A Taste of New Mystery: Thomism and Intelligent Design

My post on Plantinga raised an old question again: is Intelligent Design poor theology, poor metaphysics, as certain Thomist theologians/philosophers think it is? Specifically, does it “give the game away” to naturalists/materialists by conceiving of the world in a mechanistic sense, making God a tinkerer in his creation? Does it misconceive who God is in relation to himself and to his creation? I don’t think it does, or at least, I don’t think it has to. It still puzzles me that some theists think it does.

Holopupenko has raised this question frequently in comments on this blog. The debate surfaced in multiple blogs a year or more ago, especially Ed Feser’s (here for starters, and more here) and the Discovery Institute’s (see here; more here); but its roots go back at least as far as Thomas Aquinas, even to Aristotle. G. Rodrigues clarified and summarized the issue nicely today. His comments beginning at that link would be a good starting place for you if this question is new to you. I won’t try to re-state it; I could do no better than he did, especially in the space available.

Intelligent Design as Reductio ad Absurdum
Here’s what puzzles me about these Thomistic complaints; or maybe better said, here’s a way of viewing Intelligent Design that I think ought to meet their approval.

I’m speaking of viewing ID as a reductio ad absurdum argument. The reductio is an argument that accepts the opponent’s beliefs or premises on a provisional basis, and then goes on to show that those beliefs or premises produce impossible conclusions. (From the Latin, it reduces the starting position to its own absurdness.) Wikipedia, being good for something at least, has some good examples of reductio arguments.

I do not think every major ID proponent views ID that way. This isn’t anything like a canonical statement of what ID is, or of how the Discovery Institute views ID. Rather it is a way of viewing ID; one that I think ought to be widely acceptable.

Let’s suppose the Thomists’ are correct to say (as many of them do) that ID gives in to materialists’ view of the way nature works. Suppose also (for the sake of argument) that ID incorrectly treats nature as somehow mechanical in its operation, with God as the cosmic tinkerer who makes it all work with “interventions” and such. What’s the harm in that? Well, to suppose that might be (and from the Thomists’ perspective, it certainly is) to give up essential truths about God and reality. It is to do so needlessly, too; for there are better ways to show God’s reality.

My response to this is that those other ways are fine for those who are convinced by them. I find them pretty persuasive myself. Meanwhile, though, we have a large contingent of scientists, philosophers, and semi-unaware followers of their creeds who think that God is a hoax, materialism is for real, and Thomas Aquinas lived a long time before the Scientific Revolution so what does he know? They’re impressed with science, and they think science has all the answers.

Thank God for the answers that science does have! But it doesn’t have them all. The Thomists know that. Most readers of this blog know that. ID proponents all know it. But a whole raft of scientists, philosophers, and their semi-unaware followers don’t know that. Some of them are so ensconced in their scientistic ways that they won’t listen to anything but “science” (in quotes because whether they know it or not, the “science” they tend to listen to is deeply imbued with metaphysics). For some of these people there is no hope but prayer; they see themselves as the beacon-bearers of logic and reason, and thus if any logic comes their way that isn’t their logic, they deem it illogic. That means their commitment is actually to themselves rather than to reason, but what we can do to help them with that, other than to pray for them, I don’t know. (Prayer is always a good answer in any case.)

A Strategic/Evangelistic Approach, And More
Some of them might listen, though. They’ll listen if we catch their attention, that is. Anyone trained in communication knows this is the vital first step. We won’t catch their ear by quoting medieval Scholastics, though; they’ve been trained (I know I was!) to think of the Scholastics as having nothing better to argue over than how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. That won’t attract a moment of their attention.

Reverting to communications theory again, the place to start is with some bit of common ground. Obviously I’m viewing this strategically, not just philosophically. It goes like this:

a. Mechanistic materialism is a false and detrimental belief (that’s a shared belief among Thomists and ID proponents generally)

b. To persuade proponents of mechanistic materialism that their metaphysics is wrong is a good to be pursued.

c. That persuasion process requires getting their attention, to begin.

d. They are not likely to pay attention to what they perceive as medieval philosophy, theology, or anything else of the sort.

e. They may pay attention to approaches that begin on what they take to be their own turf, which is science.

More Than Strategy
I must add that what I’m about to say has more than strategic implications. It’s also a version of pursuing truth for its own sake, or for the sake of the Truth-giver, the True One, God; but it’s a version that takes its approach from an alternate angle: exposing falsehood, for the sake of the True One. So in theological terms, I have both evangelism and worship in mind here: persuading unbelievers that they are on the wrong track, and exposing lies about what God has done as Creator.

If I’m going to be honest, I’ll have to own up to another motivation. If mechanistic materialism, and its acolytes’ insistence that they are the rational ones, can be pulled down from the inside, I would find considerable entertainment value there.

Limits of the Approach
So that explains why I think there might be something worthy about approaching a theological question from a scientific perspective, if it’s possible to do so. I have written what I think about that possibility more than once. Those two links connect to articles in which I state important limits on that possibility. I wish I could wrap all the disclaimers and limits-on-warranties that I wrote there (and elsewhere) into this article, but that would make this one even longer, which would be bad indeed.

“If it’s possible to do so.” That’s the key condition. Is there a way we can get to God from a scientific starting point? No, not if one thinks that “scientific” means “mechanistic-scientific,” which is the perspective in question in this debate. You can’t get to God from there. I think maybe we can find a way to point toward him him, though. At this point I am back where I started. I’m thinking again of the argumentum ad absurdum.

Possibilities in the Approach
I don’t know whether ID’s chief proponents would agree with me or not, but it seems to me that such an approach works from multiple perspectives. The idea would be to show that mechanistic materialism, when evidentially and rationally considered upon its own terms, is a failure. It collapses from within. So-called “scientific” conclusions that depend upon that assumption are also prone to failure. “Rationally” is of course an essential term in there. Mechanistic materialism could in some sense succeed “scientifically,” if one accepted an all-too-common, rationally delimited and false notion of what “scientifically” means. A consistent and thoroughgoing rational analysis shows that such “success” is not real, but only apparent.
This reductio approach is theologically valid even for Thomists: it’s not accepting mechanistic scientism, it’s only considering its predictions, its evidences, its findings, and of course its implications. I’m saying also that to the extent that it succeeds in demonstrating materialism’s inadequacies (an extent that we must admit here is still hotly debated) it has potential persuasive power, because it has purchase on those who come from a materialist perspective. It calls on premises that are cognitively available for consideration—something they might listen to. There are philosophical approaches to undermining materialism. Intelligent Design partners with those approaches by attempting to show that nature itself could not work the way materialists suppose it does.

That’s not giving the game away. That’s not buying in to materialism, mechanism, scientism, or any other denial of theism. It’s not buying into anything. It’s considering a set of beliefs, premises, etc. in light of evidence and logic, and showing that these beliefs, etc. don’t hang together. This ought to be acceptable to any theist.

Is This Really What ID Is About?
I think this is at least some of what’s going on in Behe’s and Dembski’s arguments. Now it’s true that they go beyond that. They don’t just say that mechanical materialism fails to explain cellular chemistry, they say this is evidence in favor of an intelligent designer. Based on my very limited understanding of Thomism, I can see how Aquinas’s adherents might think that’s a false conflation of human and divine instances of “design.” Maybe so. If that’s an issue for some, then what I’m offering here won’t resolve that.

Still, if there are evidences in nature that pull the floor out from underneath mechanistic materialism, doesn’t that have at least some interesting implications with respect to the design of the world? I’ve suggested reasons to think that it should. If so, then even if looking at it as a reductio won’t settle the whole dispute, it ought to at least open up Thomists’ (and all theists’) eyes to something in ID that they can agree with

Not Proof, But a Taste of New Mystery
Again (and finally): suppose ID’s proponents have succeeded in showing that mechanistic materialism is inadequate to explain the natural world, on materialism’s own terms. What does that prove? Not God, certainly. (Few if any ID proponents would suggest that ID was ever intended to prove God.) Still it shows something; something suggestive, a taste of new mystery, perhaps; something that ought to cause materialists to doubt their materialism at least, something them to point them toward a new way of considering the world.

I think that’s a good outcome. It seems to me that any theist would agree.

Comments

  1. Brian

    This Mechanism vs Thomistic thought puts me in mind of occassionalism, which holds that there is only an appearance of causation on the natural plane, when in fact the reality is constant creation/causation from the spiritual plane. (Aquinas has the Muslim philosopher, Ghazali to thank for this influence). Is there a logical possibility between a) complete natural world causation (with perhaps a clock maker and tinkering God) and b) Constant creation/causation from God which creates the appearance of lines of natural world causation?

    If ID folks affirm a mechanistic universe they must eventually choose between whether natural world causation actually exists or whether it does not. I don’t see how it can be a little bit of both.

  2. Bryan B

    Please forgive me if I haven’t properly understood the Thomist objection, but it seems to me like the answer is simple. ID theory qua ID theory has nothing to say with respect to the age of the universe, the identity of the designer, or even the mode of creation is God is granted as the designer. That is to say, both ID theory and biblical (“young Earth”) creationism could both be true, with God creating everything in the Universe supernaturally in one human week, while still leaving the evidence for intelligent design (CSI, IC, etc.). Or something else.

  3. BillT

    I’m nowhere near as knowledgeable as many are here on this topic. However, I see a couple of issues that are problematic for ID. First, is that it is a “God in the gaps” argument. It’s a very sophisticated “God in the gaps” argument but it’s a “God in the gaps” argument nevertheless. As such, it’s both bad science and bad theology.

    As far as this being a good starting point to approach those who think science answers everything, I can’t imagine a worse starting point. It makes those offering it look like they neither know anything about science nor care that they don’t know anything about science. It confirms the worst image that the secular world has about people of faith.

    Second, evolution is true. Evolution explains biology. It simply does. There are thousands of people who spend all day every day using evolutionary theory to do successful science. That’s an undeniable fact. Now, does biology explain all the things that the secular world claims it does? No, of course not.

    To me, that seems to me where the starting point should be for any conversations with the secular world. All those places where people have turned science into metaphysical explanations of the origin of life, the cosmos or really anything of real interest. I mean evolution and the rest of science are just great but how many people read up on them just for fun.

    People of faith need to engage others in the places where our faith has real answers. The condition of our hearts, explanations of truth, beauty, honor, courage, sacrifice, good and evil. These things aren’t outside the interest of even the most dedicated scientist. We have answers for the things that realy matter in people’s lives. Things that make biology seem pretty ordinary.

  4. SteveK

    BillT,
    How can ID be a “gap” argument when it is offering an actual argument that explains how life came to exist – by intelligent design? Naturalists are the people with the gap argument. Their argument goes something like this: we don’t know how, but nature somehow managed to create life from non-life all by itself.

  5. Bryan Bigej

    I’m well aware of the arguments made in Collins’ book, as are ID proponents. As of now though, it’s a red herring that I’m not going to chase. You’re welcome to try to defend your anti-ID talking points, or not. The relevant information on the ID page I linked you is only a few short paragraphs.

  6. SteveK

    BillT

    That’s a place where where “…people have turned science into metaphysical explanations of the origin of life…”

    Perhaps, but are metaphysical explanations “gap” explanations? I don’t think so.

  7. BillT

    Bryan,

    Oh, I see. Francis Collins’ points are red herrings that you see no need to defend against. However, the “few short paragraphs” on Uncommon Decent are pure gold. As far as who has to defend what I think I’ll rest my case.

  8. Holopupenko

    SteveK:

    Re @4: “… it is offering an actual argument that explains how life came to exist – by intelligent design.”

    Thank you for highlighting the positive (= in the sense of a logical characterization, i.e., not a valuation) nature of IDer’s arguments, and hence opposing the absurdum characterization Tom shared.

  9. Bryan Bigej

    Okay Bill, what is it specifically from Collins’ book that responds to the arguments found on the UD page? I’m listening. Otherwise, it’s a red herring.

  10. SteveK

    BillT,

    I’m not following. Could you restate your position for me. Thanks.

    Sure. ID is not saying, ‘gee, we don’t know how life came to exist so let us fill the gap in our knowledge with this unfounded theory’. That would be a gap theory if ID did that. There is reasoning behind the argument that ID has put forth. You may not agree with their premises, but the reasoning that follows is sufficient enough to provide a valid explanation.

    If something appears designed then it is true that an intelligent being (a designer) sufficiently explains the experience. That’s a valid explanation we know is true. The explanation fills a gap in the knowedge we have.

    The naturalist will deny the premise, I think, and say it appears designed, but it’s not really designed. So what is their explanation for the undesigned object that looks designed? It’s what I said before: we don’t really know, but here’s a theory (pick one: random causation + time) we can stick into the gap that may or may not explain it. Random causation + time (as one example) may explain it, just as it was thought that God may explain the lightning from the clouds, but they don’t really know.

  11. BillT

    Steve,

    Just to set the record straight I believe it looks designed because it was designed. However that’s not the same as saying “Look there. Evolution can’t explain how that particular thing could happen naturally so there must have been input from the designer there to bridge that gap.” or “Look there. Evolution can’t explain how that could happen naturally so we can “see” the designer at work there.” To me that makes the designer (AKA; God) a pretty small unimaginative being if he can’t get his work done without revealing it to us.

    Yes, there are gaps but let’s ask the same question of ID that it asks of evolution and see if it does any better.

    “Look at that. Can evolution explain HOW that could happen? It can’t so there must be a designer at work there.”

    “Look at that. Can ID explain HOW the designer made that happen? It can’t so there must be a natural explanation.”

    I think it cuts both ways. ID can’t explain HOW the designer made it happen any more than evolution can explain HOW it happened. ID gets into detail that it can’t explain any better than evolution outside of intoning “Look, there’s the designer at work”

    The idea that is all just a big naturalistic “mistake” is absurd. The idea that we can infer design and a designer from seeing it is reasonable. The idea that we can point to specific places and prove the designer is right there in front of us moves back to the absurd.

    (BTW, let’s leave the origin of life stuff out. If the evolutionists think it’s part of their theory that’s their mistake and that can be dealt with separately.)

  12. Bryan Bigej

    Now Bill, you’re welcome to dispute the evidence for intelligent design, but to characterize ID as a god of the gaps argument is just factually incorrect.I think the link I supplied you with demonstrates that quite clearly.

    And we can’t leave the origin of life out of it, because that’s one of the major areas of ID! Stephen Meyer wrote a whole book on it! Heard of Signature in the Cell?

    I’m going to be blunt. I don’t think you don’t understand intelligent design very well, at all.

  13. SteveK

    Hi BillT,

    “Look there. Evolution can’t explain how that particular thing could happen naturally so there must have been input from the designer there to bridge that gap.”

    The way I understand it, this is not the argument. It’s not the way I would state it, at least.

    One version of the argument starts with, “Look there. This biological system appears to be designed (the result of planning).” and then it proceeds from there to give an explanation.

    The HOW question is a different question. So is the WHO question. ID need not be concerned with it. In fact, science does this all the time. It doesn’t know how humans design things because it doesn’t know how minds, free will, creativity, imagination and planning fit into their mechanized view of reality.

    The idea that is all just a big naturalistic “mistake” is absurd. The idea that we can infer design and a designer from seeing it is reasonable.

    Agreed

    The idea that we can point to specific places and prove the designer is right there in front of us moves back to the absurd.

    This gets back to the question I asked of the Thomists. We can take this out of the context of ID theory and still ask the question. What is the justification for reasoning toward a design inference?

    If it’s not the extra-mental reality of design, as experienced when we encounter it, that justifies the inference then what is it?

    Yes, I can’t put circularity or design (telos) in my pocket so neither is empirical. Yes, there is nothing I can point to and say “here is circularity or here is design”. But that extra-mental reality is real. It’s the reason we have the experience.

    So I end with a question: Science accepts the reality of circularity (and many other non-empirical concepts), so why not design?

  14. BillT

    Steve,

    The difference between ID and Theistic Evolution (TE) is that ID believes it can point out specific characteristics, organs, or biological processes (e.g. bacterial flagellum, the eye, blood coagulation) and make a case that these specific things prove the involvement of a designer. TE takes a broader approach that a designer must be involved but points to no specific places where the designer can be “seen”. You seem to be downplaying the specific nature of the claims of ID. They’re quite famous and are the calling cards of the ID movement.

    As for your metaphysical questions, they are well beyond my pay grade.

  15. Holopupenko

    SteveK:

    Gosh darn it, this is exactly part of the problem:

    One version of the [ID] argument starts with, “Look there. This biological system appears to be designed (the result of planning).” and then it proceeds from there to give an explanation.

    You canNOT do the “look here” with the MESs to “see” design: design (a combination of formal and final causality) can’t be captured by the MESs because they’re not equipped to do so. Moreover it begs the question: ID employs the term “design” without explaining what it is in the first place (except in MES terms – heh), and then proceeds merrily skipping along trying to misuse the MESs to “see” design… and getting egg in their faces.

    ID imposes a certain narrow ontological status on design, and then sets out to find it. Darwinian theory (= not DarwinISM) doesn’t do that: crudely, on the observational level, it says “this looks similar to this, so are they materially related in terms of any physical process that could explain how they arose?” ID says it ain’t happenin’ because (among other reasons) we don’t believe in the immanent powers of natures because all things need external causes [no, Charlie, Behe does NOT get it], therefore Darwinian theory doesn’t work, therefore there must be an intelligent designer–conveniently forgetting “intelligence” itself is immaterial, i.e., not subject to MESs scrutiny at the ontological level.

    The IDers are always straying outside the science into poor philosophizing, and demanding equal time for that volatile mixture in–wait for it–science classrooms. (Meyer and Dembski can’t even get straight their problematic attempt to measure meaning vs. measuring information–they are NOT the same thing.) Science classrooms are not places for taking on materialism or that which animates ID: there are better venues. I again throw down the challenge: if you want to fight materialism, do it correctly in another venue. If you want to fight Darwinian theory, do it with science. I’m not disputing Darwinian theory(ies) has/have problems, but as far as I can tell it’s the best kid on the block…

    So, do we now move to another “version” of ID? Can’t they get their science, philosophy, and theology coordinated? We report, you decide.

  16. SteveK

    Hi Holo,

    You canNOT do the “look here” with the MESs to “see” design: design (a combination of formal and final causality) can’t be captured by the MESs because they’re not equipped to do so.

    I already agreed to this. And I already said the MESs cannot do the “look here” with the MESs to “see” circularity or brittleness either.

    What IS circularity in MES (physical) terms? What IS brittleness? Can I put either in my pocket? No. None of these are empirical yet science fully embraces these terms to describe the realities it “sees” on a regular basis using mathematical equations. Ask a scientist to point to a circular object and he will do it. Is he doing science?

    Why not do the same with design? Why won’t science embrace design as a term to describe the realities it “sees” using mathematical equations? I’ve asked this several times and I don’t think anyone has answered.

  17. Holopupenko

    No, because “design” is not like “brittleness,” it’s like “justice” or “the rules of chess.” You’re assigning way to much efficacy to the MESs. The demarcation is clear: concepts based IN measurable sensory data (pressure = force per unit area) are inferred and even defined through the univocal terms of the MESs; concepts not based IN measurable sensory date but obtained THROUGH the senses can’t be inferred from the univocal definitions of the MESs. Information can be measured, meaning cannot: DNA “contains” lots of information, but what it means (it’s quiddity) is something altogether different. Which part of “injustice” does any natural science “see” at a crime scene? Answer: none.

  18. JAD

    From the OP:

    “suppose ID’s proponents have succeeded in showing that mechanistic materialism is inadequate to explain the natural world, on materialism’s own terms.”

    I don’t think that ID needs to show that “mechanistic materialism is inadequate” as much as materialism/ naturalism needs to demonstrate that there are dysteleological explanations that are sufficient to explain the origin of the universe, the origin of life or the origin of consciousness and mind. At present there is only some wishful thinking that must be accepted by faith. If ID is guilty of God-of-the-gaps, materialism is guilty of filling the gaps with undiscovered if not unknown “natural” explanations.

  19. Crude

    I don’t think that ID needs to show that “mechanistic materialism is inadequate” as much as materialism/ naturalism needs to demonstrate that there are dysteleological explanations that are sufficient to explain the origin of the universe, the origin of life or the origin of consciousness and mind.

    I think Holo may reply here – and he’ll correct me if I’m wrong – that science is not in the business of providing dysteleological explanations anymore than it’s in the business of providing teleological explanations. It can’t handle teleology or its negation. A little along the lines of how (according to Holo) science can’t ‘do’ injustice. It can’t do justice either.

    To give my own two cents here…

    Where I part ways with the thomists is this. First, and this will cause some anger – as much as I respect thomism (heck, as much as I believe classical theism and its metaphysics have reason on their side), I am practical. Holo is unique in that he rails against the abuse of science by scientists who come at the question from an atheistic, materialist, anti-teleological perspective – most thomists, and certainly most Christian ID critics, can’t shut up about how bad ID is, but have little to say materialists abuse science, or inject their metaphysics into scientific discourse. In fact, some thomists often seem more than happy to get up on stage and rail against ID (see Francis Beckwith’s involvement with Biologos – and I like most of Beckwith’s writings and thought), but don’t put nearly as much effort into combating the far more prevalent abuses by atheists.

    But I also think there’s an aspect of the materialist quasi-reductio that ID provides (or at least potentially provides) that hasn’t really been covered here: minds design things. Minds exist (yes, some materialists deny this – let them deny it when ID proponents say this much. That alone would be worth the admission cost), and minds influence the course of nature. Intelligent design, in this form, is real and all parties will admit it. In principle, everything we see – from cars and computers to rivers to squirrels to solar systems to rocks to atoms – are products of design. Even things that self-replicate can be designed, or even design tools. And again, this is hardly a controversial point.

    ID treats design as what it is even for many naturalists – one more source of novelty. They then ask, well, given that it’s not only a possible source of novelty, but one we’re all intimately familiar with, then perhaps we can make some (even if fallible) inferences about what is or is not designed. And since everything in nature can potentially be designed, nature’s not off-limits to a design investigation. Enter all the arguments, from irreducible complexity to design filters to more. Are they perfect? No. Are they infallible? Again, no. But perfection and infallibility aren’t needed in science anyway: we can make design inferences, and they can be scientific. So that argument, as I’ve understood it, goes.

    If the response from ID critics universally – or even largely – was “Science is utterly silent on questions of design. It not more detects design or non-design than it detects justice and injustice”, I’d probably not pay the ID debate any mind. That’s a very reasonable boundary of science. The problem is that it seems ID proponents catch hell for inferring design, even with all their qualifications – but when someone infers the lack of design, when scientists affirm that some things were not designed, or even that science shows they were not designed, silence breaks out. (Again, not with Holo it doesn’t.) Behe claims to use science to infer design in a cellular mechanism? That’s a horrible abuse of science, a travesty, a threat to our national security. Stenger uses science to not just infer a lack of design, but takes it as science showing God does not exist? Utter silence. Well, except from the NCSE. Then they recommend your books and cite you as a great thinker when it comes to the religion-science interface.

    And that’s where the practicality I mentioned comes in. If Stenger isn’t treated as abusing science when he says science shows God doesn’t exist, if Hawking isn’t treated as abusing science when he says science shows the universe (or anything else) was not designed or has no need of a designer, if Coyne isn’t treated as abusing science when he infers nothing in nature is designed and treats this inference as scientific, then why should I raise a fuss when Behe, Dembski, or anyone else infer design and call their inference scientific? Why shouldn’t I flat out support them?

    That’s where my criticism of the thomists comes. Think ID is abusing science? Well, they’re introducing no new abuses – they’re just the theistic side of the coin. And perhaps the thomist reply should be to tell the ID critics, “Purge your house of the Stengers, the Coynes, and everyone else who abuses science in the name of atheism, or else get used to your new houseguests – because they’re playing the same game your friends are, and intellectually they have every right to if we’re being consistent.”

  20. SteveK

    Hi Holo,

    No, because “design” is not like “brittleness,” it’s like “justice” or “the rules of chess.”

    …concepts based IN measurable sensory data (pressure = force per unit area) are inferred and even defined through the univocal terms of the MESs; concepts not based IN measurable sensory date but obtained THROUGH the senses can’t be inferred from the univocal definitions of the MESs.

    I think we are getting closer to the heart of the matter. I honestly don’t see the difference you are suggesting is there so I will ask some questions.

    What do you mean by “through the senses”, and does that process of conceptualization operate sans sensory data?

    You mentioned the rules of chess. I can imagine certain rules and a game I might want to call chess. That conceptualization process doesn’t require any sense data.

    But that’s now how I came to know the rules of chess that you are referring to. I personally came to know the rules of chess by playing the game and/or watching someone play it. In other words, I experienced it firsthand. But that conceptual knowledge I have would then be based in measurable sensory data, not “through the senses”.

    Next. How do you know you are inferring the concept of brittleness via sense data rather than “through the senses”? Did you know what brittleness was before you experienced it via your 5 senses?

  21. SteveK

    Hi Crude,
    You hit the nail on the head for me with that comment. My complaint is that there is a very REAL double standard in play.

    As you said, with all the accepted abuse of what is considered to be science, why shouldn’t I flat out support ID as science? Give me a good reason NAS to deny it when you allow other abuses to go unchecked.

    If you want me to not support ID as science then please do me the favor of making a fuss over the rest of the abusers. At least make an attempt. You don’t have to clean it all up, but at least make it look like you are consistently protecting your turf.

  22. SteveK

    Holo,
    I messed up. Ignore my last question – “Did you know what brittleness was before you experienced it via your 5 senses?”

  23. Melissa

    I don’t think we should encourage the abuse of science in this manner, it’s just increasing the ignorance of what science is about. Behe doesn’t understand the difference between disciplines like archeology and forensic science and the natural sciences.

  24. Crude

    Melissa,

    I don’t think we should encourage the abuse of science in this manner, it’s just increasing the ignorance of what science is about. Behe doesn’t understand the difference between disciplines like archeology and forensic science and the natural sciences.

    I disagree in two parts here. First, I disagree that it’s “just increasing the ignorance of what science is about”, because “what science is about” – see the demarcation problem – is blurry as is, even if you put ID aside. But more than that, the fact remains that there is hypocrisy in play. Can science rule on design and teleology or can’t it? If it can’t, then Stenger, Coyne and others are abusing science every bit as much as Behe and the rest supposedly are. If it can – or at least, if it’s within science’s purview – then ID is just another scientific view, and even if it goes against the consensus, it’s still legitimately science.

    Second, I think Behe is well aware of the differences – and the similarities. Victor Stenger says that science shows God does not exist. Is Stenger ignorant of science too? Because if so, I’d say Stenger’s brand of ignorance is far more prominent, far more rife. But somehow, many science defenders care a lot less about Stenger and company – or they out and out support him.

    I won’t support inconsistent standards. And I think theists, even those who reject ID, should agree.

    SteveK,

    Agreed. And I really think that, at the end of the day, it exposes insincerity. This isn’t about sanctifying science for many people (again, I do not speak about Holo here, or Melissa) – it’s social strategy. What’s making some people furious isn’t that “science” is being abused, but that the wrong sort of people are claiming to have the authority of science behind them. (Watch how many times ID is criticized, and politics – ‘conservative’ for example – is brought up in direct connection with it.) If Dawkins claims that God’s existence is a scientific hypothesis, the great defenders of science clam up and murmur that well, that’s just his opinion and he’s entitled to it, no need to criticize him. If Behe suggests that design broadly – not God, but some manner of design by an intelligent agent – can be fallibly inferred in nature by science, we’re destroying science and putting national security at risk because this sort of talk will lead to China taking over the world, or similar hysteria.

  25. Melissa

    Crude,

    The natural sciences cannot rule on design and teleology. Stenger et al are either ignorant or deliberately dishonest. Yes, there is hypocrisy at work when ID is criticised for invoking science to support their claims but not the materialists but why should we join with the crowd? Science is a very useful tool in certain areas, both sides are using that success to illegitimately bolster their claims. I refuse to support that in any way.

  26. Crude

    Melissa,

    The natural sciences cannot rule on design and teleology. Stenger et al are either ignorant or deliberately dishonest.

    I agree. A shame the NCSE doesn’t, isn’t it? Stenger’s book is on their recommended reading list. They say nary a peep about these atheistic abuses of science. And so it goes with far too many of these science defenders. The concern isn’t science. It’s with Christians, particularly who they perceive as conservative Christians.

    Yes, there is hypocrisy at work when ID is criticised for invoking science to support their claims but not the materialists but why should we join with the crowd?

    Depends on what you mean by “join with the crowd”. But here’s one kind of “joining with the crowd” that’s going on now: one-sided criticism of ID. Treating ID proponents with one set of rules regarding science, and ID critics and atheists with another set of rules. And not just by atheists – plenty of TEs (of whom I am one) seem more than willing to engage in this sort of hypocrisy. I can think of a few reasons why they’d do that, none very good.

    I have a similar questions for you, though. Why should I regard or act as if ID claims are illegitimate, when the exact mirror of their claims – using the same ‘excesses’ or ‘abuses’, if that is what they are – are tolerated, ignored, or even encouraged by science defenders? Maybe consistent treatment – “If it’s not an abuse of science for Stenger to say science shows God doesn’t exist, if it’s not an abuse of science for Coyne to say science shows there’s no teleology in evolution, then it’s not an abuse of science for Behe or Dembski or anyone else to say science shows intelligent design in our universe, in nature, etc” – would be the solution. Maybe that would get some people to say, alright, we have to call out atheists and others for their abuses. Science is mum on teleology, guidance, intelligence, or design of this nature – either with regards to its presence or its lack.

    I’d also note that like it or not, ID proponents do ask legitimate questions – questions that are hard to answer, even presupposing that ‘mechanistic’ worldview thomists (rightly) reject. I think ID does, if not provide a reductio, at least provide a powerful counter-response to those who take on that mechanistic worldview. Close enough to a reductio, call it.

    Regardless, in the end I suppose what I’d say is this: if you’re going to oppose ID, or support those who oppose ID, do so under the condition that atheistic abuses of science are opposed as well. And if ‘science defenders’ refuse to do that, pull your support from them and their projects, point out their hypocrisy, and point out what the cost of consistency and fairness would really be.

  27. JAD

    Unlike the ID’ists associated with the Discovery Institute, I don’t see ID as a “scientific” theory; rather, I see it as a philosophical interpretation of science the same way the materialism and naturalism are philosphical interpretations of science. Are such philosphical interpretations legitimate? I think they are. If they are, then ID has a legitimate role, of not only shaping it’s own world view, but also critiquing materialism and naturalism.

    On the other hand, I do think that ID does raise some interesting questions that may lead (indeed, I think it already does lead) to fruitful scientific reasearch. However, a scientist need not be an ID’ist to pursue that kind of research.

  28. Holopupenko

    JAD:

    Mostly agreed. But this begs a question: why are the IDers (through the DI) pushing for the introduction (“equal time”) of ID in biology classrooms? Second begged question: are the ideas animating the “philosophical interpretation of science” as well as the philosophy itself sound?

  29. JAD

    Holopupenko wrote,

    Mostly agreed. But this begs a question: why are the IDers (through the DI) pushing for the introduction (“equal time”) of ID in biology classrooms?

    I believe DI’s policy is based on “teach the controvery” not “equal time”. Furthermore, teach the controversy does not involve teaching ID but teaching scientific criticisms of neo-Darwinian evolution. Nevertheless, personally, I do not think the classroom is the place to have this debate.

    Second begged question: are the ideas animating the “philosophical interpretation of science” as well as the philosophy itself sound?

    I am not sure exactly what you are asking here. From a general perspective, you have to make certain philosophical assumptions about the world to even do science. See my comment (#93)on the Plantinga thread.
    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/2011/11/plantinga-theres-no-good-argument-for-design-but-who-needs-one/#comment-31909

  30. SteveK

    Good Morning, Holo,

    Information can be measured, meaning cannot: DNA “contains” lots of information, but what it means (it’s quiddity) is something altogether different.

    Implicit in your statement about information being measureable is that we FIRST are able to infer a VALID distinction between information and non-information.

    You don’t measure things and THEN conclude that what you measured is information. How much must information weigh or how long must it be before it becomes non-information? It’s a nonsensical question because the inference TO the concept of information is not based IN measured sense data. It’s based IN your rational senses, upon which you then attempt to gather measured sense data.

    Design works the same way in my estimation.

  31. SteveK

    Because science is in the business of gathering information, it seems to me that scientific knowledge is based IN valid (to the rational senses), yet unmeasureable distinctions as I explained above.

    Those rationally valid distinctions are recognized as valid and acted upon – “I “see” something with my rational senses so let’s take a look at what’s going on physically”.

    Science then goes out and attempts to empirically measure the distinctions it “sees” so that it can make additional valid inferences – “The wavelength of the light is what is causing me to experience the color red”

    First the experience of the color red (an unmeasurable distinction), then the empirical measurements.

    First the experience of design (an unmeasurable distinction), then the empirical measurements.

    Where am I going wrong, Holo, seriously?

  32. The Deuce

    Holopupenko:

    ID imposes a certain narrow ontological status on design, and then sets out to find it. Darwinian theory (= not DarwinISM) doesn’t do that: crudely, on the observational level, it says “this looks similar to this, so are they materially related in terms of any physical process that could explain how they arose?

    Here I have to disagree with you. In fact, I assert, Darwinian theory (not just Darwinism) assigns the same Paleyesque ontological status to design that ID does, and then goes on to try and explain that design away using “natural selection”. The theory is manifestly *not* just looking for material relationships between species. Darwin himself was quite preoccupied with explaining the appearance of design. The whole reason he named his mechanism “natural selection” (selection being a teleological term, and “natural” meaning “unintended”), the whole reason he made those analogies to animal breeders in describing it, is because he was trying to account for the appearance of design in a materialistic way! He was self-consciously responding to Paley, and was using the same assumptions.

    And today’s proponents of Darwinian theory do much the same thing, and they call it science just like IDists do. The difference is, they get to put their nominalist/conceptualist/deconstructionist ideas in science journals.

    Here’s the thing. I increasingly consider myself a Thomist as I learn more about it. I’m increasingly persuaded that the ID movement is approaching things wrong, and giving away the store in a lot of ways by accepting bad philosophy. And yet, I share Crude’s frustration that most Thomists seem willfully blind about the fact that most proponents of Darwinian theory are doing the *exact same thing*!

    When it comes to Darwinism, modern Thomists seem to be able to make distinctions, and to say that Darwin “rightly understood” (in reality, Darwin as understood by practically nobody other than Thomists, even Darwin himself) doesn’t say anything about whether teleology is real, because Darwin “rightly understood” is science, and science doesn’t tell you about design any more than it tells you about justice.

    Well, guess what? In real life, you don’t have to look very hard to find an article in a science journal “explaining” how “justice evolved” using Darwinian assumptions. Hell, you can just read Darwin’s own musings on how justice (and morality in general) evolved mechanistically!

    There is no “Darwin rightly understood” that is silent on design, any more than there is an ID “rightly understood” that is silent on it. Such a version of Darwin is purely hypothetical – the product of Thomist imagination. But if Thomists are able to conjure up a philosophically acceptable version of Darwin, how come they can’t do so for ID? How come they unload on ID relentlessly, while putting together a straw man of Darwinism in order to *avoid* attacking the real one? If we are really all trying to serve Christ, where are the proper priorities?

    Like Crude, I’d just like to see a little bit of even-handedness here.

  33. Holopupenko

    Deuce:

    I’m with you dude: it is not an even approach to things that a good portion of Thomists take. It’s a struggle that I’m involved with at the university level and in other discussions.

    Why does the problem exist? Because Thomists–like most any discipline–largely can’t make the effort or put in the time or pay the expenses for years of study in science on top of their philosophy and theology bone fides. I happen to be very fortunate (err… blessed) on both sides of the aisle. You don’t know how many times I’ve dealt with Thomists on having them really internalize that which they’ve been taught. For example, quantity (ultimately leading to mathematics) as the first accident of real being is most co-natural to us. Yet, most Thomists don’t get it: they don’t get HOW important it is, they don’t get how much study and experience you need, they don’t get how effective mathematics is, they don’t get to what extent mathematics gives one insights into the natures of things. And… that’s only one, small topic.

    Rodrigues, I believe, “gets it.” Ralph McInerny, Benedict Ashley, Charles DeKonnick, James Chastek, Michael Augros, Francis Beckwith, Anthony Rizzi, William Wallace, Stanley Jaki and a handful of others “get it.” I fear the danger of an almost Gnostic assembly of Thomists… although, in my opinion, the above-enumerated gentlemen are WAY above my pay grade in charity and knowledge… and I don’t fear for that group. But, it’s a small group… and there are a fair number of sub-cultures in Thomism… some straying fairly far off the reservation.

    The only thing I can say in my defense is I DO go after the “other side” big time. Lately, however (and I shared this with Tom in an e-mail), I find it harder to do because the atheist/naturalist side is–and I can’t say this in any other way–damaged in the capacity to reason. I’m tired of pursuing these guys… and perhaps there’s a good lesson in this for me.

    That’s all I can say at this point… and I have a conference dinner to attend. I take what you say very seriously and very well indeed.

  34. G. Rodrigues

    Crude’s and Deuce’s comments are both interesting and puzzling.

    My background is in mathematics and physics; Thomism is a “side” interest and a very recent one at that. From my limited dealings with Thomists (from reading and blog-commenting, basically), I never got the impression that there was a double standard. But in all fairness, even if such a double standard was there, it is almost certain that I would not be able to see it, simply because Evolution theory, and thus the core of the ID controversy, interests me little. Let me repeat what I said in the “Alvin Plantinga” thread: I have all sorts of objections to Evolution theory (think the criticisms of a David Stove or a Schutzenberger). Do I have anything better to put in its place? Not really. Am I interested in pursuing the matter? Not really. Reading Paul Celan or the Desert Fathers, understanding Topos theory or the latest paper of David Oderberg “Essence and properties” are all *way* more interesting. So I am content to defer to my better ones; or if pressed, mutter something conveniently evasive like “When and if I have the opportunity I will ask Him how it all went.”

    So if the double standard exists, it is unfortunate and it should be changed — although if it does indeed exist, I wouldn’t bet on the change happening anytime soon, because as Deuce commented rightly, putting Evolution Theory in its proper place is a thorny task and in the current cultural climate of the West, maybe next to impossible. But I also have to confess that it worries me considerably more the errors made by the guys on my side of the barricade. Matthew 8:22 (very harsh words…); let us take care of the living first.

  35. Crude

    G. Rodrigues,

    I actually don’t have the Thomists in mind here particularly, but the larger group of Christian ID critics – sometimes particular Thomists are part of that, but it’s hardly some Thomist-specific issue.

    Nor am I saying something like ‘Well, we should endorse and accept ID as true because atheists are just as bad.’ I am entirely comfortable with Thomists (Feser for example) explaining forcefully why they must reject ID, and drawing a line between Thomism and ID. I’m also comfortable – indeed, supportive of – maintaining a proper view of science, one which recognizes that science as science does not find or rule out teleology, design, meaning, purpose, etc.

    But in a practical sense, I reject compartmentalizing the criticisms of any abuses that take place. If Dembski is wrong about science being able to infer design, then Stenger is certainly wrong about science being able to rule out God. If Behe is wrong about design in nature being a scientific question to at least some degree, then certainly Dawkins is wrong about God’s existence being a scientific question. And if the game is, “Let’s loudly, frantically condemn ID proponents and claim they’re destroying science because of their supposed misunderstandings and abuses of the terms, but let’s shut up about atheists doing the same thing”, I’m not playing. In fact, I’m going to demand consistency.

    But I don’t expect it, because I don’t believe that for most people – certainly most of the loudest – this is really about ‘protecting science’. Rather, it’s about safeguarding science for a certain kind of abuse. Just like how Hawking dismissing philosophy wasn’t really a dismissal of philosophy – what he dismisses is all philosophies in competition with his own.

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    Tom Gilson

    Holopupenko, you know better than to equivocate like this.

    Re @4: “… it is offering an actual argument that explains how life came to exist – by intelligent design.”

    Thank you for highlighting the positive (= in the sense of a logical characterization, i.e., not a valuation) nature of IDer’s arguments, and hence opposing the absurdum characterization Tom shared.

    Or maybe you missed that I wrote:

    I do not think every major ID proponent views ID that way. This isn’t anything like a canonical statement of what ID is, or of how the Discovery Institute views ID. Rather it is a way of viewing ID; one that I think ought to be widely acceptable.

    Steve was speaking of one common view of ID. I was speaking of a different one. His characterization A of ID was distinct from, not in opposition to, my proposed approach B to ID.

    Please see the blog post I am about to write.

  37. Post
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