Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Uncommonly careless

Some recent remarks made by contributors to the Uncommon Descent blog seriously misrepresent my criticisms of “Intelligent Design” theoryOne of them insinuates that I deny “that it is possible for a living thing to be the product of design”; another claims that I “attack [the] evidence for design in nature”; most bizarrely, a third alleges that I put Thomism “in bondage to atheism.”  In fact I have, of course, never denied that the natural world is designed by God, much less that we can reason from the existence of the world to the existence of God.  (These would be rather strange views to take for someone who has vigorously defended each of Aquinas’s Five Ways.)  As I emphasized in a recent post:

The dispute between Thomism on the one hand and Paley (and ID theory) on the other is not over whether God is in some sense the “designer” of the universe and of living things – both sides agree that He is – but rather over what exactly it means to say that He is, and in particular over the metaphysics of life and of creation.

There have been other serious misrepresentations from the Uncommon Descent camp as well, which I have addressed here and here.  Irritation at this pattern of misrepresentations led me yesterday to post a fairly harsh response.  Vincent Torley, one of the writers to whom I was responding, assures me that he did not intend to misrepresent my views.  I will take him at his word, and I have removed my response of yesterday.  But it does seem to me that Torley and other Uncommon Descent contributors are sometimes culpably negligent in their mischaracterizations of their opponents’ views, even if no malice is intended.  And I think that this should be clear to anyone who has actually carefully read what I’ve written.  I will leave it at that.

20 comments:

Solomon's Chariots said...

Yes I did think the previous post was a bit harsh, but not as harsh as some of the things that it was in response to.

Solomon's Chariots said...

BTW got your TLS last night, unfortunately it has pushed my current, nearly finished "can't stop reading" book out of it's place.

BenYachov said...

I'm being killed a little less.

Crude said...

The dispute between Thomism on the one hand and Paley (and ID theory) on the other is not over whether God is in some sense the “designer” of the universe and of living things – both sides agree that He is – but rather over what exactly it means to say that He is, and in particular over the metaphysics of life and of creation.

I think this is key to recognize. A problem is that ID proponents tend to be used to Christian ID critics who reject ID that come out of a Francisco Ayala sort of mold, where ID is not only rejected, but "Darwinism" is affirmed in terms that deny design. (Ayala does so explicitly, some of the Biologos crowd are so silent on it that at the very least they don't affirm design in the relevant sense, etc.) The idea that someone can agree positively that the universe is designed, yet reject ID specifically as showing God's design, is important.

Edward Feser said...

Yes, Crude, and as a friend of mine likes to emphasize, Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics is simply very difficult to understand for those unfamiliar with it. Hence many lay people coming from the ID-sympathetic side find it difficult to understand what the dispute between A-T and ID is all about, and some inevitably shrug their shoulders and falsely assume it must "really" be about shilling for Darwinism, or gaining respectability with the "mainstream," or at best about "heresy-hunting" doctrinaire nitpicking over theological minutiae. Add to this a sense of already being besieged by secularists, and criticism from Thomists can seem unsporting and "piling on."

So, I understand why there is a tendency to overreact on the ID side. All the same, precisely because of the circumstances mentioned, ID people need to be careful about misrepresenting the views of their opponents. Precisely because many readers of blogs like Uncommon Descent are not going to understand the subtleties in the issues guys like Torley and Richards are addressing, they are bound to come away from reading their posts and articles, or remarks like O'Leary's, thinking "OK, so this Feser guy denies that God designed the world. He must be a modernist who wants to re-define God in some airy-fairy way so as not to offend naturalists etc." Which is obviously absurd to anyone who's actually read my stuff, but lots of people will read only the sensationalistic headlines they see at UD, or a few smart-ass combox remarks, and draw their conclusions from that. I'm sure Torley, Richards, et al. are sick to death of being smeared with simple-minded thought-stopping labels like "creationist." They should be careful, then, not to foster crude caricatures of their own opponents.

Also, of course, ID has a PR problem insofar as many people regard it as intellectually unserious. That is not fair to those ID defenders who are intellectually serious, but it is a perception problem that is not helped when (some) ID defenders misrepresent what their critics say.

Crude said...

All the same, precisely because of the circumstances mentioned, ID people need to be careful about misrepresenting the views of their opponents.

I agree, but there's one thing I want to note here: Thomism wasn't done any favors when Beckwith (who if I understand right is not a Thomist philosopher, but more a philosopher who subscribes to Thomism) put an article on Biologos - TE Central, where there really is 'Christian shilling for Darwinism' at least at times - blasting ID from a Thomist perspective. You're not Beckwith, you're not responsible for what he does, but frankly that probably poured fuel on this particular fire. It would be like a Scotist writing a paper criticism Thomism - and presenting it at an annual meeting of the Nominalist Philosophers Society. If some people walk away from that with some bad ideas about Scotism, at the very least the culpability is lessened.

But yeah, misunderstanding abounds. Hopefully ID proponents will accept that people really can believe in design in nature even if they object to the ID project. I also think theistic ID critics, certainly of a Thomist bend, should take note at how some other people are approaching the 'God's design in nature' question - and that it often leaves something to be desired.

So says my anonymous commenting self, anyway.

BenYachov said...

Add to that Theistic Evolutionists often teach unnecessary heresies such as the denial of Original Sin and a real historical Adam. Neither of which is eliminated by Evolution.

Anonymous said...

The reason that so many bloggers (especially of the intellectual variety) tend to be so terribly thin-skinned constantly eludes me. I do not think that your previous post was in need of deletion.

Oh well, as always, I appreciate your work Dr. Feser.

Anonymous said...

Just did a word search on Torley's 8261 word post.

"Irreducible" - zero
"Specified" - zero
"Complexity" - zero
"Complex" - one

Makes it hard to believe he is being forthcoming about what ID really teaches.

Bilbo said...

Prof. Feser: "...as a friend of mine likes to emphasize, Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics is simply very difficult to understand for those unfamiliar with it."

Hear, hear. (Or is it "here, here"? I never know which it's supposed to be).

Daniel Smith said...

What I've noticed is that very few of us look seriously at, or intend to fully understand, an opposing viewpoint. We tend to learn just enough to feel we can argue against it, then leave it.

I've even noticed this in your own writings and on this blog Dr. Feser, where you blast a strawman caricature of Protestantism and of Luther himself.

Apparently we all need to work on this a bit.

Anonymous said...

"I've even noticed this in your own writings and on this blog Dr. Feser, where you blast a strawman caricature of Protestantism and of Luther himself.

Apparently we all need to work on this a bit."

Substantiate, please.

btw, I think it is far more crucial to get Christians united again under one Faith rather than going after anyone else.

John Farrell said...

Add to that Theistic Evolutionists often teach unnecessary heresies such as the denial of Original Sin and a real historical Adam. Neither of which is eliminated by Evolution.

Ben, I agree. However, genomics --more than Evolution--certainly complicates things, and as Catholic bloggers like Jimmy Aikin have pointed out, the lack of any further clarification of the Church's position (speaking from a strictly RC perspective) has caused--as you and I both know from discussions at other blogs--some genuine puzzlement and concern among Catholics.

Vincent Torley said...

Anonymous,

If you want to read what I've written on complex specified information, how about my online article, "Why there's no such thing as a CSI scanner", dated 28 March 2011? Or what about my follow-up article, "Of little green men and CSI", dated 8 April 2011?

Frankly, I'm perplexed when I read people like Francis Beckwith claiming that the notions of complex specified information and irreducible complexity represent the core of what Intelligent Design is all about. Neither of these notions played a significant role in my own conversion to ID. What really opened my eyes was botanist Alex Williams' online article, "Astonishing Complexity of DNA demolished neo-Darwinism". For me, the essence of ID is that the mind of the Designer of life and the universe is clearly visible in Nature, even for people with no background in philosophy. CSI is just one part of the picture.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

I've just put up a new post on Uncommon Descent which I hope you'll like:

http://www.uncommondescent.com/
intelligent-design/a-reasonable-man/

Bilbo said...

I finally looked it up in Webster's. It's "Hear! Hear!"

Edward Feser said...

Hi Vince,

Thanks for that. I'll reply to your post and Cudworth's as soon as I can, though it may take a little while -- for personal reasons I'll be announcing here on the blog within day or so.

Daniel Smith said...

Anonymous: "Substantiate, please."

OK. there's this from here:

"In Luther’s case, the prospect of judgment by the terrifying God of nominalism and voluntarism – an omnipotent and capricious will, ungoverned by any rational principle – was cause for despair. Since reason is incapable of fathoming this God and good works incapable of appeasing Him, faith alone could be Luther’s refuge."

That is a stunningly naive characterization of Luther's mindset and motivation. It paints Luther's faith as being solely based on "despair" - a fear caused by his own irrationality. Feser does not understand Protestantism in the least if he thinks that is an accurate description of what motivates us.

The truth is that Luther accurately recognized the human condition (all are sinners - estranged from God), God's holiness (no work of man can cleanse us from sin), and the significance of Jesus (His death alone is sufficient to pay for sin.)

None of this is irrational, none of it is based on despair. There's also a chapter in TLS where Ed blames many ills on the reformation - as if a closer adherence to scripture made society worse somehow.

To be honest, I don't think Dr. Feser knows much about the bible or Protestant theology. I think he's as guilty of "arguing from ignorance" in this regard as he claims his ID-based detractors.

Anonymous said...

BenYachov, it is UNTENABLE, to say the least, to hold to the actual existence of Adam and Eve as the first parents of humanity. We MUST deny evolution and much of the science to hold to it.

BenYachov said...

>it is UNTENABLE, to say the least, to hold to the actual existence of Adam and Eve as the first parents of humanity.

Why?