Ruminating on the Natural Revelation Series I Wrote for the Register…

Ruminating on the Natural Revelation Series I Wrote for the Register… January 10, 2014

back in November.  For me the weirdest takeaway was not that atheists tried to argue there is no God.  What would anybody expect an atheist to do?  No.  The weirdest part was having Fundamentalist Protestants who think they are Catholics tell me that St. Thomas Aquinas’ arguments for the existence of God were a menace to the Faith and that the only *true* arguments for the existence of God come from the Intelligent Design movement.  More and more, I come to agree with reader Dan C that the uncritical alliance of conservative American Catholicism and Evangelical Protestantism needs to be critically examined PDQ since a lot of highly dubious assumptions are being accepted in those parts by Catholics who really ought to know better.

Just as it should not be controversial to say “Pope Francis is not the enemy of the Church and Catholics who think it their job to defend the faith from him should consider the possibility they are insufficiently modest about their brains and sanctity” so it should not be controversial to say “The major challenge facing the Church today is not due to the fact that St. Thomas Aquinas is soft on atheism or not as well versed in arguments for the existence of God as Intelligent Design advocates.  If you believe this to be the case, grow some humility.”

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  • Kay Carlson

    I am a Catholic Creationist and followed some of your posts but not all the comments.
    I don’t know if anyone quoted Aquinas in Summa Theologica Part I, Question 92,
    Article 4. Thomas Aquinas says: “Now the
    matter whence man is naturally begotten is the human semen of man or
    woman. Wherefore from any other matter
    an individual of the human species cannot naturally be generated. Now God alone, the Author of nature, can
    produce an effect into existence outside the ordinary course of nature. Therefore God alone could produce either a
    man from the slime of the earth, or a woman from the rib of man.”

    In the next
    statement, Reply to Objection 1, Aquinas says: “This argument is verified when
    an individual is begotten, by natural generation, from that which is like it in
    the same species.”

    All Catholics
    are Creationists because we believe that God created all things visible and invisible. Not all Creationists are Young Earth
    Creationists. I am open-minded about the age of the Earth, but I think it is
    very possible that God created life directly in a supernatural way.
    Kay Carlson

    • Dan C

      It is possible to be a full and loyal Catholic and absolutely reject a young Earth hypothesis.

      In fact, it may be more orthodox to do so.

      • kenofken

        If you want any educated person to accord even a shred of credibility to your theological arguments, don’t tie them to Young Earth.

        • ivan_the_mad

          Or to evolution. I would say that we should recognize different species of knowledge and know that conclusions from one species premised from another are at best problematic.

          As it is wrong to falsely draw metaphysical conclusions from empirical inquiry, so too it is wrong to falsely draw empirical conclusions from metaphysical inquiry. Fundamentalists shouldn’t think macro-evolution disproves Scripture, nor should fundamentalists think that Scripture proves Young Earth Creationism. I should think this rather obvious, but increasingly it is confirmed that elementary literacy and Google do not bequeath understanding.

          • kenofken

            By insisting on interpreting scriptures and stories as literal scientific fact, fundamentalists paint themselves into a hopeless corner. They have staked their entire belief system and credibility of God Himself on an ever-shifting and advancing base of scientific knowledge. Even when science proves them absurdly wrong, they have no choice but to put on a brave face and demand fealty to lies.

            • ivan_the_mad

              Ha! I do enjoy how your comment can be attributed to any particular stripe of fundamentalist (theist or atheist) in this context. Seriously, Dawkins and Ken Ham should get married and leave the rest of us well enough alone. They should find that they come to enjoy each other’s company far more than they’d care to admit. Is it really so difficult to let go of the conflict thesis and stop treating life in its proliferating variety and mystery as a zero-sum game?

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      But creation is not the transformation of one species to another; that is, it is not evolution.

    • By “Creationist” we mean those who insist on what Ye Olde Statistician has called “theokinetics” (sweet term, BTW, Ye Olde).

  • Mark,

    Please grow some humility yourself. I promise to do the same.

    I don’t think ID is a proof of the existence of God. It’s an indication of intelligent design. The question of God – if it is a question – is quite different.

    • But ID is not anything but sophisticated-sounding, warmed-over special creationism. It’s not the argument from design.

  • kenofken

    If you’re staking your theology on ID, the atheists won’t even have to get out of their PJs to win the debate!

    • It’s perfectly possible to accept ID and remain an atheist, and in fact I have the impression that it’s happening.

      Fred Hoyle, a well-known physicist, was one of those years ago. He thought that a denial of design was preposterous. I don’t think it made him a theist, though.

      He said famously that if you thought the cosmos did not present evidence of design, it would be like having expected a hurricane to blow through a junk yard and assemble a 747.

      • kenofken

        Hoyle got a lot of stuff wrong, like his model for a Steady State universe, and his theories on life origins led him into the lazy and un-scientific and conceited trap of “irreducible complexity.” Basically, using a set of arbitrary and erroneous assumptions, he calculated odds for abiogenesis and came up with what he saw as an “impossible” set of odds. Basically the reasoning is: “If my brilliant mind can’t make the math work, there’s no natural solution.” It’s a tempting way out of a frustrating problem, and I tried it a number of times with difficult integrals, but never seemed to get full points for that “solution” on exams!

        The assumptions used in Hoyle’s 747 scenario – often called “Hoyle’s Fallacy”, are way out of line with what we know happens in the natural world. If we use a 747 as a sort of analogy for large complex life forms (like us), then yes, it is absurdly improbable that we arose through some instantaneous process of thousands of completely random steps that had to happen just so. Life, and evolution, doesn’t work like that.

        The process of developing a “747” in nature enjoys the benefits of billions of trials over billions of years with self-replicating components with lots of variability which is then filtered by natural selection. Some of those selection scenarios favor the emergence of complexity. Some of that variation will come to resemble a 747, and if conditions are right, the “plane” we know and love will emerge and proliferate.

        Hoyle was not an idiot by any means, but he had some pretty hokey ideas about probability, and later in life he went in for some really fringy ideas, like a theory that AIDS (and a bunch of other epidemic diseases) came from outer space.

        • Speaking of probability, read anything about the probability of natural selection acting on random point mutation producing adaptive proteins in an adaptive organism over a reasonable period of time?

          • kenofken

            Yes, but single base substitution is not the only road to mutation, and probably not the most important one on the evolutionary scale. Mutations in tandem repeat sequences occur at rates up to 100,000 times that of point mutations, and tend to result in much more significant morphological changes. These mutations seem to account for the large physical instraspecies variation among domestic dogs, which has taken place over a very short period of evolutionary time. They could easily account for the other rapid evolutionary changes we’ve seen, such as the development of the human brain in hominid evolution and the sometimes rapid appearance of new species in the fossil record.

            • Seem to? Could easily account for?

              Do they?

              • kenofken

                It’s been shown pretty well in dogs, and I think yeasts. To be honest, my reading in that area is about a decade behind the times. It is clear that the relative slowness of single point mutation is not a death knell for evolution. Every time someone has said something is “too complex” for nature to have accomplished, they’ve been proven wrong.

                • I think you have to get down to the actual molecular operations to see that it doesn’t work as Neo-Darwinian theory says it should. There are more problems than point mutation. But if you’re interested you can do your own reading.

                  In any case, ID doesn’t deny evolution. It doesn’t deny that species evolve. It doesn’t deny variation within species.

                  • kenofken

                    “ID” as I’ve ever seen the term used, refers to a pseudo-scientific reinvention of creationism. When someone offers an “alternative” scientific theory which relies on supernatural intervention to explain what we have observed biologically, it’s bunk, and it’s not science. If, on the other hand, someone accepts the body of evidence behind evolution and says “I believe there is a god and ultimate purpose behind it”, it’s not a scientific argument, but it’s a valid one to derive theologically and philosophically. The science of evolution in no way requires atheism.

                    • The material I’ve been reading doesn’t require God. It does’t require supernatural intervention. Intelligent design is just that – functional information produced by an intelligence.

                    • The material I’ve been reading doesn’t require God. It does’t require supernatural intervention.

                      These kind of statements always strike me as somewhat disingenuous. Where did the alien “intelligent designers” come from?

                    • Where do you come from?

                      Who said anything about “alien intelligent designers”?

                    • Because by saying “Our theory doesn’t require God”, they cannot avoid the other horn of the dilemma. Either God or not-God. The modern term for not-God is “alien”. (You could go with angel or demon, but that is still a super- or preternatural intervention.)

                      If the Intelligent Design types want to insist that they’re not preaching warmed over “God of the gaps”, then they need to be fine with drawing an inference of design from the purely natural laws of the universe. But they don’t. They keep insisting that the natural laws of the universe cannot account for life as we know it and that that’s an inference of design.

                      St Thomas says that’s bogus.

                    • kenofken

                      For all that, the God/intelligent designer they infer must exist is kind of a pathetic figure. He/it is good enough to create a universe teeming with life that has amazing adaptability, but it can’t get itself over the hump of one period of the Cambrian era without constant personal tinkering.

                    • Dave G.

                      I know one fellow who was a scientist who expressed interest in, and support of, ID. That was around 10 years ago. What he said, and how critics speak about ID and those who in some ways support it, are quite different. But since I’m not a scientist, I wouldn’t’ do well in an argument about it. I just remember what he said. And it made sense to me.

                    • What are “purely natural laws of the universe”? That’s smuggled in Deism.

                      Jon, there are no gaps. Everything comes from God, is of God.

                      I don’t say this because I think it would be a swell idea, or I read it in a book of theology.

                      I have seen it. Anyone can see it.

                    • Jon, there are no gaps.

                      I agree, but that’s not what the Intelligent Design guys say.

                    • I don’t know what “they” say. It doesn’t matter – it’s not Holy Scripture.

                      Take what’s valuable and leave what you don’t want to take.

                    • According to Meyer: “…the neo-Darwinian mechanism fails to account for the origin of genetic information

                      That’s a gap that Meyer is attempting to fill with “God did it without any secondary cause”.

                    • Not in the book I’ve read.

                    • If that’s the case, then there’s absolutely no reason to be bringing God (or a “designer”) into a debate that’s going on within the biological sciences over the mechanism of evolutionary change. It’s just “God did it this way as opposed to that way.”

                    • God and a “designer” are not synonymous terms. You obviously haven’t the faintest of notion what the idea of design is about.

                      What is says, to put it extremely simply, is that evolutionary systems most closely resemble the purpose-designed information systems with which we are familiar.

                      I haven’t once brought God into the discussion.

                      If you’re not interested in an idea and don’t know anything about it, at least have the sense not to criticize it as if you did.

                    • kenofken

                      IDer’s don’t ever drop the name “God” for purely tactical reasons. It’s a cheesy way to try to do an end run around the Establishment Clause. They need to maintain the fiction that they’re purely about science, not religion, so they’re very careful not to use the “G-word.” They leave it at “intelligent designer” or somesuch generic concept. Essentially everyone in the ID movement are evangelicals, so they know they’re all on the same page. They might as well drop the charade. Courts have seen through it, and they’ve called it for what it is: A religious argument. It’s worthy of no respect as science, because it isn’t scientific, at all. I also can’t respect anyone who doesn’t have the courage of conviction to openly stand for their gods or religious beliefs.

                    • You seem to know a lot about ID for someone who hasn’t read the literature for ten years. You must also have a deep insight into the personal motivations of everyone who thinks about it. You’ve had deep conversations with many of them? They’ve confided in you?

                      Shall we adjourn this conversation? You’ve almost got me wishing that you would express your lack of respect for me as well.

                      Best wishes.

                    • Pavel, I have read a lot of the ID stuff. (As in Behe, Dembski, Discovery Institute, et al.) I’m familiar with their arguments. I’m not criticizing design per se. I’m criticizing one particularly inadequate attempt to distinguish “design” from “not-design”.

                    • OK Jon.

                      I’ve said as much as I’m going to on this subject. I wish you all the best.


                    • Please don’t invent terminology for me.

              • The Deuce

                Seem to? Could easily account for?
                Bingo. This is a point Thomas Nagel made recently too. It’s no good to claim that some mechanism could bring something about. So could pure chance (assuming that the thing being accounted for can be reduced to ateleological mechanism in the first place, which it can’t be in the case of life, but that’s a discussion for another day). To have an explanation, you must show that it would.

                • According to Meyer: “…the neo-Darwinian mechanism fails to account for the origin of genetic information because (1) it has no means of efficiently searching combinatorial sequence space for functional genes and proteins and, consequently (2) it requires unrealistically *long waiting times* to generate even a single new gene or protein. It has also shown that the mechanism cannot produce *new body plans* because (3) early acting mutations, the only kind capable of generating large-scale changes, are also invariably deleterious, and (4) genetic mutations cannot, in any case, generate the *epi*genetic information necessary to build a body plan.”

                  Something else is at work. Meyer and others say that the process most resembles what we know of intelligently designed systems. Maybe. But if so – what an intelligence that must be!

                  The question of God, I think, is separate from this.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Which pretty much leaves point mutation out in the cold. But why assume point mutation? Mutations are often massive, particular, and sudden.

      • Ye Olde Statistician

        ID is premised on the notion that some parts of God’s creation don’t work right and require periodic theokinetics. Aquinas based his fifth proof of God on the fact that the universe is governed by natural laws: that is, things moved toward an end. He would not have thought there was any part of creation where God had to use spackle.

        • Not in the books I’ve been reading.

          Have you read anything in Stephen C.Meyer?

          You’re free to take me for a fool – but I think that too would be a mistake.

          • kenofken

            Ah yes, the emminent Dr. Meyer! I thought perhaps we were stumbling down that weedy path to pseudoscience, and his name confirms it. Meyer is a geophysicist, and his esteemed PhD from Cambridge is in history of science. His work has been thoroughly debunked by real paleontologists and biologists who have shown time and again that Meyer cherry picks and twists the existing evidence and butchers the statistical methods used in evolutionary biology to show that evolution “can’t” account for changes. He then uses that to arrive at a totally un-testable, and thus unscientific “god of the gaps” theory. Mainstream scientific organizations and a federal court have concluded that his outfit, Discovery Institute, is basically a religious and culture war advocacy group which has manufactured a “controversy” where none exists in science.

            I don’t take you for a fool, nor Meyer. I think you’re both part of a movement which has decided that the science of evolution is somehow a war on religion, and therefore has to be discredited at any cost, even if it means selling a sow’s ear as a silk purse and indulging in pseudoscience as hokey as anything the Atlantis Ancient Alien folks purvey (and less interesting than their stories!)

            • The Deuce

              Y’know, I’ve got my own problems with ID, but good lord this sort of argument-by-cliché-filled-rhetorical-bluster is tiresome by now. I feel like I’ve read this comment a dozen times. All you learn is kenofken’s political orientation, and that ID makes him really angry.

              • kenofken

                ID makes me angry because it’s a celebration of willful ignorance seeking to deceive a population whose scientific literacy is marginal already. ID is one of the reasons we are becoming the most economically ass-backwards and stagnant nations in the so-called “developed” world. It is part of the reasons why we are not the world’s center of gravity of innovation anymore.

                • The Deuce

                  ID is one of the reasons we are becoming the most economically ass-backwards and stagnant nations in the so-called “developed” world.
                  Okay, that’s just dumb. You are obviously far too politicized to even approach this topic in a reasonable manner. You’re talking about convincing people, but anyone who reads that and isn’t committed either way is just going to conclude that you’re a bit of a fanatic.

            • I’m not part of a movement. I don’t think evolution is inherently a war on religion.

              As for Dr. Meyer, I’d forward him your opinion of him if I knew who kenofken was.

              The endorsements on the back cover of his latest book don’t *seem* to be those of pseudoscientists.

        • The Deuce

          I don’t think that’s quite right, in that some IDists hold to front-loading of life’s direction (either at life’s origin or the big bang), or believe that nature was made with particular laws that determined evolution’s direction. Their main contention is that the various functional features we see in life were intended, and wouldn’t have come about without having been intended, not that the intentions were necessarily realized by interference of periodic theokinetics specifically.
          But, it is true that most IDists see living things as artifacts, in Thomistic terms, rather than as substances. Following Paley’s watch analogy, they take for granted the modern materialist view that organisms are mechanistic machines, and that their functions or telos are all extrinsic rather than intrinsic. What various organs are “for” under this view is derivative on what the designer intended them for, much as watches are only “for” telling time by virtue of the fact that that’s what we intend them for and use them for, or as the word “cat” is only for referring to cats by virtue of the fact that we intend that meaning.
          Unsurprisingly, most IDists are Cartesian “ghost in the machine” substance dualists regarding philosophy of mind, since that view follows from the idea of the body as a machine and the reality of the intentional mind.
          But, the same view of organisms is true of Darwin as well. They are seen as artifacts rather than substances, machines cobbled together by an external “designer,” with their functions derived from the designer’s intentions. Except, Darwinism goes one step further by stipulating that the designer itself is mechanistic and devoid of intention as well, so that organisms lack even extrinsic intentions to ground their functions, which implies that biological function is actually nonexistent and just an illusion.
          This is the equivalent to eliminativism in the philosophy of mind. It seeks to “explain” something by denying its existence altogether, rendering the explanation incoherent. After all, if biological function doesn’t exist, then we don’t need Darwin, or anything else, to explain it in the first place. And since biology is all about studying that function, there goes the whole discipline. And really, there goes all scientific or rational thought, if our mental faculties are that thoroughly and fundamentally at odds with reality. That’s why most Darwinians, much like materialist philosophers of mind, waste their time on futile attempts to redefine teleological concepts in non-teleological terms rather than simply accepting the eliminativist implications they have imposed on themselves. It’s why Darwinists like to *claim* that they can “cash out” teleological talk into mechanistic terms someday, but someday never comes.
          Thomism is pretty clearly incompatible with both views of origins, I’d say. I had more to say, but I’m getting tired and need some lunch, so maybe I’ll get back to it later.

  • Dave G.

    “More and more, I come to agree with reader Dan C”


    • chezami

      Ooh! Ritual impurity! Must. Never. Agree. With. Liberal. About. Anything!! Maintain Unit Cohesion, even if it’s stupid! I’m a marked man now.

      • Dave G.

        I merely pointed out that it’s clear you’ve come to agree with Dan C. Anyone following your blog for the last many months can see that. It’s not something that’s news. You could have made the rest of the point without needing to introduce it that way. No need to get defensive.

        • chezami


  • Dan C

    Trying not to upset or placating or watering down all theology to satisfy American Catholics who embrace Evangelicalism is not going to be helpful for the faith.

    The righteous indignation provoked with regularly normal Catholic stances from the pope demonstrates why this is the case.

    • chezami

      Yeah, but you’re just a liberal so what do you know? If I agree with you it’ll lead to anarchy! Mass ‘steria! Cats and dogs living together!

      • Dan C

        Even worse.

        Clown Masses.

        • chezami

          Yes. Just the soothing sound of your prose has made me come to… love… clown masses.

          • kenofken

            Insane Clown Posse Masses!

            • I … kind of want to see that, now.

              • kenofken

                Francis is ballsy enough to wade into a crowd of jugalos and kiss one of them!

      • Dave G.

        It’s OK Mark. You can calm down. I merely pointed out that your statement was like listening to Limbaugh say he’s coming around to see that FOX might be right about Obama. Why even say it? It’s obvious.

        • chezami

          Why say it? For the obvious reason that lots of Catholics *don’t* realize the deleterious effects their uncritical acceptance of Evangelical thinking has on their faith of course. Noting that Dan C is the one who has observed it is called “acknowledge the source of an idea”. What’s telling is that you pay no attention to the truth of the idea (which is the main thing) but focus exclusively on the fact that I am listening to a ritually impure source. One feels the hot breath of the Ideological Impurity Police on one’s neck with little notations like your. It’s a feeling akin to hearing the little “click” on your phone that warns your line is being tappedn and You Are Being Watched. Thanks for keeping tabs on the dangerous company I keep. One must careful not to be perceived as empathetic with the Wrong Sort. Maintain your vigilance now that my loyalties are suspect.

          • Dave G.

            I did wonder how the post became a condemnation of conservatives and evangelicals (a group you used to separate from Fundamentalists more than the post, or Dan, suggests is warranted).. Didn’t see it going there based on the blog title. I simply found it odd that you drop the Dan C. reference. It just leaped out at me. Sort of ‘well yeah, duh.’ Perhaps it’s just the result of visiting your blog so often. After months of seeing you get along with Dan’s views, even some that appeared to me over the top, it came as a shock that you referenced the source that appeared to me rather obvious. Familiarity and all.

            And I never said it was a ritually impure source, though I disagree with Dan at times, if not with the substance of what he writes, with the tiresome Catholic Wars framework in which it’s often stated. That doesn’t make him a ritually impure source. Sometimes I think people don’t see things in such stark, tribalist ways as you suggest they do.

            • chezami

              Right. You noted the source, but not the point. For no particular reason. Just making conversation.

              • Dave G.

                Uh huh. For the reasons I gave.

                • chezami

                  Of course.

                  • Dave G.

                    So we’re in agreement? This is like a thread from a magic store that won’t stop unraveling.

  • Mark R

    However, proofs for the existence of God formulated in the Middle Ages were not intended to convince mediaeval atheists of the existence of God, but to place the idea of the existence of God within the framework of the advances in knowledge at the time.
    I doubt any atheist was ever really convinced by mere arguments unless they were already leaning in the direction of belief.

  • CatholicJames##Scott+~

    BenYachov’s Truism.

    When it come to politics Mark Shea has little to say to me that I have found reasonable or intelligent.

    But when it comes to defending the Faith I can’t really think anything he has ever said that is not pure Gold.

    “Pope Francis is not the enemy of the Church and Catholics who think it their job to defend the faith from him should consider the possibility they are insufficiently modest about their brains and sanctity”

    Love it!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Preach it my Brother!