Friday, May 9, 2014

Miracles, ID, and classical theism


The esteemed Lydia McGrew, a friend of this blog, wonders whether my defense of classical theism and criticisms of “Intelligent Design” theory can be reconciled with some of the miracle stories one finds in the Bible.  Her concerns are twofold.  First, such stories clearly attribute personal characteristics to God; yet classical theists reject what they call “theistic personalism.”  Second, the miracle stories in question involve effects which could at least in principle (Lydia claims) have been caused by something other than the God of classical theism; yet I have criticized ID theory precisely on the grounds that it cannot get you to the God of classical theism.

Neither “a person” nor impersonal

Lydia’s first objection, I’m sorry to say, rests on a pretty basic (albeit annoyingly common) misunderstanding.  Contrary to the impression she gives in her post, I have never denied that God is personal, nor do classical theists in general deny it.  On the contrary, like classical theists in general, I have argued that there is in God intellect and will, and these are the defining attributes of personhood; and as a Catholic I also affirm that there are in God three divine Persons.  So, I hardly regard God as impersonal.
 
Because this misunderstanding arises so often, it is important to emphasize that this is not some hidden theme or new development in my position.  This is something I have made explicit many, many times over the years.  For example, in a post from May of 2010 I wrote:

[A]mong the things we know about God via natural theology, at least from an Aristotelian-Thomistic (A-T) point of view… are that His attributes include intellect and will.  But since possession of intellect and will is definitive of persons, it follows that God cannot correctly be referred to as an “it” or in any other impersonal terms.


[F]or the classical theist, theistic personalism is bad philosophy and bad theology… [T]hat does not mean that God is impersonal, since according to classical theism there is in God something analogous to what we call intellect and will in us, and other attributes too which presuppose intellect and will (such as justice, mercy, and love – where “love” is understood, not as a passion, but as the willing of another’s good).


[W]hile one might be tempted to conclude… that God’s intellect and knowledge must be decidedly sub-personal compared to ours, that is precisely the reverse of the truth…

His intellect is not inferior to our conscious thought processes (as a stone, gravity, or even the unconscious informational states of a computer are to that extent inferior to our conscious states) but on the contrary beyond and higher than them, just as divine power is beyond and higher than the relatively trivial capacities in created things that we characterize as ‘powers.’  “My thoughts are not your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8).


[C]lassical theists, in general, by no means regard God as impersonal.  They typically argue that when the notion of the ultimate cause of all things is fully developed, it can be seen that there is a sense in which we must attribute to this cause intellect and will.

I could go on -- you’ll find similar quotes in various books, articles, and other blog posts I have written -- but that suffices to make the point.  I not only have never said that God is impersonal but have repeatedly denied it, and repeatedly affirmed that God has personal attributes.

I have also said that from the point of view of classical theism it is a mistake to characterize God as “a person.”  But as I’ve put it before, the trouble is not with the word “person” so much as with the word “a.”  (I’ve also said that it is not correct to characterize God as “a being,” but no one accuses me for that reason of attributing non-being or non-existence to God.  Yet when I say in the very same context that God is not “a person” and explicitly say that I do not mean by this to deny that he is personal, some readers nevertheless conclude that I regard God as impersonal.  Very strange.)

The point is that God is not (contrary to what theistic personalism entails) a mere instance of a kind, not even a uniquely impressive instance, whether the kind in question is person or any other kind.  Just as he is Being Itself rather than something that merely has or participates in being, so too is he Intellect Itself rather than something that merely has or participates in intellect and other personal attributes.  That no more makes him impersonal than characterizing him as Being Itself entails that he is unreal.  (The problem with treating God as an instance of a kind is that this is incompatible with the doctrine of divine simplicity, and divine simplicity is an absolutely non-negotiable part both of sound philosophical theology and of Catholic orthodoxy.  You can find a sketch of the reasons why here.)

So, when Lydia notes that the miraculous events attributed to God in the Bible are characterized as “done intentionally and for a purpose,” as “the acts of an Intelligence,” etc., she is not calling attention to anything I have ever denied or would deny, nor to anything my position commits me to denying.  Since the classical theist not only allows but insists that there is will and intellect in God, naturally we can characterize his effects as reflecting purpose and intelligence.  This is simply a non-issue.

The trouble with ID

Lydia’s other objection, I’m afraid, also rests on a basic misunderstanding of my position, though the extent to which she misses the point in this case takes a little more spelling out.  Lydia seems to think that my beef with ID is merely that ID arguments only get you to some designer or other, where this designer might be the God of classical theism but might instead be some lesser, purely creaturely artificer.  She then suggests that to be consistent I would have to say the same thing about whatever generated effects like the fire that consumed the priests of Baal during Elijah’s famous encounter with them.  She writes:

Think about this for a minute: Sending fire from heaven is the kind of thing that one can easily conceive it to be possible for a mere demigod to do. There is nothing per se about sending down fire from heaven that reveals that God is Being Itself… In fact, the prophets of Baal had some reason to hope, since they believed that Baal was real, that Baal would send down fire and consume their sacrifice. It didn't happen because there is no real god Baal, not because sending fire out of the sky is the kind of thing that is logically impossible for a mere god (small g), a mere super-being, to do.

Another example she gives is New Testament passages that describe God the Father speaking from the heavens.  Of all such cases, she writes:

[T]hese events reveal the actions of God in ways that it is logically possible were the result of the action of some being who was not God and therefore, by definition, less than God. I want to stress that by "it is logically possible" I do not mean "would have been reasonable to conclude." It would have been unreasonable to conclude that these events were caused by a demigod or an angel or alien. The point merely is that that possibility is not excluded, by the nature of the event itself, as an absolute logical impossibility.

So, Lydia concludes, if my objection to ID is that the evidence it appeals to doesn’t point conclusively to or strictly entail the God of classical theism, specifically, then to be consistent I would have to raise the same objection against the biblical stories in question; but if I do not object to them, then neither should I object to ID.

The trouble is that that is simply not my objection to ID.  My complaint is not that ID arguments are merely probabilistic and don’t get you conclusively to the God of classical theism.  And as with my repeated, explicit affirmation that God is personal, this is something I have made clear many times.  For example, in a post from April of 2010 I wrote:

The A-T critique of Paley and of ID theory… has nothing to do either with any objection to probabilistic arguments for God’s existence per se.


When A-T philosophers criticize the arguments of Paley or ID theorists for being probabilistic… it is not at bottom the appeal to probabilities per se that they object to...

In a post from March of 2011 I wrote (with emphasis in the original):

The Thomist’s problem with the arguments of Paley and ID theory is not – NOT (See that?  It says “not”) – that they are merely probabilistic, or that they don’t get you all the way to the God of classical theism.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  The problem with these arguments is rather that they don’t get you even one millimeter toward the God of classical theism, and indeed they get you positively away from the God of classical theism. 


I have always been very specific about the respects in which ID conflicts with A-T philosophy and theology.  It has nothing to do with Darwinism, nothing to do with whether God in some sense “designed” the universe (of course He did), and nothing to do with a rejection of probabilistic arguments per se.

So, once again Lydia has simply misunderstood my position.  What I do say -- as that second to last quote indicates -- is that ID and related arguments like Paley’s design argument not only do not entail or even make probable classical theism, but are positively at odds with classical theism.  How so?

I’ve explained this many times (again, see my ID related posts, and, for my fullest and most systematic statement, my recent Nova et Vetera article “Between Aristotle and William Paley: Aquinas’s Fifth Way”).  Briefly, the main points are:

1. Paley and ID theory predicate attributes of God and of creatures univocally, whereas for Thomists these predications are to be understood analogously.  The problem here is that in the view of Thomists, predicating intellect, power, etc. of God and creatures univocally -- in exactly the same sense rather than analogously -- implicitly makes of God a mere instance of a kind, and is thus incompatible with divine simplicity.  (Scotists dispute the incompatibility of univocal predication with divine simplicity, but Thomists regard their position as unstable.  See Scholastic Metaphysics, pp. 256-63, for discussion of some of these issues.)

2. ID theory presupposes -- whether in an unqualified way or at least for the sake of argument -- a conception of the natural world that is “mechanistic” in the sense of denying that there is any teleology or final causality immanent to or inherent in natural substances qua natural (as we Aristotelians claim there is).  Any teleology or finality would for ID have to be in nature only extrinsically or in a way that is entirely imposed from outside, after the fashion of artifacts like watches and other machines.  Now there are a couple of grave theological problems with this view, one of which is this: If there is no teleology or “directedness” of any sort inherent in natural things, then there is no potency or potentiality (in the Aristotelian sense) inherent in them either; for a potency is always a potency for some outcome, toward which it is directed.  And that means that natural things are not really composed of act and potency, but in some sense just are entirely actual and devoid of potency.  In that case, though, they do not need actualization from anything outside them, in which case they do not need a sustaining cause.  That in turn entails deism at best and atheism at worst. 

(Aristotelian final causality is thus necessarily linked to the theory of act and potency, and thus in turn to the very possibility of natural theology.  This is a theme of my 2011 Franciscan University of Steubenville talk "Natural Theology Must Be Grounded in the Philosophy of Nature, Not Natural Science," which you can find on YouTube.  As I discuss in the course of that talk, there is a parallel here to Berkeley’s famous point that the early moderns’ conception of matter was implicitly atheistic.)

3. A second problem following from this denial of intrinsic or immanent final causality is this: Since (as the Thomist argues) efficient causal power presupposes that causes are “directed toward” their effects as toward a final cause, if we deny intrinsic finality or “directedness” to things we are also implicitly denying intrinsic efficient causal power to them.  That would mean either that nothing has genuine causal power at all (a Humean position which is incompatible with arguing causally from the world to God), or that only God has any real causal power (which is occasionalism).  In addition to being bad philosophy, these positions are theologically unacceptable.

Hence any theology committed to a “mechanistic” or non-Aristotelian conception of nature is an unstable one, tending to collapse into either deism or occasionalism.  But deism in turn tends to collapse into atheism, and occasionalism into pantheism.  Unsurprisingly, this is pretty much what happened historically, as the watchmaker god of the “design argument” came to seem first a remote “god of the gaps” needed only to wind up the universe, and then an unnecessary fifth wheel; while Malebranche’s occasionalism gave way to Spinoza’s Deus sive Natura

Obviously these are large and controversial claims; again, I’ve developed these arguments in detail elsewhere.  (And please don’t bother commenting on all this until you’ve read what I’ve said about it elsewhere.  I’m really, really tired of having to repeat myself over and over and over again on the ID issue to correct the errors of people who can’t be bothered to read what I’ve actually said before commenting on it, and who pass their misrepresentations of my views on to others.)  The point for present purposes is just that the Thomist has deep philosophical and theological reasons for rejecting any view which, like ID theory, presupposes a “mechanistic” conception of nature (again, in the specific sense of “mechanistic” given above).  And these reasons have nothing to do with ID arguments being merely less than conclusive.

Needless to say, there is nothing in the biblical passages Lydia cites that has anything whatsoever to do with a univocal theory of predication, a mechanistic conception of nature, or anything else that we Thomist critics of ID object to.   Thus, Lydia’s alleged parallel between ID claims and the passages in question is completely spurious. 

Arguments from miracles

So, I’m afraid that Lydia’s critique is in those two respects aimed at a straw man.  Her remarks are also problematic in another respect.  Lydia says of the biblical passages she cites that “these events reveal the actions of God in ways that it is logically possible were the result of the action of some being who was not God and therefore, by definition, less than God.”  Now there is a sense in which this is true.  If we describe what happened with the priests of Baal as fire coming down from the sky, then there is certainly nothing in that which strictly requires a divine cause.  Other things certainly could cause fire to come down from the sky, and could even do so in such a way that the source of the fire wasn’t obvious.  For example, an angel might cause this to happen, or an extraterrestrial might, or perhaps a stealth aircraft could make it happen.

Now a miracle in the strict sense, at least as Scholastic writers use the term, is something which of its nature could not in principle be caused by anything other than God.  This doesn’t mean that the fire from heaven in the Elijah story was not miraculous, because such a fire would have to have had a divine cause if all natural and preternatural causes were excluded.  An event characterized as fire coming down from the sky could have a non-divine cause; but an event characterized as fire coming down from the sky which was not caused by any natural or preternatural cause could only have had a divine cause.  Naturally, given the context, I think a divine cause was the source of the fire in the case of the priests of Baal.

Obviously, though, the inherent ambiguity of the event of fire descending from the sky makes it problematic as a kind of “all purpose” miracle.  In the specific religious and cultural context in question, it was adequate to the divine purpose.  But in different contexts it would not be.  For example, suppose there were a culture in which the people believed in a pantheon of trickster gods who frequently answered prayers addressed to other gods, often gave misleading signs, etc.  Obviously in that case it would be useless to appeal to fire from the sky as evidence that one of these gods in particular was real and the others all frauds.  A skeptic could say: “Oh come on, that could have been any of the gods.  It doesn’t prove anything.”  Or imagine that we develop stealth technology that is so good that the U.S. military regularly incinerates terrorists with fire that descends from invisible, silent drones.  It would be useless in that sort of context to appeal to fire from the sky as evidence of divine intervention.  For we couldn’t have any confidence that the obvious alternative explanation could be safely ruled out.

A miracle that could reasonably be expected to be compelling evidence of a divine revelation across different cultures and historical periods would have to be something much more dramatic and unambiguous than that, something that could not in principle have any cause other than God (which means, of course, the God of classical theism).  Fire coming down from the sky doesn’t fit the bill.  But I would submit that a man known for certain to be dead coming back to life does fit the bill.  (Obviously I mean literally and unambiguously dead, not merely “brain dead,” or “having flatlined,” or the like.)

Thoroughly explaining why a resurrection is not even in principle possible via natural causes requires some background in philosophical anthropology.  I’ll say more about that, and about miracles more generally, in a forthcoming post.  Suffice it for present purposes to note that if Lydia is saying that there are some miraculous interventions which involve events which under some descriptions might have a non-divine cause, then I think she is correct.  But if she is saying that all miracles involve events which under any description could in principle have had a cause other than God, then I think that is seriously wrong.  That would undermine the very possibility of knowing that a divine revelation has ever actually occurred. 

122 comments:

whitefrozen said...

Is the univocal nature of ID god-talk explicit (i.e, someone says it in print somewhere) or implicit (i.e., it pretty much follows from how they talk about God)?

Edward Feser said...

whitefrozen,

As I've noted before, ID defender Vincent Torley admits that ID's use of theological language is univocal. He cites examples from Dembski, Jonathan Wells, and K. D. Kalinsky. See the relevant Torley post here:

http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/in-praise-of-subtlety/

and my response here:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/04/id-t-and-duns-scotus-further-reply-to.html

ID defender Jay Richards also indicates that he agrees with the Scotist critique of the Thomist view of theological predication:

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2011/04/catholics_and_intelligent_desi045351.html

Since Richards very badly misrepresents my views, I don't want to link to him without also linking to my response to him:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/03/heads-id-wins-tails-you-lose.html

ID defender Steve Fuller also seems to endorse a univocal view of predication, as I discussed here:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/06/reply-to-steve-fuller.html

Crude said...

Just to note, Torley's kind of off on his own in some ways when it comes to ID. He also links ID explicitly with theology, which most of the major ID proponents I'm aware of soundly reject.

Dembski, I recall, said something along the lines of being able to interpret ID as accepting a mechanistic view of nature purely for the sake of argument. You had a reply to that, though.

Of all the ID proponents I'd like to see you interact with, Behe tops the list. He's a Catholic as well, and I think his claims about ID are a bit more reserved than Dembski's.

Anonymous said...

Are these problems with ID per se and necessarily, or are they more accidental problems (in an Aristotelian sense)--i.e., with how ID as the historically specific movement has framed their questions? I suppose the question is also definitional: by ID you don't mean all reasoning from observation of nature to a designer, but rather, again, the historically specific movement? Couldn't one use ID-like reasoning, and conclude that the designer must have attributes analogous to ours, and thus avoid the univocality error? I plan to read through your blogs on the issue, and hope to pick up your books on Aquinas and Sch.Th., but I just had that question in the meantime...
Thanks,
JWDS

Tony said...

Anonymous, I was going to ask exactly that question. It has been a while since I have read Behe, so maybe I have forgotten, but I can't recall how the very structure of the ID argument assumes or requires taking God's intelligence in a univocal sense as with ours.

Tony said...

Or, rather, I should say I don't see how the very structure of an argument that proceeds from the fittingness in nature to complex ends requires taking God's intelligence in a univocal sense.

Lydia McGrew said...

I have replied here, and Ed and I take off from there:

http://lydiaswebpage.blogspot.com/2014/05/things-god-can-do-to-reveal-himself.html?showComment=1399680496192#c287362803632871648

Edward Feser said...

Anonymous and Tony,

Look, I love you guys and Lydia, but you're driving me absolutely nuts when you say things like:

I don't see how the very structure of an argument that proceeds from the fittingness in nature to complex ends requires taking God's intelligence in a univocal sense

and when I read the stuff Lydia's now posting in her combox.

I've been through this 1,234,567,890 times. If "ID" just means something extremely general like "inferring from order in the world to God," well then yes, sure, I guess we're all ID theorists. But that makes "ID" completely trivial, and of course it is not in fact what Dembski and Co. mean. They mean something very specific, what they're putting forward as a novel and revolutionary method for setting out "design inferences", etc. That's what I'm talking about.

If you want to see what's at issue, please go back and read the posts where I've responded to the very specific claims made by Dembski, Torley, Richards, et al. There is really, really no point in asking questions like the ones you ask without bothering to do so first.

Anyway, I've got zero time or desire to enter into the ID rabbit hole again, and this is one of the reasons. "ID" is a greased pig -- it means anything the ID theorist needs it to mean in order to escape from whatever objection he's facing at the moment.

Tom said...

Is it possible for a Catholic in good standing to be a Scotist or an Ockhamite, or to agree with Blessed Duns Scotus and William of Ockham where they disagree with St. Thomas? If it is (or, hey, even if not) are there any currently out there?

rank sophist said...

Tom,

Yes. Scotism continues to exist in the present day, although it doesn't have that many followers. Check out Lee Faber, for example. Ockham's views are very unpopular today, but there was a time (before the Counter-Reformation) when they were the Catholic standard in certain regions.

The emphasis on Aquinas was the result of Aeterni Patris, a major encyclical from the late 1800s that secured Aquinas's place as the dominant Catholic theologian. Before then, Aquinas did not have nearly the status in Catholicism that he does now. Regardless, one could still be a nominalist regarding universals (and so forth) and remain a faithful Catholic. Aquinas's work is not dogma--and most Catholics today are not even interested in it. The Thomist faction has lost a lot of ground since Vatican II.

Tom said...

@rank sophist: Thank you once again. I was aware of the history from roughly Aeterni Patris to the present, from here and other places. On the bright side, I ordered a copy of The Last Superstition, and it's in the mail, so with luck I can stop pestering you all as I make my way through it, and then Aquinas, and then Scholastic Metaphysics. Or maybe the questions will multiply, who knows?

Anonymous said...

Y'know I was about to ask Eds view on Neo Platonism, but instead I googled it and found exactly what I wanted.

George R. said...

Ed writes:
"ID" is a greased pig -- it means anything the ID theorist needs it to mean in order to escape from whatever objection he's facing at the moment.

Ed, what on earth are you talking about? The definition of ID is simple, clear, and available at just about any ID source you go to:

"Intelligent design is the thesis that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection."

So where's the greased pig?

Moreover, not only is this definition completely intelligible and as clear as day, the thesis it defines is so undeniably and obviously true that it cannot possibly be gainsaid, except by doctrinaire atheists and certain crank 'classical theists,' who shall remain nameless.

ccmnxc said...

Dr. Feser, as per the only current Amazon review of Scholastic Metaphysics, it appears you are working on a book on the philosophy of nature. Will you be addressing the ID controversy in that book? Thanks.

Brandon said...

Intelligent design is the thesis that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.

This fails to establish the reason why, as Crude notes, ID theorists typically distinguish ID from natural theology, and the fact that ID itself is in fact a thesis not about a conclusion but about a kind of inference (as is easily discernible from Dembski, Behe, and others) and a research program dealing with intelligent causes. Your 'definition' simply makes a common error made by many critics of ID. And, of course, your response is a fairly straightforward example of exactly what Ed is talking about: to get the "definition of ID" you have stripped away distinctive features of ID indicated by major ID theorists themselves.

Happy said...

Pax tibi, Dr. Feser,

With regard to the question of theological analogy, and, having consulted the suggested link to your response to Richards (as well as the link to the pdf on analogy contained within it), it still seems to me to be the case that analogical predication must contain within itself a "moment of univocity," so to speak, if it is not to become conceptually vacuous. And this, in turn, makes it difficult for the believer to understand any sense in which the God of whom she speaks and thinks is to be understood as more (rather than less) "personal," "good," "beautiful," "powerful," etc., than mere earthly instantiations of such predications.

I'm all for the theological dilation of our concepts, but, so far as I can tell, Thomistic analogy takes away the very thing that is to be dilated, and all this for the sake of being able to hold fast to a robust doctrine of divine simplicity (which, curiously enough, is rather clearly understood and explicated).

Many thanks for your time!

Brandon said...

it still seems to me to be the case that analogical predication must contain within itself a "moment of univocity," so to speak, if it is not to become conceptually vacuous

This can only be a figurative use of the term 'univocity', so it's difficult to determine exactly what is being said with the phrase "moment of univocity"; but if all it means is that analogical predication cannot be merely equivocal predication, then everybody accepts this.

Happy said...

Greetings, Brandon,

Take, e.g., the property of "goodness." When I say, "God is good," when is my conception of God's goodness more adequate to the reality itself--when I think of it along the lines of what I see in Mother Teresa, a thriving and happy family, a beautiful landscape, etc.; or, when I draw a complete blank?

If the first option more adequately orients the mind in the direction of the reality it is thinking about, why, exactly?

Brandon said...

Happy,

I have no idea what "more adequate to the reality itself" means in this context. You can't be using 'adequate' in a technical sense, as equation-to, since in each case (except, perhaps, indirectly in the Mother Teresa case) we aren't actually talking about the goodness of God, but that of a family, a landscape, etc. So you must mean it in some other way that would need to be specified.

Edward Feser said...

George,

What I mean is captured in a couple paragraphs from some of my earlier posts on ID, which I cut and paste below. Anyone who wants more detail about how ID writers are guilty of the foibles I cite in these passages is going to have to go back and read my earlier posts -- I'm not going to rehash it all here. Anyway, here are the summaries:

Richards’ arbitrary redefinition of “Thomism” and his other exercises in sleight of hand are of a piece with the frequently slippery quality of ID argumentation. To secularists, ID defenders insist that ID has nothing to do with natural theology in general or Paley’s design argument in particular, but is merely a new scientific procedure for detecting signs of intelligence. To religious believers, they say that ID shows that any intelligent being existing within the material world would itself have to be explained by reference to an intelligence outside the natural order, so that “God’s design is… accessible to scientific inquiry” (as Dembski has put it). To opponents of evolution, they say that ID provides a devastating scientific critique of Darwinism. To evolutionists, they say that ID is compatible with evolution, since that might be the means by which the designer creates. In one breath, Dembski acknowledges that ID rejects Aristotle’s distinction between natural substances and artifacts and his related conception of teleology as immanent to the natural world. In another, he insists that ID is perfectly compatible with the Aristotelian-Thomistic conception of nature. One moment ID defenders are telling us that ID constitutes a “new science,” a “revolutionary” new program for biological research. The next, they are telling us it has much more modest ambitions, amounting to little more than a reductio ad absurdum of certain naturalistic and Darwinian premises. Sometimes ID is identified with some specific, novel methodology or conceptual framework, such as Dembski’s theory of “complex specified information.” At other times, any old thing is said to count as ID as long as it affirms “design” of some sort or other.


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.

Happy said...

Brandon,

I don't feel that I'm being too obscure in all this, or that the point of my question is difficult to grasp. By "adequate," I have in mind something along the lines of, "what is in the mind corresponds to the thing as it is in itself." Thus, if the content of my concept of "goodness" is built up out my experiences of Mother Teresa, etc., etc., what reason have I for thinking that that concept of goodness actually corresponds to divine goodness?

I felt safe predicating goodness of families, landscapes, etc., because goodness seems to me to pertain at least in part to proper relationship.

Ordered Scholastic Metaphysics last week, btw, because I'm very much interested in overcoming my strong sense that act-potency ontology must be tinkered with if it is to do justice to revelation.

Edward Feser said...

ccmnxc,

Yes, the philosophy of nature book will deal with ID (and Darwinism and related matters), and in a deeper and more systematic way than I've discussed it elsewhere, since I'll be doing so in the context of the A-T metaphysics of the natural world as a whole (and thus the A-T approach to physics, chemistry and all the rest).

The reason that I haven't talked much about ID lately is that I don't see much point in doing so until I address it in the context of the book. You'll have to be patient, though, since that won't be ready for a while and I've got other stuff tat needs to be completed first.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Feser,

I recall you saying in a talk that you object to the kalam cosmological argument because it fails to get us to the God of classical theism. Can you clarify whether this is so? It seems to me that if the KCA gets us to a being responsible for creation ex nihilo, then we have arrived at the God of classical theism, since only such a God could create ex nihilo (since then He would give being to things, and only a being whose being is not distinct from its essence could do that). Thank you.

Edward Feser said...

Anon,

I didn't "object to" it but just said it is incomplete without bringing in act/potency.

Brandon said...

Happy,

It's not a matter of obscurity, but about the fact that you are dealing with a concept that is fairly precise, logically speaking -- precision is not something that can be set aside here. Because, again, what really needs to be determined is how your claim,

analogical predication must contain within itself a 'moment of univocity,' so to speak, if it is not to become conceptually vacuous

differs from saying

"analogical predication must not be merely equivocal"

which is trivially true. We see this problem again with your second comment. The most natural way to read 'drawing a blank' in that comment is to take the prediation it refers to as merely equivocal. Since you aren't just insisting that analogical predication must be analogical, you have to meaning something else, which would depend on precisely what you mean by 'more adequate to reality'. Likewise, your claim in your third comment,

I felt safe predicating goodness of families, landscapes, etc., because goodness seems to me to pertain at least in part to proper relationship

is entirely consistent with the Thomistic position; Aquinas says as much in ST 1.5.5.

Happy said...

Greetings, Brandon,

Yes, I do mean that analogical predication must be more than mere equivocity. And that, to my mind, is where things become problematic in Aquinas. Consider the following comments from an eminent Thomist whose Speaking the Incomprehensible God is highly regarded:

“[Aquinas’ doctrine of analogy] is a highly paradoxical option, for analogical predications say something true about God by using concepts whose meaning at the divine level we cannot really understand . . . Thomas’s positive theology is rather like a blind person pointing to and making true judgments about a reality which he or she cannot actually see.” Gregory P. Rocca, “Aquinas on God-Talk: Hovering over the Abyss,” Theological Studies 54 (1993): 657f.

“As in Aquinas’s view analogy is closer to equivocity than to univocity, so is its unity to be found not in the single concept but in the single reality to which all the analogates bear some proportion, order, or relation.” Rocca, “Aquinas on God-Talk: Hovering over the Abyss,” 656.

It is this aspect of his take on analogy that I think risks rendering our theological concepts vacuous.

So, back to the main point: Why are we more right in thinking of God's goodness along the lines of Mother Teresa, etc., etc., rather than along the lines of "not orange," "simple," or even drawing a complete blank?

To use an analogy, if we liken predication to launching an arrow at a target, why is it that we feel fairly sure that the "arrows" in the former examples are "heading in the right direction" (even though we cannot be sure where, exactly, they are to land), whereas those in the latter are not (even though true, so far as they go)?

Vaal said...

I've been watching for a blog post from Prof. Feser that would amount to an argument for special revelation, meant to be compelling even to those who haven't already presumed Christianity.

I hope I'm right in inferring this is not that post, as it seems mostly a sort of "theological cleaning up of details"
type post - not meant to start convincing a non-Christian. (For instance, the discussion of the problem with ID seemed theological, rejected mostly on the grounds of it's incompatibilty with the already assumed classical theism. And certainly there are more problems with ID than that, such as the problems of injecting ID into doing science! And those problems, I believe, are actually related to how a Christian will have to build a case for belief in miraculous intervention: e.g. how do you justify belief in ancient claims of a Resurrection while being consistent with the normal, arduous demands in empirical inquiry, etc).

The end of Prof. Feser's blog post hints that perhaps the upcoming post will move this further along, so I'll just sit in my hands until then.

Vaal

Anonymous said...

I've been watching for a blog post from Prof. Feser that would amount to an argument for special revelation, meant to be compelling even to those who haven't already presumed Christianity.

Why? Feser's not a Catholic apologist, he's a philosopher with an A-T metaphysic. He can do as he pleases, but I have hardly ever seen him try to argue the case of Christianity, as opposed to explaining Christian/Catholic doctrines in light of A-T views. Maybe he'll actually do what you're asking, but if what you're after is straight up Christian apologetics, this doesn't seem like the blog you're after.

Even if Feser did provide such a thing, it'd likely be within the context of an A-T view of the world anyway. If you reject that from the outset, why wait for it?

Thursday said...

Neither “a person” nor impersonal

There are massive problems with the language here. I know what you mean, but this will be taken as either a denial of God's personal nature or gobbledygook. One could similarly say that "God is not 'good'" meaning that God does not have the quality of goodness, which exists outside of him. But that will just confuse and piss people off. Better to say that God is a person, but then to remind people that that is only an analogy, and our finite personhood is only the pale reflection of which God's personhood is the reality.

[A]mong the things we know about God via natural theology, at least from an Aristotelian-Thomistic (A-T) point of view… are that His attributes include intellect and will. But since possession of intellect and will is definitive of persons, it follows that God cannot correctly be referred to as an “it” or in any other impersonal terms.

This is another example of how classical theists put people off. Absolutely bloodless, borderline creepy language. God has emotions. It is just that they are always the emotions he has freely chosen to have, not those that are caused in any way by his creatures. Furthermore, they are always fully in accord with his reason.

------------

The language used by many classical theists courts misunderstanding. If you want to defend classical theism with some pastoral sensitivity, Reformed minister Derek Rishmawy shows how it is done.

Scott said...

@The Man Who Is Thursday:

"This is another example of how classical theists put people off. Absolutely bloodless, borderline creepy language. God has emotions."

How does the statement that God possesses intellect and will and therefore cannot correctly be referred to as an "it" or in any other impersonal terms imply that God does not, even in any analogical sense, have "emotions" that He has freely and eternally chosen?

Daniel said...

Since the above post vaguely touches on it I’ll raise a point which has been troubling me for a while. Where does this whole idea of Natural Theology being ‘cold and abstract’ and the God of Classical Theism being ‘a remote and abstract entity’ which is ‘hard to relate to’ come from? It all sounds very emotionally driven – not that there is anything wrong with emotions of course, just that it seems to suggest a rather knee-jerk type reaction.

Scott said...

@Daniel:

"Where does this whole idea of Natural Theology being 'cold and abstract' and the God of Classical Theism being 'a remote and abstract entity' which is 'hard to relate to' come from?"

That's a good question and I'm not sure what the answer is historically. Logically, though, the idea is just wrong: the God Who holds everything in existence and is the very ground of its being is surely in the very most intimate contact with His creation and (in the relevant sense(s)) the very most "concrete" and "relateable-to."

Crude said...

If I were to guess, I'd think it's purely an aesthetic thing. Some people's religious sensibilities are fueled by very passionate, dramatic talk of God, and very serious, calculated, dispassionate analyses are just alien to them. I am not one of those people, and I greatly appreciate the approach Ed and others take on this front.

Brandon said...

Happy,

Analogical predication is by definition more than merely equivocal predication; there's not any mystery about that. I take it that your question does not actually have to do with this but with the question of how one can have a form of predication that is neither univocal nor equivocal. On your question,

Why are we more right in thinking of God's goodness along the lines of Mother Teresa, etc., etc., rather than along the lines of "not orange," "simple," or even drawing a complete blank?

Neither 'not orange' nor 'simple' are good examples here, since all names applied to God, including 'not orange' and 'simple', are applied to him and creatures analogically. But the answer is that naming follows knowing, not vice versa; we apply 'good' to God because we infer His goodness causally or get it from revelation, and we know it's not applied univocally to God and creatures because that would require that divine goodness is not the source, standard, and limitless perfection of goodness. This is precisely Aquinas's argument in ST 1.13.5.

In short, your question presumes we start with names and get to knowledge of God that way; but this is exactly the reverse of Aquinas's actual account, in which we apply names according to our knowledge of God.

Brandon said...

Thursday,

Like Scott I am utterly baffled at your claim that because classical theism implies that God has intellect and will, cannot be regarded as an 'it', and must be regarded as personal it involves 'absolutely bloodless, borderline creepy' language. Which of the three (saying someone has intellect and will, saying that someone should not be called an 'it', or saying that someone should be understood in personal terms) are you claiming to be 'bloodless' and 'creepy'?

Edward Feser said...

Vaal,

This isn't the promised post I mentioned to you the other day. That post will be titled "Pre-Christian apologetics" -- just so you know what to look for.

Thursday,

From the "only an analogy" remark I suspect you don't understand what Thomists men by analogy. It is in no way a deflationary account of theological language. Compare: When I say that the goodness of a book I read, the goodness of a man I know, and the goodness of a meal I ate are not exactly the same thing but are nevertheless analogous, I am in no way relegating the "goodness" of any of these things to second-rate status or implying somehow it is not "really" goodness.

I suspect you are confusing "analogy" with "figure of speech," "metaphor," or the like. That is not what it means.

Daniel, Scott, and Crude,

Yes, I think emotion is a very big part of it, as is a discomfort with precise thinking. But it's not just that. Precisely because Scholastic notions and arguments are so precise and carefully formulated they can be difficult to understand for people not familiar with them. (Compare physics: It's difficult properly to understand precisely because it's so precise -- because it doesn't use terms like "force," "energy," etc. in exactly the way ordinary language does, so that people tend to read all kinds of wrongheaded things into the terms when they first hear them.)

What's really annoying, though, is how often the people who complain about the classical theist's position don't even bother to address the reasons that led to it. They rarely say e.g. "OK, here's how I would deal with the problem that if God has emotions like we do then he changes, in which case he is made up of act and potency, in which case he requires a cause of his own." They just huff and puff about how cold and abstract the classical theist's language is.

So, lots of emotion, little careful thinking. It's no surprise that when even lightweights like Dawkins and Co. confront them, they get creamed.

George R. said...

Ed, let's stop beating around the bush. Here is the definition for ID that I provided above:

"Intelligent design is the thesis that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection."

Now assuming for the sake of argument that this definition is accurate, does the thesis contained within it (to wit, that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection) have any validity whatsoever in your opinion?

Brandon said...

George,

He's already stated about a jillion times that the problem is not with arguing to an intelligent cause, and he's already given specific examples (e.g., miracles, or the human intellect) of "certain features of the universe and of living things" that can only be adequately explained in terms of God. This is, again, something he's said over and over again. He has also pointed out repeatedly how and why he takes this to differ from what generally goes by the name of 'intelligent design', particularly as defined by the major proponents of ID. There's nothing new here, or even anything that would be difficult to figure out.

Greg said...

George

"Intelligent design is the thesis that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection."

What still strikes me as strange about this sort of definition is that I read the first clause and the following qualification comes to mind: All features of the universe and of living things are necessarily (but ultimately) explained by an intelligent cause.

But this is generally consistent with there being secondary causes that also proximately explain features of the universe. The "not" seems to exclusively contrast the undirected process with the intelligent cause.

That seems to go beyond a critique of Darwinism, because the exclusive "not" seems to imply that the sorts of explanation involved are on the same level. The vacillation between primary and secondary causation strikes me as incongruent even if, say, evolution (to whatever extent Ed would accept it) is false.

George R. said...

Brandon, are you saying that Ed would agree that the thesis I have provided has validity?

Happy said...

Brandon,

You seem to be missing the point. I am very clear on the fact that analogy is supposed to be a via media, so to speak, between equivocity and univocity. I also would agree with the claim that our capacity to make true affirmative propositions about God presupposes "knowledge" (although many Thomists would disagree: e.g., if you consult the works of Rocca mentioned previously, you'll find that he argues that it is ontology rather than epistemology which grounds Aquinas' doctrine of divine naming--i.e., the perfection of "goodness" is literally there in God, and we therefore do well to affirm it of God, but we have no idea whatsoever what that goodness "looks like," so to speak, in God. Our concepts and knowledge, because empirically derived, are wholly inadequate.)

I feel pretty confident that I'm not sensing a difficulty that isn't really there. F. Copleston, to mention an author whose work is very well known, notes the same difficulty in his treatment of Aquinas on analogy in his _History of Philosophy_. In addition, having studied under some relatively well-known Thomists over the past few years (a few of whom Dr. Feser either will be, or has recently, presented alongside at a gathering in Northern CA on the relationship between philosophy and theology), I know for a fact that Rocca's sentiments are shared by many.

If analogy simply terminated in the via eminentiae, I'd be cool with it (affirmation: God is good; negation: but not according to our modus significandi; eminence: rather, the goodness of God far exceeds this-worldly instantiations of goodness). But, my Thomist friends constantly warn me against this, or at least its capacity to be understood in a far too "univocal" sense (as though the goodness of God were merely that of the world "writ large").

But, if we haven't any univocity, what are we left with?

It seems to me that Balthasar is helpful on this point. The ineffability of God is understood precisely by means of what has been disclosed, clearly seen, and understood. He too, however, has his problems.

Brandon said...

Happy,

If we look at your question:

But, if we haven't any univocity, what are we left with?

this runs into exactly the same set of problems I noted initially. This is a nonstandard use of 'univocity'. In Thomistic terms, 'univocal' applies to predication as a whole. There is no sense in which you can say part of a predication is univocal, or that a predication is partly univocal; that could at best be a figure of speech. If you simply want to indicate that in analogical predication there must be something in some way the same, which is the same as saying that it can't be wholly diverse, Aquinas says this explicitly and in no uncertain terms in ST 1.13.5. If it is supposed to mean something different, one needs to know precisely what it is.

Likewise, when you say "if analogy simply terminated in the via eminentiae, I'd be cool with it", this locution is again backwards. Analogy doesn't 'terminate' in via eminentiae, because it presupposes it. The triplex via occurs in the domain of knowing, not naming; eminence, causation, and remotion are aspects of any causal knowledge when cause and effect don't share a genus. It is on the combination of all three in the case of God and creatures, who are not the same kind of thing, that Aquinas builds his case for analogical predication in that case. You do need all three, since only one won't do, which, given the way you characterize eminence, seems to be the point your Thomist friends were making; but it is in fact specifically on them that Aquinas makes his argument. Thus given (1) that we have genuine knowledge of God from creatures on the basis of causation; and (2) that God and creatures cannot be exactly the same kind of thing; and (3) that we name God from creatures on causal grounds; and (4) the predication of names between God and creatures cannot be either strictly equivocal or strictly univocal, or, in other words, analogical in much the way that Aristotle argued that 'being' was analogically predicated of things in different categories. You can look yourself and see that this is exactly the way Aquinas sets up the argument.

although many Thomists would disagree: e.g., if you consult the works of Rocca mentioned previously, you'll find that he argues that it is ontology rather than epistemology

This is not a disagreement, though; the order is being -> knowing -> naming. Obviously ontology is the ultimate ground; otherwise knowing could never enter into the picture at all. But when Aquinas talks about analogical predication, he does so in terms of already established claims about knowledge of God, and does not build any case about what we know of God on the basis of his discussion of analogical names. This is not some quirk of interpretation; it is what Aquinas literally does -- first he talks about knowing God (ST 1.12), then he talks about naming God (ST 1.13), and his arguments in the latter depend on his arguments in the former. The same structure is found in the Summa Contra Gentiles and the Compendium Theologiae. There certainly can be technical issues about how naming relates to knowing in the case of God, but there's no question whatsoever about what the order of dependence is. And this is relevant to your question, which at least on the surface seems to be epistemological rather than to deal with naming directly.

Brandon said...

Sorry, the 'and' before the (4) should be a 'then'.

Bilbo said...

Hi Ed,

You wrote:

2. ID theory presupposes -- whether in an unqualified way or at least for the sake of argument -- a conception of the natural world that is “mechanistic” in the sense of denying that there is any teleology or final causality immanent to or inherent in natural substances qua natural (as we Aristotelians claim there is). Any teleology or finality would for ID have to be in nature only extrinsically or in a way that is entirely imposed from outside, after the fashion of artifacts like watches and other machines.

I agree that most ID proponents view the world mechanistically. But they need not. They could make a distinction between (a) the ability of parts to come together of their own accord and (b) once those parts are in their proper arrangement to become a living substance. It appears to me that ID is arguing that (a) is not the case and that someone had to bring the parts together and properly arrange them. On the other hand, (b) would mean that there was some inherent teleology in the parts to become a living substance, which would seem to satisfy A-T philosophy. I don't think that I am merely greasing the ID pig here, but I'm willing to be corrected on this point.

Brandon said...

Brandon, are you saying that Ed would agree that the thesis I have provided has validity?

If by 'agreeing it has validity' you mean 'there is some reasonable interpretation of the words under which Ed has repeatedly pointed out to you and others that he agrees with it, practically every time you or anyone else has brought the point up'. Nor is this at all surprising; the thesis you stated, taken by itself without the qualifications and additional claims typically made by ID proponents, is extraordinarily generic, since all it requires is that there exist genuine intelligent causes not themselves entirely explicable in terms of undirected processes. Any one of the following (all of which are positions Ed is on record as defending) could obviously be described by it: the occurrence of miracles, actions resulting from free will whether human or divine, the human intellect's existence as beyond the capacity of only natural processes to explain, order in the universe as a whole as requiring God as its cause, etc., etc. And he has made abundantly and repeatedly clear how and why this merely generic claim differs from the specific claims associated with the intelligent design movement as found in Dembski, etc. that he is arguing against when talking about the relation between 'intelligent design' and Thomism.

Happy said...

Brandon,

At this point, I'll simply say that you should consult Rocca's work with regard to consecutive progression between "being" and "knowing" in Aquinas' doctrine of analogy; as well how what, exactly, is "already known" of God by the latter informs his method of divine naming.

Dr. Feser,

Can you point to a single instance of practical rationality in your own life which didn't, at some point, have emotion as its impetus? I.e., any given set of circumstances gives rise to a literally infinite chain of valid logical inferences; why pursue one line of inference rather than another? Do we ever act without evaluating? And, can the valuative dimensions of being ever really be taken stock of absent the feeling-toned way in which they are apprehended? (Any examples?)

Not that I endorse the ridiculous over-emphasis upon emotion prevalent in contemporary popular culture; rather, my sense is that something has been overlooked by the "classical tradition." (I say this having read N. Lombardo's work on Aquinas and emotion many times over; to my knowledge, Mark Wynn's _Emotional Experience and Religious Understanding_ constitutes the most insightful treatment of the relationship between emotion and intellect.)

Best in Christ

Jeremy Taylor said...

I've long suspicious of Darwinianism (it defenders doth protest too much, and much of the evidence, to me, seems to depend upon what prior interpretation is given to it) and interested in some of the criticisms, but I lack any deep knowledge of the subject (which is required to comment on it in any substantive way - the evolution sceptic is so besieged in our society that you'd want to be an expert before you raised your head above ground).

But I'm a little confused about what Dr. Feser's critique means for the scientific, statistical, and mathematical arguments and claims of the ID proponents. Can these be stripped of their metaphysical surroundings or are they based on dubious metaphysics? If we allow that there is something to them (and obviously many Thomists here might disagree), how would the Thomist or Classical Theist make use of them?

Brandon said...

Happy,

I've read Rocca; my point was quite explicitly that the point that you explicitly highlighted in him was not a point on which there was any actual disagreement. It is in any case a side issue; it doesn't affect the primary problem one way or another.

Timotheos said...

@ Scott
"@ The Man Who Is Thursday"

Love it!

Thursday said...

Dr. Feser:

So, God is good in the same way as a human being is good? That doesn't sound like classical theism to me. God is good, but not in the way we are good. He does not have the trait goodness, he is goodness. The point is these are not the same things.

Scott:

Some classical theists spend a lot of time saying that God is a personal God because he has intellect and will. Leaving out emotion, as they often do, will be read by normal people as implying that he does not have emotion. Bloodless and creepy are entirely appropriate.

Many (not all) classical theists have no one to blame but themselves for being misunderstood. Maybe a look in the mirror might cause some classical theists to take a look at the way they are failing to communicate their ideas. If you're failing to communicate with theologically sophisticated people (like Lydia) who should be sympathetic to your ideas, then maybe it isn't just their fault.

Thursday said...

Using the label “theistic personalism” for the other side and then arguing against that is another boneheaded rhetorical move.

Brandon said...

Using the label “theistic personalism” for the other side and then arguing against that is another boneheaded rhetorical move.

It's a courtesy label that theistic personalists will usually accept for their own view; what would be boneheaded would be to use a label for their position that they would reject, as if the arguments in question were nothing but rhetorical maneuvers aimed at winning.

Brandon said...

Some classical theists spend a lot of time saying that God is a personal God because he has intellect and will. Leaving out emotion, as they often do, will be read by normal people as implying that he does not have emotion. Bloodless and creepy are entirely appropriate.

Note to self: never suggest that Thursday has intellect and will.

BenYachov said...

I find the idea of God having base emotions creepy and foul. What is to stop Him from having a giant diva fit & giving us all the boot out of Heaven? Considering the volatile nature of mere emotion.

Emotions are imperfect. True love flows from the will moved by the intellect. One need not have irrational sentiment in order to care for others. God is simply too pure for something as foul as mere emotions/passions.

My love for my family flows from my intellect to my will and my emotions are merely accidental to it.

The Act of Love between husband & wife is a special icon of the divine intimacy between Christ and His Church.

But that doesn't mean Christ and the Church are literally.....UGH!!!!!....I can't even type it much less think it.

God loves me but doesn't have a literal emotion about it.

God loves me. How do I know this? Well He created me and sustains my existence. Love is to will the good for someone or something. Love is to desire something as well.

Well God willed an infinite Good & clearly desired that I should exist by creating me. That must be something infinitely beautiful and Transcendent and greater then a mere base passion.

Sorry but Theistic Personalism is nothing more than a Mormon concept of the deity 2.0 with the body abstracted away. It's a creepy "god" made in man's image not the Transcendent Infinite Beauty in whose image we are made.

I will have none of it! Frankly the whole "God has emotions" mishigoss makes me want to projectile vomit!

Away with this Baal, this Zeus this Meta-Santa Clause!

It will not due.

Give me YHWH the God of Abraham, Aquinas and Anselm.

Thursday said...

It's a courtesy label that theistic personalists will usually accept for their own view

Who cares? It's still a boneheaded rhetorical move. You shouldn't accept your opponents labels when it will give a seriously misleading impression. But I actually think it was Brian Davies who came up with the term.

Note to self: never suggest that Thursday has intellect and will.

Don't be a dick. Intellect and will are important parts of personhood, but when normal people are most concerned about whether God feels love for them, droning on and on about them, while never mentioning emotion, or skipping over it as quickly as possible, is going to give a seriously wrong impression, for which the writer is responsible.

This is a real pastoral problem, and just blaming the reader or listener (or me) doesn't cut it. Read the Rishmawy; he shows how classical theism can be explained well to a non-specialist audience.

Thursday said...

What is to stop Him from having a giant diva fit & giving us all the boot out of Heaven?

Stop being an idiot and read the Rishmawy link I posted above.

Thursday said...

God loves me but doesn't have a literal emotion about it.

As I said, bloodless and creepy.

Thursday said...

Frankly the whole "God has emotions" mishigoss makes me want to projectile vomit!

And people wonder why so many philosophically and theologically sophisticated people reject classical theism.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Feser,

I was the "anon" above who raised issue of the kalam cosmological argument. In minute 51 of your Steubenville talk you say that the KCA, relying on modern cosmology to prove the world's beginning, cannot get us to the God of classical theism if it ignores natural philosophy. Just trying to get clear on this.

1. For the sake of argument, grant that cosmology shows that the world began to exist.
2. This means that matter was created ex nihilo.
3. Any case of creation ex nihilo implies the existence of a being whose essence and existence are not distinct, and any such being is the God of classical theism.

I haven't put this into rigorous logical form, but I hope it captures how I see the KCA as getting us to the God of classical theism, namely via the concept of creation ex nihilo. But I am not sure where I see the role for natural philosophy in this chain of reasoning. Aquinas specifically says that the natural philosophical concept of potency does not characterize the world before it begins to exist; rather he says the world is possible only in terms of God's ability to create it, and/or simply by virtue of its terms not being logically incompatible. So I'm not sure that natural philosophy needs to be brought in to justify anything in the argument above, and while it might be nice to show God as conserving, rather than merely creating, the world, I don't see why one needs to demonstrate conservation to prove the God of classical theism, since an initial creation ex nihilo is by itself enough to establish such a God. We might argue from there that that God also conserves the world, but that would be posterior to establishing His existence, which was our QED, and which as far as I can tell, can be done via the KCA without natural philosophy. This to me is a difference between ID and the KCA -- the latter involves something, creation ex nihilo, which can serve as a platform for arriving at the God of classical theism. (Of course the question of whether we can show whether the world began to exist is a separate matter.)

Jeremy Taylor said...

And people wonder why so many philosophically and theologically sophisticated people reject classical theism.

Which people? If you mean Christians and Theists then I don't think Classical Theists have anything to worry about. Theistic Personalism has never attracted and is hardly ever likely to ever attract many followers. It is patently absurd. In fact, I think Dr. Feser spends too much time discussing them. In the history of thought, Theistic Personalism has never been a serious alternative to Classical Theism

Jeremy Taylor said...

If my memory serves the traditional schemata for understanding passions and emotions often makes distinctions between different kinds, some base and some higher.

I think I would be right in saying though that in some sense the emotions have as their end an experience of an aspect of reality. In this sense God doesn't have emotions so much but he is the basis of our higher emotions, or all our emotions so far as they natural and positive. God is love and, ultimately, our love is an experience of God. Thursday is just being supremely unimaginative, literal, and rather in his claims.

BenYachov said...

So djindra or one of the other silly trolls is now called "Thursday" I take it?

Worst then projectile vomiting I am now bored.



BenYachov said...

>And people wonder why so many philosophically and theologically sophisticated people reject classical theism.

Never heard of them. Only persons who are philosophically ignorant, theologically unsophisticated fundamentalistic and overly anthropomorphic in their understanding of deity reject classic theism.

All the great mystics East & West presuppose Classic Theism.

God cannot be well know only well loved.

God is not a man as the OT says. If He was the Incarnation would be wholly redundant.

I have no use for Momonism 2.0.

BenYachov said...

Oh and one last thing djindra/Thursday. This blog is about Thomistic Philosophy not Reformed Calvinism.

Granted there are Protestant Thomists with some Calvinist accents but some of us will use the Traditional Catholic and Orthodox terms in preference too your reformation novelties.

Without apology.

Brandon said...

Who cares? It's still a boneheaded rhetorical move. You shouldn't accept your opponents labels when it will give a seriously misleading impression. But I actually think it was Brian Davies who came up with the term.

Yes, he was the one who came up with it; the reason he did and the reason it stuck was the one I gave. And what's boneheaded is pretending that rhetoric is anyone's dominating concern in these arguments.

Don't be a dick.

Oh, you walked right into it, so it's your fault. Despite your endless grousing about rhetoric, you do absolutely nothing to hold yourself to the same standard -- what you give are profound rhetorical arguments consisting almost entirely of namecalling until pressed, replete with words likely to persuade like 'boneheaded' and 'creepy', which show that you actually know nothing about what persuades people, and just sound like someone who can't argue.

Greg said...

Anon

1. For the sake of argument, grant that cosmology shows that the world began to exist.
2. This means that matter was created ex nihilo.
3. Any case of creation ex nihilo implies the existence of a being whose essence and existence are not distinct, and any such being is the God of classical theism.

I haven't put this into rigorous logical form, but I hope it captures how I see the KCA as getting us to the God of classical theism, namely via the concept of creation ex nihilo.


I'm not clear on how you would justify (3) without appealing to natural philosophy.

So I'm not sure that natural philosophy needs to be brought in to justify anything in the argument above, and while it might be nice to show God as conserving, rather than merely creating, the world, I don't see why one needs to demonstrate conservation to prove the God of classical theism, since an initial creation ex nihilo is by itself enough to establish such a God.

Well, on the classical theist view, "creation" is a conserving. The creation also began on time, according to Christian revelation. But without the conservation, one has to be worried about showing that the God revealed by the KCA is not merely a clockmaker or a demiurge or something of the sort.

We might argue from there that that God also conserves the world, but that would be posterior to establishing His existence, which was our QED, and which as far as I can tell, can be done via the KCA without natural philosophy.

I am curious as to how you would get from a God that created the world (conceiving of creation as a single event that happened 14 billion years ago, rather than as the constant conservation of the world) to a God that sustains a world. (Not that I say it can't be done. I just don't see how.)

Staircaseghost said...

To be fair to Lydia, even your own citations read like they were written by three different people. I could easily imagine three different churches burning one another's members at the stake for holding the doctrines expressed in the following:

"[A]mong the things we know about God via natural theology, at least from an Aristotelian-Thomistic (A-T) point of view… are that His attributes include intellect and will."

Well, that's clear enough. God has intellect and will.

…according to classical theism there is in God something analogous to what we call intellect and will in us"

Ok. So maybe he doesn't have intellect and will, but "something analogous" to intellect and will. Like talking snakes and global floods, we're dealing in metaphors -- no clubfooted literalists here.

"His intellect is not inferior to our conscious thought processes (as a stone, gravity, or even the unconscious informational states of a computer are to that extent inferior to our conscious states) but on the contrary beyond and higher than them, just as divine power is beyond and higher than the relatively trivial capacities in created things that we characterize as ‘powers.’"

OK, so it's not that that God has X. Nor is it that he has something analogous to X. He has something that is so different from X it would be like comparing a clump of dirt to Beethoven, or thinking a flight simulator can actually fly.

(And we haven't even gotten to the doctrine where he doesn't "have" any of these things, metaphorical or otherwise, but "is identical" to them.)

I can see how "annoying" it must be to have to constantly put this to rest. Clearly, God has, i.e. "is", i.e. doesn't have, the attributes, i.e. things that are good metaphors for the attributes, i.e. things that are bad metaphors of the attributes, i.e. not the attributes, of a person.

Brandon said...

He has something that is so different from X it would be like comparing a clump of dirt to Beethoven, or thinking a flight simulator can actually fly.

I think you need to re-read the passage this was a comment on, since this is not even remotely an accurate reading of the passage.

But of course the bigger point that should be made is that it's not about words at all but about taking care to understand what they mean so that one infers correctly with them; and words don't magically have eternal meanings annexed to them but have their meaning as they are used in particular contexts to make particular points, and thus context and use have to be taken into account. If one means -- which one can mean, because there is nothing magically forbidding it -- 'intellect and will' in exactly the sense we use the phrase in talking about human intellect and will, then nobody at all thinks that God would have intellect and will in exactly that way, so if it's being used that way in context, the correct statement will be that God does not have intellect and will. If one means -- which one can mean, because there is nothing magically preventing it -- a more abstract notion, it may well be that the correct statement will be that God does have intellect and will. And the two can be perfectly consistent because logical consistency is not a matter of verbal consistency. If there are any people who quite literally are incapable of navigating this taking of words in context rather than as having magical meanings on their own, which is one of the first and most general skills of rational argument and the only way at all to avoid fallacies of equivocation, then they probably should not be engaging in technical arguments about meaning.

(Of course, Lydia doesn't actually have any serious problem navigating such contextual changes; she's not incompetent. The confusions arise from differences in background assumptions and the difficulty of eliminating ambiguities, not because of the sort of obvious stupidity in rational argument you are suggesting she's guilty of.)

Ian Thompson said...

The issues listed by Staircaseghost need to be addressed.
This is particularly, because any view that says all the things he alleges would be self-contradictory. And from any such inconsistent set of ideas one can prove anything.
I am beginning to worry that Fesers A-T synthesis is failing, for this reason.

Brandon said...

There isn't any issue raised by Staircaseghost, though; one of the interpretations is manifestly an incorrect, and the other two don't actually conflict. The whole point of the Thomistic doctrine of analogy is that terms may have primary and secondary meanings, related to each other but distinct and not necessarily allowing the same inferences. Which is relevant depends entirely on context; and judgments of inconsistency require that we have already taken such contextual differences into account -- it would be simply a fallacy of equivocation to assume that one could determine whether there's an actual inconsistency based on the words alone, without regard for how they are being used in context. And everybody knows for a fact that we can use a word in one meaning in one context and use it in a related but extended meaning in another; indeed, we may even do it in one context if in context we are actually going through the rational process of extending the meaning. This is exactly the sort of thing that's at issue when we're talking about divine names, or about the Thomistic doctrine of analogy, so it's not surprising that it would come up.

Greg said...

SCG

Ok. So maybe he doesn't have intellect and will, but "something analogous" to intellect and will. Like talking snakes and global floods, we're dealing in metaphors -- no clubfooted literalists here.

Could you explain how you are getting from your quote of Feser to this reading? The "OK" seems to imply that you take the quote as a concession of this, which it clearly is not... so I am a bit confused.

As Brandon says, with a little effort in disambiguating there does not seem to be the issue you raise.

A good cat has something analogous to the goodness of a tree. What of the statement "The cat doesn't have goodness, but 'something analogous' to goodness"? Well if we disambiguate that as "The cat doesn't have the goodness of a tree but 'something analogous' to the goodness of a tree," then it is clear that there is no denial that the cat is good, nor are we "dealing in metaphors." We are dealing in analogy.

Vaal said...

BenYachov,

I can understand your point of view about God and you expressed it well.

I can also see "Thursday's" point of view having some merit as well - however brusquely expressed ;-)

Interesting topic.

Vaal

Edward Feser said...

Staircaseghost,

First of all, if Lydia had said "I don't understand how the classical theist can reconcile God's being personal with his not being an instance of the kind person," or something to that effect, that would have been a reasonable enough comment to make. But that's not what she did. She simply represented me as holding that God is impersonal, despite the fact that I have clearly and repeatedly said that I regard him as personal. Saying "So-and-so believes p" is very different from saying "So-and-so believes not-p, but I don't see how not-p squares with other things he believes."

Second, you don't know what the word "analogy" means. It doesn't same the same thing as "metaphor." As I said to Thursday above, when we say of a book, a meal, and a man that they are each good, we aren't using the word "good" in exactly the same sense (since the goodness of a book, a meal, and a man are very different) but we aren't using them either equivocally or metaphorically either. We are using them analogically, in the Thomist's technical sense of the term "analogy."

Now to accuse the Thomist theory of analogy of reducing talk of God to mere metaphors -- and your comments all reflect this error -- is like accusing the Darwinian of being committed to Lamarck's theory of use and disuse, and rejecting Darwinism on that basis. It doesn't even rise to the level of a serious criticism, because it hasn't bothered to get the view right even at the most fundamental level. And yeah, it kind of annoys me when people fail to do that before criticizing a view. I'm funny that way.

Readers interested in the theory of analogy might want to look at pp. 256-63 of my book Scholastic Metaphysics for an overview.

Edward Feser said...

Ian Thompson,

Seriously?

See my comments above. Staircaseghost's remarks don't even pass the laugh test.

BenYachov said...

>I can also see "Thursday's" point of view having some merit as well - however brusquely expressed ;-)

Believe what you like but I see zero merit & more then a bit of hypocrisy. If his point is that you should be careful on the pastoral level on how you explain sophisticated theological concepts to laymen for fear of misunderstanding I am all for that. But calling the Classic formulation “God has no emotion/passions” creepy and weird shows he doesn’t practice what he preaches. He doesn’t want us to put people off then he goes out of his way to put people off.

Tis Silly.

rank sophist said...

Prof. Feser

For those of us who can't yet fit Scholastic Metaphysics into the budget (despite its reasonable price), it would be very interesting to read a blog post about analogy that builds on the discussion of the topic in your book. As I'm sure you've noticed, analogy has generated a lot of controversy in your comboxes, and (to my knowledge) you have not addressed the subject at length online. Just a thought.

Daniel Smith said...

Re: God's personhood.
Would it be consistent with Thomism to treat personhood like being?
God is not 'a being', he is being itself. We are all only instances of being. Likewise, God is not 'a person', he is personhood itself. We are only instances of personhood.

Re: ID.
Aquinas makes the ultimate ID proof in the fifth way. What more do we need?

Timotheos said...

@ BenYachov

"Granted there are Protestant Thomists with some Calvinist accents but some of us will use the Traditional Catholic and Orthodox terms in preference too your reformation novelties.

Without apology."

Also, don't forget the Anglican/Methodist commenters here like me and Jeremy Taylor who have no investment in Calvinism or "Reformed" theology.

In fact, since the Lutherans have their own distinct understanding of terminology from the Calvinists, I find it really annoying that Calvinists get to claim all the terminology as their own, even though their tradition represents less than 10% of all Christians even today, and that's being VERY generous. So really, if Reformed types want to enter the discussion, THEY need to learn the lingo and not the demand that the rest of us have to learn their versions of it.

But then again, as a Methodist, I don't have much patience with knee-jerk Calvinists who like to equate anything that is not their position with Pelagianism or Semi-Pelgianism, even though practically every major Protestant denomination and Catholicism affirms the doctrine of Original Sin. It's just about as trying as when they call every non-Calvinistic position a form of Molinaism, which is just plain false.

BenYachov said...

>Also, don't forget the Anglican/Methodist commenters here like me and Jeremy Taylor who have no investment in Calvinism or "Reformed" theology.

Truth be told I don't care what theology is expressed.
It just seems a bit rude to go to a Catholic/Thomist Blogger's blog and get indignant just because the locals express Catholic and Thomist theology.

Timotheos said...

@ BenYachov

"It just seems a bit rude to go to a Catholic/Thomist Blogger's blog and get indignant just because the locals express Catholic and Thomist theology."

My point exactly, and that's why I also go on to note that it's a problem that way too many modern Calvinists fall into, and not just on this blog. Again, it's not like their view is the mainstream one, or honestly, even a particularly common one.

(Looking back, I probably should have addressed my comment earlier to Thursday; oh well...)

Harrison said...

Ben,

Could you help me understand your thoughts (as expressed earlier regarding God not having emotions) in the context of the Trinity? I understand your earlier point and could agree, but I have a hard time reconciling the classical theistic "God has no emotion" with "the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, is fully man and fully God." Is the thinking that Jesus, in his human nature, has emotion while in His divine nature noes not? But then I think its not entirely correct to say God has no emotion, if God (Jesus) does indeed have emotion. And to assert otherwise violates the hypostatic union? Oh geez, I'm sure this has been addressed a million times and Im just thinking myself into a hole, but at some point if you could give your thoughts I would appreciate it.

Happy said...

Greetings, Harrison,

Regarding God and emotion, a good place to start is Paul Gavrilyuk's _The Suffering of the Impassible God_. For a "neo-Theistic" approach that would be scorned by many people on this combox, see Anastasia Phillipa Scrutton, _Thinking through Feeling_. For a "classical theistic" approach, see Thomas Weinandy, _Does God Suffer?_ A recent Protestant work which strives to accord with the classical tradition can be found in Rob Lister's _God Is Impassible and Impassioned_. I myself am writing my dissertation on the topic of divine affectivity/emotion from a Balthasarian perspective while trying to do justice to the insights of Thomistic metaphysics.

Best in Christ

Anonymous said...

Greg,

The kalam guy here again. You asked about this:

"Any case of creation ex nihilo implies the existence of a being whose essence and existence are not distinct, and any such being is the God of classical theism."

Specifically, you asked how we could justify it without natural philosophy. The issue at hand seems to me to be pretty clearly metaphysical, rather than a physical. If something is created from nothing, then it must have been given esse, not just form. I would have to go back to Aquinas to see how he would fill in the details of the following point, but he does think that only a being whose essence is existence is in a position go give esse, but I don't see that as something natural philosophy even addresses, since it's a metaphysical topic. Hence my suggestion that via the KCA one could arrive at God without recourse to natural philosophy. Would be interested to see if you think I've gone wrong here.

Greg said...

Anon,

There is a difference between natural philosophy and metaphysics to be sure. But I would not have thought that someone looking to construct an argument without appealing to natural philosophy would want to invoke this:

only a being whose essence is existence is in a position go give esse.

That's true. But the question is how you are going to argue it without natural philosophy. Usually people defending the KCA don't want to make metaphysical claims like that. (I am not sure the distinction between metaphysics and natural philosophy is entirely relevant here. Or maybe I should say, I'm not sure what you think you are avoiding by avoiding natural philosophy.)

But the other issue is that to justify that statement, you are going to have to appeal to natural theology. (That is how Aquinas justifies it.)

BenYachov said...

Harrison,

see Summa theologiae, ST 1a2ae, qq.22-48 for Aquinas’ discussion on the passions.

tz said...

Let me try a different way. You were a philosopher, but atheist, so Aquinas could argue with you by proxy.
The modern (new?) atheists are darwinist, materialist, atheist, in that order. If you try to argue any philosophy, they will either accuse you of cheating or give a blank stare.
It is unfair but you have to play on their tilted playing field if you want to win the soul. Or do you wish to just win the argument?
On the field of what passed for their idea of science, ID is what shatters Darwinism. It is scientific, fits the mathematical and physical models, and if they are honest, they have to accept that stochastic processes don't account for lots of things. It is less relevant that they accept ID than they doubt they know all the answers. Their talking points are not philosophic, they are scientific, so they need to be disarmed at that level. From hubris to humility. The next battle is on the field of materialism. And the final battle is that of atheism v.s. theism.

They are playing baseball and insist on it. You might say basketball might be the proper game, and might even be right, but you won't get to the basketball court except by winning a few innings at baseball and then scoring a few goals in football.

You can't answer "Science teaches that we evolved from chemicals in primordial soup over 4.5 billion years" with philosophy, or such an answer won't make sense in their world or world view.

At best you can talk past them, but this is not engaging them on the issue and they will call you (in some sense correctly) evasive and off topic. You need to answer their dumb questions within the dumb contexts.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Tz,

I agree that the way evolution has been interpreted in the popular consciousness this past century and a half has been one of the most important spurs to disbelief. It seemed to herald a naturalistic explanation for the origins and development of life (indeed, this is just about its only stable definition).

However, I think there are several problems with your posts. Firstly, you do seem to assume that evolution, not just in its strict naturalistic sense but any sense, is incorrect. I'm sceptical of it myself, but we certainly cannot assume that. Secondly, surely philosophical critiques of naturalistic evolution contribute to its refutation. It defenders might ignore them, but they can hardly do so convincingly. Finally, ID itself, is philosophically and theologically dubious. Certainly, there may be important critiques of evolution to salvage from it - like scientific, statistical, and mathematical ones - but it seems somewhat dangerous to not try and extricate such critiques from their dubious surroundings.

Daniel said...

‘You can't answer "Science teaches that we evolved from chemicals in primordial soup over 4.5 billion years" with philosophy, or such an answer won't make sense in their world or world view.’

I was going to post this in response to something Jeremey said but it seems as applicable here. The major metaphysical proofs of God’s existence do not have anything to do with Evolution and neither do those for the spirituality of the soul. Even God cannot create a mortal Rational Soul for such a thing is an impossibilia, a being which can exist in no possible world. With this in mind Darwinism is not just unimportant it’s metaphysically irrelevant. Metaphysicians qua metaphysicians are interested in the necessary rather than contingent details of our zoological history. The theologians and scientists - from Wolfgang Smith to Jerry Coyne - who use evolution for purposes of scare mongering are either duplicitous, metaphysically naive or both.

Personally I favour some variety of evolutionary theory as the organisism and unity of nature they imply fit well with the concept of the great chain of Being from Aristotle and the Neo-Platonists (not that I’m implying evolution is the great chain of Being as some silly theologians have nor that species do not possess their own essences). Of course the notion of biological evolution has been around far longer than Charles the Dull – one only has to think of Theophrastus or Goethe and Schelling for instance.

This book which Ed mentioned a couple of posts back looks most interesting: Metaphysics from a Biological Point of View

http://us.macmillan.com/metaphysicsfromabiologicalpointofview/StephenBoulter

Overall, purging what may well be or at least contain good natural science from bad metaphysics is one of the most urgent but least glamorous tasks facing contemporary Classical Theistic philosophers.

Jeremy Taylor said...


Personally I favour some variety of evolutionary theory as the organisism and unity of nature they imply fit well with the concept of the great chain of Being from Aristotle and the Neo-Platonists


Well, it seems to me one of the criticisms of Darwinism from Platonists like Wolfgang Smith is ignores the great chain of being. That is, Platonists (even more than Aristotelians) stress the traditional belief that creation is made up of descending layers from the Ideal or Angelic realms to the corporeal. Each lower realm is a reflection of that above it, in more limited, determined, and privative conditions. According to the Platonist the origins and development of species in the corporeal realm has it roots in God via the realms a descendent through the levels of being.So, to get to the individual, corporeal man there is a progressive descendent from God to the One and the Dyad; the Ideal Numbers; the general Forms; the more Specific Forms right down to the Form of Man; then the subtle and psychic realms (and indeed mathematical realms); and finally the corporeal realm. No species can exist individually and corporeally, from this perspective, without following this progressively descending process. This is sometimes, in contemporary Platonists, referred to as vertical causation, as opposed to horizontal or purely corporeal causation. Darwinism, in trying to base the development of the species on only horizontal causation is in grave error, to the Platonist, precisely because this would violate the great of chain of being, you could say.

Daniel said...

‘Darwinism, in trying to base the development of the species on only horizontal causation is in grave error, to the Platonist, precisely because this would violate the great of chain of being, you could say.’

Unless it has some additional naturalistic underpinnings tagged on I do not see what basis there would be for this charge.

Of course Creation is for eternity so one part of the chain cannot be said to be prior to another save in an ontological sense. The going up or going down of the chain says nothing about temporal movement in the world (of course you know this).

The concept of Horizontal Causation without Vertical Causation would seem to me to be incoherent, like that of Material Causation without Formal Causation – to put it another way all Formal Causation (with its transcendent pole Exemplary Causation) is Vertical Causation.

If this is Smith’s main objection to evolutionary theory I cannot but think he falls prey to a pernicious fallacy of modern metaphysics, to whit that of viewing the world as a crypto-naturalistic object albeit one orchestrated by God.

(My mainly negative opinion of Smith in this and related matters is based off his Wisdom of Ancient Cosmology in which he, amongst other things, argues for a literalistic interpretation of Genesis, appears to quote with approval Tertullian’s notion of God having a corporal form [!!!] and hopes that the Relativity Theory will provide the basis for a new geocentricism)

Anonymous said...

I enjoy following Edward Feser blog and I appreciated reading a few of his books (the ones I could read), usually I find myself in good agreement with many of his ideas, but I am far from being an AT expert and my knowledge of ID ideas is quite superficial.

Despite my philosophical and theological limitations I know that science has a few limitations, which unfortunately are often neglected. Science pretends to provide knowledge about the material reality, however science by its own nature is quite limited (by its extremely reductive nature and its methodology). In this sense the insights from science are quite limited providing a view that departs from extreme simplifications and the existence of “accepted” unexplainable brute facts). These limitations of science, however, doesn’t prevent that science has been quite successful in providing very good explanations and descriptions of a variety of natural phenomena. In spite the extraordinary success of science, its results must be carefully evaluated, in face of its intrinsic limitations.

Scientism (and much in the same way as ID, I might be unfair here) on the basis of a sort of “blind faith” seem to have a unrealistic and overconfident notion of the capabilities of science (either without God or with the inclusion of ad-doc interventions from God), regarding its results, which in fact are only our best available (however reductive and incomplete) explanations of what we observe, without framing it under a proper conceptual and coherent metaphysical frame (that seems to me is best provided by AT, as sustained by Edward, as far as I know, which is not much).

Vasco

Tim Finlay said...

Ed,
What I was trying to get at in my last post is that what is crucial to all your objections to ID arguments is whether complexity does any work. It seems to me that if complexity does do some work, then there would be a valid form of an ID argument that would provide probabilistic evidence for, as Lydia might put it, a disjunct of classical theism and theistic personalism, just as I read one of your arguments on the philosophy of mind topic as concluding that there must be a disjunct of hylemorphic dualism and substance dualism (of course, you argue elsewhere for hylemorphic dualism specifically).

Tim Finlay said...

Ed,
My first post did not go through so you are probably mystified.
Here is the essence of it.
There seem to be two distinct aspects of ID arguments that Ed objects to (whether one can accept, even for the sake of argument, the notion that there is no immanent teleology; and whether complexity can do any work in a version of a design argument that is compatible with Thomism). I want to address the first one.
The atheist being addressed here accepts proposition A (there is no immanent teleology) and proposition B (the phenomena one finds in nature can all be explained by natural non-intelligent causes). Is there anything wrong with the following argument?
1. Accept proposition A (for the sake of argument)
2. Present evidence E that makes it highly probable that, if 1 is true, then proposition B is false.
3. Conclude that it is probable that either A is false or B is false.
Ed, apart from the probabilistic aspect, you seem to have given arguments yourself that could be represented in this form. For example, you have claimed that if hylemorphic dualism is false (i.e. if Descartes’ radically different understanding of what counts as matter is correct), then materialism is false and substance dualism must be true. In other words, on a Cartesian understanding of matter, mind simply cannot be reduced to matter.
Your argument could be presented as follows.
1. Accept (for the sake of argument) that hylemorphism is false
2. If 1 is correct, then materialism is false and substance dualism is true
3. Either hylemorphism is true or substance dualism is true.
The conclusion doesn’t get you all the way to hylemorphism but I certainly wouldn’t characterize these type of arguments as “they don’t get you even one millimeter toward hylemorphic dualism, and indeed they get you positively away from hylemorphic dualism.”
The only difference between the two types of argument is that the first is probabilistic and the second is not. But you have said repeatedly that that is not a major problem. So where is the problem of accepting, for the sake of argument, that there is no immanent teleology? This is a standard line of reasoning in reduction ad absurdum arguments.

Scott said...

@Tim Finlay:

"[W]hat is crucial to all your objections to ID arguments is whether complexity does any work."

No, that's not crucial to any of Ed's objections, let alone all of them. Nor is your paraphrase of ID arguments an accurate account of what is claimed by the ID advocates Ed has actually named.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Daniel,


Unless it has some additional naturalistic underpinnings tagged on I do not see what basis there would be for this charge.

I'm not sure what you mean here? Do you mean how do new species get corporeality? In at least one version of the Platonic explanation of life, as a species's time comes to manifest itself in the corporeal world, it passes over from the psychic or subtle realm, gradually congealing and solidifying (you might say), until it has a fully corporeal substance. The corporeal and psychic realms are held to overlap greatly.

I'm not sure you're interpreted Smith correctly. I have not read Wisdom of Ancient Cosmology , but I know he is a Platonist and Perennialist. If anything, therefore, he would lean the other way, towards Non-Dualism and Panentheism, from Tertuallian's idea hints of God having corporeality. I do own a work by Smith where he tries to set out a Trinitarian Non-Dualism.

As for Genesis, are you sure he is not arguing about symbolism? Obviously, symbolism, in the Platonic sense, is vital for Perennialists. I have read certain Perennialist authors who have argued a literalist view of Genesis, whilst not scientifically true, is and was often spiritually preferable to our modern cosmological understandings, which lack symbolic and spiritual framing. This, from their point of view, is far more important, and even true, than the literal or scientific truth of this framing. At least some of those arguing this, though, do argue it is possible to give our modern cosmology spiritual and symbolic meaning - the point is we don't, the scientistic mindset tends to prevent it. I'm somewhat sympathetic to this position, but, of course,we can hardly return to older understanding - those of Genesis and Ptolemaic system - and I think Smith and the rest understand this.

Edward Feser said...

Hi Tim,

If someone says "For the sake of argument, let's assume there is no immanent teleology in nature. Now, let me draw out the following implication from that conception of nature that is problematic for naturalism [or Darwinism, or whatever]" then I have no objection to that, and I've explicitly said before that I don't have a problem with that. The argument may or may not be any good, but the basic strategy itself is unobjectionable.

However, if someone says "For the sake of argument, let's assume there is no immanent teleology. Now, let me draw out the following implication from that conception of nature which makes it at least more probable that the God of classical theism exist," then I say that that makes no sense. For the reasons I briefly summarized in the original post above, such a conception of nature is only going to get one positively away from classical theism.

Now the problem is that ID is often sold as a grand new positive research program for detecting design, etc. But if it is that, then it can't be merely a reductio strategy. If it's a reductio strategy, then it has no positive content. It's just an objection to this or that form of naturalism or Darwinism, but does nothing to establish any positive view. Which is fine as far as it goes (if the arguments are otherwise any good) but in that case it's not what Dembski and Co. sell it as being.

But if it does have positive content and operates with a conception of nature that denies immanent teleology, then, again, it's not only not going to get you even an inch closer to classical theism, but has implications that point positively away from it.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Sorry, Daniel, I realised I misread what I quoted from you. You were asking what is the basis for saying Darwinism violates the great chain of being. Well, from the Platonic perspective, a species must descend down the great chain of being, until it manifests itself in the corporeal realm, taking to itself corporeality. This means that the species in question cannot simply evolve out of other species, because this would ignore the journey each species must make down the chain of being. And, besides, as species pass from the subtle to the corporeal realm, they gradually become less subtle until they are fully corporeal. This can take time. In this process they draw together their own corporeal matter, becoming more and more solid (if you will), which means they can hardly appear in the womb or egg of another species.

This may be a wrong explanation for the origins and development of life, but it does seem to show the Platonist cannot be an evolutionist.

George LeSauvage said...

Ed,
Your 5/12 5:06 comment puzzles me. I can see the point that rejecting immanent teleology is incompatible with Aristotleanism and Thomism.

But I don't see that it must "get one positively away from classical theism." Would it not be at least possible for someone to accept AT's accounts of hylomorphism, the act/potency distinction, etc? If so, he would accept all but the 5th Way (and perhaps the Ontological argument, or another classical proof). Could he not then remain a classical theist?

(I don't say that any such person is likely to exist, I just don't see it as impossible.)

Edward Feser said...

George LeSauvage,

Perhaps you overlooked the part where I said "For the reasons I briefly summarized in the original post above..."

So, please look to that original post for those reasons. You'll find them summarized in three numbered points about halfway into the post, with citations for further reading where the points are developed at greater length.

George LeSauvage said...

@Ed Feser:

Yes, I was sloppy. I'm sorry for that.

But I still am a bit unsure of one thing. The argument seems to say that classical theism is necessarily Aristotelian. Does that mean that a Christian Platonist doesn't count as a classical theist? For I don't think he would be willing to accept all that, at least without heavy qualification.

Daniel said...

@Ed or anyone else interested. How do IDeers avoid or answer the Humean causation problems which follow from Mechanism? Most scientists ignore them despite their invalidating much of the natural science – I assume they do the same?

@Jeremy,

‘…the species must descend down the great chain of being, until it manifests itself in the corporeal realm, taking to itself corporeality. This means that the species in question cannot simply evolve out of other species, because this would ignore the journey each species must make down the chain of being.

Surely the concept Species here would only mean the Universal species? How the first particular elephant is first constituted in the world – the Efficient Course of the first elephant – in no way effects the Universal ‘Elephant’ which has existed from eternity. There are many Universals which haven’t been instantiated.

I own Christian Gnosis (which I generally admire) as well as Smith’s others books. Looking back on it most of the other essays he wrote strike as the work of an highly intelligent man albeit one not perhaps very up to date with modern philosophical trends (his take on Descartes for instance). Another of this works, Science and Myth, contains a short essay sketching out a plan for combining Vedantic psychology with contemporary Philosophy of Mind, a project, which if carried through, would probably be one of the most valuable inter-disciplinary exercises of the current century.

The Wisdom of Ancient Cosmology caused me to lose a lot of respect for him unfortunately. The business about Genesis can be found in the opening section of the chapter ‘The Extrapolated Universe’ (P.107-P.109) and the gratuitous evolutionary scaremongering on the last page of the chapter ‘Intelligent Design and Vertical Causality’ (P.200-P.201). That last chapter in particular is a shameful mixture of poor philosophy and emotional blackmail. I stress I say this as someone who used to admire Smith and who still does admire any of his other works.

‘At least some of those arguing this, though, do argue it is possible to give our modern cosmology spiritual and symbolic meaning - the point is we don't, the scientistic mindset tends to prevent it.’

Well, I’d completely agree with that (clearing away fundamental confusions and ultimately incoherencies about the fundamental ontological states of Reality might have to come first though). The interesting thing is that many of the competitors to the Newtonian cosmology which would have been prefable on a symbolic level were actually more scientifically astute – Nicholas of Cusa for instance is way more modern than the 17th & 18th century physicists.

George LeSauvage said...

I realize that neither of my comments yesterday were well expressed. I certainly have no problem accepting AT as the best basis for classical theism. After all, I did switch allegiance from Plato to Aristotle, back in college.

But (and perhaps it is just my ignorance speaking here) I certainly don't recall Augustine or Anselm speaking in terms of the Aristotelian 4 causes, or of potency and act. Or much of any pre-12th C theologian.

I can see that this doesn't mean that their ideas are irreconcilable with AT; after all, Thomas showed that they were. But does that mean that they were not classical theists, per se, but only compatible with classical theism, as Aristotle was compatible with Christianity?

Jeremy Taylor said...

Daniel,


Surely the concept Species here would only mean the Universal species? How the first particular elephant is first constituted in the world – the Efficient Course of the first elephant – in no way effects the Universal ‘Elephant’ which has existed from eternity. There are many Universals which haven’t been instantiated.

Well, in Platonism a form is not a universal, understood in the Aristotelian sense. For the Platonist, a form unifies particularities and yet transcends them. Like Blake's tiger, the elephant form is all existing tigers and it is none. Each form, general or more specific, contains within it distinctions which are, in a sense possibilities inherent in the form. Some of these possibilities have inherent to them the possibility to be separately manifested. And this, in fact, means they must be so, or they would in fact not be such possibilities. So, the animal form carries within it all the different animal forms. For the formal realms this separation is simultaneous with creation itself, but this is not necessarily the case for possibilities at lower levels. For the Platonist, what is important to say, is you cannot skip levels of being. To get a corporeal individual of a species, there must be a progressive separation and determination (looking at it from the corporeal viewpoint, there is also a simultaneous ascending unity at work looking at things from the other way around), ranging from the highest forms to the corporeal individual.

And this progressive descent the first truly individual realms, the subtle or psychic realms. These are necessary intermediate levels between the truly intellectual or formal levels of reality and the sensible or corporeal, as mathematical entities are. Aristotle says of Plato's beliefs that:

"Further, besides sensible things and Forms he says there are the objects of mathematics, which occupy an intermediate position, differing from sensible things in being eternal and unchangeable, from Forms in that there are many alike, while the Form itself is in each case unique."

But this is only one aspect of the subtle or psychic realms. What is important is that a species cannot skip these realms. It must first be individuated there and then individual members of the species gradually descend through these realms until they burst through into the corporeal world. But the borders of the subtle and corporeal worlds are porous, and even as it begins to inhabit our world, a species will take time to become fully corporeal. In human terms this is an explanation of the heroes and demi-gods which all traditional civilisations tend to see as the first men. But, anyway, what this all means is that we cannot look to only horizontal or naturalistic causes - a species cannot simply appear in the womb or eggs of another species. A species rather descends separately.

One might reject this view, but it an important Platonic perspective.


Well, I'd have to see what Smith actually wrote on Genesis. I do not consider it entirely incorrect to suggest that if we could have left the Genesis-Ptolemaic synthesis intact, it might have served us better than the modern viewpoint, for all its greater scientific truth.

Why is what Smith writes on evolution scaremongering? Surely, Darwinism, as popularly understood, has been one of the major reasons for the loss of faith in the modern West? Or is it more simply that Smith doesn't accept evolution, and firmly states this, that you are objecting too.



Daniel said...

Quick message:

Smith is quite within his rights to reject evolution, Darwinian or otherwise, if merely for the fact that he doesn’t think it true - his article on the subject in Cosmos and Transcendence is a far better take on the subject even if I don’t ultimately agree with it. It’s his duplicitous assertion that Immortality, cosmic meaning, the existence of God and such all comes down to falsifying an empirical theory that I call scare-mongering.

'Surely, Darwinism, as popularly understood, has been one of the major reasons for the loss of faith in the modern West?'

Of course, but that is really due to covert metaphysical assumptions (to give a parallel: if a Darwinist says Darwinism is true, I, a Darwinist, am a materialist ergo materialism is true one might reply: Empedocles was a Darwinist ergo Empedoclesianism is true). If a Darwinist wants to get materialistic consequences out of his theory he can only do so by covertly putting them in there. Of course Darwinism as a theory could just be plain wrong anyway even though it possess no metaphysical significance.

Darwinists are a whole different kettle of fish than Darwinism itself. They are unable to avoid bringing completely unrelated philosophical issues round to their own preoccupations (Ed makes this point in TLS) and just shut down when faced with anything that isn’t bad science spliced with crude metaphysics – the danger of course is that tempts others like the IDeers to meet them on their own erroneous grounds.

Chris said...

There's a very accessible piece by James Cutsinger on Christian Platonist "emanational creation" in his essay "On Earth As It Is In Heaven"

Tim Finlay said...

Ed,
Thanks for your reply; it clears up the confusion I had. I agree with you regarding the way most ID material is represented.

It does seem to me that Lydia's topic of certain miracles in the Bible could put in the form of a reductio ad absurdum argument which ends with the conclusion that atheism is (probably) wrong. Likewise, if the IDers are right concerning the irreducible complexity of certain biological entities on the assumtion of no immanent teleology (and I don't have a position on whether they are right about this), then a valid reductio ad absurdum argument could be made which would have the conclusion that it is very likely that either there is immmanent teleology or that certain phenomena cannot be explained as having arisen by purely natural causes.

So far, no ID research I am aware of has come up with anything remotely challenging to the atheist worldview as the miracle in 1 Kings 18 would have been to the baalist worldview (even though that miracle provides no specific support for classical theism as compared to theistic personalism). But if they do discover the babelfish or something similar one day, then there is an appropriate place for that in A-T apologetics, even if a minor one.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Daniel,


Smith is quite within his rights to reject evolution, Darwinian or otherwise, if merely for the fact that he doesn’t think it true - his article on the subject in Cosmos and Transcendence is a far better take on the subject even if I don’t ultimately agree with it. It’s his duplicitous assertion that Immortality, cosmic meaning, the existence of God and such all comes down to falsifying an empirical theory that I call scare-mongering.

I'm not sure I get your meaning. If Smith is arguing that evolution is incompatible with his metaphysics, that it is inevitably naturalist, the surely these conclusions would follow if his argument were correct.

Daniel said...

Well first of all 'incompatible with his metaphysics' and 'naturalistic' are by no means one and the same. The key thing is that there is precious little actual metaphysics in that essay anyway, it’s largely a combination of empirical hypothesising and contingent Christian theology (in fact he’s actually bizarrely disrespectful of Natural Theology there).

The fact that Darwinism as a contingent empirical theory* has any metaphysical import is exactly what I dispute. For instance neither the Ontological Argument nor Scotus’ Cosmological Argument nor the standard argument for the soul’s spirituality based on knowledge of Universals make reference to contingent empirical theories, which are irrelevant. Of course, if a Darwinist attempts to use evolution as an illicit way of arguing for Atheism, Materialism or Nominalism he or she will find themselves involved in a priori impossibility.

*By this I mean that the concept of evolution is contingent in that it implies no contradiction but also possesses no element of necessity. It is possible that a living organism can come about in another way, for instance through a separate act of creation a la Ibn Sina’s Floating Man or Donald Davidson’s Swamp Man.

In another essay entitled ‘Evolution: Fact and Fantasy’ Smith himself makes a similar statement, though goes on to argue why he thinks contemporary evolutionary theory is false for empirical reasons, and is not subjected to the critical scrutiny of other scientific theories for propaganda purposes (Cosmos and Transcendence P.90-P.91).

Possibly I have come across as rather hostile in this: what I am endeavouring to emphasise is that these issues are distinctly metaphysical, thus will find no resolution on the plane of empirical theorising and that it is both philosophically erroneous and playing into the hands of the rather stupid opponent to treat them as otherwise.

Jerem y Taylor said...

Daniel,

But I think you are arguing too much as an Aristotelian and not allowing for Smith's Platonic perspective. It is fine if you disagree with Smith's perspective, but I think it important to understand his view correctly.

For the reasons I explained above, evolution is contrary to Platonic perspective of Smith. The essay Chris named makes a similar point, though in a more eloquent and deeper way. For Smith, the Darwinist makes claims that his metaphysics suggests cannot be true. In a similar the materialist confronted with stories of ghostly-sightings who rejects them as real, he is a priori suggesting that empirical reality cannot exhibit the qualities the evolutionist (of course, he makes empirical arguments as well). From his perspective I don't see that Smith has done anything invalid, though that is a different question from whether his perspective is correct.

Jime said...

Anon commented:

"But I am not sure where I see the role for natural philosophy in this chain of reasoning. Aquinas specifically says that the natural philosophical concept of potency does not characterize the world before it begins to exist; rather he says the world is possible only in terms of God's ability to create it,"

I share the same doubt.

If, ex hypothesi, the Kalam argument leads us to conclude that God created the universe ex nihilo, it is hard to see exactly where the "philosophy of nature" is relvant to it, since "nature" itself is the one being created.

The basic premise of the philosophy of nature (namely, the existence of nature itself) seems to be irrelevant to explain why God created such nature from nothing.

The distinction between act and potency only would apply, in that context, to God, which a defender of divine simplicity like professor Feser cannot accept.

(Craig has written that the potentiality of the universe's existence lies precisely in God's power to create it).

Perhaps professor Feser could articulate, more explicitly, the correction of the Kalam Cosmological Argument in the light of the Thomistic metaphysics.

As far I know (and perhaps I'm wrong), in all of David Oderberg's papers on the Kalam, no mention is made by him about the necessity of complementing the Kalam with A-T metaphysics, even if Oderberg is himself a leading defender of such view.

Daniel said...

I’m a little uncertain as to what Smith’s metaphysics actually are as they seem to vary very much in context (is he a Thomist, an Augustinian Platonist or an adherent of Advaita Vedanta?). As I said, the article does not criticise the issues involved on the grounds you mention.

By this I do not mean to dismiss those issues – at some point I will read the Cutsinger article. I freely own I find it hard to see how the participation of Forms and Mathematicals should ever relate directly to a temporal coming to be of an entity as opposed to its ontological constitution (of course this problem hardly occurs in classical Neoplatonism as the question of the finitude of the world never arose).

(Not that this matters here since the metaphysical neutrality of Darwinism is precisely what I’d argue for but I wouldn’t identify as an Aristotlian or even a Thomist per se. Obviously my stance is largely A-T but I’m probably closer to Bonaventure & Scotus or even the Realist Phenomenologists in that I think the A priori has been neglected due to misusage and lack of epistemic clarity. I also strongly disapprove of the Existentialism v. Essentialism humbug of Gilson and co.).

Jime said...

I have another doubt/question about A-T Metaphysics, specially regarding morality.

Professor Feser has commented that ID's mechanistic pressupositions actually push us far away from the proper concept of God, conceding too much to naturalism and allowing us only to arrive to an anthropomorphic concept of God as a kind of superpowerful designer.

Hence, the threat of naturalidtic atheism (or at least of deism) is always present, if we accept ID's mechanistic pressupositions.

Let's accept the above points for the argument's sake.

It seems to me that the Aristetelian view of intrinsic teleology of natural substances doesn't exlude naturalistic atheism either, because it is at least logically possible to accept intrinsic teleology while rejecting theism.

In fact, elsewhere Professor Feser himself comments:

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>

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/04/intelligent-design-theory-and-mechanism.html

The "per imposibilie" mentioned by Professor Feser refers to a metaphysical impossibility, not to a logical one. (And such metaphysical impossibility takes for granted the whole of A-T metaphysics, which a naturalist, even accepting intrinsic teleology, would reject).

A naturalist would suggest that we don't need to accept the whole of A-T metaphysics in order to accept instrinsic teleology (which a naturalist could consider simply as a brute property of matter).

In other words, the counterfactual "Even if God doesn't exist, a thing would have such and such tendency given its nature" is true, and this fact could be exploted by naturalists.

In fact, such counterfactual is actually exploited by some naturalists like Thomas Nagel (in his recent Mind and Cosmos book) and Evan Fales (in his contribution to the book God and Morality: Four Views).

Fales asks: If an human nature exists and it determines intrinsic moral value, why should us to think that, if atheism were true, such intrinsic moral worth would not exist? If such human nature were a product of Darwinian mechanism alone, how exacly such fact precludes the moral value related to it?

Like Nagel, Fales is capitalizing on the above counterfactual.

Certainly Dr.Feser would reply that, via Aquinas' 5th way, intrinsic teleology implies God's existence.

But the point is that an atheist could accept intrinsic teleology (as Nagel, Fales and others do), reject Aquinas' arguments, and remain being a metaphysical naturalist of an minimalistic Aristotelian kind.

Greg said...

Jime

But the point is that an atheist could accept intrinsic teleology (as Nagel, Fales and others do), reject Aquinas' arguments, and remain being a metaphysical naturalist of an minimalistic Aristotelian kind.

I don't see the issue. Obviously an atheist can hold that belief. Feser would, as you note, argue that intrinsic finality implies the existence of God by the Fifth Way. The fact that they disagree just means that there are discussions to be had.

In other words, the counterfactual "Even if God doesn't exist, a thing would have such and such tendency given its nature" is true, and this fact could be exploted by naturalists.

Feser would only regard the counterfactual as true because the antecedent is false. He would argue that "a thing [having] such and such tendency given its nature" implies that "God exists." The fact that someone could disagree with him doesn't seem to be a weakness of that argument.

Greg said...

To put it differently, the case is not the same as the ID case.

Feser is arguing that the "sort" of God that is obtained by ID arguments that presuppose materialism is not the God of classical theism. The problem here is not that it is "logically possible" to accept those design arguments while rejecting classical theism, but that those design arguments do not get you to classical theism at all.

So while "there is intrinsic finality" and "the God of classical theism exists" are obviously logically distinct propositions, this is not analogous to the case of the design arguments. Feser can argue with those who want to affirm intrinsic finality but not the existence of God; indeed, all he has to do is present the Fifth Way. He doesn't need logical necessity; metaphysical necessity will do. (But obviously he needs to spell out the argument.) The disanalogy is that intrinsic finality does not get you specifically away from classical theism in the way that (he claims) the design arguments do.

Lino Di Ischia said...

Here’s some replies to your criticisms of ID. I’m no professional philosopher.
1. Paley and ID theory predicate attributes of God and of creatures univocally, whereas for Thomists these predications are to be understood analogously.

I don’t see how what Paley does or what ID theorists claim amounts to an “univocal,” rather than an “analogical,” attribution of design or of power.

Here’s the Oxford Online Dictionary definition of “analogous”:

“Comparable in certain respects, typically in a way that makes clearer the nature of the things compared: they saw the relationship between a ruler and his subjects as analogous to that of father and children.

If I say that the Designer changes the genetic code of an organism much like a computer programmer changes the lines of code in his program, how is this “univocal”? Yet, this is the claim that IDists make.

2. Any teleology or finality would for ID have to be in nature only extrinsically or in a way that is entirely imposed from outside, after the fashion of artifacts like watches and other machines.

But we have real-life examples of scientists changing the sequences of organisms and so changing the way in which they function. If “form” be independent of DNA sequences, then how could they have possibly done that which they did?

Further, the entire ID position is that the “form” of a being is encrypted in its DNA, and that such encryption could only be done “intelligently,” i.e., with a view of some final end, as did the scientists who performed their experiments as I mentioned above.

If this happens, it is because human ‘designers’ are acting analogously to how God acted.



2. (cont'd) If there is no teleology or “directedness” of any sort inherent in natural things, then there is no potency or potentiality (in the Aristotelian sense) inherent in them either; for a potency is always a potency for some outcome, toward which it is directed. And that means that natural things are not really composed of act and potency, but in some sense just are entirely actual and devoid of potency.

But IDists accept what is called “microevolution.” Science is full of such instances. How can one thing turn into another thing if “potency” is absent.

3. A second problem . . . if we deny intrinsic finality or “directedness” to things we are also implicitly denying intrinsic efficient causal power to them.

But, “intrinsic finality” is not being denied; in fact, it is being appealed to.

Greg said...

I don’t see how what Paley does or what ID theorists claim amounts to an “univocal,” rather than an “analogical,” attribution of design or of power.

Here’s the Oxford Online Dictionary definition of “analogous”


Well, "univocal" and "analogous" are technical terms in A-T philosophy.

Many of those Feser are responding to have admitted that their predications are univocal.

The issue is that the God of classical theism is one who creates and sustains the world. His causation is concurrent with secondary causes (ie. the causes active in the world). He causes it to be the case that other things exist. It is not just that he creates things which go on to act, but that their being and actions at all moments depend on him.

Now, that sort of "creation" is analogous to the watchmaker's "creation" of a watch, to take the case of Paley. But a human can "create" a watch; he puts the pre-existing materials together and the watch continues to exist and tick away. Feser's point is those two senses of "create" are analogous, not univocal.

Lino Di Ischia said...

Greg:

Thank you for your reply.

I don't see any difference between what you posit as being the "classic theist" view of Thomas and that of ID.

How could God act "directly"? If you paint a landscape, isn't the paintbrush the secondary cause of the painting? But would you then say that the "brush" brought it about instead of you?

An insistence that God is removed from creative events, and that all are brought about by secondary causes already 'implanted' in the created order, does violence, in my opinion, to the straight-forward meaning of Scripture.

You can't talk about 'seven-days' of Creation, with God resting from his work each 'day,' and then completely attribute Creation to 'secondary causes.' What brought about the image on the 'tilma' of Juan Diego. Was it completely attributable to secondary causes?


Likewise, the only truly sensible understanding of biology is that at certain moments, and in certain ways, God must intervene and bring into existence a whole family of forms---'kinds,' if you will---but that once this change has been made (Shall we remember that Wisdom personified is wedded to the whole notion of creation, and that the angelic powers are involved in all of these matters in some form or fashion), a change that likely involves not only the DNA component of the changed cell, but also its structure and contents (without the 'cell' there is no life--it is the cell which propagates itself), then purely 'secondary causes', the kinds of causes that science pursues, can explain the 'minor' (and even perhaps 'major') variations that take place afterwards. In biological terms, it would be an "adaptive radiation."

It is impossible for things to exist without the Hand of God being involved. This is just simply to be presumed. But you see, in what I've stated above, it is not 'just' the DNA that is involved, but it is the entire 'form' of the cell that needs to be changed.

Now, I disagree with many IDists in that I don't accept the idea of "common descent." I prefer something I term "common ancestry." This simply means that species, including new ones, and including major taxa, are related to one another. If this were not the case, then life could not, and would not, interact with itself, and I don't think life is possible in such a scenario---certainly not like life as we know it. So, rather than a "continuous" line of descent, I see a "common" line of descent, but one which is "discrete" rather than "continuous." (This parallels, of course, the contrast between 'classical' mechanics and 'quantum' mechanics) Something entirely 'new,' but not 'unrelated' is brought into existence--life in its entirety, with a 'substantial form' fully in place.

Greg said...

If you paint a landscape, isn't the paintbrush the secondary cause of the painting? But would you then say that the "brush" brought it about instead of you?

Both you and the brush are secondary causes in this case. The distinction between primary and secondary causation is a categorical distinction. A first cause is not just the first element at the head of a queue but that which stands outside and makes possible the activity of secondary causes.

An insistence that God is removed from creative events, and that all are brought about by secondary causes already 'implanted' in the created order, does violence, in my opinion, to the straight-forward meaning of Scripture.

You can't talk about 'seven-days' of Creation, with God resting from his work each 'day,' and then completely attribute Creation to 'secondary causes.'


I haven't insisted that God is removed from creative events. But the classical theist position is that he generally concurs with secondary causes. God's activity and sustaining are a necessary condition for whatever happens, but in general this does not preclude the event having a second cause (and only does in the case of miracles). So there is no "complete" attribution of creation to secondary causes.

Lino Di Ischia said...

Both you and the brush are secondary causes in this case. The distinction between primary and secondary causation is a categorical distinction. A first cause is not just the first element at the head of a queue but that which stands outside and makes possible the activity of secondary causes.

From what you've written, I would have to conclude that God is the primary cause of the landscape that I drew.

Leaving that to the one side, I was drawing an analogy between the painter and God. IOW, God must use some kind of intermediary instrumental cause, a secondary cause if you will, and the work He accomplishes. But you wouldn't talk about the "brush" bringing about the landscape. Nor should you talk about a change in DNA sequence (and the entire cell, for that matter) as being due to "secondary causes" and then imply from this that God had not 'intervened.'

Mr. Green said...

I have a knack for being busy when posts are posted upon which I wish to comment, but for the record I'll give a very brief statement of my position: yes, ID is compatible with Thomism, given a definition like the one cited above by George R. What's missing from that definition is the "novel" scientific approach to drawing inferences of design; but as Ed has noted, any actual science in ID isn't a problem for A-T either. But the mechanistic view of organisms is not part of the definition of ID any more than it is of any other scientific question, regardless of whether contemporary scientists explain it in materialistic terms. Scientific ID isn't even restricted to biology by definition, so it cannot be unthomistic per se — the evolutionary application is just the one that's most controversial, and modern biologists are stuck in a mechanistic mindset. I can't disagree with any of the specific criticisms Ed has raised; but those specific points cannot be equated with ID wholesale, and so questions of "intelligent design" (whether general or scientific) are always open to being reformulated in a more acceptable A-T manner.

Greg said...

From what you've written, I would have to conclude that God is the primary cause of the landscape that I drew.

Leaving that to the one side, I was drawing an analogy between the painter and God.


Well, a painter and paintbrush are sometimes used as an analogy for the first way. In that sense, the painter can be regarded as a prime mover (in an analogous sense) since a human is at least an intelligent self-mover. But literally speaking, God is the primary cause of everything. But that is consistent with you being a cause of the landscape in the sense that we would traditionally mean it.

One way to formulate it is to say that "Lino Di Ischia paints." God's role as primary cause is on another tier: "God causes it to be that (Lino Di Ischia paints)." A miracle occurs when there is not a secondary explanation for the event in question, ie. "God causes it to be that (there is wine rather than water in the jugs)."

Nor should you talk about a change in DNA sequence (and the entire cell, for that matter) as being due to "secondary causes" and then imply from this that God had not 'intervened.'

For any statement p about secondary causes leading to a change in DNA sequence, it would also be true that "God causes that (p)." But what would be denied is that there is any causal explanation like "God linked two amino acids," as God then becomes a secondary cause that acts in the world, rather than that which sustains the world.

I am agnostic on whether the scientific story of evolution is complete or not, but if it is incomplete, then the ID story would have to be formulated properly (at least if it is to be consistent with classical theism).

Lino Di Ischia said...

Greg:

Call me a rascal, but it seems to me you're contradicting yourself.

You write:

One way to formulate it is to say that "Lino Di Ischia paints." God's role as primary cause is on another tier: "God causes it to be that (Lino Di Ischia paints)." A miracle occurs when there is not a secondary explanation for the event in question, ie. "God causes it to be that (there is wine rather than water in the jugs)."

And then a few sentences later you write:

But what would be denied is that there is any causal explanation like "God linked two amino acids," as God then becomes a secondary cause that acts in the world, rather than that which sustains the world.

As I'm about to point to the contradiction, I see that actually there is none, because, in fact, you're saying that God acts 'without secondary causes.'

To this position of yours, let me respond that ID doesn't say that God works through secondary causes: Darwinism says that. (You might want to re-read the section where I talk about my position regarding 'common ancestry' vis-a-vis 'common descent.'

ID says, rather, that God intervenes, and that God does intervene by, in a sense "[linking] two amino acids together." But as to exactly 'how' this happens, ID, in my opinion, would respond by being somewhat agnostic about that. I don't think we know. Much like the example of 'wine' and 'water,' all we have is the 'before' and 'after.' (IOW, do we know exactly how God made wine into water? I think not)