mechanisms. Still, there is an emphasis on these “ontic discontinuities,” an expectation that mechanisms do not exist to provide natural explanations for empirical observed phenomena, for the nature of the world. In the work of Dembski and Meyer the origin of life, and of the “specified information” of the cell, is proposed to represent one of these discontinuities. Old earth creationists suggest that these discontinuities are also seen in the diversity of life – natural mechanism is insufficient to account for the appearance of complex life from simpler forms. This leads to an interesting theological question.

Does the evidence for a designer really hinge on such ontic discontinuities and the absence of “natural” mechanisms? Is there any reason to expect such discontinuities?

Beckwith contrasts this with a Thomist approach as reflected in Summa Theologica (written between 1265 and 1274), and particularly with Thomas’s fifth way. Thomas answers an objection (Quotes from this link to Summa Theologica article three):

Objection 2. Further, it is superfluous to suppose that what can be accounted for by a few principles has been produced by many. But it seems that everything we see in the world can be accounted for by other principles, supposing God did not exist. For all natural things can be reduced to one principle which is nature; and all voluntary things can be reduced to one principle which is human reason, or will. Therefore there is no need to suppose God’s existence.

This is an objection at play in much of the discussion of science and faith – if there is a natural explanation there is no need consider the possibility that God exists. It is a card played often by those who wish to claim that science disproves the existence of God. But it misses the point After giving four other ways to demonstrate the existence of God, Thomas concludes with:

The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world. We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural  bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end. Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.

The presence of God is seen not in the empirical phenomena of nature, but in the purpose behind those phenomena. Thus Thomas answers objection 2:

Reply to Objection 2. Since nature works for a determinate end under the direction of a higher agent, whatever is done by nature must needs be traced back to God, as to its first cause. So also whatever is done voluntarily must also be traced back to some higher cause other than human  reason or will, since these can change or fail; for all things that are changeable and capable of defect must be traced back to an immovable and self-necessary first principle, as was shown in the body of the Article.

This is an interesting thought. The suggestion is that the evidence for design – and a designer – is not “ontic discontinuities” or the absence of adequate physical mechanism to describe phenomena, including the origin of life. Rather following Thomas the evidence for a designer is found in the purpose of the design.

Philosophical naturalism, ontological naturalism, secular naturalism, what ever term you use, is a real force in our world, and especially in the academy. This view is counter to the heart and soul of Christian belief and a Christian should have an argument and an answer for this challenge.  But we don’t refute this view by denying science. When a Christian approaches science – from evolutionary biology to cosmology – the goal is not to look for evidence against philosophical naturalism, but to understand the “natural” means used to achieve God’s purpose.

The argument against philosophical naturalism comes from a different direction. The atheist or agnostic denies the existence of God and the purpose inherent in his creation. This purpose is revealed, not in “ontic discontinuities,” but through relationship and interaction. Scripture  is a record of God’s interaction with his creation. Perhaps the purpose is also written into our consciousness in the moral law and search for meaning – something worth thinking about anyway. This purpose is witnessed through the missional life lived walking in the Spirit – through a life lived with love of God and love of others as central focus.

What do you think? Where should we expect to see evidence of design – and how will we recognize it? How should we answer the challenge posed by philosophical naturalism and the denial of purpose?

If you wish to contact me you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net

  • pds

    The Design Spectrum
    “But we don’t refute this view by denying science.”
    ID does not deny science. It looks for the best explanation, and is willing to consider design. It does not bend over backwards to believe that a non-design explanation will be found in the future, if design is clearly the best explanation now. It does not have a rigid worldview that denies the possibility of design as the best explanation in biology. It follows the evidence wherever it leads.
    “When a Christian approaches science – from evolutionary biology to cosmology – the goal is not to look for evidence against philosophical naturalism, but to understand the “natural” means used to achieve God’s purpose.”
    No, when a Christian approaches science, the goal is to find the truth, to look for the best explanation, whether that be design or not design.
    If you set your goal “to understand the ‘natural’ means used to achieve God’s purpose,” you are begging the question.

  • pds

    The Design Spectrum
    “Christian advocates of intelligent design will agree, I think, that God is present in all of nature and that his design is found throughout all of nature, including natural mechanisms.”
    Thanks for acknowledging this! Beckwith and Biologos misrepresent ID proponents in this regard. They should know better.
    Would Aquinas take Meyer’s view of the origin of life or your view, or Beckwith’s view? I think he would take Meyer’s view, but no one has put forth any good reason to conclude one way or the other. Did Aquinas ever reject the kinds of arguments Meyer sets forth?

  • dopderbeck

    I’ve been saying this, and referring to Aquinas and secondary causation as Beckwith does here, for a couple of years now! Exactly, and right on.
    pds (#2) — c’mon, Francis Beckwith is now part of the vast anti-ID conspiracy? He was there at the founding of the Movement, and he has the photo to prove it! And the guy is an actual philosopher who specializes in Aquinas!

  • T

    Thanks for continuing these discussions. For us non-scientists, it’s a real education on the deeper issues and players.
    In that vein, I think there are at least two ways to answer that last set of questions. On the beach once (I live in So. Fla.), I got to talking to a guy I just met and God came up in conversation. He was an athiest/agnostic, but we obviously shared a level of awe for the scene around us. I remember answering him at one point, with both lightness and conviction, that I thought the idea that all of this (looking around us and at us) just “happened” (no purpose, no designer) is just plain ridiculous. After I said it, I was worried that I might have offended him, but he seemed to resonate with it instead.
    Now, to me and to a typical guy at the beach, I think that a simple big-picture “consider[ation of] the birds” (or one’s children, or what-have-you) gives enough evidence of design and can refute phil. nat., or at least punch a big hole in it. For others, though, particularly those in academic circles maybe much more is needed. In any event, I agree that at some point, “how” has to give way to “why” and that’s where phil. nat. gives some spectacularly lame answers. There also seems to be some kind of dynamic here where “babes” can more easily see this truth (and give praise to God) than the wise and prudent can, I don’t know. Maybe, to some extent, some of ID regarding phil. nat. is an attempt to answer a fool according to (on the terms of) his folly.

  • Dr. J Clement

    Unfortunately ID proponents often do deny science. Science is purely concerned with creating models that can be used to predict physical events. These models are based purely on physical evidence. As such evolution is the only model which explains in a coherent fashion the physical evidence. So scientists can not use a belief system in their inquiry. Any attempt to incorporate a belief system into science will be resisted by scientists. Many scientists also belong to a church and can be quite religious, but that is based on faith and not on science.
    Science and faith are not mutually antagonistic. Once the ID and creationst proponents stop trying to force their philosopy onto others, the problem will go away. But trying to cast doubts on science will in the end discredit ID. Beckwith is taking a very reasoned view which can in the end resolve the controbersy. Scientists are not anti-ID, but rather anti IDs attempts to distort science and claim that ID is a science. There is no controversy within science.
    The idea of irreducable complexity is just a hypothesis. If one can not calculate the probability of an event, then one can not say for certain how irreducable is the complexity. Without a verifiable way to calculate this, it is not even a good model. Newton faultered when he could not calculate the stability of the planetary orbits so he just said God kept them in place. However later others managed to do it. So as the gaps or irreducable complexity close you are left with a rather shrunken God. Beckwith has the way out of this dilemma and will defuse the science vs faith controversy without destroying faith.
    And of course as a Catholic Beckwith is in line with other thinkers within the church. The ID radicals are not only creating antagonism between science and religion, but also between religious groups.

  • dan

    Interesting to be enlisting Thomas in the debate. It points up something I’ve been mulling over. Presuppositionalists like Francis Schaeffer saw Aquinas as the unfortunate pivot point toward modernism. Aquinas marked the revival of Aristotle over Plato in the interplay between theology and philosophy. Aristotle emphasized reasoning to the universal truths from the particulars. We start with the details and construct general principals from those details, very much the spirit of the scientific method.
    For Schaeffer that would open the door to the idea that man could begin from himself and reason to ultimate truths. But this was wrong, according to Schaeffer, because not only are we fallen morally, we are fallen intellectually. Thomas and Aristotle did not account for the idea that we are intellectually finite and intellectually in rebellion. Our only path to universal truth is through revelation. Beginning with reason alone will not give a true picture of the ultimate truths.
    I see this as critical to the debate. All secular naturalism assumes humans can study nature and eventually solve every mystery. Christians who have embraced naturalism also assume to a significant degree that “science” has a place of privilege, almost an unassailable status where objective empirical evidence evaluated by the human mind leads to truth that cannot be questioned. The repeated insistence that evolution is “fact” and that those who question it are attacking “science” seems to be evidence of this assumption that we can reason from the hard data to unassailable conclusions about events that took place in the exceedingly distant past. The objection many raise is not that we can know nothing through science, but that science has outstripped its limits when it makes pronouncements about origins.
    But what if we, as Christians, take seriously that twin ideas that human knowledge is finite and limited and that human beings are in rebellion against God in their intellectual lives just as much as in their moral and spiritual lives? Would we be so confident that random mutation plus natural selection is the only acceptable mechanism for origins in a universe that Christian tradition, scripture and creed all agree was created by God?

  • RJS

    dopderbeck,
    You’ve been pointing to Aquinas for a long time (and some day I’ll get to reading Polanyi as well).
    pds,
    Perhaps it would be better to rewrite the last sentence of my penultimate paragraph as such:

    But we don’t refute this view by denying science. When a Christian approaches science – from evolutionary biology to cosmology – the goal is not to look for evidence against philosophical naturalism, but to understand the means used to achieve God’s purpose.

    This then flows into the last paragraph. The point is not to necessarily presuppose the absence of “ontic discontinuities” but to go with the evidence – there is no gain or advantage to any other approach. Personally I don’t think that there will be gaping ontic discontinuities and I don’t think that we should devote significant resource to searching for them. However, a positive approach looking for positive evidence for design in ontic discontinuities is a more-or-less neutral activity. A negative approach – focused on undermining evolution rather than understanding the depth of evidence and the way people (scientists) think about the evidence is a counter-productive Christian apologetic.
    Evidence for a designer is first and foremost in the purpose of creation – and this is where apologetic effort should be focused.

  • BKC

    Dr. J Clement (#5),
    Thanks for your clear and accurate assessment on this. The energy spent on this false dichotomy of Religion vs. Science is immense. Think of the good that could be done with all this effort if this irrational arguing were redirected into something positive for Christ.
    I believe this blog and others like are leading to the defusing of this topic…at least that’s my hope.

  • pds

    The Design Spectrum
    David #3,
    Ridicule is unbecoming.
    Biologos misrepresents ID, and now you are misrepresenting me. I said nothing about a “vast anti-ID conspiracy.” We have Hillary to thank for that phrase.
    I thanked RJS for getting it right, and you criticize me and distort my position. So I will repeat it:

    “Christian advocates of intelligent design will agree, I think, that God is present in all of nature and that his design is found throughout all of nature, including natural mechanisms.”
    Thanks for acknowledging this! Beckwith and Biologos misrepresent ID proponents in this regard. They should know better.

    Instead of ridicule, why don’t you support the contentions of Beckwith and Biologos with evidence? Show where design proponents reject this kind of design argument.
    I personally see layers of design evidence in nature. I think we should approach all design arguments with openness and curiosity, and not try to draw a false dichotomy.

  • dopderbeck

    Dan (#6) — you raise an interesting and in my view somewhat strange phenomenon in these discussions. There is a strand of ID that is very much in line with presuppositionalism and Schaeffer — which is the strand drawn from Plantinga and Reformed Epistemology. Then there is a strand that is more of an Evangelical neo-Thomist approach, which I call the “Biola School” — championed by folks like J.P. Moreland. I don’t think these strands are really reconcilable with each other, and further, as Beckwith points out, I don’t think the Evangelical neo-Thomist approach is really consistent with Thomism.
    There is a way of considering Reformed Epistemology, however, that doesn’t have to lead to the skepticism of “hard” ID, or at least I think this is so. Schaeffer, for all his good work in bringing fundamentalists out of the intellectual closet, oversimplified and overstated many things. Check out Alister McGrath’s work for an approach that draws on Reformed Epistemology without falling into obscurantism. (And check out Michael Polanyi!)

  • RickK

    The history of science and the discovery of natural mechanisms demonstrate two clear trends:
    1) Phenomena first thought to have a purpose were later proved not to;
    2) Phenomena attributed to divine intervention in the natural world were later proved to have natural causes;
    Newton was certain that he proved God’s direct intervention in the natural world because Newton could not think of any other way for the planets to have been set in motion. He understood the mechanics of their motion, but did not understand how they got started. So he was certain that God’s hand directly set the heavens to spinning.
    He was later proved wrong as we learned about things like conservation of momentum and the formation of star systems.
    How is today’s question of the origin of life ANY different than Newton’s questions about the origin of planetary motion 300+ years ago? Is it just temporal hubris that makes us think we’re safe from making the same mistake Newton made?
    We have a long history of seeing design where there is none. From early people explaining the orientation of mountains and rivers as being the plan of the gods, to pulsars, to the spinning whip on the end of a germ, to the face on Mars – we humans excel at anthropomorphizing undirected natural phenomena.
    But every mystery ever explained has turned out to be – not magic.
    This doesn’t prove there is no God. But it is very strong evidence that when we point at a phenomenon and say “God did it”, we’re likely to be wrong. We’ve ALWAYS been wrong before.
    The only safe place is to place God above any consideration in the natural world. Only by removing God from having any measurable or observable impact on the natural world will you be safe from naturalism’s ability to explain God away.

  • dopderbeck

    pds (#9): here are propositions 1 and 2 of J.P. Moreland’s “Theistic Science & Methodological Naturalism” in his book “The Design Hypothesis””

    1. God, conceived of as a personal, transcendent agent of great power and intelligence, has through direct, primary agent causation and indirect, secondary causation created and designed the world for a purpose and has directly intervened in the course of its development at various times (including prehistory, history prior to the arrival of human beings).
    2. The commitment expressed in proposition 1 an appropriately enter into the very fabric of the practice of science and the utilization of scientific methodology.”

    I don’t think Beckwith or any critic of ID misrepresents ID by suggesting the whole “research program” is about empirically demonstrating intervention, i.e., “direct, primary agent causation.” Secondary causation, for them, is not enough.

  • RJS

    RickK,
    The idea is not to find a “safe place” or to protect God from the ability of naturalism to explain God away. Nor is it necessary to assume that God cannot have a measurable or observable impact. We don’t separate natural and God.
    But the measurable or observable impact of God is in relationship with his creation – not in human inability to understand a given phenomenon. Purpose is the key issue as I see it – and why I highlighted this in consideration of naturalism here.

  • dopderbeck

    RikK (#11) — well, that’s an incredibly reductionistic account of the history of the notion of “purpose.” Sure, where people have speculated that some “gap” in natural causation must imply direct divine intervention, they have tended to be wrong. But gap arguments by no means exhaust broader teleological arguments, which remain very much alive and in play today, and which cannot be “disproven” by science that is properly confined to its own areas of competence.

  • pds

    The Design Spectrum
    RJS #7,
    As you know, “ontic discontinuities” is not a prominent theme for design proponents. Moreover, note what Dembski says:
    “Some gaps might constitute ontic discontinuities in the chain of physical causes and thus remain forever beyond the capacity of physical mechanisms.”
    When Jesus changed water to wine, was that an “ontic discontinuity”? If so, why rule it out in other events in the past?
    “The presence of God is seen not in the empirical phenomena of nature, but in the purpose behind those phenomena.”
    I don’t think that follows at all from what Aquinas says. Why do you conclude that he is not basing his conclusions on “empirical phenomena in nature”? Once again, I don’t see the dichotomy you insist on.

  • RJS

    pds,
    Dembski does say might in this quote – but I disagree with you on the importance of ontic discontinuity in this discussion. It is this emphasis on the importance of ontic discontinuity that causes such a problem for Christians in the sciences. It is the emphasis placed on the search for ontic discontinuity that steers the science and faith discussion away from where it needs to go (countering philosophical naturalism) down unproductive rabbit trails.

  • pds

    The Design Spectrum
    David #12,
    Thanks for the quote. Don’t you see that it proves my point?
    ID proponents affirm “direct, primary agent causation and indirect, secondary causation.”
    RJS understands this. Biologos and you don’t seem to.

  • RJS

    dopderbeck (#12)
    I can’t find this book on Amazon – is the reference correct?

  • pds

    The Design Spectrum
    RJS #16,
    With all due respect, I think it is you that is focused on it. “The emphasis placed on the search for ontic discontinuity” is not something I see in Meyer and Behe.
    You know the solution? You need to become a design proponent that does not place the emphasis on that. If more TE types would stop attacking ID and instead recognize that design arguments are on a spectrum, they could shift the debate in a better direction. If they emphasize one kind of design argument and speak respectfully of other kinds of design arguments, they could move the people in the pews in a better direction.
    Behe sees the spectrum and is asking the right questions.

  • dopderbeck

    pds — huh? At least Moreland is honest. He needs to prove God “directly intervened.” Yes he acknowledges secondary causation, but it is not enough to satisfy his presuppositions, particularly his view of scripture concerning divine action in creation.
    Proper reference: J.P. Moreland, ed., The Creation Hypothesis: Scientific Evidence for an Intelligent Designer (IVP 1994).
    Another interesting chapter in this book is YEC Kurt Wise’s contribution on “The Origin of Life’s Major Groups.” An excerpt:

    macroevolution is not the only theory capable of explaining such a wide variety of data. I would maintain that the claims of Scripture provide us with a model that can give a better explanation of far more of the major features of life than evolution. According to the Bible, God is an all-knowing, intelligent being with immeasurable beauty and glory. According to Scripture, he created all things, including life on earth, in such a way that they reflect his very nature (including his intelligence and his beauty). We infer from the nature of other things he created that he fashioned all things in a mature form in a heirarchical pattern. In the case of life, we are told that he created a number of distinct kinds of organisms.”

    He goes on after that to defend flood geology.
    Yes, I know Moreland and other ID advocates are not necessarily YEC. However, you simply can’t miss the link here — primary causation (“intervention”) is required for them because that is what a certain reading of the Genesis 1 “kinds” demands.

  • pds

    David #20,
    Huh? You seem to be reading all kinds of stuff into the Moreland quote that is not there.
    Maybe this post by Jay Richards will help:
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2010/02/how_to_completely_misunderstan.html

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    I love this post.
    My “evolving” view has to do with transfinite nature of reality. If we take a set look at a number line, there is an finite set of numbers. But if we look at all the possible numbers between the real numbers of 1 and 2 there is an infinite set between those numbers, yet no number is less than 1 or greater than 2.
    Metaphorically, I think we can say that God has set boundaries on reality but there are transfinite possibilities within those boundaries. Those boundaries limit the direction in which things can unfold and God has a purpose in how he set the limitations. While this doesn’t rule out ontic discontinuities it certainly doesn’t require them. God is not so much at the beginning of time, and in motion with time directing everything that moves, so much as he is standing at the end of time calling all things toward him and his vision.
    I don’t know that exactly get what Beckwith is saying but these are thoughts that came to mind as I read the post.

  • Francis Beckwith

    From the Richards piece: “Anyone familiar with ID will know that Barr is simply defining science to exclude consideration of intelligence, whereas the burden of ID is arguments is to show that intelligence is within the purview of science properly construed.”
    Again, Jay (a friend and a real good guy, I might add) assumes that nature is by default absent of the divine short of particular cases in which one can identify His acts (e.g., bacterial flagellum).

  • dopderbeck

    pds (#21) — I don’t think so. There it is, in black and white.

  • DRT

    Dr. Clement #5 & Dan #6
    I think people look at science the wrong way. Science is a method that attempts to answer natural questions without invoking religion. The scientific method is inherently meant to exclude religion.
    But this also brings up an interesting thought. Is there another method that we can define that is better than the scientific method? If science has gone beyond what it can understand then what other new method should we use to lead us to a better understanding? There is little doubt that invoking the act of a deity shuts down the conversation and does not expand it.
    Among other things, I am certainly a scientist. One of the big problems I have with science is the inherent problem of reductionist thinking. I (Dave!) can be reduced to biological systems that can be reduced to chemical reactions that can be reduced to molecular behaviors that can be reduced to atomic propensities which can be reduced to sub-atomic particles that can be reduced to strings. That is not satisfactory to me (Dave!).
    So my best argument for God or the Supernatural as opposed to Naturalism is that I find it wholly disenfranchising to only be the product of atoms. Even if words cannot describe the problem in specific (at least mine can’t), I know that there is a problem.
    I know that I get relegated to the loony bin for this next comment, but I think it merits serious consideration. One very possible explanation for life is that it came from somewhere else. All of the heavier elements in your bodies came from exploding super novas somewhere else in the galaxy. Much if not all of the water on our planet came from comets and other bodies that came from other structures in the galaxy. It is not at all incomprehensible that life came from somewhere else.
    God bless.
    Dave

  • pds

    The Design Spectrum
    Frank #23,
    Welcome to the discussion. You said,
    “Again, Jay (a friend and a real good guy, I might add) assumes that nature is by default absent of the divine short of particular cases in which one can identify His acts (e.g., bacterial flagellum).”
    But he says in the article:

    Admittedly, the way some ID proponents speak can lead to misunderstandings, if read uncharitably. When discussing biology, for example, ID theorists frequently contrast the role of natural laws like gravity with the role of intelligent design. They may speak of natural selection as a “mindless” or “brute” or even “purposeless” process. To the grumpy reader interpreting this language theologically, this can sound like ID implies that God only acts apart from these natural forces, that he is merely an artificer who rearranges pre-existing material, that there are forces in the world that seem to exist apart from God’s activity, or that God only acts where nature leaves off. God’s action, then, would be set up against nature, and left to fill the “gaps” that nature leaves empty.
    These ideas would certainly be problematic, as Barr charges, if anyone actually advanced them; but no theistic ID proponent ever has. No theist worth his salt believes that God is aloof from the world except when he acts directly in nature. That would be a sort of modified deism—though, strictly speaking, deists don’t think God acts within the world at all. For theists, in any case, God transcends the world, is free to act directly in it—however unfashionable that might be—and always remains intimately involved with it.

    This seems to contradict your summary of his views.

  • pds

    The Design Spectrum
    David #24,
    Not sure we are discussing the same thing. Maybe that is because your initial comment (#3) was about a vast conspiracy.
    Biologos said:

    Today, Beckwith discusses how arguments by Thomas Aquinas and others led him to see that ID advocates and atheists both share a view inconsistent with classical theism: that an intelligent agent is only required in cases where natural laws and chance cannot account for a phenomenon.

    RJS said:

    Christian advocates of intelligent design will agree, I think, that God is present in all of nature and that his design is found throughout all of nature, including natural mechanisms.

    I am saying that RJS gets it right in that quote, and Biologos gets it wrong.
    What are you saying?

  • dopderbeck

    PDS (#27) — I’d re-word the B-L summary of Beckwith’s post: “ID advocates and atheists both share a view inconsistent with classical theism: that the presence of an intelligent agent can only be inferred in cases where natural laws and chance cannot account for a phenomenon.”
    You are correct that ID advocates who are Christian theists insist along with all Christians that an intelligent agent, i.e., the creator-God, is required for creation to exist, period.
    What Beckwith said, I think, is that strong ID advocates argue that (a) there must be “intervention” in creation by God through primary causation; and (b) effectively, only such evidence of “intervention” can demonstrate “design.” This, Beckwith suggests, is inconsistent with Thomas’ theology of nature and causation. I think he’s right. In any event, that is my view, and if Beckwith said more or less than this that’s up to him to clarify.

  • pds

    David #28,
    OK. I guess you should know better than Jay Richards what Jay Richards believes.
    I have never seen anyone hold onto a straw man argument so passionately.

  • dopderbeck

    pds (#29) — Jay Richards? I quoted from J.P. Moreland. Moreland is crystal clear: we must assume “direct” divine action and “intervention,” because Scripture says so. Once we assume what Scripture says is true, we go about trying to find scientific evidence of what must be there. Maybe Richards hasn’t read J.P. Moreland!
    See, this is one of those problems we always run into in these discussions: the “creationist” side of the ID house (i.e., Moreland, Wise, et al.) says one thing, and then the “scientific” side tries to say something else.
    If ID advocates were willing to grant that secondary causation generally provides an adequate account of divine action in nature, would there be such rancorous debates over ID? I don’t think so. It would, after all, be a perhaps interesting but relatively inconsequential idea, on which no major “worldview” issue would depend.

  • RJS

    pds,
    It is not that Richards is saying that God isn’t in the natural laws – it is that he is saying that design is detectable when natural impersonal physical laws are not enough – with the implication that it isn’t detectable otherwise.
    This leads to a search for places where natural laws are not enough – and Richard’s uses Behe’s work heavily – saying for example:

    Similarly, Behe’s argument does not imply that nature is a self-contained entity going on its merry way except when God decides to jump in to build a bacterial flagellum. Nor is Behe implying that natural laws or so-called impersonal processes are outside God’s purposes or control. Nor is he saying anything about the value of other teleological arguments—such as Thomas’s Fifth Way. He’s simply talking about detecting design in tiny domains of biology that we understand well, and treating impersonal constants and mechanisms, such as gravity and the Darwinian mechanism, as givens.

    The problem though, is that Behe’s examples of design are not standing the test – and one reason for this is that we do not yet understand all of the mechanisms of evolution well. We understand much much more now than we did 14 years ago when Darwin’s Black Box was originally published – and we will understand much much more 14 years from now.
    I think that looking for places where natural impersonal laws are not enough is taking the wrong approach all together. It is simply a counterproductive endeavor. There are much more productive approaches to combat philosophical naturalism.
    On another ground – I also think that attempts to find “detectable” design is theological unsound. There is no theological reason why we must find this kind of evidence for God, and no theological reason to think that we will.

  • pds

    David #30,
    Your Moreland quote does not say what you are saying it says. Maybe he says it elsewhere, but not in the quote.
    You are making a blanket statement about all ID proponents. It does not apply to Richards, Witt, Wiker and many others, including me.
    Richards continues:

    In the same way, one can make a design argument based on some narrow feature in the biological world without denying that the background media, considered on their own, are also evidence of design. ID theorists do that all the time. They point to evidence for design from physics and cosmology. And they appeal to beauty and rationality in nature as evidence for design. ID is not an either-or approach, but rather a both-and.

    Your approach does not further the debate.

  • R Hampton

    pds,
    “Intelligent Design” is a mess of ideas (just one reason why it’s not a theory) that can be used to cover all of the divergent views of YEC, OEC, Evolutionary Theists. So the best can do to define ID is by its leading scientists and the Discovery Institute to which they belong, most notably Michael Behe (Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture) and Stephen Meyer (Senior Fellow & Program Director, Center for Science and Culture).

  • Sacred Frenzy

    RJS (#31): “There is no theological reason why we must find this kind of evidence for God, and no theological reason to think that we will.”
    Is there a theological reason why we can’t find this kind of evidence for God? And is there a theological reason to think that we won’t?

  • RJS

    Sacred Frenzy,
    That is an interesting twist on the question.
    I certainly don’t think that there is a theological reason why such evidence for God cannot exist. But history to date suggests that puzzles that seem to provide such evidence are eventually amenable to other explanation (without resorting to absurd improbabilities). So it is wise to hold such ideas with an open hand – could be interesting ideas, but they are not foundational to our faith.
    I think there is a theological reason to think that we won’t find such evidence. The interactions of God in his creation are generally “natural” – i.e. follow regular, rational laws and behavior. When the interactions of God with creation step outside these bounds it is in relationship to humans created in his image, and for a specific purpose in that relationship. So it seems reasonable that evidence for design will not be found in ontic discontinuities, but only in purpose and relationship (which can include direct intervention).

  • Unapologetic Catholic

    It is a hallmark of intelligent design advocacy that ontic discontinuites must and do exist.
    Even Behe holds this opinion. ID has no scientific or theological value if such “ontic discontinuites” are absent.
    Beckwith’s recognition of this ontic discontinity requirement of ID as contrasted to the Thomistic view is why he has come to challenge the opinions of his former Discovery Institute co-Fellows.

  • EricG

    Dan (#5) — the argument against evidence for natural selection based on our “fallen intellect” stikes me as a dangerous one; it can lead us to bury our heads in the sand, ignoring overwhelming scientific evidence. As a matter of realism, we can’t dismiss the evidence in favor of natural selection (see, e.g., Francis Collins’ book or RJS’s past posts. I understand that origin of life is another matter, but part of your comment seemed to refer to evolution generally). Plus, the “fallen intellect” argument can be used against either side; someone could just as easily say it is the “fallen intellect” that leads some people to reject the evidence in favor of natural selection.
    Michael Kruse — your thoughts seem similar to thoughts I’ve had recently. Who is to say that God, who is not constrained by space and time, and has no beginning and no end, needs to have specifically intervened from what we deem the “beginning” of *our* time? From His position outside our space and time, I’m not sure that our “beginning” would necessarily have to be the location from which he created — or that we could necessarily discern any “time” location for His act of creation, any more than we could discern a physical location. That would seem to impose human-type limitations on Him.
    Sacred Frenzy — I’d say that a theological reason that we won’t find specific scientific proof is that He does not appear to reveal Himself in such obvious and overpowering ways. He seems to operate through our faith in Him.

  • Francis Beckwith

    Below is a do-over of the one above. I failed to italicize Jay Richards’ second paragraph
    Pds #26.
    You quote Jay as saying:
    Admittedly, the way some ID proponents speak can lead to misunderstandings, if read uncharitably. When discussing biology, for example, ID theorists frequently contrast the role of natural laws like gravity with the role of intelligent design. They may speak of natural selection as a “mindless” or “brute” or even “purposeless” process. To the grumpy reader interpreting this language theologically, this can sound like ID implies that God only acts apart from these natural forces, that he is merely an artificer who rearranges pre-existing material, that there are forces in the world that seem to exist apart from God’s activity, or that God only acts where nature leaves off. God’s action, then, would be set up against nature, and left to fill the “gaps” that nature leaves empty.
    These ideas would certainly be problematic, as Barr charges, if anyone actually advanced them; but no theistic ID proponent ever has. No theist worth his salt believes that God is aloof from the world except when he acts directly in nature. That would be a sort of modified deism—though, strictly speaking, deists don’t think God acts within the world at all. For theists, in any case, God transcends the world, is free to act directly in it—however unfashionable that might be—and always remains intimately involved with it.
    There are two problems with Jay’s comments, it seems to me. First, he shifts the discussion from ID as a theory to the beliefs of ID advocates. But a problem philosophical theology is not answered simply because one can appeal to a personal narrative in which the one seems fine with it. Second, my reading of ID–which is not nearly as extensive as Jay’s, of course–has led to me a different interpretation of the nature of the debate. Perhaps this makes me “uncharitable,” which is a judgment Jay is free make of me.
    It seems clear to me that for Behe and Dembski no design inference about nature is warranted short of achieving that threshold of irreducible or specified complexity. But that means that the person who believes he has good grounds for final and formal causes—while rejecting Behe’s and Dembski’s criteria—has no warrant for believing that the final and formal causes he claims to “see” in living organisms are real. In other words, Behe and Dembski are implicitly accepting the assumption of the materialists—the opponents of final and formal causes—that God’s role in nature may only be exhibited in properly arranged bits of matter so as to signify an agent cause of the arrangement.
    In Dembski’s narrative of the history of the design argument in his book The Design Revolution, he pretty much concedes this. He states that “with the rise of modern science in the seventeenth century, design arguments took a mechanical turn. The mechanical philosophy that was prevalent at the birth of modern science viewed the world as an assemblage of material particles interacting by mechanical forces. Within this view, design was construed as externally imposed on preexisting on inert matter.” He goes on to show how this view made possible the natural theology of William Paley (1743-1805), author of the famous Watchmaker Argument. However, writes Dembski, Darwin, with the publication of Origin of Species, “delivered the design argument its biggest blow,” though that did not spell the end of design arguments. Instead of “finding specific instances of design within the universe,” design arguments focused “on determining whether and in what way the universe as a whole was designed.” But, fortunately, all was not lost. According to Dembski, “[d]esign theorists see advances in the biological and information sciences as putting design back in the saddle and enabling it to out-explain Darwinism, thus making design rather than natural selection current the best explanation of biological complexity.” But this means that design in nature is more like Aristotle’s bed than the tree from which the bed was made. In other words, ID advocates assume the very mechanistic philosophy of nature that drove both Paley and his atheist critics.
    In 2000, Steve Meyer says something similar in a First Things article:
    For two millennia, the design argument provided an intellectual foundation for much of Western thought. From classical antiquity through the rise of modern science, leading philosophers, theologians, and scientists—from Plato to Aquinas to Newton—maintained that nature manifests the design of a preexistent mind or intelligence. Moreover, for many Western thinkers, the idea that the physical universe reflected the purpose or design of a preexistent mind—a Creator—served to guarantee humanity’s own sense of purpose and meaning. Yet today in nearly every academic discipline from law to literary theory, from behavioral science to biology, a thoroughly materialistic understanding of humanity and its place in the universe has come to dominate. Free will, meaning, purpose, and God have become pejorative terms in the academy. Matter has subsumed mind; cosmos replaced Creator.
    The reasons for this intellectual shift are no doubt complex. Yet clearly the demise of the design argument itself has played an important role in the loss of this traditional Western belief. Beginning in the Enlightenment, philosophers such as David Hume raised seemingly powerful objections against the design argument. Hume claimed that classical design arguments depended on a weak and flawed analogy between biological organisms and human artifacts. Yet for most, it was not the arguments of the philosophers that disposed of design, but the theories of scientists, particularly that of Charles Darwin. If the origin of biological organisms could be explained naturalistically, as Darwin claimed, then explanations invoking an intelligent designer were unnecessary and even vacuous. Indeed, as Richard Dawkins has put it, it was “Darwin [who] made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.”

    If you are unsure why this is an unacceptable philosophy of nature for the Christian theist to entertain, consider this. Suppose that in the next few years biologists discover another force in nature, similar to natural selection, that has the power to produce in living organisms organs and systems that appear to be irreducibly or specifically complex. According to the ID advocate, the rational person would have to abandon the idea that these organs and systems are intelligently designed, since his criterion would no longer be a reliable detector of “design.” Consequently, the rational person would have to conclude that these organs and systems are probably the product of necessity and/or chance (to employ Dembski’s categories). Thomistic Design, on the other hand, is not threatened by such discoveries, since the TD advocate actually expects to find such laws in nature, since she believes that God created ex nihilo a universe teeming with ends or purposes that depend on laws and principles that cry out for explanation. By rejecting the mechanistic assumptions of both the Darwinian materialists and the ID advocates, TD does not have the burden of waiting with bated breath for the latest scientific argument or discovery in order to remain confident that the universe, or at least a small sliver of it, is designed.

  • Ted M. Gossard

    Illuminating and helpful. I think I’m with Thomas on this one! (: (:

  • bNelson

    How does Beckwith’s explanation of the Thomist argument relate to C.S. Lewis’s logical progression in the book “Miracles”? It seems to me that Lewis starts on a different tack altogether but ends up in essentially the same place? Or am I hopelessly outdated? Your thoughts, anyone?
    Clements @ 5
    “Science is purely concerned with creating models that can be used to predict physical events. These models are based purely on physical evidence. As such evolution is the only model which explains in a coherent fashion the physical evidence. So scientists can not use a belief system in their inquiry.”
    Lewis would disagree. First of all, “Science” is not a separate entity that acts all by itself, separate from human beings – it is a wholly human, rational endeavor. Lewis’s assertion as I understand it is that “Science” (read “the scientist”) starts with a belief system which “it” (“the scientist”) uses to organize those “models…based purely on physical evidence.” ID would, I assume, use this fact as a basis for arguing that something beyond “purely physical evidence” exists, that it is intelligent, and that it has, or can have, an effect on the “models” and/or the physical evidence.
    Also, about “as the gaps of irreducible complexity close you are left with a rather shrunken God.” This statement is an assumption that there is such a thing as reducible complexity. I would argue that much work in Chaos theory has given us models showing that complexity as we understand it IS irreducible.

  • pds

    The Design Spectrum
    Frank #38,
    Thanks for your comment. You said:
    “There are two problems with Jay’s comments, it seems to me. First, he shifts the discussion from ID as a theory to the beliefs of ID advocates.”
    I would submit that Jay was not shifting the discussion. You and Biologos had shifted the discussion. ID is primarily about using the scientific method and scientific data to detect design. No one denies that it has philosophical and theological implications (as does Darwinian theory). But Behe and Meyer have not written a lot on their personal theologies (as far as I know).
    Biologos criticized their theology:
    Today, Beckwith discusses how arguments by Thomas Aquinas and others led him to see that ID advocates and atheists both share a view inconsistent with classical theism: that an intelligent agent is only required in cases where natural laws and chance cannot account for a phenomenon.
    So did you:
    “So, ironically, as Ryland notes, the IDers, like Dembksi and Behe, and atheists, like Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne, wind up agreeing that without “gaps” in nature belief in an intelligent designer is not justified.”
    You are not talking about design detection in nature. You are talking about grounds for belief in God. Have Dembski, Behe and Meyer written extensively about ALL their grounds for belief in God? Hardly. I know they have said plainly that ID science is not the only basis for their belief in God.
    Behe at the end of The Edge of Evolution is very expansive in his appreciation of design arguments. He goes way beyond IC arguments. Why don’t you and Biologos just ask him how he feels about your understanding of TD arguments?
    Your last paragraph is also theological. ID science is about trying to find the best explanation for things. If design does not turn out to be the best explanation for some things, it will not shake my belief in God. Your theological concern is not a reason to avoid the best explanation.

  • pds

    Frank,
    One more note. None of the quotes from Meyer and Dembski tell me clearly what they think of your version TD arguments. Let’s ask them.

  • http://francisbeckwith.com Francis Beckwith

    Pds:
    The “you and Biologos” language is precisely what I faced from the other side when I was a Discovery Institute fellow, “you and Discovery.” For the record, I am my own man. I have my own views. Your attempt, as with your opposite years ago, to engage in guilt by association is just another tactic by the intellectually unserious.
    Legitimate, robust, and engaging disagreement I welcome. Humorous snarkiness–if done well and cleverly–I will tolerate. Guilt by association posturing, I will call you out. Consider yourself called out.
    Frank

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    BNelson – Can you clarify your comment, “I would argue that much work in Chaos theory has given us models showing that complexity as we understand it IS irreducible”?
    I see rather different implications in chaos theory than that, if I understand you correctly.

  • Francis Beckwith

    Pds in 42.
    In both cases, this is the narrative: Paley offered this terrific argument; Darwin blew it out of the water; now, thanks to the advances in A, B, and C, we can do it again. Thomists say, Paley mistakenly saw chance and law as rivals to final causality, since he saw final causality as that which is imposed on things from without. This is because Paley embraced the scientism of the Enlightenment. Thomists do not think nature has to make room for God, just as we don’t think ink and paper have to make room for meaning.
    And here’s the money quote: “Your last paragraph is also theological. ID science is about trying to find the best explanation for things. If design does not turn out to be the best explanation for some things, it will not shake my belief in God. Your theological concern is not a reason to avoid the best explanation.”
    This is the Enlightenment truce in all its glory: science is knowledge, theology is not, and for that reason you can’t bring to bear the latter on the former. I say that’s giving away the store.
    Here’s the problem: if your “best explanation” reinforces the idea that without individual cases of design in nature (e.g., the bacterial flagellum), then nature is “unguided,” “non-rational”–language we the uncharitable believe actually has meaning–then you providing aid and sustenance to the cause of unbelief. Whether or not your belief in God is “unshakable” is not really the point, since it is not about you and your “personal Savior.” It’s about other souls who need to be saved.

  • pds

    Frank #43,
    I detest “guilt by association” as much as you. We agree! And I agree that your critics from your Discovery Institute days treated you unfairly. Barbara Forrest’s recent writings on this are deplorable.
    I quoted you personally, and I quoted the Biologos introduction to your article separately. So there was no “guilt by association posturing.”
    Here is the quote from you:

    So, ironically, as Ryland notes, the IDers, like Dembksi and Behe, and atheists, like Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne, wind up agreeing that without “gaps” in nature belief in an intelligent designer is not justified.

    I would be delighted to talk about your words in your post and only your words in your post. They stand on their own.
    But (to use your language) if you engage in false accusations of “guilt by association posturing,” I will call you out. Consider yourself called out.

  • Gregory Arago

    Well said in response to the ‘guilt by association’ posturing, Francis! And I think this ‘Thomistic design’ (TD) approach shows promise, though it is constrained by using the same term ‘design’ that IDists use. As for me, there are many related words that can be applied so that one does not become ‘design-centric’ while focussing on creation and creativity.
    It may be that pds is defending ‘something’, but that he would not accept ‘guilt by association’ by refusing a label of any kind (e.g. ‘Mike Geneian design’). This would be the opposite problem, from a sociological standpoint, of having no allegiances and therefore no solid ground of authority on which to stand. Is pds an ‘IDM-style’ proponent of ID, a Mike Geneian ‘designist’ or a non-scientist, non-philosopher, no-clear-positionist, who picks and chooses his own smorgasboard of views, which nobody but he himself could ever accept?
    “If ID advocates were willing to grant that secondary causation generally provides an adequate account of divine action in nature, would there be such rancorous debates over ID? I don’t think so. It would, after all, be a perhaps interesting but relatively inconsequential idea, on which no major “worldview” issue would depend.” – David
    On the one hand, ‘theistic evolution’ and/or ‘evolutionary creation’ already represent the ‘secondary causation’ approach to the topic. Why should ID try to do what is already being done, with whatever success or lack thereof one imputes to TE and/or EC?
    On the other hand, ID, TE and EC *all* relate to worldview issues because they involve people who are openly religious or whose ‘science’ is openly connected with ‘implications’ for religious faith.
    Depending on how one typologizes their ’causes’ (e.g. Aristotle’s, Thomas’, McLuhan’s, etc.), one can pit primary and secondary with or against proximate and ultimate, or formal and final with or against efficient and material, to create a motley. Getting IDists to speak more about ‘secondary causation’ may solve some problems. At the same time, suggesting that there is *no design argument* in either science or apologetics is going a bit too far. Everything in its place.

  • pds

    The Design Spectrum
    Frank #45,

    Here’s the problem: if your “best explanation” reinforces the idea that without individual cases of design in nature (e.g., the bacterial flagellum), then nature is “unguided,” “non-rational”–language we the uncharitable believe actually has meaning–then you providing aid and sustenance to the cause of unbelief.

    So I am guilty because of how I might be misunderstood? Remarkable.
    Are Tim Keller and Francis Collins and Dallas Willard guilty of this as well? I stand condemned in good company. We shall have rich conversation together at the stake! See here:
    http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/2010/01/28/tim-kellers-design-argument/
    I think you and Stephen Barr are the people primarily “reinforcing the idea” that ID science implies an otherwise “unguided” nature. It does not follow logically.
    Nothing in what I said or believe supports “science is knowledge, theology is not.” Not sure how you get to that.

  • Sacred Frenzy

    Francis (#45): “This is the Enlightenment truce in all its glory: science is knowledge, theology is not, and for that reason you can’t bring to bear the latter on the former. I say that’s giving away the store.”
    J.P. Moreland believes that theology is knowledge, and that theology can be brought to bear on science. And he is an ID proponent. This refutes the notion that if one accepts ID, one has therefore accepted the Enlightenment truce that science is knowledge but theology is not.

  • Kendalf

    It seems to me that a primary point of disagreement in this thread is whether ID proponents believe that ID theory is a necessary or a sufficient indicator of causation. Dr. Beckwith, RJS, and dopderbeck seem to read ID proponents as saying that something must “pass” ID’s criteria for “designed” (whether that be Dembski’s Explanatory Filter, irreducible complexity, etc) in order for us to conclude that it is designed, with the implication that if something doesn’t pass then we cannot draw the conclusion that it was designed; that is, the ID filter is a necessary indicator of transcendent causation. This is what I read in statements like the following (emphasis added, and please correct me if I am reading things uncharitably):
    dopderbeck (#28):

    “I’d re-word the B-L summary of Beckwith’s post: “ID advocates and atheists both share a view inconsistent with classical theism: that the presence of an intelligent agent can only be inferred in cases where natural laws and chance cannot account for a phenomenon.”

    RJS (#31):

    “It is not that Richards is saying that God isn’t in the natural laws – it is that he is saying that design is detectable when natural impersonal physical laws are not enough – with the implication that it isn’t detectable otherwise.”

    Beckwith (#38)

    It seems clear to me that for Behe and Dembski no design inference about nature is warranted short of achieving that threshold of irreducible or specified complexity. But that means that the person who believes he has good grounds for final and formal causes—while rejecting Behe’s and Dembski’s criteria—has no warrant for believing that the final and formal causes he claims to “see” in living organisms are real. In other words, Behe and Dembski are implicitly accepting the assumption of the materialists—the opponents of final and formal causes—that God’s role in nature may only be exhibited in properly arranged bits of matter so as to signify an agent cause of the arrangement.

    In contrast, pds has been making the case that this reading of ID theorists is not warranted, and that ID theorists like Dembski, Behe, Richards, and Moreland have not made ID a necessary criteria for reasonably concluding that something was designed. I’m inclined to agree with pds on this. While ID theorists argue that irreducible complexity and CSI would be sufficient indicators of design, this does not imply that an intelligent agent cannot be inferred or detected without these indicators. It’s this “either/or” phrasing of the ID position that I find inaccurate.
    In his http://www.evolutionnews.org/2010/02/how_to_completely_misunderstan.html “>essay, which has been quoted in part by both positions, Richards clearly makes this distinction (esp. in the last two paragraphs that I quote):

    “At the same time, the theist need not believe that God always acts directly in the world. He can act directly or “primarily,” such as when he creates the whole universe or raises Jesus from the dead…. He also can act through so-called “secondary causes.” These include natural processes and laws that he has established, such as the electromagnetic force. (I think it’s problematic to speak of physical constants as “causes,” but let that pass for now). An event might be both an expression of a physical law and the purposes of God…
    When an ID theorist in question is also a theist, then these distinctions are always in the background, even if they don’t show up in every argument. That’s because ID arguments often focus on discrete, empirical evidence of design in nature—that is, with “design” insofar as it is detectible and tractable in an open-minded scientific framework. This is nothing new. While St. Thomas made broad design arguments, he also pointed to specific examples of design within nature. ID theorists simply point to evidence that Thomas knew nothing about.
    …[I]t’s a misunderstanding to construe Behe’s arguments as complete descriptions of what God is doing. He is talking about detectible design in a subfield of biology, in which physical constants are treated as given, and the limits of mutation and natural selection can be discerned.
    …Behe’s argument does not imply that nature is a self-contained entity going on its merry way except when God decides to jump in to build a bacterial flagellum. Nor is Behe implying that natural laws or so-called impersonal processes are outside God’s purposes or control. Nor is he saying anything about the value of other teleological arguments—such as Thomas’s Fifth Way. He’s simply talking about detecting design in tiny domains of biology that we understand well, and treating impersonal constants and mechanisms, such as gravity and the Darwinian mechanism, as givens.

    Dembski also draws this distinction in his essay, “The Explanatory Filter”:

    When the Explanatory Filter fails to detect design in a thing, can we be sure no intelligent cause underlies it? The answer to this question is No. For determining that something is not designed, the Explanatory Filter is not a reliable criterion.

    The purpose of the Explanatory Filter is in detection of design; it does not delineate the extent of design. That is, the EF is sufficient to determine that something is designed, but it does not make a determination that something is not designed. The EF can fail to discern that a garden was planted by a gardener, but a person can still have plenty of reason to conclude that the garden was indeed planted, because the EF is not a necessary determiner of that.
    Maybe I am being too charitable in how I read Dembski and Richards here, but I just don’t see anything here that shows that they think that ID theory is a necessary criterion for design and a designer.

  • Kendalf

    My word processor got my open and closed quotes mixed up, which messed up the html formatting. I am quoting Richards in all 4 paragraphs, not just the one paragraph that has blockquote formatting. Sorry!

  • R Hampton

    While ID theorists argue that irreducible complexity and CSI would be sufficient indicators of design, this does not imply that an intelligent agent cannot be inferred or detected without these indicators.
    This misses the point entirely. Because ID scientists have only offered Irreducible Complexity and CSI as scientifically verifiable evidence in support of their ideas, ID “theory” is currently limited to these two hypotheses — the rest is just philosophy/theology conjecture. Likewise, the actual science of Evolutionary theory is limited to Natural Selection, Sexual Selection, Random Mutation, et al. despite the attempts of some to bind it with arguments for or against God and/or design.

  • Kendalf

    R Hampton, what is “the rest” that you are referring to in your comment? The rest of design arguments in general, the rest of the belief in a designer…?

  • R Hampton

    The rest of design arguments do not belong to the scientific “theory” of Intelligent Design, instead they belong to the apologetic offered by Intelligent Design.

  • pds

    The Design Spectrum
    Kendalf,
    Good summary. Good points.
    The bottom line is that there are plenty of ID proponents or ID friendly people who embrace the “both/and” perspective. Seems like the most productive position of Frank, David and RJS is to encourage the “both/and” position.
    Pretending that “both/and” folks don’t exist in the ID fold serves no good end.

  • RickK

    RJS said: “Nor is it necessary to assume that God cannot have a measurable or observable impact.”
    I didn’t say God cannot have a measurable impact. I merely said no god every has had an impact that anyone has ever measured. And humanity has a long and colorful history of cases where people claim to have identified a measurable impact from divine/supernatural causes, only to be proved wrong later.
    Therefore, with 2000 years of failure by “divine causation” arguments, chances are very high that any “divine causation” arguments that someone puts forward today will also be wrong.
    Karen Armstrong in “The Case for God” delves quite deeply into the horrible wrong turn Christianity took when it tried to use scientific observation to prove God’s existence.
    RJS said: “Purpose is the key issue as I see it”
    Let’s assume for just a second that human existence is not the sole purpose for something like 4 x 10^32 cubic lightyears of universe.
    How would a universe without purpose look different from our universe?

  • dopderbeck

    kendalf (#50) — you make some good points here. But I’d want to go back to something I said before: I think what you’re saying here reflects a divide between “Rationalistic” and “Fideistic” ID proponents.
    Fideistic ID proponents, such as J.P. Moreland, insist that there must be detectible evidence of Divine “intervention” in nature because the Bible tells us God intervened. This clearly is what Moreland says in the quote I gave in #12.
    Rationalistic ID proponents, such as (I think) Dembski, say (or at least seem to say) that “design” can only be inferred empirically through filters that mark certain things off against the “background” of ordinary causation.
    Both of these approaches, it seems to me, lack a robust natural theology of nature qua creation. In neither case is it ringingly affirmed that the existence of a creator can be inferred from all of nature. I think this is Beckwith’s overriding point: a Thomistic (and, I would add, an Augustinian) view of “causation” and “purpose” doesn’t require instances of extraordinary causation apart from the “background” of events. “Ordinary” events themselves are subsumed in the fact of primary causation. We only “need” ID and all the cultural heat that goes with it if primary causation somehow isn’t good enough.

  • bNelson

    about Chaos I was speaking in a very general way about the principle that levels of complexity do not change regardless of how micro or macro a level one studies a phenonomenon – e.g. a coastline from a satellite to a study of a grain of sand on one of its beaches. No matter what line of inquiry or observation, complexity remains the same and actually continues to unfold.

  • EricG

    bNelson — it seems to me that the sort of random chaotic dymanics (known by some simply as “chaos”) actually demonstrates the opposite of what you suggest. Take the Mandelbrot set, which is a well known example of chaotic dynamics. If one were to look at it without knowing what created it, one might say it is irreducibly complex, with an infinite level of complexity as you focus on ever smaller sections of it. But in reality, it is quite easily explained: It is generated by iterations of a very, very simple function. What someone would suggest is “irreducibly complex” is really quite simple.

  • http://francisbeckwith.com Francis Beckwith

    pds (#48) writes: “So I am guilty because of how I might be misunderstood? Remarkable.”
    Yikes! I probably wrote with clarity. What I was suggesting is that the claim made by Jay Richards that is uncharitable to take ID advocates at their word when they say something like “random” is an example of literary scrupulosity. Yes, it may be the case that we have misunderstood the ID advocates, but it’s not our lack of charity that is the cause; it’s their lack of clarity.
    Having said that, why is that whenever a conceptual question is raised, the response becomes, “But that’s not what we believe,” as if a conceptual question can be answered by simply asking someone whether they can maintain two beliefs simultaneously that appear to us simpletons as at least problematic. If X claims that he has a met a married-bachelor and I say, “Why that seems incoherent,” it does no good to respond, “But Fred here says he is both married and a bachelor, and that’s good enough for me.”
    If ID theorists think they have good arguments, more power to them. I don’t have a horse that race. If there are arguments work, or at least plausible, it is a scandal that they are treated with such contempt and hatred in the academy. But my problem is that the case for ID–as I documented in my quotations and citations from Meyer and Dembski–is presented as if is the last best hope to rescue Christian theism from the clutches of materialism. By locating the dispute in that narrow question, teaches the wrong lesson about God and one’s philosophy of nature.

  • Francis Beckwith

    Double dumb me.
    I wrote above: “I probably wrote with clarity.”
    Should have read: “I probably wrote withOUT clarity.”

  • Kendalf

    dopderbeck (#57)
    Before I address the quote from Moreland that you cited, I would like to point out that you are still writing as if Dembski sees ID filters as a necessary indicator of transcendent causation when you say that design “can only be inferred empirically through filters…” It’s that word “only” that I am having problems with, as I do not believe you have given any sources that show that Dembski actually sees things the way you describe, whereas I provided in my previous comment a statement where he explicitly states that when the EF fails to detect design in something, this does not indicate that no intelligent cause underlies it. You also seem to not take into account Jay Richards’ warning to not misconstrue the arguments of ID proponents “as complete descriptions of what God is doing” when you claim that Dembski’s approach lacks “a robust natural theology.” As I see it, it is not the ID theorists who are claiming that ID is trying to be a full blown natural theology.
    I do hope that you would take the time to closely read Richards’ article. You would then see him saying:

    In the same way, one can make a design argument based on some narrow feature in the biological world without denying that the background media, considered on their own, are also evidence of design. ID theorists do that all the time. They point to evidence for design from physics and cosmology. And they appeal to beauty and rationality in nature as evidence for design. ID is not an either-or approach, but rather a both-and.
    …I should add that even if we can’t render a stand-alone design argument from some narrow aspect of nature, it doesn’t follow that God is not still in charge of that part of nature, or that it might not still be the occasion for someone to see or experience God. Scientific study is not the only way to experience or gain knowledge of nature. But it is one way. And if there is evidence of design in that realm that natural scientists study, then there’s no good reason, either philosophical or theological, why they shouldn’t be free to consider it.

    By no means does Richards’ imply that “causation” and “purpose” require that ID research succeed, or that theists “need” ID to uphold ultimate causation in the universe. Why then this insistence that ID is failing at being something that it has never claimed to be?

  • Kendalf

    Now let us consider your statements on Dr. Moreland’s propositions from The Creation Hypothesis.
    First, you state that Moreland clearly “insist[s] that there must be detectible evidence of Divine “intervention” in nature because the Bible tells us God intervened.” But nowhere in the quote you gave does Moreland indicate that the basis for this proposition is “because the Bible tells us.” In comment #20 you also state in regard to Moreland and other ID advocates that:

    primary causation (“intervention”) is required for them because that is what a certain reading of the Genesis 1 “kinds” demands.

    pds replied–and I fully agree–that you are reading things into Moreland’s statements that just aren’t there.
    Second, I’m curious about why you seem to disagree so strongly with Moreland’s propositions? Do you not believe that God acted as a primary cause in the creation of the universe; if not, then I would ask you what caused the universe to begin to exist? Or do you primarily disagree with the part about God directly intervening “in the course of [the world's] development at various times”? My question then would be, what reason(s) can you offer to persuade me that God cannot intervene directly within His creation?
    It seems to me that this would be an uphill battle for a Christian, for then you would have to somehow explain all of the apparent “miracles” that are described in the Bible by means of secondary causes. Would you be able to explain how God parted the Red Sea (which is the example of primary causation that Moreland uses immediately after the propositions you quote), or the healings performed by Jesus, or even the resurrection by means of secondary causes? What I’m trying to determine is if you really believe that God does not intervene directly at all, or do you believe that God did not intervene specifically during the process of Creation. If the later, then I would ask why the restriction on when God can or cannot intervene? If the former, then we have some major theological differences between us.

  • pds

    The Design Spectrum
    Frank #60,
    Thanks for the clarification.
    1. “Married and a bachelor” entails a clear contradiction. Affirming design arguments based on the origin of life, and affirming design arguments based on the order and beauty we see in nature as a whole do not. Perhaps you can clarify further.
    2. You said,

    But my problem is that the case for ID–as I documented in my quotations and citations from Meyer and Dembski–is presented as if is the last best hope to rescue Christian theism from the clutches of materialism.

    I don’t read them that way. Can you explain how you do? Meyer is talking about “the design argument” generally, and mentions Aquinas positively in that tradition. It seems that he would include TD arguments as part of the solution.
    3. Finally, you mention use of the word “random.” If there is one thing that is clear in this debate is that many words are used with many different meanings, and this leads to misunderstanding. I hardly ever use the word “evolution” by itself because it has so many meanings. “Random” is like that too. Could you elaborate on which uses you are referring to, and what you think the word means in each context?
    Ken Miller, a Catholic biologist and theistic evolutionist has said this in books he has authored or co-authored:

    “random, undirected process of mutation had produced the ‘right’ kind of variation for natural selection to act upon”
    “blind, random, undirected evolution [could] have produced such an intricate set of structures and organs, so brilliantly dedicated to a single purpose”
    “Evolution is a natural process, and natural processes are undirected”
    “Darwin knew that accepting his theory required believing in philosophical materialism, the conviction that matter is the stuff of all existence and that all mental and spiritual phenomena are its by-products. Darwinian evolution was not only purposeless but also heartless–a process in which the rigors of nature ruthlessly eliminate the unfit. Suddenly, humanity was reduced to just one more species in a world that cared nothing for us. The great human mind was no more than a mass of evolving neurons. Worst of all, there was no divine plan to guide us.”

    What do you think Miller meant by “random” in these statements? How should we read these charitably?
    Let me just close by saying that I am delighted that you are joining the discussion. In my opinion, the Theistic Evolution side has often demonstrated a poor grasp of philosophy and basic logic. You are an excellent philosopher, theologian and legal theorist. I hope you can help steer some of the scientists in a better direction when they move in these other areas.

  • pds

    I should add that I do not mean to suggest that the ID side could not also continue to benefit from Francis Beckwith’s wisdom.

  • http://www.angelfire.com/linux/vjtorley/index.html Vincent Torley

    I only have time for a few quick comments:
    1. Right now, I’m working on a lengthy essay which deals with what Aquinas would have thought about creationism, ID and the theistic version of neo-Darwinian evolution, were he alive today. It will be posted online in a week or two. It contains quite a few surprises. For instance: St. Thomas believed on scientific grounds that certain kinds of living things could not have arisen naturally from non-living matter. I also argue that St. Thomas could not have accepted any version of neo-Darwinian evolution, for theological reasons. Stay tuned.
    2. I believe that Aquinas’ Fifth Way is a valid argument, but it’s a metaphysical one. Most modern-day people don’t trust metaphysical arguments, as an avenue to truth. Even if you could argue them into a corner (and I’ve tried many times), they’d simply say that there must be something wrong with one of the premises.
    3. However, modern-day people DO trust maths and the sciences. I believe we have to engage them on their own ground, and take the fight to that arena. That means we have to keep ourselves abreast of the latest scientific developments and continually sharpen our arguments by exposing them to the harshest criticism: that of intelligent skeptics.
    4. At the same time, we should keep our metaphysical arguments ready to deploy as well, as conversion to theism occurs on many intellectual levels, and we have to engage all of them. With most skeptics, I’d bring out Aquinas’ Fifth Way after convincing them that there was a good scientific case for the universe’s being designed (the fine-tuning argument) and for life being designed (Signature in the Cell). By that stage, they’d be open to metaphysical arguments and a new world-view, but not before.

  • RJS

    Vincent,
    I think you have it exactly backwards and are starting with the weak – not the strong argument. The metaphysical argument is the strong argument.
    The very best an argument such as Meyer’s in Signature can provide is a realization that there are still gaps in scientific understanding. It provides no convincing reason at all for viewing these gaps as permanent.

  • R Hampton

    Vincent Torley ,
    Aquinas also valued reason as the means to understand Natural Revelation. Consequently, without the benefit of modern scientific knowledge, it’s hard for me to accept that Aquinas’s views on living things arising from non-living matter would be unaffected.
    Having said that, I do hope you realize that Evolution is the means by which life adapts and changes after it is established, whereas Abiogenesis is study of how life first came to be. So the point you want to establish is that – in your opinion – Aquinas would argue for divine intervention to start life (voiding the non-living matter problem) but how it evolved thereafter was Aquinas would still argue for “nature” (the rationale of God’s Universe).

  • pds

    Vincent #66,
    What writings by Aquinas is it based on?

  • http://www.angelfire.com/linux/vjtorley/index.html Vincent Torley

    RJS:
    Absolutely speaking, you are right to say that “The metaphysical argument is the strong argument,” because it cuts to the very heart of reality. However, when arguing with skeptics, one has to use arguments which they can readily grasp. That is the advantage of cosmological fine-tuning and biological ID arguments: the key concepts are relatively easy for moderns to grasp. The only question is whether the science and mathematics are correct.
    I am not at all worried about whether the gaps in Meyer’s argument will be overturned. There are only three possible ways of generating the complex specified information in DNA: chance, necessity and intelligent agency. The first two are mathematically incapable of generating enough CSI to make even a protein, let alone a cell, in the lifetime of the observable universe.
    RHampton:
    I am well aware of the distinction between abiogenesis and evolution, thank you. And no, I don’t claim that Aquinas’s views would be unaffected by modern science, were he alive today. In my forthcoming paper, I spell out at considerable length precisely how much Aquinas would be prepared to change his views, given his fundamental theological principles. I argue that while he’d accept an old earth and possibly common descent, there’s no way he’d accept neo-Darwinian evolution. And while he accepted abiogenesis, he’d laugh it off as silly nonsense were he alive today.
    pds:
    What writings, you ask? Patience, patience. All will be revealed. In the meantime, you might like to have a look at ST I, qq. 44-47, 65-74, 90-104; SCG I, 13; II, 39-46; III, 65-74, 101-102; De Veritate qq. 5, 18; De Potentia qq. 3, 5. That’s a good start.

  • RJS

    Vincent,
    As a scientist – a professor and a researcher – I do not find the biological ID argument convincing on any level whatsoever. If it doesn’t convince me as a Christian – why would I expect it to convince a non-Christian? And I know that my colleagues would laugh you out the door if you opened with it. It is simply a nonstarter.
    Chance and necessity are only mathematically impossible if one starts with a postulated scenario for evolution that no one believes. The mechanism of evolution is far more complex than this scenario allows. One can leave the door open for the possibility of biological design in the origin of life – but it is a very tenuous argument.
    It is not that design itself is unmentionable – one can start a discussion, or introduce cosmological fine-tuning into the discussion and make a case. One can also make the metaphysical argument – it will hold much more sway with the educated skeptic (at least the educated scientist) than biological ID.


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