Sunday, April 25, 2010

ID, A-T, and Duns Scotus: A further reply to Torley

To use a key term in two or more senses in the course of an argument, without making it clear that one is doing so, is to commit the “fallacy of equivocation.” Or so logicians have always said. When William Dembski does it, however, it’s called “subtlety.” Or so VJ Torley says, in a response to my most recent post on Dembski. I had criticized Dembski for the imprecision and ambiguity with which he uses certain key terms. My problem, Torley says, is that I simply “[do] not appreciate subtle arguments.” Dembski must be a subtle thinker indeed, because it takes Torley several pages worth of complicated exegesis to come up with a plausible reading of a single brief Dembski blog post – a blog post that was intended by Dembski to clarify once and for all the relationship between Aristotelico-Thomism (A-T) and “Intelligent Design” theory (ID)! Even then Torley hedges things at least once, conceding that a particular suggestion is his own take rather than Dembski’s explicitly stated view. Perhaps next we’ll see a clarification from Dembski of Torley’s clarification, the subtleties of which Torley can clarify for us further.


The meaning of “mechanism”

I think Torley would have served Dembski’s cause better by just owning up to the obvious – that Dembski was being sloppy. But Torley himself tries to be careful and clear where Dembski was not, so let’s consider his own position on the merits. After drawing some useful distinctions between various senses of “mechanism,” Torley holds that ID is committed to “methodological mechanism,” an approach to explaining natural phenomena that makes no reference one way or the other to immanent final causes or natural teleology. In particular, says Torley, “it does not assume that there are no final causes in nature, or even that there might be no final causes in nature; rather, it simply refrains from invoking final causes in the natural realm while arguing for the existence of a Designer” (emphasis added). Torley’s reason for including the words I’ve italicized is to make it clear that ID theory does not assume or imply even that it is possible (either metaphysically or epistemically, I think he would say) that immanent final causes do not exist. Rather, it simply doesn’t address the question at all. Therefore, Torley concludes, ID avoids the difficulties I raised against it in my post on Dembski – difficulties he seems to acknowledge would be real ones if ID did allow that it is even possible that there is no immanent teleology.

But Torley is mistaken. The ID approach is, for methodological purposes, to treat organisms at least as if they were artifacts; and that just is to treat them as if they were devoid of immanent final causality, because an artifact just is, by definition as it were, something whose parts are not essentially ordered to the whole they compose.

That is why ID theorists make such a fuss about probabilities: If the natural world is not, as A-T says it is, objectively divided into natural kinds defined by their distinctive ends, then the only difference there can be between things is a quantitative one, and whether you can get one kind of thing from another becomes in every case a probabilistic rather than all-or-nothing affair. If the world is divided into such kinds, though, to speak of whether it is “probable” that one could get one irreducible kind of thing from another is just muddled – for it is in that case not a matter of probability at all, and to speak as if it were is just to insinuate that the alleged difference in kind is not real and (therefore) that the immanent final causes that would differentiate the kinds are not real either.

Now, what all-or-nothing differences in kind do in fact exist in the world? That question has to be answered on a case-by-case basis, but I’ve already discussed one case central to the debate over ID, viz. the difference between living and non-living phenomena. Here the standard A-T view is that the difference is an absolute difference in kind deriving from the irreducibility of immanent causation to transeunt causation. But to discuss the “probability” of purely transeunt causal processes giving rise to immanent ones (as ID does) just is precisely to assume, even if only for the sake of argument, that the difference is not really a difference in kind but only in degree, and thus that the sort of irreducible immanent final causality in question is not real. Contrary to what Torley supposes, then, ID methodology does not merely avoid appealing to immanent final causes; it positively implies that they are not real.

So, there is simply no way to avoid the conclusion that ID methodology and A-T methodology are fundamentally incompatible. One cannot accept both, but must choose between them. It seems to me that there are two reasons ID sympathizers are reluctant to draw this conclusion. The first reason is that some of them have, if I might say so, simply not thought through with sufficient care the philosophical implications of the respective A-T and ID approaches. As I have been trying to show, if they do they will see that they are essentially at odds, and in particular that ID presupposes a conception of nature that A-T has always been opposed to (which is no surprise, given that modern mechanistic philosophies of nature in all their forms defined themselves in opposition to Aristotelian Scholasticism).

The second reason for the reluctance in question is that ID is as much a political movement as a school of thought, and has an interest in avoiding offending potential allies. ID theorists, like A-T thinkers, are opposed to naturalism and want to present a “united front” against it. If it were generally thought that the two views are incompatible, then such a united front would be impossible. But it is simply wrong – methodologically and morally – to let a political program of any sort, even a good one, determine what positions one takes on philosophical, theological, and scientific questions. Furthermore, from an A-T point of view the mechanistic conception of the natural world is itself part of the problem, and must be exposed for the error that it is if the naturalism that rests on it is effectively to be refuted.


Form and matter

Torley also takes exception to the low estimation of his understanding of A-T that I expressed in an earlier post. Based on what he says in this new post, I am happy to acknowledge that he does indeed have greater knowledge of A-T than I gave him credit for based on his earlier remarks. But I do still have doubts about his understanding of A-T. In particular, he is still mistaken to define prime matter and substantial form the way he does (and, I might add, was still way too glib in his earlier dismissal of the potential objections he realized A-T philosophers might raise against his definitions).

Torley quotes David Oderberg’s Real Essentialism in support of his definition of prime matter as “mass-energy.” But the passage he cites does not say what Torley seems to think it does. First of all, Oderberg does not define prime matter as “energy,” and no A-T philosopher would do so. Rather, he is in the passage in question – which comes at the tail end of a six page discussion of prime matter – merely addressing the issue of whether prime matter could be identical with energy. Consider a parallel example famously discussed by Frege: The expressions “the morning star” and “the evening star” refer to the same thing – the planet Venus – but they still differ in sense. Hence, though it would be correct to identify the morning star and the evening star, it would be an error to define “the morning star” as “the evening star.” Similarly, even if it turned out that prime matter is identical to energy (in some sense of the term “energy”), it would still be an error to define “prime matter” as energy.

Second, Oderberg is in any event extremely tentative about such an identification. Even in the passage Torley quotes, Oderberg says that “if there are substantial energy transformations (e.g. heat to sound, chemical to light) by which a wholly new thing comes into existence, there will have to be prime matter distinct from energy as a support” (emphasis added). It is only “if transformations are but phases of an underlying pure energy that has no determinate form in itself” that “perhaps one might venture the thought that [prime matter and energy] are one and the same.” The “perhaps” is italicized in the original – Torley left the italics out of his quote – and Oderberg’s tentativeness is further underlined by the very next sentence (which Torley does not quote at all) in which Oderberg describes the question of the identification of prime matter and energy as “obstacle-laden.”

Third, Oderberg speaks only of “energy” in the first place and not, as Torley does, of “mass-energy.” This is no small point, because “mass” adds further positive content which is only more difficult to square with the notion of prime matter. The difficulty is enhanced further when we acknowledge “quantity” as part of our conception of “mass-energy,” as Torley does. As Oderberg says (again in a sentence on p. 76 that Torley doesn’t quote, which comes just before the passage he does quote), “dimensionality... is manifested wholly through the forms that prime matter takes on” rather than existing in prime matter itself; furthermore, “we cannot say ‘Here is some prime matter, there is some more’” as if it could be broken up into discrete enumerable parcels (p. 109). These points don’t by themselves prove that quantity might not apply to prime matter in some other way, but they do show that the suggestion is at least highly problematic.

In short, there is simply nothing in Oderberg’s discussion, or in the A-T tradition more generally, that supports Torley’s attempt to define “prime matter” as “mass-energy,” especially when that definition is intended (as Torley’s was) to explain to non-experts what A-T thinkers themselves mean when they use the term. (By the way, since we are quoting Oderberg, perhaps it is also worth pointing out that he is another A-T philosopher who is critical of ID. See p. 287, note 18 of Real Essentialism, and the discussion in the main text to which that note is appended.)

Regarding Torley’s definition of substantial form as a kind of “attribute,” I took him to be using the term in his original remarks in the way it is typically used in contemporary philosophy, viz. as more or less synonymous with “characteristic” or “feature.” The reason I interpreted him this way is that he emphasized that he was trying to define substantial form and prime matter in a manner that avoided the standard Scholastic technical language and instead used terms most contemporary readers would be familiar with (hence his earlier appeal to the notion of “mass-energy”). Torley says I have misunderstood him, but his explanation of what he does mean is so complicated that I doubt any non-expert reader would find it more lucid than the A-T definitions he eschews. So why not just stick with the A-T definitions? Worse, his explanation only casts further doubt on his understanding of what A-T writers mean by “substantial form.” He says that “the property (or attribute) of being a metal with an atomic number of 79 is what I call the defining attribute of gold. I would call that the substantial form of gold” (emphasis in the original). But for A-T a property or proper attribute is what something has by virtue of its substantial form; it is not identical with its substantial form. Given other things Torley says, he seems to realize this, but that entails that he is either simply confused in what he says in the sentence quoted, or means to use the A-T terminology in his own novel, idiosyncratic way. But if the latter is the case, non-expert readers are hardly likely to find his usage clearer than the A-T usage, and A-T writers will object to it. So what is the point of such usage, given that his aim is to explain A-T for the non-expert?

A-T writers use the language they do, and in the way they do, precisely because it reflects many subtle distinctions that have been hammered out over the course of centuries of careful philosophical reflection. But though Torley insists on “subtlety” and attention to fine distinctions when defending Dembski or explaining his own meaning, when characterizing the A-T position, the subtle distinctions A-T philosophers insist upon are to be thrown out the window and Torley’s own tendentious novel constructions are to be preferred. And if A-T philosophers don’t like it, Torley says, “that’s just too bad.” You can’t have it both ways, Dr. Torley.


Thomism, Scotism, and ID

Torley says a great many other things – his latest is a very long post – and I simply don’t have time to address them all here. Some of the issues he raises will be discussed in one final (for now) post on the ID versus A-T dispute that I’ll be putting up soon. He also tries to enlist Duns Scotus in defense of ID. “Professor Feser has got ID proponents pegged wrong,” Torley says; “We’re not Paleyites. He’d be more charitable if he called us Scotists.”

How that is supposed to help make ID compatible with Thomism I have no idea. Torley admits, for example, that ID theorists do tend to apply terms both to God and to human beings in univocal rather than analogous senses, and he provides quotes from Dembski and others to illustrate the point. This is a major concession; ID’s univocal usage of theological language is (along with its mechanistic conception of nature) one of the two features that I have consistently emphasized as putting ID fundamentally at odds with A-T. Torley makes the concession in order to enlist Scotus in the ID cause – Scotists famously reject the Thomist doctrine of analogy – but in doing so he only confirms the charge that ID is incompatible with Thomism. (How the concession is supposed to clear ID theorists from the charge of being Paleyites I also do not know, but let that pass.) Moreover, since most ID theorists take umbrage at the suggestion that they are beholden to particular metaphysical claims, it is hard to see how Torley’s fellow ID sympathizers could appreciate being labeled “Scotists” any more than “Paleyites.”

In any event, perhaps our good friends at The Smithy would like to speak to this alleged ID-Scotus connection. I’ll conclude my own remarks by thanking Torley for a vigorous and polite exchange, and for providing a further instance of a phenomenon I have found over and over again in my debates with ID defenders: The more they tie themselves in knots in order to try to reconcile ID and A-T, the more they show that no such reconciliation is possible.

38 comments:

Crude said...

I suspect that VJ Torley (who if nothing else is very polite and thoughtful when facing critics) may be trying to argue that an A-T proponent may employ ID arguments for a purpose without necessarily committing one to a mechanistic view, while also pointing out that there are scholastics who are close to Aquinas in the broad sense while able to accept a different metaphysic in other (but non-naturalist) senses.

One thing that confuses me throughout this debate, though, is that Dembski and even VJ Torley to a degree are saying that they reject a 'mechanistic' view of the world, and believe ID can be employed as an arguendo case within a mechanistic perspective. You can't be saying that it's literally not possible for someone to take on a mechanistic view purely for the sake of argument, can you? I understand if you mean that, yes, it's possible - but it damn well shouldn't be done, because it accepts for the sake of argument what A-T proponents see as one of THE key problems with modern understanding. But if that's the case, then it seems like a good portion of this argument is about priorities and effectiveness rather than a claim that, say.. 'You can't employ ID arguments at all, with any qualification, if you accept A-T or a likewise metaphysic.'

Brandon said...

If ID is being deployed arguendo, it would be necessary (1) for it to operate purely on principles its opponents accept, and it is at least very doubtful that this is the case here -- simply sharing a mechanistic view of natural objects does not suffice, because many mutually exclusive positions can share such a view, and few if any other participants in a mechanistic view accept the ID account of intelligence; and (2) for ID theorists to concede that, at least as far as their arguments actually establish, there may be no intelligent design or designer at all, which would mean (3) that ID theorists are actually not putting forward any sort of positive program for the study of nature at all. ID would no longer be a 'big tent' -- it would simply be a very narrow line of argument ad hominem, in Locke's sense. Pretty much all of the arguments that ID theorists and sympathizers have recently put forward for the compatibility of Thomism and ID would thereby be made irrelevant. The ID designer would literally be a designer of the gaps -- because all ID would be geared to doing is claiming that there is a gap, an at-least-probable inconsistency, given naturalistic mechanistic assumptions. And the only way to evaluate ID would be to evaluate how accurately its assumptions match those of its opponents. Taking this move seriously and consistently (which they clearly aren't) would be very costly for ID theorists, and it is not at all clear that it would fare better evaluated by the principles of naturalistic mechanism (which is how one would have to evaluate it if it were arguendo) than by Aristotelian principles.

The Deuce said...

If the world is divided into such kinds, though, to speak of whether it is “probable” that one could get one irreducible kind of thing from another is just muddled – for it is in that case not a matter of probability at all, and to speak as if it were is just to insinuate that the alleged difference in kind is not real and (therefore) that the immanent final causes that would differentiate the kinds are not real either.

Ed, this criticism sounds to me like it is directed primarily at Darwinism, and at best only secondarily at ID. I mean, you are asserting essentialism here, which as I understand it IDists can take or leave, but it's the utterly diametrically opposite to the whole central point of Darwin.

Darwinists have enough of a problem with IDists saying that it's too improbable to get from one kind of thing to another by chance, and here you're saying that it's *impossible* because there's a different in kind. I can imagine some "created kinds" creationists nodding along to this, but I can't see how a Darwinist of any kind, theistic or atheistic, could possibly have any of it.

Basically, you are unloading on the IDists for saying that's improbable to get one irreducible kind of thing from another, when according to Darwinism, their primary opposition, it's not only probable, but has actually happened.

I guess what I find confusing about this is that you are quite sure that ID is incompatible with A-T, but you aren't sure about its compatibility with Darwinism, when Darwinism displays all of the objectionable aspects you find with ID on steroids.

Edward Feser said...

Crude,

As Brandon said, and as I noted in an earlier post, if they want to argue arguendo, that's fine, but in that case what they're left with is a pretty narrow point. One wants to say: "Great, that's a journal article. Now what are you going to fill the ID textbooks with?" Because what they don't get is this big "design revolution" in biology or any positive evidence for a designer. (But then, as Brandon also says, even the arguendo strategy is flawed if they don't share their opponents' other premises.)

Deuce,

Yes, like I've said before, A-T is equally critical of the dogmatic naturalism that underlies the thinking of typical Darwinists. But everyone already knows that, because everyone already knows that A-T is incompatible with naturalism in general. What needs emphasizing is what many people do not realize, viz. that A-T also rejects the assumptions underlying ID.

The Deuce said...

If the natural world is not, as A-T says it is, objectively divided into natural kinds defined by their distinctive ends, then the only difference there can be between things is a quantitative one, and whether you can get one kind of thing from another becomes in every case a probabilistic rather than all-or-nothing affair.

Is it not possible that there are both qualitative *and* quantitative differences between kinds, however? If so, does focusing on the quantitative differences in isolation necessarily imply a denial of the qualitative ones?

Additionally, is it not possible for there to be two things that don't share a qualitative difference in kind to nevertheless have too much of a quantitative difference to reasonably make a transition from one to the other by chance?

For instance, what's the A-T position on the difference between a cell with a bacterial flagellum and one without? Is that a quantitative or a qualitative difference?



Torley holds that ID is committed to “methodological mechanism,” an approach to explaining natural phenomena that makes no reference one way or the other to immanent final causes or natural teleology.... So, there is simply no way to avoid the conclusion that ID methodology and A-T methodology are fundamentally incompatible.

Again, adding to the point of my last post, it's kind of amusing to see the ID guys get knocked for assuming "methodological mechanism" (apparently a watered down methodological naturalism), while the Darwinists routinely whack them for not accepting methodological mechanism/naturalism. And while you hit them for allowing that it is even possible that there is no immanent teleology, the Darwinists hit them for allowing that it is even possible that teleology of any sort is necessary explain any aspect of life.

The Deuce said...

Ed:
Yes, like I've said before, A-T is equally critical of the dogmatic naturalism that underlies the thinking of typical Darwinists.

Yes, but I've noticed that when it comes to Darwinism, your criticism is actually of typical Darwinists, whereas your criticism of ID is just of ID. That's what I don't get. The stuff you find objectionable in ID is more central to Darwinism, and if some hypothetical version of Darwinism could be invented that wasn't objectionable to A-T, then surely the same adjustments could be done for ID.

In short, you seem to be treating the difference between Darwinism as it exists and a hypothetical A-T Darwinism as one of degree, but the difference between ID and the A-T worldview as one of kind that can't be bridged.

Vincent Torley said...

Thank you for your post, Professor. A quick response to a couple of comments:

http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/in-praise-of-subtlety/comment-page-1/#comment-353149

Best wishes,

Vincent Torley

Edward Feser said...

Deuce,

For instance, what's the A-T position on the difference between a cell with a bacterial flagellum and one without?

There's no "A-T position" on that kind of specific question per se, other than to say that thinking on the model of artifacts is a fundamental mistake. Whether some particular biological explanation is correct or not has to be considered on a case-by-case basis, keeping in mind the sorts of conisderations I set out in my post on the origin of life.

Yes, but I've noticed that when it comes to Darwinism, your criticism is actually of typical Darwinists,

Depends on what one means by "Darwinism," and the trouble is that that is a very fluid term. If naturalism is regarded as essential to Darwinism, then the A-T critique is a critique of Darwinism and not just of certain Darwinists. But if naturalism is not essential to Darwinism, then the A-T critique is not necessarily a critique of Darwinism per se, but only of certain kinds of Darwinism. E.g. if "Darwinism" is just the view that "evolution has occurred," well, that's so vague that no A-T theorist need object to it, as long as the metaphysical considerations spelled out in my origin of life post are respected. Then the question turns to specific alleged evolutionary transitions, and as I say, these must be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Edward Feser said...

Vincent,

Thanks, I'll take a look.

Best,
Ed

David said...

"So, there is simply no way to avoid the conclusion that ID methodology and A-T methodology are fundamentally incompatible."

For some particular definition, anyway. As has been said many times, the first and biggest problem with "ID" is defining it. Not being a trademarked term, everyone uses it differently, including its supporters; and while that is itself a legitimate criticism, it's equally a criticism of its opponents. In fact, I don't recall seeing a precise definition of what you mean when you refer to "ID" as being incompatible with A-T. Sure, you can show that this detail or that doesn't fit; but the conclusion cannot be that something is wrong with "ID", rather than "this detail is not really ID at all". Or, to put it another way, why isn't your conclusion that ID is compatible with A-T, and that therefore Dembski/Torley/etc. have got ID wrong?

David said...

"I’ve already discussed one case central to the debate over ID, viz. the difference between living and non-living phenomena."

But that is only one case. "ID" (which still needs a strict definition) can also be applied to the size of the moon and our position in the galaxy, etc., which seem "just right" for doing astronomy; or to detecting plagiarism; or other things. (I still don't know whether the moon's eclipse-making powers are "mechanical" or what...?)

"If the world is divided into such kinds, though, to speak of whether it is “probable” that one could get one irreducible kind of thing from another is just muddled – for it is in that case not a matter of probability at all,"

To a philosopher, no, but the philosopher doesn't regard gravity or anything else as a matter of probability, even though science nevertheless talks that way. Indeed, to the Thomist nothing is "probable" in the sense that God is in deliberate control of every hair on a sparrow's head... but it still is OK to say "it probably will rain tomorrow" or "you probably won't get that bookshelf up those stairs". In particular, science ought to talk that way, because that's part of its special, and specially limited, mode of operation. (So the muddling of kinds may still be wrong, but not because of the statistical language.)

At any rate, it does seem quite right to speak of probabilities in, say, the case of suspected plagiarism (it is logically possible that two people might happen to choose the same words to describe the same thing, but it's improbable beyond short phrases). Or if I drop a tin of alphabet soup on the floor it is improbable that the letters would happen to spill out in such a way as to form a line from the ST. What is the A-T analysis of these situations?

David said...

"The second reason for the reluctance in question is that ID is as much a political movement as a school of thought, and has an interest in avoiding offending potential allies."

Well, man is a political animal. I'm not even sure that it's ever really possible, in practice, to separate the two; but certainly that applies to any school of thought insofar as at least some people will hold its "political" implications at the forefront. Anyway, I think there's a much more important third reason: common sense indicates that there is something to this whole "design" thing. Some of the details may be wrong — heck, all of the details might be wrong — but that still doesn't prove there isn't a real solution there waiting to be properly excavated. It is, of course, possible for common sense to be wrong; but on the other hand, nobody has come up with an air-tight philosophical argument to prove that there isn't some way in which "ID" (of some sort) is workable. (I think it's probably also relevant that in some ways Aristotle — as opposed to many other philosophers — is seen as more of a friend to "common sense".)

David said...

"There's no "A-T position" on [a cell with a bacterial flagellum vs one without], other than to say that thinking on the model of artifacts is a fundamental mistake. Whether some particular biological explanation is correct or not has to be considered on a case-by-case basis, keeping in mind the sorts of considerations I set out in my post on the origin of life."

Can't a Thomist say that organisms are analogous to machines — at least as viewed through the selective lenses of the scientific method? Scientists talk mechanistically partly because of centuries of bad philosophy, but even if the philosophy could be fixed, they would still talk that way, or in a closely similar way, because it works; on a purely empirical level, treating objects as reducible to their parts has proven effective so far. So if biology, scientifically speaking, turns out to be reducible to applied chemistry (which is reducible to applied physics), then it would be reasonable to call living things "machine-like".

So in terms of the considerations you refer to, there is a difference in kind between living and inanimate things, but it is possible that that difference may be invisible to science. Or it may turn out not to be, since we don't know everything about physics/chemistry/biology yet; that is, there may be something in biology which physics does not have, and thus cannot give.

Anonymous said...

Dear Prof. Feser:

Above you wrote to Deuce:

"What needs emphasizing is what many people do not realize, viz. that A-T also rejects the assumptions underlying ID."

To me, what needs emphasizing is that you are absolutely silent about the fact that Darwinian evolution [not "evolution" simply, but *Darwinian* evolution, whether original or "neo-"] is *inherently anti-teleological*, and therefore inherently opposed to A-T, which on your own account is *inherently teleological*. It is incomprehensible to me that you have invested so much intellectual energy attacking ID while remaining silent about Darwinian evolution.

And please don't reply how courageously you've fought off the Darwinian atheists, Dawkins etc. It doesn't do any good to fight off their denial of God if you leave absolutely untouched the anti-teleology inherent in their Darwinian view of organic nature. When can we expect your head-on attack on Darwinian anti-teleology in the name of A-T?

Or are you of the "two truth" view held by many theistic evolutionists, i.e., that Darwinian evolution is 100% true as "science" whereas teleology is 100% true as "philosophy of nature", and that we can have our cake and eat it, too, as long as we schizophrenically keep the two studies separate?

Would Aristotle agree that we should conduct "science" anti-teleologically, and "philosophy of nature" teleologically? (Rhetorical question.) So, then, by what alchemy does Thomism, which rests in part on Aristotle, and in part on the teleological account given in the Bible, achieve this remarkable schizophrenia, which allows TEs to agree with Dawkins from 9 to 5 in the lab, and with Christian theology during their off-hours? It would appear true, as America's greatest political philosopher once wrote, that "syntheses work miracles."

Anonymous said...

Dr. Feser:

Anonymous here again:

You raise the question to Deuce what "Darwinism" means, whether it is necessarily "naturalistic". Well, it depends on what you mean by "naturalistic". If by "naturalistic", you mean that all changes in organic nature are driven entirely by the contingencies of mutation and the principle of natural selection (with God being effectively told to simply create the laws of nature and then butt out while nature blindly generates species), then Darwinism in all its forms (Darwin, Huxley, Fisher, Mayr, Gaylord Simpson, Sagan, Gould, Dawkins, Coyne, etc.) is indeed naturalistic.

*All* ID proponents understand by "Darwinism" such a wholly naturalistic, chance-driven account of evolution. And they all reject such an account. But many Christian TE proponents (e.g., Collins, Ken Miller, Ayala) appear to be completely onside with a naturalistic, chance-driven theory of evolution. What isn't clear is whether Edward Feser is completely onside with a naturalistic, chance-driven theory of evolution. One thing's for sure: Thomas Aquinas wouldn't be.

Edward Feser said...

What isn't clear is whether Edward Feser is completely onside with a naturalistic, chance-driven theory of evolution.

It is absolutely clear that I am not "onside" with that, given (a) my well-known (to people who know my stuff, anyway) hostility to naturalism in general and (b) the specific points I've made about the metaphysical considerations that must from an A-T point of view guide our understanding of biological phenomena (as spelled out e.g. in my post on the origins of life).

Re: Darwinism as inherently non-teleological, that is certainly true of the best-known Darwinians these days, but it is not so clear that it is true of Darwinism per se or even of Darwin himself. Writers like Etienne Gilson and James Lennox have argued that it is not.

But what does any of this matter to the queston of whether ID and A-T are compatible?

Edward Feser said...

David,

That's why I focused on Dembski, who is obviously a major representative of ID. I have shown, I think, that Dembski's version of ID is incompatible with A-T. Therefore, any version of ID relevantly like Dembski's (mechanistic methodology, univocal application of concepts to both God and human designers) is also incompatible with ID. That surely covers a lot of ground. If someone wants to claim that some other self-described "ID theories" might be compatible with A-T, we can consider them on a case by case basis. If "ID" is vague, though, that's not my fault; and it is surely legitimate to proceed by considering paradigm cases like Dembski.

Anonymous said...

Prof. Feser:

Thanks for your reply. Just two points:

I have read Darwin carefully, and the anti-teleology is inescapable. The attempt of a few people to try to establish that Darwin really believed in teleology after all, based on a stray remark he made to Asa Gray in a private letter, and on some purely exoteric remarks in the *Origin*, cannot withstand scholarly and philosophical examination.

You mentioned Gilson. I have carefully read Gilson's book, recently re-issued, on Darwin and Aristotle. It's an interesting book, filled with learning, and one I hope to study some more, but on my first reading, anyway, I was not entirely satisfied with Gilson's comments on teleology and modern science. He seems to blow hot and cold on whether modern science is right to exclude teleology from its procedures, and *if* he is arguing (which is not yet clear to me) that we can be *moderns* in our natural science but *Aristotelian-Thomists* in our philosophy of nature (which sometimes seems to me to be what you and Beckwith are arguing, though again it's not clear), that position entails the problematic assumption that we can separate modern science from the modern philosophy of nature, which suggests that Gilson has never read the important works of Foster and Collingwood on the subject.

As to why your opinion on Darwinian anti-teleology matters, it matters a great deal, because many of the TE people are completely onside with anti-teleology in evolution, and as far as I know, you've never publically taken a position on the view of evolution held by Ken Miller and Francisco Ayala (both Catholics like yourself), or any other TE. The appearance, whether you intend it or not, is that you are harsher on models of design that you disagree with than you are on models that are flagrantly anti-design. Also, since ID has a strong Catholic following (not just Behe but a number of scientists known to me, though not well-known to the general public), whereas TEs generally are very Protestant and not well-disposed to Thomism, your silence about your difference with TEs is puzzling. What we ID people are looking for is a comprehensive A-T position which dishes out criticism impartially to *all* who differ with A-T metaphysics and theology, including TEs. What we are seeing is a very partial application of A-T to attack ID. This raises questions of consistency and motivation. You should be able to see this.

Crude said...

Brandon,

I disagree with your estimation. Some replies below.

In response to your (1): The problem here is that an arguendo isn't necessarily aimed only at "opponents", or people opposed to ID. It could be employed when approaching people who simply accept a broadly mechanistic worldview and/or who suspect that various findings in nature and science imply (or even positively demonstrate) the lack of intelligence behind or in nature.

There are many people who believe, in essence, "If evolution is true, then design is false" or even "Science has shown nothing on earth is or could be designed save for what humans and maybe some smarter animals make". I fail to see how showing the falsity of this, even assuming a mechanistic view of nature, is undesirable as a project.

In response to your (3): ID's claim about the study of nature, as near as I can tell, is simply that one can make inferences about design in nature and that these inferences are scientific. How and why these inferences are made is where the "Big Tent" seems to come in, since the inferences can run a very broad gamut - from arguing the inadequacies of evolutionary explanations to suggesting design or guidance can be inferred from nature's known operations to otherwise. "Designer of the Gaps" isn't required by ID (I think even Karl Giberson at Biologos recently qualified his criticisms, saying he thinks ID has a tendency to slide into Gap-thinking, not that it requires it. He's hardly the most ID-friendly guy around.)

Finally, you and Ed both suggest that one problem with ID is that, if it's employed this way by a thomist, it isn't left with much to do otherwise. Quoting Ed: One wants to say: "Great, that's a journal article. Now what are you going to fill the ID textbooks with?" Because what they don't get is this big "design revolution" in biology or any positive evidence for a designer.

First, I'd dispute that one doesn't get "positive evidence" for a designer if one takes on the basic assumptions of ID. That roughly strikes me as suggesting that a demonstration of a human making a guitar is not positive evidence that this other guitar was designed.

But second, I think too much is being put on ID's back here. You both make it sound like ID promised to revolutionize (say) biology and chemistry, such that now we have a completely different fundamental understanding of these things. But that was never ID's claim anyway - the revolution is that we have strong reasons to infer design in nature, and that these inferences are themselves scientific.

Edward Feser said...

*if* he is arguing (which is not yet clear to me) that we can be *moderns* in our natural science but *Aristotelian-Thomists* in our philosophy of nature (which sometimes seems to me to be what you and Beckwith are arguing, though again it's not clear), that position entails the problematic assumption that we can separate modern science from the modern philosophy of nature,

I can't speak for Frank, but that is certainly not my view. Some aspects of modern science (physics and chemistry, say) seem at most incomplete from an A-T point of view; they pay no attention to the non-quantitative features of nature (such as immanent teleology) but neither do they deny them. But others (e.g. Darwinism as typically interpreted these days) do positively deny teleology -- not because "the science" leads them to do so but because a purely philosophical anti-teleological bias has arbitrarily been defined as "scientific."

Whether Darwinism might plausibly be reinterpreted in teleological terms is a complicated question, and my point was simply that it's not quite as straightforward as you implied. But it's obvious that a "teleologized" Darwinism would in any event not do what most Darwinists want Darwinism to do, which is, of course, to eliminate teleology altogether. So I am certainly not giving the Darwinists a free metaphysical pass, not by a longshot. And any TE advocate who thinks you can neatly bracket off "the science" from the metaphysics is naive. But again, what I've said publicly about this matter already makes it clear that that is what I think: See, again, the origin of life post, or what I say about the impossibility of explaining the human mind in Darwinian terms in The Last Superstition, or what I say about the A-T understanding of life vs. non-life in Aquinas.

As to why I have not addressed the TE question in more detail, the reason is that it is simply much more complicated than the ID question. A-T rules out naturalistic approaches to evolution, but not necessarily other approaches. In evaluating any given proposal, all sorts of complex, interrelated but distinct metaphysical and empirical issues need to be untangled, as my origin of life post indicates, and there is just no simple one-line answer to the question "Is A-T compatible with TE?"

What is clear is that A-T is incompatible with mechanism and with a univocal use of theological terms, and that (as I have argued) suffices to show that A-T is incompatible with ID as the latter is generally understood. I think that that is just straightforward. And before the relationship between A-T and TE can properly be understood, the gigantic red herring of ID must be swept away. And that's precisely one reason for the emphasis on it.

Daniel Smith said...

Dr. Feser,

In another thread I asked how you could reconcile the view that life is not an "artifact" with various scriptures:

"God formed man out of the dust of the ground"
and:
"You knit me together in my mother's womb"

Your response (which I unfortunately missed until yesterday) was:

When God knit you in your mother's womb, what kind of yarn did He use?

The question is silly, of course, because the biblical passages you cite make use of figures of speech that are not meant to be taken as precise metaphysical descriptions.

I noticed that you did not speak about the Genesis passage - which seems far less a "figure of speech" than the Psalms passage I quoted.

Is the view that God literally formed man out of the dust of the ground anti-Thomist?

Thank you Dr. Feser for making A-T philosophy accessible to laymen such as myself.

Anonymous said...

Good answer, Dr. Feser. You've caught the sense of my questions, and we aren't as far apart as I first feared.

Thanks for your acknowledgment of the possibility that some TEs make it seem far too easy to separate the science from the metaphysics in Darwinism.

For the time being, we will have to agree to disagree about ID's incompatibility with Thomism. I'm not yet convinced, but I wish to read more Thomist material, especially regarding the question of univocity and its relationship to Thomas's apparent use of design analogies, before pressing my argument. In the meantime, if you ever get around to reading Michael Denton's book, *Nature's Destiny*, I would like to hear your views on it, as it contains elements of both ID and TE. Would it, too, fall afoul of the understanding of creation in Thomism?

David said...

Edward Feser: If "ID" is vague, though, that's not my fault; and it is surely legitimate to proceed by considering paradigm cases like Dembski.

Sure; but of course the very vagueness of the term means that Dembski's particular view will leave a lot of ground not covered. I think that a key factor in why so many ID-proponents are so resistant to your conclusion is that it doesn't seem to strike at the essence of ID.

"Therefore, any version of ID relevantly like Dembski's (mechanistic methodology, univocal application of concepts to both God and human designers) is also incompatible with AT."

Except I don't know that that's the relevant part! Quantum mechanics has spawned no end of truly awful philosophy, but all that means is that a given presentation may need more "translation" to extract the actual physics and describe it in better metaphysical terms. In other words, what you've shown is that "Dembski's philosophical representation of one particular approach to ID" is incompatible with A-T.

Brandon said...

The problem here is that an arguendo isn't necessarily aimed only at "opponents", or people opposed to ID. It could be employed when approaching people who simply accept a broadly mechanistic worldview and/or who suspect that various findings in nature and science imply (or even positively demonstrate) the lack of intelligence behind or in nature.

There is one and only one form of arguendo that doesn't have an opposing position, and that is when one is simply seeing where one might take the argument. This is very clearly not what is being done by either Dembski or Torley or, indeed, any other ID theorist. It simply does not suffice, when it comes to arguendo, to be addressing 'broad worldviews'; this pretty much guarantees that you aren't proving anything at all, because such things have virtually infinite potential to be specified: you can slice them and dice them any number of ways by adding, subtracting, or modifying finer details of premises, and therefore to take the route you are suggesting would require that ID theorists simply concede that they are engaging in pure speculation, and one particular line of speculation among many possible ones.

But I'm not sure I understand your line of argument here, because you go on precisely to give opposing positions (e.g., "If evolution is true, design is false") and therefore you yourself are committed to characterizing ID's argumentative potential in terms of its capacity to handle opponents.

I didn't say that ID had anything to do with a "designer of the gaps"; I said it would be committed to such a thing if it took the route of defense you suggested in your previous comment. Since we both agree that this is not, in fact, what ID theorists are committed to, the only question is whether your line of defense is actually inconsistent with this.

Brandon said...

(cont'd)

You both make it sound like ID promised to revolutionize (say) biology and chemistry, such that now we have a completely different fundamental understanding of these things. But that was never ID's claim anyway - the revolution is that we have strong reasons to infer design in nature, and that these inferences are themselves scientific.

This is absolutely false. I've read far too much Dembski, Behe, and Johnson to think that this is even remotely accurate. Dembski is clearly aiming at more than this; the entire last chapter of No Free Lunch lays out a research program that goes far, far beyond what you are suggesting. I don't understand why you are bent on trying to defend ID by removing from it everything that gave it at least some intellectual interest in the first place -- precisely what made ID interesting, particularly in its early years, was that there was a reasonable case that it was not a dead end but opened out on new vistas. You are taking ID to be about mere detection; but in order for a design inference to be a scientific inference it can't just be a mere set of procedures for detection -- that's no more a 'scientific inference' than looking in my sock drawer to see if I need to do laundry is a scientific experiment. It has to establish a research program, one that can adequately replace research programs presupposing naturalistic mechanism. And ID theorists have, to their great credit, sketched such programs out, and they are far and away the greater part of the attractiveness of ID.

In short, the sort of defense you are suggesting would be a Pyrrhic victory for the ID. In order to involve scientific inferences, which don't exist in isolation and need to do more for explanation than just be inferences to causes, it must be committed to far more than you are claiming. In order to avoid being committed to a 'designer of the gaps' approach it must be doing more than just presenting a position arguendo. And if it were just presenting a position arguendo (which it obviously is not) it would have to be evaluated in light of how well its basic principles conform to the actual mechanistic naturalisms it is opposing. The sort of defense you are suggesting seems clearly to guarantee the complete self-destruction of ID as anything more than an idle speculation, since it strips it of everything that could make it of scientific interest, narrows its logical relevance to an extraordinary degree, and requires attributing to it things that are clearly contrary to what major ID theorists have said about it.

Edward Feser said...

Hello Daniel,

Is the view that God literally formed man out of the dust of the ground anti-Thomist?

Not at all. What would be anti-Thomist is saying that this involved re-working the dust in a manner analogous to engineering, watchmaking, amazing skill in chemistry, etc. What would be perfectly Thomist is saying that it involved causing the prime matter underlying the dust to lose the form of dust and take on the substantial form of a man.

Thank you Dr. Feser for making A-T philosophy accessible to laymen such as myself.

Very kind of you to say so!

Edward Feser said...

Hello Anonymous,

Thanks. I haven't seen Denton's book, but I'll get to it.

Edward Feser said...

Hello David,

Well, it's hard for me to see what you have in mind unless it's just the claim that anything theistic and/or anti-naturalistic counts as "ID" (with the distinctive ideas of someone like Dembski being merely one particular, non-essential "philosophical representation" among others). But as I've said, that makes the whole idea of ID vacuous.

Crude said...

Brandon,

Normally I'd go with quoting and responding by points, but in the interest of brevity and focus I'm going to skip that. By the way, I value your input - you're one of my other favorite bloggers to follow. Hopefully you'll write an A-T related book sometime.

* The last chapter of NFL outlines a research project for how to consider objects that are inferred to be designed, along with some thoughtful speculation about the Christian God and interpretations of quantum mechanics. Sorry, but this doesn't look like revolutionizing chemistry or even biology to me (no denial of common descent required, nor denial of evolution, etc.) The revolution would be, if anything, a "design revolution" - one that was largely additive, not one where we'd find ourselves having to throw out all our chemistry, etc textbooks because darnit, too much turned out to be wrong.

* Pyrrhic Victory for ID? Who here is arguing on behalf of ID, or telling the most prominent ID proponents what to do? My comments here have consistently been about what, if anything, a thomist/A-T proponent can take away from or make use of regarding ID. I manifestly have not been telling ID proponents what they should do or how they should view their own project. I've been offering up some reasons why, as someone who is more and more inclined to reject a mechanistic worldview (and certainly a 'naturalistic' one - whatever that slippery word means nowadays), I still think ID and ID arguments have some utility even for an A-T proponent. And I'm still aware of others who reject A-T but are invested in ID for other reasons.

Let me put it another way. I keep referencing a post Ed made, "The Trouble With William Paley". Great post, I thought, and it really drove home why an A-T proponent would or should have little interest in ID's arguments as "ways to infer God's existence". But I also couldn't help thinking that Ed was wrong on one point: I think "naturalistic" arguments which led to the inference of Ralph Richardson (I love that example) would be worth pursuing. Not as some argument for the God of classical theism - A-T proponents have something better there - but to highlight some real possibilities at work within a "naturalistic"/mechanistic worldview.

* Again, while I imagine someone could 'weaponize' ID to argue against atheists, that really is less my concern. I think there's a very important difference between, say... the committed (for whatever reasons) atheist who finds it imperative to combat every and all inferences of design in nature, and someone less invested in the subject but who has picked up on 'evolution means no design' and takes that to be some kind of established, uncontroversial truth.

I also have to ask - what's wrong with speculation anyway? Why can't speculation along certain lines be productive or encouraging itself, as tame as it may sound among constant aggressive debates and arguments.

Brandon said...

The revolution would be, if anything, a "design revolution" - one that was largely additive, not one where we'd find ourselves having to throw out all our chemistry, etc textbooks because darnit, too much turned out to be wrong.

But no one has suggested any such revolution in this sense; so I'm not sure why you think it follows from anything said so far.

My comments here have consistently been about what, if anything, a thomist/A-T proponent can take away from or make use of regarding ID. I manifestly have not been telling ID proponents what they should do or how they should view their own project.

I'm glad we agree on this, because this is precisely my point. What you are talking about is not ID at all, but only something broadly analogous to it. If it is taken as a defense of the compatibility of ID with Thomism it fails, because pretty much nothing of ID is left. Whatever it is that is compatible with Thomism, it is not consistent with ID theorists' own view of ID; and thus is not really ID at all, but at most something vaguely like it when described at a very general level. Your comments, if taken to be about ID's compatibility with Thomism, end up gutting ID entirely; if they are taken to be about the sort of design-reasoning-in-a-broad-sense that might be compatible with Thomism, are pointing to something not really much like ID at all. Yes, a Thomist can consistently allow arguendo something very broadly analogous to ID at some very general level of description; but this is just to say that it's entirely possible to have inferences to intelligent causes, or even to intelligent designers, that are not ID. One of the things I, at least, have been protesting through this entire discussion has been people taking every inference to an intelligent cause as if it were ID, when ID doesn't even include every inference to an intelligent designer (it doesn't include ones that are purely metaphysical, for instance, nor does it include everyday good-enough-for-practical-purposes inferences based on our familiarity with the actual designers). This is just playing with labeling, not a real classification of positions. When we look more closely at the actual structures of positions, we find that ID makes assumptions that are simply inconsistent with Thomism; that it does not seem to share enough of the principles of mechanistic naturalism to be used as an internal refutation of that position; that in fact it is not needed on either front, since other positions will do at least as well; and, in short, that it is neither beast nor fowl, just red herring.

David said...

Prof. Feser said: Well, it's hard for me to see what you have in mind unless it's just the claim that anything theistic and/or anti-naturalistic counts as "ID"

Only that ID is about scientifically identifying design. I don't think it can reasonably be less than that, and the rest seems to be conclusions that are supposed to follow from it. And starting from a scientific question, it's compatible with any philosophical system, at least any philosophy which can ground science (though the answer might be no, it can't be detected).

Certainly biology isn't the only area where "ID" gets raised (although to many people it is the most obvious candidate). So what would be the A-T analysis of the following?

Scenario 1: we are playing poker and I get a royal flush. Then a bit later I get another royal flush. (The non-philosophical analysis is that I was lucky.)

Scenario 2: we are playing poker and I get a royal flush. Not once, not twice, but every single hand. (I suggest that Aristotle would suggest I was cheating.)

(Perhaps as background to this, we first need to flush, er, flesh out an A-T theory of probability? Since God controls everything, statistics can't really work; but by observation it seems to, so there is some basis for concluding that as a practical matter God does make things happen in a kinda sorta mostly statistical way, presumably as a gift to help us understand things we otherwise couldn't, or at least because the mathematical elegance thus supplied makes a more "beautiful" universe than otherwise.)

Crude said...

Brandon,

But no one has suggested any such revolution in this sense; so I'm not sure why you think it follows from anything said so far.

Because of the suggestion that certain claims by ID proponents, if allowed, weren't going to be enough to result in all new "ID textbooks". I thought what was implied there exaggerated the point of ID, even on its own typical terms. Simply that.

Your comments, if taken to be about ID's compatibility with Thomism, end up gutting ID entirely; if they are taken to be about the sort of design-reasoning-in-a-broad-sense that might be compatible with Thomism, are pointing to something not really much like ID at all.

My thoughts on "compatibility" between ID and thomism have extended to thinking that, even if ID necessarily committed to a mechanistic metaphysic (I notice Dembski and Torley have been suggesting that's not the case, but I'm just accepting Ed's take here), it's still an instructive project that thomists can see as useful or positive in a qualified sense, even if they ultimately disagree with it.

One of the things I, at least, have been protesting through this entire discussion has been people taking every inference to an intelligent cause as if it were ID, when ID doesn't even include every inference to an intelligent designer (it doesn't include ones that are purely metaphysical, for instance, nor does it include everyday good-enough-for-practical-purposes inferences based on our familiarity with the actual designers).

I agree with this, or at least I've been lamenting that ID seems to consciously leave these things (particularly philosophy and metaphysics) largely out of their project - Cornelius Hunter is the only ID proponent I know of who has a strong focus on what he sees as metaphysics. I openly asked in a previous comment whether the "Big Tent" was intended to include philosophy as well, since that doesn't seem to be the case.

Does ID not use "everyday" design detection? That I'm less sure of, since I've seen far too many explicit comparisons between 'natural' objects and human machines by ID proponents, which would seem to strongly imply that - even if taken in a different direction than normal, so to speak.

When we look more closely at the actual structures of positions, we find that ID makes assumptions that are simply inconsistent with Thomism; that it does not seem to share enough of the principles of mechanistic naturalism to be used as an internal refutation of that position; that in fact it is not needed on either front, since other positions will do at least as well; and, in short, that it is neither beast nor fowl, just red herring.

Emphasis added here, of course. And this is where I have a problem, because "naturalism" has to rival "darwinism" for being one of the most slippery terms-in-use I see in these discussions.

Here's the thing: I don't see ID as even attempting an 'internal refutation of naturalism'. Again, Ed's referenced post points out that ID, if successful, would not refute naturalism. I've seen some ID sympathetic people outline what they saw as naturalistic ID scenarios (Alien design, the simulation argument, etc.) I see Dembski entertaining these same examples as possible given ID, in his most recent post.

So again, I don't see ID as intended to refute naturalism* - and I don't think it needs to to be successful at inferring or arguing for design, or to provide some very interesting questions for those committed to a naturalistic or mechanistic metaphysic.

(* To repeat, I see this word given slippery usage in discussion. I see it equated with nothing but 'atheism' sometimes, I see others claim it as 'rejecting the supernatural' while failing to really define supernatural or natural, etc. But I'm going with Ed's use of the term in posts reference.)

Daniel Smith said...

Dr. Feser:
What would be perfectly Thomist is saying that it involved causing the prime matter underlying the dust to lose the form of dust and take on the substantial form of a man.

Thank you for making the Thomist position clearer to me. One thing I don't quite get: Why would the scripture specify "dust" if God is essentially destroying the dust and making man from prime matter? Wouldn't any prime matter do? Why "dust"?

I look forward to your thoughts on this Dr. Feser, and thanks again for your patience with those of us less well versed in these issues.

Brandon said...

So again, I don't see ID as intended to refute naturalism* - and I don't think it needs to to be successful at inferring or arguing for design, or to provide some very interesting questions for those committed to a naturalistic or mechanistic metaphysic.

What you're not getting is that I'm not putting forward my view of ID here but trying to figure out what your claim is. I've proposed several things that seemed to be suggested by your words, and said what I thought wrong with them, but you keep rejecting them; and I'm getting to the point where I can see nothing left. You proposed initially that the point is that "ID can be employed as an arguendo case within a mechanistic perspective". I pointed out that this effectively requires that we evaluate ID in terms of how well it shows up internal problems with opposing positions. You denied that it has to, saying, "It could be employed when approaching people who simply accept a broadly mechanistic worldview and/or who suspect that various findings in nature and science imply (or even positively demonstrate) the lack of intelligence behind or in nature." This is more puzzling than helpful; how it can it be employed merely within a "broadly mechanistic worldview", without requiring thatit be evaluated in terms of opposing positions? And, indeed, you went on to talk about it entirely in terms of its opposing positions. Moreover, if we aren't using a position arguendo to oppose particular positions, we are simply using it arguendo in the sense of trying to see where it goes. But this on its own is of no use to Thomists, or anyone else, beyond the sense that it's interesting. One might as well speculate on the implications of the philosophies of Tlon and Uqbar; they are of as much use and interest in that respect. There are lots of possibilities within a mechanistic perspective; there's no particularly reason why a Thomist should be interested in ID more than any of the others unless it sheds light on some weakness in it. That would justify use of it arguendo; but you've already shut down that possible justification. If it's just a matter of seeing where it goes, a Thomist, and anyone else, can do that without using its arguments for anything at all -- and, indeed, in that sense there would be nothing particular for the arguments to be used for, since you're just seeing where they go.

So somehow the ID project is supposed to be useful in a qualified way to the Thomist, even though in light of your claims about it, it appears not to be useful for anything. I keep pointing out problems with potential uses, and you keep denying that ID is useful in those ways anyway, and the closest you come to giving an actual clarification of what it is useful for is the vague, "to be successful at inferring or arguing for design, or to provide some very interesting questions for those committed to a naturalistic or mechanistic metaphysic"; but again, the latter leads us back to the original point that this means that we would have to evaluate it not in Thomistic terms but in terms of what it opposes within the mechanistic worldview amd its success in opposing them, and the first depends on either its principles being right or its inference being well-structured, in which case the Thomist is back to evaluating it in Thomistic terms. So after all this I am left even more in the dark about what you are suggesting than I thought I was to begin with, since you've rejected every possible usefulness I could think that you might be suggesting.

Crude said...

Brandon,

What you're not getting is that I'm not putting forward my view of ID here but trying to figure out what your claim is.

To be frank - no, I don't think you've been doing that at all. You've been saying what you think my position is, mounting criticisms of those positions, and then repeating this in a new direction when I explain "no, that's not what I'm saying." I think if you were really focused on just trying to understand where I'm coming from, I could have expected at least one question along the lines of "Well, I don't get what you're trying to say. Can you explain what you mean regarding (X)?"

So after all this I am left even more in the dark about what you are suggesting than I thought I was to begin with, since you've rejected every possible usefulness I could think that you might be suggesting.

That's fine, I'll try to explain myself. Again, if I'm unclear (and God knows I can be) or you wonder where I'm coming from on something, feel free to ask. I'll gladly clarify as best I can.

For one thing, you focused before on the idea that ID could be used as an "internal refutation" of naturalism. But what I find odd is that you've never responded to my citing Ed's own past posts on this subject (which I've brought up repeatedly, kind of singlemindedly in fact). What's interesting about those posts is that Ed defines the ID project as, in essence, wrongheaded for the following reasons.

* They don't get you to the God of classical theism, nor closer to this God by even the tiniest amount.

* They do not disprove/refute naturalism no matter how wild their successes are.

* They can, at best [Putting aside, of course, that Ed thinks - rightly so, in my modest nobody view - that naturalism is utterly hopeless], lead to the inference of a powerful being(s), lesser deities perhaps, but (again) this does not disprove naturalism.

What I've tried to say, with these and other points in mind, is this:

* I agree with Ed (in part due to the utter slipperiness of 'naturalism' anyway) that ID, framed so, could never refute naturalism. So I'm certainly not saying that ID should be employed to give some 'internal refutation' of naturalism.

* I agree with Ed that the most ID could ever hope to establish (granting its 'naturalism', so to speak) is the existence or likely existence of powerful beings, perhaps ones that could be rightly called deities in the sense of Ralph Richardson and Zeus, but not the God of classical theism.

* I disagree with Ed that therefore the project is or should be uninteresting, for a number of reasons. A) Because while it introduces no problem for 'naturalism' as such, it does introduce a problem for naturalists (Meaning, those who take naturalism or "science" to mean or at least imply the non-existence of even the beings ID could only broadly infer), B) If, given 'naturalistic' assumptions, these sorts of inferences really can be made with whatever degrees of strength, then I consider it important for reasons of intellectual interest to admit as much, and C) I think thomists should have at least some interest in discussing where the views of those of opposing metaphysics either ultimately lead to (Eliminative Materialism is a good example of this kind of interest, I think) or at least suggest.

Granted, you may also think that ID's cases across the board are utterly unpersuasive even given the method or 'worldview' they operate within. On that front, I disagree. But that would also be a whole other subject, and certainly in this conversation no one has suggested 'Thomists should reject ID because all their inferences are bad even given their mechanism'.

Brandon said...

Apologies for not responding; end of term craziness.

To be frank - no, I don't think you've been doing that at all. You've been saying what you think my position is, mounting criticisms of those positions, and then repeating this in a new direction when I explain "no, that's not what I'm saying."

But what do you think this is? That is precisely how one typically goes about trying to pin down a claim: consider possible interpretations, look at their ramifications, and if it turns out not to be right for any reason, starting over. The ramifications are especially important here because you weren't making a claim in an idle moment; you were making a claim specifically that Thomists could find ID useful if they take it arguendo; the ramifications are precisely the issue here. And when purely side issues are taken away, it's not as if this has gone one for very long: Your original claim seemed straightforward; but it seemed to run into problems; I raised them; it turned out you meant something different. But eventually you said something about refutation that suggested that you were proposing ID as an internal refutation of certain positions, which interpretation fit with other things you said; but apparently that wasn't quite right, either.

It's quite true I didn't actually put you a request for further information in question form; but I specifically told you that I didn't understand your position and why in the comment of April 26, 2010 9:51 PM; you either did not see it or ignored it, because you did nothing whatsoever to clarify.

Thank you, however, for the clarification now. But I'm not sure I see how it moves anything forward; the evaluation of whether ID causes problems for naturalists would depend, just as the evaluation of whether ID causes problems for naturalism in general, on how well it stands up in light of principles it shares with those naturalists. That is, its use to the Thomist will depend entirely on how it stands up as a naturalistic view relative to specific other naturalistic views. I agree that it's reasonable for a Thomist to be interested in this; but 'interesting' and 'useful' are often far apart; and whether ID is more than just interesting as one more position in the space of possible positions but also useful in the way you suggest would still seem to depend entirely on whether ID stands up under such a purely naturalistic evaluation. I have no idea whether ID can stand up to such evaluation; but I certainly see no reason to think it has been proven that it can.

Crude said...

Brandon,

But what do you think this is? That is precisely how one typically goes about trying to pin down a claim: consider possible interpretations, look at their ramifications, and if it turns out not to be right for any reason, starting over.

All I'm saying is, if you really don't get where I'm coming from and want to know, just ask. I'm more than happy to make things clear as best I can. Otherwise it feels less like a conversation and more like a tactical engagement. But whatever, it's small stuff, and put aside.

On we go.

That is, its use to the Thomist will depend entirely on how it stands up as a naturalistic view relative to specific other naturalistic views.

I suppose so. Then again, I happen to think it stands up beautifully. If anything, I think ID proponents are far too restrained in their approach and their scope on the one hand, and on the other tend to tread too carefully in the name of the big tent. Hopefully that will change as time carries on. And I think thomists should be encouraging of that, while making it clear where their own differences lie.

I agree that it's reasonable for a Thomist to be interested in this; but 'interesting' and 'useful' are often far apart; and whether ID is more than just interesting as one more position in the space of possible positions but also useful in the way you suggest would still seem to depend entirely on whether ID stands up under such a purely naturalistic evaluation.

Again, agreed. Also again, I think ID (some aspects of it, mind you - ID's big tent really is big) stands up beautifully in that regard, and considered that way. I'll add that I'm sure many/most ID proponents would balk at having their views labeled 'naturalist'. Then again, that term seems ridiculously fluid anyway. But naturalist in the way Ed has meant it? Sure.

I have no idea whether ID can stand up to such evaluation; but I certainly see no reason to think it has been proven that it can.

Well, I'd say I disagree, but again - ID's broad enough that now I'm the one not sure what you mean. I'd ask you to explain, but that'd take us pretty far afield. For me, I'm content with making it clear why I consider ID to be an intellectual project thomists should find interesting (even if having fundamental disagreements), and perhaps be willing to defend and encourage - granting that "usefulness" and "ability to stand up to scrutiny" you speak of.

Anonymous said...

becomes in every case a probabilistic rather than all-or-nothing affair

yes, the basic term logic of Aristotle can't really deal with probability (and neither can thomists, except maybe in some cosmic bingo parlor fashion---it's a contingency controlled by the Almighty!). statistics of course being a much later invention of those dreaded mechanists.

anyway a difference of degrees, rather than qualities...a mousetrap has a certain end because it's been designed that way...as does an oak tree, arguably (ie on charitable reading of A--T) Were Designer so-minded, He could interrupt the process, and prevent it from reaching it's final cause (like by a tree blight ). That is, assuming He exists.... At times Feser seems to suggest natural objects such as trees have some ...Tolkien-ish magical, polydeistic power apart from Deus....