ID and Thomism: Why the Debate?

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I’m only partway through my reading of the long debate on theology and ID, but some patterns seem to be falling into place already. As I read it, the Thomists in the discussion (all of whom are far better philosophers than I) object to Intelligent Design because ID is mistaken regarding what life is in itself, and how life relates to God in himself. I think that’s fair as a very brief summary. They say, for example, that ID commits to a mechanistic view of life, and that it fails to recognize the teleology or final causation that inheres not only in life but in all substances (life’s teleology being of course of a different order than inanimate objects’). ID is said to err in accepting false, non-teleological, reductionistic or mechanistic assumptions of modern empirical science. The result of this, they say, is that ID gets God wrong, it gets life wrong, and it even gets molecules, cells, and everything else wrong with respect to what they actually are

All of this might be true. I know very little of Aquinas. Thomistic language of final causes and natures and etc. remains rather opaque to me. I’ll have to keep working at it. But unless I’m severely mistaken in what I do understand, all that is beside the point anyway, because it misconstrues who ID is for and what ID is for. Intelligent Design, as I understand it, starts from a different place altogether and has different purposes. Its argument (as I understand it; I speak for myself) has a form similar to a reductio ad absurdum. If it allows naturalistic assumptions into the picture, so what? That’s how reductio arguments are conducted: by starting with the opponent’s assumptions, and in the end showing they fail.

The ID question in its current form could never have arisen before Newton. Democritus may have proposed an essentially lifeless and purposeless vision of all reality, but it was not until Newton (himself a theist) that theoretical foundations were laid to make such a world plausible. LaPlace expressed it as well as anyone: nature works mechanistically. At least inanimate nature did, in his mind; but his machine-picture had a gap that remained for Darwin to fill. The Origin of Species completed the picture: all the cosmos was explainable by purposeless principles of law plus chance, leaving room for no transcendent intelligence whatever. Ultimate being was no longer considered to be God. Eventually, ultimate reality was understood as a handful of fundamental particles and forces. Reality was explainable—and defined—by and through all these tiny, mindless, insignificant forces and particles repeated ad nauseum throughout the galaxies. That was all there was.

Such a picture is only true, however, if those forces and particles really are “all there was.” The Bible tells us God is a jealous God (often misinterpreted, but never mind that for now); no other god can stand next to him. But God’s jealousy is at least matched by that of mechanistic naturalism: no god, no minor angel or demon, no imp or leprechaun, no tiniest hint, even, of any supernaturalism can stand next to it. This is not because naturalism cares about supernaturalism; such an anthropomorphism would itself violate naturalism. It is because either naturalism is the whole story or else it is the wrong story. There is no middle way.

Intelligent Design takes naturalism, in all its jealously, quite seriously. This bothers the Thomists. But in fact ID can be conceived of as an investigation into what must be true if naturalism is true. Should that investigation lead to a dead end—if naturalism turns out to entail facts that cannot be true—this provides strong evidence that naturalism itself is a dead end. (Whether it does indeed lead to such a dead end is a different question not at issue in the current debate.)

To restate the point, naturalism presumes that chance plus law acting on purposeless initial conditions led to life and all its diversity. If it should turn out that chance and law can’t do those sorts of things with any reasonable likelihood, then that would pose severe problems for naturalism. Roughly stated the reductio-like approach goes this way:

  1. Assume the truth of naturalism, which entails that all of the cosmos and all life and its diversity came about by some set S of circumstances characterized by purposeless law and chance acting on likewise purposeless initial conditions.
  2. Using methods and constraints entailed by naturalism (including methodological naturalism as a guidepost for inquiry) explore the likelihood that all features of the the cosmos and life can be explained through S.
  3. If there is at least one feature F of the cosmos, life, and/or its diversity that cannot, in principle, be explained by S within bounds of reasonable probability, then
  4. Naturalism is false in either assumptions, methodology, or both.

The argument hinges on (3). (If there is more than one such unexplainable feature F, then ID’s case is all the stronger.) But the test for (3) must be conducted on naturalistic assumptions. To introduce Thomistic conceptions of substance, being, and causation would be inappropriate. It would invalidate the argument—and this is so even if Thomism (in any form) is exactly the truth about God and reality. A reductio argument must remain within its own parameters. This is what Dembski and Behe have been working on.

Now, you have likely noticed that this does not represent all of Intelligent Design. (It seems to me that it does cover the part the Thomists have most often identified as being objectionable.) Stephen C. Meyer’s approach is different. For him ID is not just a negative argument; it is a positive inference to intelligence, based on the fact wherever we see information of the sort coded in DNA, it always has intelligence as its source. His argument for ID is not a reductio, it is abductive, an inference to the best explanation. It begins at the same starting point Dembski and Behe use, however: the findings of the natural sciences, in all of their details and particulars. This to the Thomists is a fundamental error. But Meyer is not making his argument to directing his argument toward the Thomists primarily, or to any other theists.* Neither are Dembski or Behe. They are making their arguments to directing their arguments toward the world of science—people who couldn’t tell a final cause from their “final answer,” and who don’t care that they can’t. They are speaking the language of their audience those on the other side of the argument.

The Thomists start with certain observations and assumptions going back to the thirteenth century (Aquinas) or some some 1500 years before that (Aristotle). Meyer starts with 21st century biochemistry. Is there something wrong with starting with biochemistry? Does it not represent real data? And if the path he takes from there does not land him where Thomas landed, does that necessarily signify a contradiction? I don’t see how it does. Or, if starting from naturalistically conceived biochemistry, he arrives at the conclusion that naturalistic biochemistry cannot be the whole story, does that put him at odds with Thomistic beliefs about causes and natures? How does it do so?

Here in summary is what I am saying: Intelligent Design cannot tell the story of God as theology can (whether Thomistic, Scotistic, or Baptistic or Presbyterianistic). If that were its purpose, yes, it would be a dismal failure, just as the Thomists are saying it is. Aristotelian-Thomism might have it in its capacity to go further than that. Biblical theology certainly does. But just because ID cannot go where they go, does that mean it is fundamentally wrong-headed? ID can’t get very far at all into an understanding of God’s nature, or even the nature of nature itself. What it can do, though, is point to the absurdity of naturalism, and hint at the necessity for an intelligence behind nature. It can do it using language that modern Westerners generally understand. These are eminently worthwhile projects.

Perhaps I’ve utterly misunderstood the Thomists’ position. If so I’d be glad to be corrected. As I see it now, though, ID’s validity has nothing to do with Scholastic conceptions of causes, natures, being or any of the rest. There are valid reasons behind ID’s non-theological, non-Aristotelian assumptions. I find it hard to see why there is any debate at all.

*See here regarding the edits.

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36 Responses to “ ID and Thomism: Why the Debate? ”

  1. Tom Gilson wrote:

    But Meyer is not making his argument to the Thomists primarily, or to any other theists. Neither are Dembski or Behe. They are making their arguments to the world of science—people who couldn’t tell a final cause from their “final answer,” and who don’t care that they can’t. They are speaking the language of their audience.

    You should check the venues where these guys talk, Tom. I’ve been following Meyer’s book tour and he has been speaking in churches and at conservative think tanks*. The intended audience is conservative Christians.

    *OK, there was one exception: a reception at the Seattle Art Museum. Discovery rented an auditorium there.

  2. Yes, he’s bringing his message to churches and conservative groups. That’s too obvious to need mentioning. (But thank you for mentioning it anyway.)

    What I meant (which should have been clear from the context) is that Meyer is directing his arguments qua arguments toward persons who hold a position contrary to his own in one sense or another, primarily persons who take it that unguided, purposeless biological evolution is a clear finding of science.

    I think if you had taken my comments in context you would have seen that.

    But there has been a lot more than one exception. He’s out there debating it with a lot of people who don’t actually agree with him. To say otherwise is to be guilty of egregious distortion and/or deceit.

  3. Don’t you find that a little bit contradictory, Tom? You say that “Meyer is not making his argument to the Thomists primarily, or to any other theists,” yet “he’s bringing his message to churches and conservative groups.”

  4. Tom Gilson wrote:

    It is because either naturalism is the whole story or else it is the wrong story. There is no middle way.

    That’s precisely how Phillip Johnson saw it. He thought that if his ID army could crush theory of evolution that would compromise the entire building of methodological naturalism. This is naive for two reasons. First, his army is a ragtag coalition of philosophers, lawyers, mathematicians, engineers, and a handful of third-rate biologists. It cannot shoot straight. Second, even if neo-Darwinism is formally proven to be unable to explain feature X of biological organisms, creationism does not win by default. I have given a number of examples when physicists reached some dead ends and had to think outside the box. Creationists had such high hopes for the problem of missing neutrinos. Alas, they are missing no more.

    God of the gaps doesn’t work, guys, even if you rename him the Intelligent Designer.

  5. I find your reading of it (your 9:26 pm comment) a “little bit” picky. Especially after I explained it. You must be really committed to finding something to nit-pick.

    Shall I clarify it still further? When he’s bringing his message to churches and conservative groups, he’s not arguing against them there. He’s not arguing against Thomists, either. He’s arguing against scientific naturalists.

    SInce it seems to be important to you, I’m going to go back into the OP and edit the wording there.

  6. Your premise falsely conflates methodological with ontological naturalism. Your first objection at 9:50 reduces tautologically to, “Johnson was naive to think his ID army could do this because they couldn’t do this.” Your second objection falsely conflates refuting naturalism with establishing creationism. Your example regarding neutrinos is a straw man, because in my post (if you think someone else disagrees, go argue with them, not me) I said naturalism fails this particular test if

    There is at least one feature F of the cosmos, life, and/or its diversity that cannot, in principle, be explained by S within bounds of reasonable probability.

    Your argument fails in every sentence.

    (Note that all this is about just one test of naturalism. The Thomists are correct in pointing out that there are many others.)

  7. By the way, do you actually disagree with this?

    Either naturalism is the whole story or else it is the wrong story. There is no middle way.

  8. Tom,

    I am not the one who conflates ontological and methodological naturalism (MN). Phillip Johnson’s ultimate goal is to defeat the former, but to achieve that goal he has declared the war on the latter. In Reason in the Balance, he wrote:

    MN in science is only superficially reconcilable with theism in religion. When MN is understood profoundly, theism becomes intellectually untenable.

  9. I gladly invite readers to explore the context of that quote. I remind you of the condition Johnson set forth in this quote: “When MN is understood profoundly…” and I point out (as if it needed to be pointed out) that olegt has not here offered us a profound understanding of MN by which to assess the value of his most recent contribution to this discussion. Johnson does.

  10. And once you have read that context, I invite you also to consider whether this has anything whatever to do with the topic of this post. Olegt, you’re nit-picking and trying to create a rabbit trail. Consider it over, please.

  11. Tom,

    I see no way to interpret Johnson’s words any other way. He wishes to defeat methodological naturalism in order to achieve victory over ontological naturalism. If you have a different interpretation of the text let me know what you are reading.

  12. Tom wrote:

    3. If there is at least one feature F of the cosmos, life, and/or its diversity that cannot, in principle, be explained by S within bounds of reasonable probability, then

    This is where the logic breaks down. I explained why in my earlier post.

  13. Olegt: In regard to your 10:53 pm comment, even if you were correct in your earlier post, it would not be the logic that breaks down but the empirical side of the matter. I gave a brief answer to your earlier post, which is all I intend to give, because this post is not about the empirical investigation. In the OP I wrote,

    Should that investigation lead to a dead end—if naturalism turns out to entail facts that cannot be true—this provides strong evidence that naturalism itself is a dead end. (Whether it does indeed lead to such a dead end is a different question not at issue in the current debate.)

    Regarding your 10:44 pm insistence on trying to create a rabbit trail, I have already asked you to consider that over. If someone should come here seeking to discuss the topic of the post, I don’t want to make them wade through any more of your tangential material than is already here. I am declaring an end to discussion on the side topic you have brought up.

  14. Tom:

    From the narrow perspective of his scientism, olegt is correct: the MESs must operate under the assumption that both ontological and methodological naturalism are correct philosophical backdrops for MES investigations. The MESs are forever in pursuit of expanding our knowledge of the extra-mental world, i.e., of material objects and physical phenomena. Moreover, the MESs have a critically/fundamentally/centrally-important role to play in our coming to know reality: they are epistemically most fundamental to us because all our knowledge (leaving aside mystical knowledge) comes through our senses.

    This is the strength of the MESs, and it forms part of the momentum that keeps scientists interested and dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge–even as by far the kind of work that the overwhelming majority of scientists engage in is NOT what one sees on the Discovery Channel, but rather pain-staking, tedious, careful, incremental, prone-to-lots-of failures-and-restarts investigations that are almost never noticed. When push comes to shove and even while many of them (who are quite ignorant of the philosophical fundamentals upon which the sciences rest–of which olegt is glaringly obvious example) may deny it, scientists–and I’m speaking categorically here–are the Christian’s best friend in a world of relativism, nihilism, scientism, positivism, meta-philosophical naturalism, atheism (even though some scientists permit themselves to be infected by these meme–again, olegt is a fine example). Why? Because scientists are REALISTS. Most don’t understand this even as they ignorantly live off the philosophical and theological capital that undergird the MESs. But they ARE realists.

    Christians who are not scientists should internalize this point and reflect (ponder) deeply upon it… while at the same time not falling into the rut (like ID theorists) of using that playing field for things not appropriate to it. (I have some thoughts on a bit of mischaracterization you’ve made of philosophical criticisms of those who criticize IDT, but I’ll hold off.)

    That’s not the problem. The problem is the unscientific, pseudo-philosophical, and quite baseless presumption olegt makes (spring-boarding from the very real and important successes of the MESs in the physical realm) that ALL knowledge is either MES-obtainable or not valid knowledge in the first place. That’s at the center of his arrogant and self-serving scientistic world view, and it animates his admitted condescension toward philosophy… as well as fear and hatred of faith. He fails (actually, refuses) to understand the principle that while all our knowledge comes through the senses, not all knowledge is sensory knowledge–the most immediate example of this is the scientific method. He also fails to understand that while MES-acquired knowledge is most fundamental to us, it is neither the only nor most important form of knowledge.

    That explains his nit-pickiness: his self-imposed highly-unscientific blinders leave him chewing around the edges of substantive issues, always thinking he’s “won” a victory… but only tending to expose his ignorance. The Russian word for such an approach to reality is ограниченный–limited. Indeed, a willful closing of one’s eyes to anything but one’s own idol. But, we already know that.

  15. 2. Using methods and constraints entailed by naturalism (including philosophical naturalism as a guidepost for inquiry) explore the likelihood that all features of the the cosmos and life can be explained through S.

    Does this step doom the reductio right from the start? How can someone like Meyer convince the scientific establisment that F can’t be explained through S, when philosophical naturalism prevents him from doing so? The default philosophical view is that it CAN be explained through S, thus (3) can never occur. Am I wrong?

  16. Excellent post, Tom.
    Your thinking here is quite deep and I like the angle you took.
    Mt defence of ID against theistic evolutionists is much simpler, and more simple minded as well: you are not talking about what ID actually says or demands..
    Just because it can infer design by using one tool in one area is not to say anything about design in another.
    If somebody says a sample of water contains no life and I show him with a microscope that he is wrong then it doesn’t matter whatsoever whether I could have shown him to be even more wrong with an even stronger microscope.
    I like your take on it as a reductio.

  17. ID can’t get very far at all into an understanding of God’s nature, or even the nature of nature itself. What it can do, though, is point to the absurdity of naturalism, and hint at the necessity for an intelligence behind nature. It can do it using language that modern Westerners generally understand. These are eminently worthwhile projects.

    I like your conclusion, Tom. ID is doing this. It’s “putting a stone in the shoe” (Greg Koukl’s phrase) of those who subscribe to a naturalistic worldview precisely because it has some reasonable arguments that make sense to a lot of people. I don’t think anyone can legitimately say that ID offers an unreasonable explanation.

  18. Charlie and SteveK (and by extension, Tom):

    I’m sorry, but it’s incorrect to reduce ID Theory to a mere redutio argument. One of the points I wanted to make earlier was not so much the fairly minor mischaracterization of an Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy of nature, but the more important mischaracterization of ID Theory itself.

    How do you think Meyer or Behe or Dembski would respond if you pressed them to re-characterize their efforts to a reductio argument? How far do you really think you’d get? (With acerbic Dembski, I doubt you’d even be given the opportunity to complete your sentence.)

    A reductio argument is just that–an argument based on existing information or claims. It is a method of logic (formally speaking) to inescapably arrive at a conclusion opposite to what is proposed. In all my reading of ID Theory (and I’m going to have to side with olegt on this), nowhere do I see them reducing their efforts to a reductio. (No pun intended.) In fact, quite the opposite is true: they bill themselves as a scientific (read: MES) THEORY. Once they do this, they MUST play by the rules of the MESs.

    One cannot possibly re-characterize ID Theory as a mere reductio argument when ID Theorists themselves are proposing it is much more: ID Theorists are NOT just trying to infer design–they’re trying to observe final causality by means of the MESs by proposing MES-based research directions, etc. NONE of which has produced a shred of strictly-MES based evidence.

    The MESs are simply NOT qualified to address teleology or teleonomy. Yet, they claim, hand-over-fist, that they can infer design… sometimes even employing the unfortunately-warped word “detect”. Yet, design, by its very nature, is a teleological concept: the design MUST be in the mind of the “designer” before the thing to be designed exists. A design exists ONLY in the mind of a rational agent, but it is the most important cause (the final cause) because it directs the other causes.

    That’s the thing that really gets under my skin about ID Theory: when one hears criticisms of ID Theory reducing things to a mechanistic vision of reality, most miss the point. It’s NOT so much the DNA (or whatever) that’s reduced to mechanism (it is, but that’s less important for now) but the final cause itself–a much more serious error.

    Why do ID Theorists do this? First, they don’t fully understand what a final cause is and what it means for God to create a nature in terms of letting that nature actualize its end. Second, they impose this reductionism upon the final cause so that they can claim to “detect” it or “infer” it using the MESs: they impose the MESs upon the final cause because they envy the power of the MESs and so feel they must emulate such success in order to gain recognition, etc… and they crash and burn. Why? What possible MES-based research program could be instituted to “see” a final cause–a being of reason only existing in the mind of a rational agent? Answer: none.

    Any person with a healthy and open mind amenable to following the evidence to where it leads knows things are “designed.” But design doesn’t exist in the same way that the designed thing exists. To conflate these two is, to repeat, to play into reductionism. It is the error I pointed out to you (under separate cover) for which the Franciscan Duns Scotus is responsible: the error of viewing beingness as univocal. It is then echoed in Craig and Moreland (and many others) in their claim that being is a genus. And these errors are partially bouyed by the Franciscan William of Ockham’s well-meaning but deadly to science (and theology, by the way) error of Nominalism. Admittedly, I’m getting into philosophically-technical areas, which would be impossible to justice to in explaining here… and there are other related errors that enter into the sand-based foundation of ID Theory. Nonetheless, the situation does not look at all good for ID Theory.

    To summarize, ID Theory is not–nor does it bill itself as–a reductio argument: IDT is not a logical argument but a concerted effort to reduce final causality to an MES-accessible level through MES-based research programs… which are doomed to failure. One most certainly CAN infer design from nature, but one can NOT do it directly from the MESs: one needs (1) a rational agent, (2) philosophical reflection. But if that’s the case, then why are IDers hell-bent on introducing philosophical reflection into the science classroom? Don’t get me wrong: philosophical reflection is more important than MES efforts, even as philosophical reflection fundamentally depends on the MES for accurate “input data.” I bemoan much more the fact that a realist philosophy of nature is not introduced at the high school level than the IDers losing their fight in (admittedly unjust) court cases.

    (An aside: Greg Koukl is not well-equipped in this area, and he is still (I strongly suspect) stinging from “losing” his co-author, Francis Beckwith…)

  19. Holo,

    The MESs are simply NOT qualified to address teleology or teleonomy. Yet, they claim, hand-over-fist, that they can infer design…

    The MESs are credited with being able to address the free will question and the morality question, to name a few. An empiricist, playing by the rules of the MESs can infer free will in living organisms, but not design? How is that? I would like to see some consistency when it comes to questions science can address and questions it cannot, that’s all. See also the demarcation problem.

  20. I suggest we take this a step at a time. First, I did not say ID’s arguments are in strict technical terms reductio arguments, but that they are like them in that they show that if one begins with naturalistic assumptions, one reaches a dead end, and that this is useful to know. Second, I did not say that this applies to Meyer’s arguments.

    So I’m wondering this, Holopupenko. You say that my characterization of ID as reductio-like is incorrect. What if it were correct? If that were its approach, would it be fatally flawed for it?

  21. SteveK:

    Regarding your quite valid and quite important demand for consistency, I couldn’t agree more. The free will example is a perfect case in point: that certain scientists claim free will in its entire ontological import is somehow captured by the MES (we’re always given the rain-check line when things get difficult for them) is not a scientific claim–it’s a philosophical claim because it’s demarcating the bounds of the MESs (one can’t circularly refer to the MESs to validate their bounds). Point one.

    Point two: the demarcation problem is often times thrown up as a smokescreen. Again, the demarcation problem is a philosophical question–not an MES question… so the MESs MUST have a limit to their formal objects (subject matter) of study. Moreover, the demarcation problem touches upon empistemological and methodological issues–the latter issues being, properly and rigorously speaking, the subject matter of the philosophy of science, and that discipline is QUITE a different animal from the philosophy of nature… which leads to my last point.

    Point three: the subject matter of a discipline and the “whatness” of the objects studied is not within the competency of the MESs, but primarily within the competence of a realist philosophy of nature with heavy support from a solid, realist metaphysics. Notice how the MESs cheat on free will: they either don’t define it or assume a reductionist approach that begins with the most distant objects they study (say, electro-chemical signals in the brain) and try to build up to a physical-only description. The pseudo-philosophical import is glaringly obvious. One does not fully explain the existence of a chair by starting with atoms (a chair is not merely a collection of atoms): one starts with the fact of the chair, and then proceeds to explain its existence by investigating the four causes.

    It’s a game, SteveK: the anti-free willers are playing a game and bludgeoning all who would criticize or question such a silly vision with “the sciences will explain everything.”

    Tom:

    Here’s the crux: when you say “[ID Theory arguments] are like [reductio] in that they show that if one begins with naturalistic assumptions, one reaches a dead end, and that this is useful to know” that’s a mischaracterization in the following sense: ID Theory doesn’t just “start” with naturalistic assumptions, it applies the MESs incorrectly in the first place to design. Second, look at the way the ID Theorists structure their defense: they go for MES-based investigations to make MES-based predictions. Well, if IDT is MES-based and they show the MESs have reached a limit (which, I repeat, as an MES-based vision they can’t do in the first palce), then they’ve put themselves out of business as well, haven’t they?

    Worse, the question has already been addressed by a realist philosophy of nature and metaphysics: design is fundamentally teleological–end of story. No MES-based arguments can add to or change that truth, and no MES-based knowledge is needed to validate that truth. As in my response to SteveK above: one has to explain the obvious fact that “design” IS (any healthy human being knows that), but explanation is a much broader concept than that to which the MESs are limited. Given that, why is IDT trying to sell itself as a strictly MES-based endeavor?

    ID theorists claim, to one extent or another, that design can be “seen” (they employ the word “defer” for cover) by the MESs, so these folks try to engage in MES-type investigations… and crash and burn. If IDT claims to “infer” the existence of design (which is not even “like” reductio) from the MESs only, then it must be ready to explain how that is. If not, then IDT is not merely an MES-based endeavor but an interpretive (philosophical) one as well. Immediately two questions follow: (1) is their philosophical interpretive matrix sound, and (2) why are they trying to enter the science classroom claiming to be a science but actually being more than that?

  22. Tom:

    How could your characterization be correct? ID characterizes itself as an MES, not a reductio argument… not even like a reductio argument. Reductio arguments show the conclusion based on certain premises to be absurd. ID is trying to INFER design with the wrong (i.e., MES) tools. The two are quite different. Moreover, in a reductio situation, the argument doesn’t dwell upon itself as a method for achieving something; ID, in contrast, dwells upon itself AS AN MES THEORY.

  23. Regarding your quite valid and quite important demand for consistency, I couldn’t agree more. The free will example is a perfect case in point: that certain scientists claim free will in its entire ontological import is somehow captured by the MES (we’re always given the rain-check line when things get difficult for them) is not a scientific claim–it’s a philosophical claim because it’s demarcating the bounds of the MESs

    If the MESs claim that it can study things such as free will then it seems to me that ID is not asking for anything special.

    Furthermore, since free will exists in such a way as to be studied by the MESs, we can conclude that all life (you and me, for example) and its diversity DID NOT come about by some set S of circumstances characterized by purposeless law and chance acting on likewise purposeless initial conditions.

    Thus the assumption in (1) is false according to the rules that the MESs have in place.

  24. SteveK:

    If free will is fully accessible to the MESs, then free will is fully accessible to the senses, i.e., it’s no longer one of two immaterial capacities of the human person: free will and reason. But if that’s true, then there indeed is no free will… and no capacity for reasoning for that matter: what do complex collections of atoms fully describable in physical terms have to do with intention or abstract thought? Nothing. By buying into the “MESs can encompass and define all knowledge,” you’re eroding free will as such… and yet, there you are: freely choosing to accept my argument or not, or ID Theory or not, or atheism or not… or freely choosing to put your faith in Christ. If there is no free will, what place is there for either faith or reason? None. I’ll leave it to C.S. Lewis to put it more eloquently.

  25. Tom:

    Maybe this point has not come through: the MESs can neither prove nor disprove God. It takes a human being (i.e., a rational agent) to demonstrate the existence of God (i.e., Existence itself… and it has been done) through philosophical reflection upon sensory-accessible knowledge.

    This is what’s so frustrating about the battle between IDers and secular scientists: the IDers exploit science to supposedly “infer” the existence of God, secular scientists misappropriate science to supposedly show the existence of God is so outlandishly improbable or not necessary. Both camps are reductionists in their own way.

  26. I think it’s important to recognize that the whole occasion for the dispute is not ID as such but attempts — first on the part of naturalists and then on the part of ID theorists — to assign or ‘draft’ Thomists to the ID movement. It’s this that motivated the protest, and it’s because of this that much of the dispute has been concerned with Thomistic concepts and their incompatibility with ID.

    As Holopupenko notes, if we take the reductio-like approach seriously, with the structure you suggest in 1-4, or something like it, then a striking feature of the approach is that it does not — and cannot — prove the existence of an intelligent designer; rather, it merely identifies gaps in naturalistic explanation. Indeed, neither intelligence nor design shows up in any of the steps. Since it works on naturalistic assumptions, which are to be shown wrong or problematic by the end of the argument, it can’t prove anything positive about the world. Intelligent design would be entirely beside the point. What is more, the approach could be accepted by a pure mysterian who thinks that naturalism is the best we can do and that the steps just show that there will necessarily always be things we are just incapable of explaining. This means that even at the most optimistic it doesn’t even score a complete victory over naturalism: it’s logically consistent with naturalism being the best available option.

    Thus ID requires, by its very nature, a positive inference. In Dembski and, if I recall correctly, Behe it is inductive; in Meyer you note it is abductive. But it has to be there or ID fails to manage to include any intelligence, design, or complete refutation of naturalism. And the positive inference has to be based on a correct view of natural objects and of intelligence; for the Thomist there are serious problems on both points.

  27. Tom:

    Brandon said it much better than I.

    IDT is in big trouble: the attempts by secular scientists to discredit IDT–many of them quite silly–is just froth on top of deeper issues. There is a way out, but it must necessarily come at the expense of what IDT bills itself as, and whether IDT can shed some troubling antecedent theological and philosophically-bigoted baggage. (Yes, I know those are strong words: please understand I’m not trying to be nasty, but that there’s really no other way of understanding what animates ID theorist’s thinking (knowingly or not) than understanding historically what errors were adopted… and why.) I’m hoping all this will spur some serious soul-searching.

  28. Holo,

    If free will is fully accessible to the MESs, then free will is fully accessible to the senses, i.e., it’s no longer one of two immaterial capacities of the human person: free will and reason. But if that’s true, then there indeed is no free will… and no capacity for reasoning for that matter

    Don’t misunderstand. I am in full agreement with everything you have been saying about physicalism / reductionism, etc. – with one caveat. That caveat being that the MESs, as an establishment, has set itself up in such a way as to allow practices and inferences that go beyond strict physicalism / reductionism.

    I’m asking that either (a) ID be allowed to do the same, or (b) the MESs straighten up the way they think and operate. Personally, it’s the double-standard that I object to. I don’t need ID to be adopted into the family of the MESs.

  29. Hi SteveK:

    My apologies for the lack of clarity: I was merely trying to put more “umph!” in your point, with which I generally agree.

  30. This has been a most fascinating discussion to follow. I appreciate the more “condescend” version here, since I don’t have the time or skill/training to follow all the other links.

    I think I follow what’s been said, and I’d have to agree with Holo… something like the MESs have a sandbox (a nice one) but it says nothing beyond the sandbox. IDT attempts to play by the sandbox rules while at the same time incorporating rules from outside the sandbox, which really doesn’t work if you can only join the sandbox by agreeing to its initial rules.

    What books or such would people suggest that discuss the short comings of philosophical naturalism (i.e. that the MESs are the ONLY way to come to knowledge) and other epistemology books, what are those other ways and means that we come to knowledge? I’ve muddled through most of Plantinga’s Warrent books (still not sure I fully comprehend most anything) but beyond those I haven’t read much in that realm.

    Peace

  31. IDT attempts to play by the sandbox rules while at the same time incorporating rules from outside the sandbox, which really doesn’t work if you can only join the sandbox by agreeing to its initial rules.

    I don’t think that is what’s actually happening. See my comment #30. The reality seems all too clear to me that the MESs are rightfully guarding its rules (which I admire) while at the same time incorporating some rules from outside MES-proper.

    Is it ideology that dictates which outside rules are adopted, and which are pushed away – or is it driven by an inability to understand the proper role of the MESs? I suspect it’s a little of both.

  32. Tom:

    I’m going to borrow from Stephen Barr’s Modern Physics and Ancient Faith to approach the “seeing” design and “knowing” of its existence (whatever the mode) from another perspective. (I disagree considerably with Barr on some key philosophical points, but these disagreement don’t take away from his excellent example.)

    In Barr’s book, he describes the categorization of certain sub-atomic particles referred to as a ‘multiplet’ of ‘hadronic particles,’ and when different properties, called ‘flavors’ of ‘SU(3) symmetry’, of nine of these particles are plotted empirioschematically (a fancy term for a broad type of mathematical formalisms such as Mendeleev’s Table), a patterned arrangement emerges that looks like a collection of points in the form a triangle… but with one of the points of the triangle missing missing. Barr’s point is that even if one knows nothing of high-energy particle physics, one is led to wonder: “wouldn’t it be nice if the triangle were completed with a 10th particle.”

    BINGO! At that moment, the person—even untrained in physics—“sees” and “knows” the beauty of the symmetry of the equilateral triangle arrangement of subatomic particles. It is the beauty that “beckons” or “draws” that person to wonder in awe. It is the beauty of the symmetry of that arrangement of subatomic particles that led Murray Gell-Man to predict that there must exist a particle with the correct properties (per the positioning in the triangle—quite similar to what inspired chemists to “fill in the holes” of Mendeleev’s Table) to complete the triangular decuplet. Soon thereafter, the new particle, called the Ωˉ was discovered.’

    What’s my point?

    That is it not the MESs that predict anything but WE—rational agents—that make predictions. Science is an art and a methodology and a habit of the mind, but this all presupposes a mind in the first place—a mind tuned into the beauty and regularity of nature. Think Psalm 19:1. Think the Canticle of Daniel. Even if a person limits their gaze to the inanimate beings of creation, it is not e.g., “fire and frost” that literally give praise to God, but through their beauty they spur our awe and hence direct our praise to God. The cosmos is made for us, and through it, we perceive the Creator. Catholics view “the very rocks and stones will cry out” as an expression of the liturgical quality of creation. If you are familiar with the Eastern Christian Liturgy, and if you reflect upon the connection to engaging all five of the senses in that liturgical context, it’s a breath-taking, awfully-humbling, “fall on one’s face to worship” experience… because the thanks and praise of man is expressed most perfectly in the liturgy.

    That’s another reason why ID Theory falls far flat for me: it’s not, well, “beautiful.” It’s not inspiring. It is envious of the MESs, and yet stays on their level… and crashes and burns. And, this is all on top of the formal philosophical and scientific problems it faces. In effect, a Thomist (I’m summarizing unfairly) leaves IDT behind because it is not, at a fundamental level, a liturgical outlook on the beauty of creation, but (this time only slightly unfairly) a reductionism to the MESs of beauty and design: it’s playing the same game but not adhering to knowing logically… and ends up frustrating secular scientists and Thomists alike.

    On the other side, Richard Dawkins doesn’t see “design” and calls it an “illusion” because he does not want to see it: sin blinds because it destroys our ability to reason. Sin dehumanizes, while God, whose Grace never destroys but perfectizes our natures (if we have faith and participate in that Grace), wants to engage our entire beingness—to lift us up, to raises us up to our intended full natures as human beings (C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce depicts this beautifully): the infinite heat of God’s love burns so deeply that a sinner will never be able to bask in that fiery love. Richard Dawkins, as a ghostly figure, walks on the beautiful grass, and instead of loving it, focuses upon its hardness: it is hard because it is REAL.

  33. Luke,

    I’d recommend Thomas Nagel’s *The Last Word*; Nagel is a naturalist himself, but he does an excellent job identifying in a clear way some of the standard weaknesses of naturalism. Much shorter and more directly useful than Plantinga’s works on Warrant.

  34. Steve said:

    I don’t think that is what’s actually happening. See my comment #30. The reality seems all too clear to me that the MESs are rightfully guarding its rules (which I admire) while at the same time incorporating some rules from outside MES-proper.

    Hrm… I would think that we are in agreement then. Basically from comment #30 I’d say option (b), criticize the parts that aren’t being faithful to the rules i.e. “incorporating some rules from outside MES-proper”.

    I guess it’s a matter of strategy, and I think I’d prefer to see a more “pure” baseline MESs that everyone can follow then incorporating extra rules for certain players. I think I like the more simple and egalitarian version of the game 🙂

  35.