Saturday, April 10, 2010

“Intelligent Design” theory and mechanism

From an Aristotelian-Thomistic (A-T) point of view, one of the main problems with “Intelligent Design” theory is that it presupposes the same mechanistic conception of nature that underlies naturalism. (See here, here, and here for some of my earlier remarks on this and other problems with ID.) ID theorists sometimes object to this characterization of their position, as William Dembski does several times in his book The Design Revolution (e.g. at pages 25 and 151).

Well, I guess Dembski would know what ID theory is really committed to, if anyone does. The trouble is that even he doesn’t seem to know, because despite these disavowals of mechanism, the rest of the book is peppered with assertions that presuppose the truth of a mechanistic conception of nature. Or perhaps Dembski simply doesn’t understand what A-T theorists mean by “mechanism.” Either way, there can be no doubt that ID theory, as Dembski conceives of it, is mechanistic through and through in the sense of “mechanism” that A-T rejects.

Take Dembski’s discussion of Aristotle at pp. 132-3 of The Design Revolution (which, if you don’t have a copy of the book, you can read for yourself here via Google Books). Dembski here identifies “design” with what Aristotle called techne or “art.” As Dembski correctly says, “the essential idea behind these terms is that information is conferred on an object from outside the object and that the material constituting the object, apart from that outside information, does not have the power to assume the form it does. For instance, raw pieces of wood do not by themselves have the power to form a ship.” This contrasts with what Aristotle called “nature,” which (to quote Dembski quoting Aristotle) “is a principle in the thing itself.” For example (again to quote Dembski’s own exposition of Aristotle), “the acorn assumes the shape it does through powers internal to it: the acorn is a seed programmed to produce an oak tree” – in contrast to the way the “ship assumes the shape it does through powers external to it,” via a “designing intelligence” which “imposes” this form on it from outside.

Now, having made this distinction, Dembski goes on explicitly to acknowledge that just as “the art of shipbuilding is not in the wood that constitutes the ship” and “the art of making statues is not in the stone out of which statues are made,” “so too, the theory of intelligent design contends that the art of building life is not in the physical stuff that constitutes life but requires a designer” (emphasis added). And there you have it: Living things are for ID theory to be modeled on ships and statues, the products of techne or “art,” whose characteristic “information” is not “internal” to them but must be “imposed” from “outside.” And that just is what A-T philosophers mean by a “mechanistic” conception of life.

Remember, this does not mean that A-T denies that living things are created by God; far from it. The point is rather that for A-T, the way God creates a natural substance is not to be understood on the model of a shipbuilder or sculptor who takes pre-existing bits of matter and rearranges them to serve an end they have no tendency otherwise to serve. Nor is the point affected in the least if we imagine that when the pre-existing bits of matter are created this external order is imposed immediately; temporal considerations are irrelevant. For A-T, a natural substance is a composite of “prime matter” (matter having no form at all) and substantial form, rather than a piece of “second matter” (matter already having some substantial form or other) which has acquired some accidental form from outside it. And a natural substance’s causal tendencies, including biological functions in the case of living things, are inherent to it, a reflection of its essence or nature; it simply could not possibly exist as the kind of thing it is in the first place if it did not have those tendencies, and thus it would have them even if (per impossibile) it had not been created by God. The way God creates living things, then, is the same way He creates everything else, viz. by conjoining an essence to an act of existence, which in the case of material things (including plants and animals) entails conjoining a certain kind of prime matter/substantial form composite to an act of existence.

Remember too that none of this has anything to do with Darwinism, the debate over which is a separate matter. Perhaps the biological world God creates works according to Darwinian principles; and perhaps not. Either way, the question will not be resolved by weighing against Darwinian naturalism a “design inference” to some artificer who adds some extra “information” to the natural world in the way a shipbuilder gives structure to wood in order to make a ship.

As I have explained many times and in many places where this subject has come up, the core to the mechanistic revolution of the early modern philosophers was the rejection of Aristotelian formal and final causes. Other elements of mechanism (such as the notion that all efficient causes work according to a crude push-pull model) fell away over the centuries, but this essentially negative vision – that however the natural world works, it does not involve either anything like substantial forms (which are irreducible to the sum of a natural substance’s parts, or even to the sum of its parts together with an externally imposed or observer-relative function) or anything like final causality (the “directedness toward an end” that the Scholastics claimed was manifest even in basic causal regularities). In other ways too Dembski makes it clear that he accepts this mechanistic approach to the world.

For example, at p. 140 of The Design Revolution, Dembski flatly asserts that “lawlike [regularities] of nature” such as “water’s propensity to freeze below a certain temperature” are “as readily deemed brute facts of nature as artifacts of design” and thus “can never decisively implicate design”; only “specified complexity” can do that. But for A-T, such regularities are paradigm examples of final causality ; that some A is an efficient cause of some effect or range of effects B is for A-T unintelligible unless we suppose that generating B is the final cause or end at which A is naturally directed. Even the simplest causal regularities thus suffice “decisively” to show that there must be a supreme ordering intelligence keeping efficient causes directed toward their ends from instant to instant, at least if Aquinas’s Fifth Way is successful. Complexity (“specified” or otherwise) has nothing whatsoever to do with it. (I’ve addressed this issue many times in various blog posts, and see Aquinas and The Last Superstition for the full story.) That Dembski considers it at least in principle possible that such causal regularities are “brute facts” which can never decisively implicate design suffices to show that his conception of causality is mechanistic in the relevant sense, viz. one which eschews inherent final causality.

More could be said, but that suffices to make the point. It is worth adding, though, that the ambiguity in question here – denying mechanism in some places while affirming it in others – has parallels elsewhere in Dembski’s work. For example, he uses the term “information” (in The Design Revolution and elsewhere) in several different senses and freely slides from one to another without always making it clear which one is supposed to be doing the work in a given argument. In some places he insists that the “designer” that ID posits could in theory itself be something in the natural order, such as an extraterrestrial, so that there is no truth to the charge that ID has an essentially theological agenda. But elsewhere he insists that “specified complexity” cannot be given a naturalistic explanation, and even allows that positing a designer who is part of the natural order would only initiate an explanatory regress – which would imply that a genuine explanation would require an appeal to the supernatural. His main arguments all evince an unmistakable realist thrust, and yet in response to a particular objection he suggests that ID theory is perfectly compatible with a non-realist philosophy of science (though it does not seem to occur to him that his Darwinian opponents could make exactly the same move in response to some of his criticisms of them). And so forth.

In short, Dembski seems intent on sidestepping potential objections by making ID as flexible as possible, so long as the word “design” is preserved. This explains why some readers assume that there is nothing in ID that is incompatible with A-T metaphysics. But imprecision and incoherence are not the same as compatibility. And amidst all the ambiguity, Dembski’s commitment to an essentially mechanistic conception of nature (as A-T understands “mechanistic”) stands out as one of the more consistent themes of his work.

64 comments:

Anonymous said...

you're just jealous.

BenYachov(Jim Scott 4th) said...

In the end IMHO only the advocates of Thomism can effectively critique & or polemic ID. Non-Thomistic Theistic Evolutionists should just get out of the way.

Crude said...

Thanks for this, Ed. Given the recent dustup from Francis Beckwith re: ID, it's nice to have someone spell out exactly what position a thomist is coming from that makes them hesitant to endorse ID.

That said, ID is a lot broader than just Dembski, or even Behe, distinct as they are. But this gives me something to think about on the subject.

GunRanger said...

Funny how it's catholics who always have to criticize ID.

Crude said...

Plenty of non-Catholics both support and oppose ID. You only have to go as far as Uncommon Descent to see multiple catholic defenders (to say nothing of Michael Behe himself) or Biologos to see protestant critics (with catholic Francis Beckwith making an appearance).

Anon said...

Sounds like what they are looking for are signs of intelligent interference with things previously designed, i.e. with the original order of things. And we do have such signs. Every human being is one. Material nature could never in and through itself produce a human being. Human beings are capable of knowing universal and necessary truths in and through sense experience. Only a creature in which material and immaterial principles are co-ordinated and co-joined could do such a thing. Material principles in themselves could never produce an immaterial principle or join themselves to one. Every human being is the direct result of a unique intervention on the part of God in the natural order of material things. In us, God calls material nature to a higher end than it could ever reach in itself, just as he calls human nature to a higher end than we could ever reach through our own natural powers, even the powers we have as spiritual creatures. As material beings animated by immaterial souls, we are all of us, in a very real sense, artefacts of God, as well as his creatures. But we are not mechanisms.

Anonymous said...

"The way God creates living things, then, is the same way He creates everything else, viz. by conjoining an essence to an act of existence, which in the case of material things (including plants and animals) entails conjoining a certain kind of prime matter/substantial form composite to an act of existence."

If we don't accept the A-T approach to matter (substance + form), why cannot the basic material substratum (photons, electrons, quarks etc.) have persistent existence as part of their essential nature. Then the material would exist eternally without the need to posit a necessary Being as the basic matter substratum would be the required necessary Being.

Iago said...

alas the final cause of ...locusts doesn't quite jibe with the final cause of...farmers.

so Deus (assuming He's...monotheistic) must at times do some negotiating between his ...various essences

either way, lacking predictive validity (ie farmer gambles each planting season...) the aristotelian model does not rate as science, but is a stylish,even aristocratic metaphor....

Ryan said...

"If we don't accept the A-T approach to matter (substance + form), why cannot the basic material substratum (photons, electrons, quarks etc.) have persistent existence as part of their essential nature. Then the material would exist eternally without the need to posit a necessary Being as the basic matter substratum would be the required necessary Being."

Put simply: you just implied that a whole thing can be a part of itself, since you're saying "persistent existence" might be "part of" a thing's "essential nature," meaning its essence is existence. That requires Divine Simplicity, so it could have no parts, because then they must be contingently united in another. You're thus treating prime matter as God, Ipsum Esse Subsistens. Except "prime matter is not a substance, and does not exist apart from any particular substance. It is always the matter of some substance that exists." (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aquinas/#SubCha) I have a suspicion you're attempting to merge two incompatible material philosophies, essentialism and atomism, the latter of which is in direct opposition to a theory of prime matter.

You're conflating material substances (individual material beings, even elemental ones like quarks) and prime matter (formless, not specific or individual). Read:
http://books.google.com/books?id=gO_40ZwgdkMC&pg=PA71&dq=real+essentialism+%2B+prime+matter&cd=1#v=onepage&q=real%20essentialism%20%2B%20prime%20matter&f=false

Prime matter is not something, but not nothing either, more like potency than anything actual (and an actually Existing God would have to Be Pure Act, without any potency). It is, or is like, a metaphysical co-principle (of contingently created existence, not uncreated Existence), though I don't pretend to know how to make full sense of it. A necessary being could not Be a co-principle or depend on another substance for His Being. Necessity entails instantiation in all logically possible worlds (not to be confused with universes), even those without matter, primary or secondary. Surely you acknowledge that the unity of matter and form, being a complex of parts, is contingent, and that matter has a definite essence - though formless - apart from its existence, not identical to it.

It sounds like you would prefer to flip the structure of existence and place the bottom at the top. It is similar to re-defining Good as the absence, privation of an existentially positive evil or switching the fundamental physical notions of positivity and negativity. I don't see your, or any, justifiable motivation for this drastically counter-intuitive move, especially since primary matter is much more akin to a necessary ontological gap-filler than you might contend "positing" God is. Part of Dr. Feser's dispute with ID is that it posits God as a God-of-the-gaps; don't presuppose the same reasoning is used in A-T. Prime matter is as metaphysically far from God as possible, yet only "intelligible," ultimately, under Him.

I should disclaim that I'm no scholar on these matters; I'm still trying to get a handle of it all myself, so I hope I've explained accurately. If anyone spots an error, please correct it.

Anonymous said...

There is nothing natural about a supernatural belief system that has an omniscient God looking for the birth of an animal that has the ability to think in order to justify giving it one of his special souls on the spot.

So out comes a severely brain damaged infant that will never think with anywhere near the capacity of other high-level animals.

Baby gets heaven; a more rational animal is passed over so must die for good.

Preposterous, to say the least. Who would really worship such a fickle Being?

At least ID lumps all life together in its formulations.

Anon said...

The fickle God criticism misses its target because neither the Catholic faith ("supernatural belief system") does not teach that God gives a human soul to a pre-existing animal capable of thought. Many animals are capable of some form of thought; only man is a rational animal, capable of intellectual reasoning, reasoning that concerns the abstract and universal, rather than the concrete and particular. Human beings have the capacity for intellectual reasoning by a gift of God, but that gift is not given to a pre-existent animal; it comes with the gift of a human soul that itself is the very thing that makes us living animals of a certain kind.
As for the brain damaged baby, it too has a human soul, and therefore has the innate capacity for intellectual reasoning, but that capacity has been impeded by the brain damage that prevents it from exercising the power of imagination needed for human reasoning, since (according to Aquinas and experience) human beings cannot form an abstract concept except by forming a sense image as its source and foundation.
The impediment the baby and future adult experiences is temporary; at the resurrection, all physical illnesses and malformations will be healed.

Anonymous said...

Dear Ryan, I wrote: "If we don't accept the A-T approach to matter (substance + form), why cannot the basic material substratum (photons, electrons, quarks etc.) have persistent existence as part of their essential nature. Then the material would exist eternally without the need to posit a necessary Being as the basic matter substratum would be the required necessary Being."

Your answer is "Put simply: you just implied that a whole thing can be a part of itself, since you're saying "persistent existence" might be "part of" a thing's "essential nature," meaning its essence is existence. That requires Divine Simplicity, so it could have no parts, because then they must be contingently united in another. You're thus treating prime matter as God, Ipsum Esse Subsistens. Except "prime matter is not a substance, and does not exist apart from any particular substance. ..."

Thank you for your response. I am asking as per current scientific thinking (as opposed to A-T) where careful experimentation has shown that matter+energy is conserved (first law of thermodynamics). So there seems to be an actually existing material substraum that always persists to exist (as opposed to the A-T idea of prime matter that only has potential existence and therefore needs a cause to take it from potent to actual). Now that material substratum persists to exist either (a) due to an external cause, or (b) because it has peristent existence as part of its essential nature (sort of like a "battery", I suppose).

We would like to eliminate (b). You seem to suggest that this can be done via "Divine Simplicity". How does that work (without presuppposing the Deity)?

Anonymous said...

Dear Ryan, I wrote: "If we don't accept the A-T approach to matter (substance + form), why cannot the basic material substratum (photons, electrons, quarks etc.) have persistent existence as part of their essential nature. Then the material would exist eternally without the need to posit a necessary Being as the basic matter substratum would be the required necessary Being."

Your answer is "Put simply: you just implied that a whole thing can be a part of itself, since you're saying "persistent existence" might be "part of" a thing's "essential nature," meaning its essence is existence. That requires Divine Simplicity, so it could have no parts, because then they must be contingently united in another. You're thus treating prime matter as God, Ipsum Esse Subsistens. Except "prime matter is not a substance, and does not exist apart from any particular substance. ..."

Thank you for your response. I am asking as per current scientific thinking (as opposed to A-T) where careful experimentation has shown that matter+energy is conserved (first law of thermodynamics). So there seems to be an actually existing material substraum that always persists to exist (as opposed to the A-T idea of prime matter that only has potential existence and therefore needs a cause to take it from potent to actual). Now that material substratum persists to exist either (a) due to an external cause, or (b) because it has peristent existence as part of its essential nature (sort of like a "battery", I suppose).

We would like to eliminate (b). You seem to suggest that this can be done via "Divine Simplicity". How does that work (without presuppposing the Deity)?

Francis J. Beckwith said...

To make the judgment that there is a fickle God means that one has direct awareness of the form of the non-fickle God by which to compare the former with the latter.

To say that God does not "measure up" requires knowledge of a standard by which to assess God. This is the atheist's Euthyphro Dilemma:

"Is God not good because you hate him, or do you hate him because God is not good?" If you go for the first half of the dilemma, then your judgment is subjective and capricious; and if you go for the second half, then there is a Good by which all things ought to be measured, which sounds an awful like Aquinas' take on God's Being.

Mark said...

Thanks Prof Feser. Philosopher VJ Torley has responded thoughtfully to your post at http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/a-response-to-professor-feser/

t said...

Just wandering: is there any difference between the terms mechanism and reductionism? And if yes, what is the relation between them (if there is any)? Sorry if it's stupid question; I'm not a professional philosopher.

t.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dr. Feser:

I have not read the work of Dembski that you cite here and so will not attempt to explain what he meant in the passages to which you object. However, I have read much else by Dembski, and one thing in particular stands out here, something he wrote on Uncommon Descent on 13 Nov 2008. He quotes one of the objections to ID made by Beckwith:

“My reasons have to do with my philosophical opposition to the ID movement’s acquiescence to the modern idea that an Enlightenment view of science is the paradigm of knowledge.”

He then replies, in brackets:

“Showing that the Enlightenment view of science fails on its own terms is hardly the same as acquiescing to it.”

Speaking now for myself, this is how I have always understood ID. I have understood it to be saying: “Precisely if nature is as Dawkins and Coyne suppose it to be – a blind, rushing swirl of mechanically-governed matter and energy, directed by no intelligence either transcendent or immanent – neo-Darwinian processes could not possibly have produced the phenomenon [macroevolution] that they are alleged to have produced.”

I do not see how this involves a surrender to the Enlightenment, or to a mechanical view of nature. Yes, the ID objection to Dawkins-Coyne *could* be seen as suggesting that the Cartesian-Hobbesian view of nature is fine, if we just top it off with a mechanic-God to marshall the efficient causes in the service of an externally-imposed plan. (A picture which you and Beckwith object to as, I gather, too “Deistic”.) But ID does not *require* conceiving of nature in this way. It is also quite compatible with the view that nature is *not* best understood in terms of mechanical, purely efficient causes, but in terms of a more subtle and complex scheme of causation involving ends, e.g., the Thomist one.

If Dembski has said things that imply that he believes in a Cartesian, mechanistic picture of nature, you will have to take that up with him; I cannot argue for another man’s statements. But ID *as such* is not committed to such a picture. ID is not really a doctrine of nature at all, but rather a set of arguments which purport to show that unguided efficient causes cannot produce integrated complex biological systems. Whether we call this a philosophical or a scientific argument is relatively unimportant to me (and there I differ from some ID proponents); the question is whether it is a persuasive argument. I believe that it is.

You and Dr. Beckwith appear angry at ID for not being a full-fledged philosophy or theology of nature; but that is like being angry at one’s dog because it will not speak when spoken to. Dogs do not speak, and it is unreasonable to expect them to. It is not ID’s job to do what Thomism or Aristotelianism does. ID is not a metaphysics, a philosophy, a theology, or a Biblical interpretation. It is a set of concepts and arguments which attempt to describe certain orderly features of the empirical world, and which attempt to refute certain hypothetical accounts of the origin of the order of the world. It does not rise to the level of metaphysics and does not aspire to do so.

What neither you nor Dr. Beckwith have yet shown, from primary text exegesis of passages of Aquinas, is that Aquinas, were he alive, would spurn ID arguments as misguided, wrong, dangerous, heretical, etc. Over on UD, several posters have recently given extended discussions on Aquinas, and quoted some important passages. Dr. Beckwith flew through, declined to respond to any primary-text discussion, contented himself with some quick one-liners dismissing the attitudes and motives of the posters (who were much more gracious to him than he was to them), and left the arguments unaddressed. I am hoping that you will engage on specific passages of Aquinas in a way that he did not, and I would like to see you over at UD.

Bilbo said...

Professor Feser,

I'm afraid your argument fails. We can grant that physical laws only make sense on an A-T understanding. Yet there are no physical laws that would explain the origin of life. I'm afraid that additional techne is required.

Steve said...

As a Catholic, I don't see the objection to a mechanistic view of nature.

If the Father created through Christ, the Logos, is this not the first appearance of mechanism?

Although the trinity is undivided, without parts, i.e. (a)mechanical, it doesn't seem to follow that His work cannot be characterized as mechanism.

Bilbo said...

Not being a Thomist, I don't know what Aquinas would have thought of ID, though I suspect he would have approved of it. But even if he didn't approve, unless he gave a better argument than Beckwith or Feser, he would be wrong.

So I think the correct exegesis of Aquinas regarding ID is irrelevant. The argument is bad, period. Philosophers of your caliber should be ashamed of yourselves for giving it.

Anonymous said...

I must now modify one of my comments above. Just about the same time that my comment was posted, Dr. Beckwith engaged someone over at UD on some specific passages of Aquinas. (On three previous threads on UD he had been unwilling to do this.) So at least a start has been made toward dialogue.

One of the interesting things that remains to be considered is that ID people (on the whole) are more intrigued by, and more supportive of, Thomistic notions of nature than TE people (on the whole) are. Of course, there is a difference in this respect between Catholic and Protestant TEs; but most TEs are Protestant, and even many Catholic TEs seem relatively uninterested in the Thomistic account of nature; it does not figure into their accounts of evolution, as far as I can tell. I don't see much Thomism in Ken Miller, for example, and I am not sure there is much in Francisco Ayala. So it is odd to see Dr. Feser (am I right in calling him a TE?) and Dr. Beckwith (who has called himself a TE) making ID people such a primary target.

If the goal of the Thomistic philosophy of nature is to persuade modern people that they have misconceived nature, because they have wandered away from Aristotle and Aquinas and been seduced by Descartes, Hume and Kant, then I would suggest that Drs. Feser and Beckwith turn their intellectual cannon on the Protestant TEs, who have no use for Greek or Medieval philosophy whatsoever, and are completely on-side with the modern account of nature. But I have a funny feeling that Biologos will not give Dr. Beckwith a two-column series to showcase the shallowness and errors of the philosophy of nature held by most theistic evolutionists.

Francis J. Beckwith said...

If you read my recent article, "How to Be An Anti-Intelligent Design Advocate," I go after Judge Jones from the Kitzmiller trial as well as Dawkins. Dawkins, of course, is not a theistic evolutionist, but what I try to show is how one can defend final causes contra Dawkins without embracing ID, which is what precisely the TE's would want to do.

My article my find on this page of my website:
http://web.me.com/francis.beckwith/FrancisBeckwith.com/Articles.html

Francis J. Beckwith said...

Anonymous writes: "(On three previous threads on UD he had been unwilling to do this.) "

For the record, I have a life. I can't go down every rabbit trail without it having a debilitating effect on my work.

Ryan said...

Anon @ 10:58 AM,

I am glad that you also wish to eliminate (b).

(b) states: Material substratum (substrata?) persists to exist because it has persistent existence as part of its essential nature.

(1) Let’s assume this material substratum (MS) exists. It is a definite real thing, a real being. Or perhaps you think it is a plurality, material substrata, in which case they are also specific reaL things. A real thing = an existing being.

(2) To be a definite thing requires having a definite form or essence or nature, and this certainly includes material things. Otherwise you’re basically thinking of primary matter, which isn’t a “thing” and which we’re ruling out for argument’s sake.

(3) A real essence necessarily belongs to a real thing; natures are *of* actually existing beings. (Again, if it isn’t of a thing, it’s of nothing, and what’s the essence of nothing? Nothing. This means the “essence” of, say, the Blair Witch is actually the essence of a conceptual idea with a particular BW mental/ideal form.) As you put it, a thing “has” or possesses an essential nature. You must use the genitive case or the partitive case. Notice you didn’t say “MS persistently exists because it persistently exists *as* its essential nature,” since that would imply that essence IS existence, in other words, that essence and existence are one and the same (aka simplex, pure simplicity, ruling out anything finite, changeable, plural, diverse, temporal, contingent, etc.). Note: I never said Divine Simplicity eliminates (b); I said (b) only makes sense if you interpret it as Divine Simplicity, Essence = Existence, i.e., pure oneness, simple self-identity, not "existence is part of its essence," which maintains part-whole complex.

(4) So a thing (and God is not a "thing," because He is infinite, not definite) requires an essence or else it’s nothing, and an essence requires an existent or else it’s not realized, i.e., doesn’t actually exist. So they seem to be co-dependent, but then they are not necessarily united either (their unity is possibly contingent, since necessary unity would mean identity, essence = existence, and all but one being could be such, because plurality requires differentiation, etc.), so their contingent unity requires an external unifier.

(5) Every definite real being is a contingent unity of existence and essence (that it is & what it is).

(6) Existence is a maximally encompassing property of reality; “beyond” existence is incoherent. It is more fundamental than essence, which is only necessary for specific thing-ness but not existence conceived broadly.

(7) In order for essence to be distinct, it must either add to (positive principle) or subtract from (limiting principle) it. Going beyond existence is nonsense, since nothing is greater than a maximum, so essence is the limiting principle of existence in a thing.

(6) MS (at least one of them if plural) is a real thing, i.e., MS exists.

(7) What exists though? (What is MS? = What is the essential nature of MS?)

(8) Essence of MS = [persistent existence] + [a definite form F] = “What” (b/c you already rejected formless MS, F is “the rest” of its form, and you’d need infinitely more formed objects/constituents unless you accepted prime matter as stopping a vicious regress, form of/matter of/form of…).

(9) So: “What exists?” = (persistent existence + F) exists; MS is the unity of essence and existence, that is, MS is the unity of (persistent existence + F) & existence.

(10) Since essence is a subtraction from, or limitation of, existence, we get: (existence) minus (persistent existence + F) = MS.

(11) MS = Non-ens.

Anonymous said...

Francis Beckwith:

I have yet to meet a TE (other than a Catholic TE such as yourself) who is the slightest bit interested in "final causes".

Several months back, there was a discussion on the ASA list, a list predominated by Christian scientists, with the most frequent posters being predominantly and aggressively TE. In one discussion, final causes were brought up, by an ID-sympathetic non-scientist on the list. The number of Thomists posting to the list at that time: 0. The number of Catholics posting to the list at that time: 1. The reaction to the notion of "final causes" in nature: ranging from "Are you from Mars?" to "Final causes concern the meaning of life [note: false], and science can't concern itself with the meaning of life." The reaction to the suggestion that Aristotle's biology might be superior, from a phenomenological point of view, to aspects of evolutionary biology: stunned silence. The interest in seriously investigating pre-modern philosophy of nature: close to zero.

Are you sure the TEs are the people you want to be hanging around with, Dr. Beckwith?

Dan said...
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Dan said...

Typos...sorry.

The echo-chamber effect seems diminished with this post on ID - good.

On theistic evolution and ID, I have never understood why the concepts of process theism are not brought up more regularly.

Whitehead's open future does not deny final cause; rather, the telos is God luring creation at each and every occasion.

Why dismiss some serious philosophical work wholesale? There is a lot for Catholics and Protestants to work with in Whitehead's natural theology.


PS

The aims of ID and process theology are nearly identical.

Brandon said...

The aims of ID and process theology are nearly identical.

I find it interesting that you would say this, because it seems to me that a consistent process theologian would have almost exactly the same problems with ID that Thomists tend to have with it, with the additional problem that process theology is a form of emergent evolutionism. There is nothing more inconsistent with process theology than the Demsbski claim quoted in the post: "the art of building life is not in the physical stuff that constitutes life but requires a designer".
And because process thought is essentially a modern reworking of Platonism in terms of events rather than substances (Whitehead's Process and Reality is in its basic ideas a rethinking of Plato's Timaeus), it is a view of the world that is even more anti-mechanistic than any Aristotelian view.

VMartin said...

Mechanistic approach was criticised also by marxists - from the dialectical materialistic poit of view. In this case dialectic is more important part and in this sense the critique might be perceived also as "Hegelian".

I analyzed the whole relationship between darwinism and marxism in the "Marxistic critique of Darwinism" on my blog. For those unacquanted with marxistic structuralism and theory of systems it might be of interest.

http://cadra.wordpress.com/

Dan said...
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Anonymous said...

For God's sake, Dan. Will you please drop this schtick? You're starting to come off as a person who'll go to shacknews.com and start commenting "Games, games, games. Is that all you people talk about? How about letting go of your monotonous focus and start talking about something different - like process thought & theology!"

People have different views than you. They like to focus on different subjects. Even certain process thinkers lately seem to have less to say about process thought than 9/11 conspiracies.

You are a one-man echo chamber.

Edward Feser said...

"Dan" is obviously our other resident troll, Burl, who was banned for this obsessive weirdness some time back. I'll be deleting any further such comments. (Poor Whitehead really deserves better advocates!)

Anonymous said...

What does process philosophy have to do with God or metaphysics?

Isn't it anti-Catholic?

Bilbo said...

Actually, David Ray Griffin (process theologian), finds Behe's arguments to be very persuasive, but declines identifying himself as an IDist, since he thinks that would imply that the designer is supernatural.

Francis J. Beckwith said...

David Ray Griffin is also a 9/11 Truther. He, apparently, sees design everywhere!

http://www.911truth.org/article.php?story=20060405112622982

Bilbo said...

Griffin, 1100 architects and engineers, and one hobbit. Professor Beckwith, have you seen building # 7?

ae911truth.org

Brandon said...

As I understand, David Ray Griffin holds that the universe can be considered designed in the loose sense that evolution has a divine aim, and that divine persuasion (since God only lures and persuades in process thought) increases the probability of life a la fine tuning. This is not ID of any sort; it is, again, just a modern kind of Neoplatonism -- a Neoneoplatonism, if you will. The only place I can recall where he discusses Behe, in Religion and Scientific Naturalism, the point is clearly that he is "very persuaded" by Behe's critical arguments against Darwinism, not by ID as such, since he thinks the actual ID argument deals with phenomena better handled by divine persuasion. And I see your Griffin and raise you a John Cobb, who isn't persuaded by Behe in any shape or form.

Anonymous said...

AFAIK Process and ID, Process says there is God because the Platonic Ideals and abstractions have to exist somewhere. ID says the math indicates nil probability of life emerging from the big bang.

Most other Christian belief systems posit God's existence because it is in Scripture.

In many ways, the nontheistic Buddhists have a better way - just be here now and see what it is like.

Bilbo said...

Hi Brandon,

You concede that Griffin is persuaded by Behe' arguments against Darwinism. But you don't think Divine persuasion would be anything like ID. I think it's very like ID. By persuading, we increase the probability of certain outcomes. Thus, if there would normally be a 6 to 1 chance of a die coming up 3, by "persuasion," one may increase the likelihood to 3 to 1. It still isn't 1 to 1, but it's better than just pure chance.

I'm not familiar with Cobb. What exactly would be his objection to ID?

Anonymous said...

Too much infighting. If ID, Process, and the more well known theistic philosophies cannot peacefully coexist, what good are any of them?

Within the Catholic Church alone, there are many different religious orders representing very different views on God. Heck, within Thomism itself there are widely disparate theoretical views of God.

Everybody Chill, here - take a deep breath.

Brandon said...

Divine persuasion as understood by process theologians does not seem to be at all like intelligent design theory; it doesn't even guarantee an increase of probability (increases of probability are, so to speak, negotiated between God and actual occasions). And what the divine persuasion does in process philosophy is simply to coax natural things to do things they already have the capacity to do.

Cobb's criticisms of ID are pretty much what you would expect. (1) It is mechanistic. (2) A sufficiently robust evolutionary theory can explain the phenomena to which ID appeals without use of intelligent design. (3) It is "theologically offensive" when combined with a theological interpretation. And so forth.

Bilbo said...

Hi Brandon,

What does it mean for God to "negotiate" probabilities with actual occasions?

Bilbo said...

Hi Anon,

I'm perfectly willing to be at peace with Thomists, process theologians, etc. But they keep attacking ID with such silly arguments. What is a person to do?

Anonymous said...

I do not have a good answer, Bilbo.

Probably just need to find a less narrowly focused blog.

This blog is for A-T.

Brandon said...

What does it mean for God to "negotiate" probabilities with actual occasions?

I refer you to actual process philosophers on that one. Roughly, though, God's role in process philosophy is simply to offer salient visions of how the world could be to actual occasions; the actual occasions are thought of as self-determining and indeterministically select things from the divine vision. The more sophisticated the actual occasions the more easily they can deviate from it. Divine persuasion doesn't change probabilities; because the divine vision is presupposed in everything that happens, any probabilities you could have just are what you get given God's persuasion + range of action of actual occasions + the world that has gone on before.

Edward Feser said...

Bilbo,

You keep calling the A-T critique "silly" and the like. But for some reason you never explain exactly what's wrong with it. I find I'm seeing this a lot from ID defenders.

Torley at least tries to respond seriously, though I'm afraid he gets the point of the whole debate totally wrong, as I'll explain in my reply to him, whoch should go up mwithin a day or so.

Anonymous said...

Modern Christian theology professors certainly think A-T to be archaic.

The last and current Popes certainlt do not hold to A-T.

Frederic said...

Edward-- If you are looking for designers where they are not, then you are barking up a wrong tree. God is our creator. Granted, a philosopher will not always accept that fact. God is the intelligent designer of what is on earth. One can thus analyze the processes and internal workings ("specified complexity")of what we have here. (This is what you are saying in paragraph five.) Darwinism is out. He is an evolutionist. God is our creator. Biology can be studied. So what if Dembski views some degree of mechanism in this I-D perspective? No need to be heavy-handed. I don't think your paradigm examples of final causality correctly revises Dembski's understanding of lawlike regularities of nature. His arguments make a great deal of sense, and the ambiguity is no big deal. If we had one-to-one correspondences, this issue would have been resolved years ago.

George R. said...

Even the simplest causal regularities thus suffice “decisively” to show that there must be a supreme ordering intelligence keeping efficient causes directed toward their ends from instant to instant, at least if Aquinas’s Fifth Way is successful.

Not according to the method of ID, which requires specified complexity because it is less metaphysical, relying more on empirical evidence and, therefore, requires that evidence to be more emphatically conclusive than in a more metaphysical approach. Moreover, ID does not depend on Aquinas’s fifth way being “successful.”

True, Dembski does not use the same method as Ed Feser. But so what? Does ID come to conclusions that contradict A-T? No. Does Dembski come out and say that Aquinas’s 5 ways are invalid? No. Is there anything in ID that implies that metaphysics is useless and invalid? No.

Ask those same questions with respect to neo-Darwinism, and the answer will be yes for each one.

George R. said...

For example, at p. 140 of The Design Revolution, Dembski flatly asserts that “lawlike [regularities] of nature” such as “water’s propensity to freeze below a certain temperature” are “as readily deemed brute facts of nature as artifacts of design” and thus “can never decisively implicate design”; only “specified complexity” can do that.

Page 140 is unavailable at Google Books; and you have a lot of ellipses in there. But anyway, if Dembski means by the “brute facts of nature… can never decisively implicate design” and only “specified complexity” can do that that this is true for the ID method, then there is nothing objectionable in what he is saying. If, however, he means that nature which lacks specified complexity cannot by other philosophical means be shown to have been designed, then he would be in error, but not the science of ID itself; for the validity of ID does not depend on other sciences being invalid. Furthermore, you have not proven that Dembski meant what he said in the erroneous sense.

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Bilbo said...

Professor Feser,

Sorry, I've been busy. Please correce if I'm wrong, but I understand your argument to be:

1) God designed the laws of nature to be means to ends.

2) One of those ends was life.

3) Therefore no additional techne would be needed to bring about life.

The problem seems to be with your second premise. There is no empirical evidence that the laws of nature can bring about life. In fact, all the empirical evidence is against that being the case. Do we have non-empirical evidence that your second premise is true. I don't think so. But if there were such laws, what would they look like? They would look like, "Once amino acids form, separate out all the left-handed ones, remove all the impure substances and the water, and have them form double peptide bonds, but only in such a way that they will then fold into a functional protein. Do this several hundred times, since functional proteins work together with many other proteins in order to perform work."

A rather complicated law. Of course, we only want this law happening once or just a few times. And only when conditions are right for life to exist. Wouldn't it be simpler for God to just roll up His shirtsleeves and do it Himself? I realize how blasphemous that might seem to a philosopher. But when God became incarnate, He chose to be a carpenter, not an academic.

Anyway, if your second premise doesn't hold, then your conclusion doesn't follow. Does this mean that life is nothing but a machine? No. It may be something much more than a machine. So let's just say that life is at least a machine.

Bilbo said...

Hi Brandon,

The more sophisticated, the more they deviate from the divine vision? So the less sophisticated, the less they can deviate? Sorry, but this sounds very much like ID. We can manipulate simpler things more easily than complex things.

So God would merely need to reveal the divine vision of a protein to a bunch of unsophisticated amino acids, and Voila! We have a protein.

Brandon said...

So God would merely need to reveal the divine vision of a protein to a bunch of unsophisticated amino acids, and Voila! We have a protein.

The actual occasion's prehension of the divine vision does not result in any 'voila!' because even in the most unsophisticated cases the divine vision merely provides one of the ingredients for the possibility of something new. This is in fact what God does in the process view: he provides possibilities so that new things can continually happen, and he does so for every single actual occasion. That is, God on the process view is doing exactly the opposite of what you are suggesting: he isn't manipulating events to get a result, he's giving them options and the opportunity to be part of a meaningful world (namely, a world that is the richest possible thing for God to enjoy) that they may take or leave. He makes it possible for actual occasions to be increasingly innovative on their own by suggesting the sort of world that they might collectively create. Moreover, God doesn't reveal bits of the world like proteins; he in a sense reveals an infinite vision of the whole world as it can be valued by God. God would not just 'reveal the divine vision of a protein'. Further, amino acids are not actual occasions: actual occasions are unitary processes or fundamental events. Amino acids are massive societies of actual occasions extending through time, each of which makes decisions on the basis of the past and the possibilities God reveals to it. So again, the divine vision is not selectively revealed; it is something presupposed by every single fundamental quantum of becoming, every elementary interaction, in the universe. Thus the universe has a general aim, namely, to become the richest world God can experience, and societies of actual occasions in the universe have the aim of contributing to this, and they do receive this from God, but nothing is designed by God to conform to this aim. He simply offers it as an appealing possibility to actual occasions; they grow in that direction on their own -- if they want to. This is all very elementary stuff in process philosophy, so I don't know on what conceivable basis you think there are any parallels between process theism and ID. Even Griffin, who is far and away the most sympathetic to ID, very clearly only accepts the ID argument that a strictly Neo-Darwinist gradualism cannot explain the interrelations in certain systems; but his proposed solution is not design (which he explicitly rejects) but an evolutionary gradualism that includes more than Neo-Darwinism does. So, with all due respect, it doesn't seem to me that you have a sufficient sense of what process philosophers are proposing to be able to say what in it is "very much like ID".

Bilbo said...

Hi Brandon,

You're right, I don't know much about process theology. I'm just going on the little that you're feeding me. So God doesn't provide a vision to the amino acids of a protein. He provides a vision of the whole cell to all the atoms and molecules that would be a part of it, and they decide if they want to make it?

It sounds like there is intelligent design, except instead of God being the designer, he provides the blueprint, and then the various components decide to get toghether and actualize it? Do I have it right now?

David said...

Bilbo: So let's just say that life is at least a machine.

That's just it: on an Aristotelian view, a living organism is not "at least" a machine. It isn't a machine at all, that would in fact be a contradiction. A machine, to Aristotle, "really is" its parts, that just happen to function a certain way. In other words, the function is something "outside" of the machine, the collection of parts; it's extrinsic. An organism, on the other hand, is precisely not a collection of parts [though of course scientifically, that's how we analyse it], but is one thing, with its own function that is inherent or intrinsic.

This is I think Prof. Feser's point about why ID doesn't make sense to an Aristotelian: ID claims to be able to distinguish between types of machines: those that have an "accidental" function, and those that have a designed function. But if an organism is not a machine to begin with, then the question makes no sense. The teleology in an organism is the same as that in a lone molecule, or a single electron: each acts according to its own nature, its own natural, intrinsic function. It doesn't make sense to claim that ID can pick out an organism any more than it could pick out an electron as "intelligently designed". (Or, I guess if it could, it would be rather useless, since everything would simply turn out to be "designed", and thus it would be a distinction without a difference.)

I hope I've got that about right, because I think I finally understand what's at the root of this whole "AT vs. ID" firestorm that's raging across the globe (or, well, a handful of websites, anyway). I also think there must be a way to "translate" the ID program into a question that makes sense to an Aristotelian: instead of trying to distinguish organisms-with-final-causes from inanimate-objects-that-don't [which makes no sense in those terms], what we actually want to seek is something like a scientific way to distinguish a machine from an organism, that is, an extrinsic cause from an intrinsic cause. (Which may or may not be possible, although I'm not sure Aristotelianism has anything much to say about that a priori. Perhaps it would say that the difference between an intrinsic and an extrinsic end is not one which can be determined scientifically, i.e. by observation, but requires philosophical reasoning?)

[P.S. it is interesting and instructive to consider the etymology of the terms "organism", "machine", and "analysis".]

Brandon said...

It sounds like there is intelligent design, except instead of God being the designer, he provides the blueprint, and then the various components decide to get toghether and actualize it? Do I have it right now?

God is intelligent, and he has a role; but 'intelligent design' in this context is a very specific set of claims arising from a very specific set of arguments which are supposed to be purely scientific. None of these points are operative here: process philosophers are making very different claims, can't accept (and explicitly reject) the positive ID arguments, and are not claiming to be saying something purely scientific. The only thing process philosophy has in common with ID is that they both have an intelligent something or other doing something or other with the natural world.

On the process view God simply provides a suggested set of aims (having to do with what will result in the richest divine experience). This is a necessary part of every actual occasion, but every actual occasion is intrinsically self-creative; to the extent that anything can be called 'design' at all in this context (it would have to be a loose sense of the term), actual occasions design themselves, and societies of actual occasions (what we usually think of as natural objects) design the organization of their societies by their individual, indeterministic selections from the past and the divine vision. That's why Griffin sees his view as purely naturalistic: what we would call the natural objects do all the work themselves. All God does is make it possible for actual occasions to do more than repeat the past.

Anonymous said...

Thus the universe has a general aim, namely, to become the richest world God can experience

Brandon may have aced Klassix 101 at Lone Star State yet never quite made it to the Laws of thermodynamics. Holy Entropic process, ratman

Bilbo said...

Hi Brandon,

What ID objects to is the view that random processes and physical laws (as we know them) can account for things such as the origin of life, given what appears to be our finite universe. And that the best explanation would be an intelligence of some kind, which could increase the probabilities beyond the ability of randomness and law. It sounds like process theology says that such intelligence is inherent in natural objects. That would seem to be one possible answer to the riddle, and would be one of the species of the genus ID.

Anonymous said...

Over in W4 on the ID thread started by Ed, there is a link to a Dr. Cobb vid on process and ID...I wonder what the Jesuits say.

Brandon said...

Brandon may have aced Klassix 101 at Lone Star State yet never quite made it to the Laws of thermodynamics.

I know it's best not to encourage J, but I confess that I am absolutely impressed at the quadruple epic fail he's managed to pack into one sentence, whereby he shows (1) that he is incapable of making the elementary distinction between someone giving his own view and someone summarizing someone else's; (2) that he is completely ignorant of the subject on which he is commenting, since the aim to richness process thinkers are talking about is the sort of diversification of life that has actually happened, and thus is not inconsistent with thermodynamics; (3) that he cannot give a convincing insult of someone, since there's nothing particularly insulting about graduating from a Texas college; and (4) that he cannot even manage to make the insult hit its target, since I didn't even graduate from a Texas college.

Bilbo,

ID can't include process theology as a genus; ID claims to be presenting a scientific theory but process theologians are explicit that they are doing metaphysics. Again, you seem to be just conflating 'giving intelligence a role' with ID.

David said...

I also think there must be a way to "translate" the ID program into a question that makes sense to an Aristotelian

Let's see: under Darwinism, everything is a "machine", and so nothing is different in that respect to get singled out. Under Aristotelianism, nothing is a machine (nothing natural, that is), and so everything is different — which means again that there's no way to distinguish "designed" from not; there's "design" [final causes] even in a plain electron (as per the Fifth Way). It's interesting that in both views, living and non-living objects are not distinct in teleological terms, which I guess is why ID isn't supposed to make sense. Presumably that's how under both views, life can be spontaneously generated (although I still don't know how that is supposed to work; something that would translate to "front-loading", perhaps?).

But as I've said before, ID isn't really about final causes anyway (that's just part of the misunderstanding of Aristotelianism rampant in modern science). What it's really looking for is a formal distinction, and there ought to be a way to handle that correctly. Otherwise, Aristotle couldn't tell the difference between a rock that kinda looks like a face and Mt. Rushmore, except by a lucky guess, which doesn't sound right to me.

Néstor said...

This is true Thomism. Very good.

Néstor said...

Excuse my google-based English. I agree with your very truly Thomistic exposition. But I would like your opinion wether is not ID at least a valid “ad hominem” rebuttal of the explanation based on chance.

That is, the world of mechanicism (not the true world, I agree) would be more likely with a designing intelligence (intelligence in a generic sense, not setting the issue wether it is finite or infinite) than without it.

Because: 1) it is less likely the existence of the material world without beginning (Big Bang theory), and so, there is not enough time for all the combinations, and 2), it is less likely (not even began to be proved) the existence of an infinity of universes (of which ours would necessarily result, by chance, fit for life, because if not we would not be here to verify it).

Many thanks.