Saturday, July 26, 2014

Signature in the cell?


In the combox of my recent post comparing the New Atheism and ID theory to different players in a game of Where’s Waldo?,  a reader wrote:

One can run a reductio against the claim that we cannot detect design or infer transcendent intelligence through natural processes.  Were we to find, imprinted in every human cell, the phrase "Made by Yahweh" there is only one thing we can reasonably conclude.

I like this example, because it is simple, clear, and illustrative of confusions of the sort that are rife in discussions of ID.  Presumably we are all supposed to regard it as obvious that if this weird event were to occur, the “one thing we can reasonably conclude” is that a “transcendent intelligence,” indeed Yahweh himself, had put his “signature in the cell” (with apologies to Stephen Meyer -- whose own views I am not addressing here, by the way).
 
I. Context is everything

Well, it just isn’t the case that that is the “one thing we can reasonably conclude.”  In fact, by itself such a weird event wouldn’t give us reason at all to affirm the existence of any “transcendent intelligence,” much less Yahweh.  To see why not, compare the following parallel examples.  Suppose we found, imprinted in every human cell, a phrase like “Made by Quetzalcoatl,” or “Simulated by the Matrix,” or “Made by Steve Jobs," or “Round squares exist,” or “Kilroy was here.”  Would there be “only one thing we could reasonably conclude”?  Well, sure there would, and it would be this: Something really weird is going on, but who the hell knows what.

Here's what a scenario of this sort would not be, though: a good reason to believe that Quetzalcoatl exists, or that we are part of the Matrix, or that Steve Jobs is our creator, or that round squares are possible after all, or that Kilroy had somehow found his way into each cell.  (And who would “Kilroy” be anyway?  Some WWII-era graffiti artist?  The robot guy from the Styx album?

Our background knowledge just doesn’t make any of these conclusions plausible.  For example, we just know, with greater certainty than we could know any of these conclusions, that round squares are impossible.  We know that “Kilroy is here” is a stereotypical graffito, that the Matrix is a stereotypical mind-blowing science fiction scenario, and that Steve Jobs is a stereotypical tech biz whiz.  If we found in every human cell a phrase referring to Kilroy, round squares, the Matrix, or Steve Jobs, we would judge it far more likely that someone, somehow, is playing a massive joke on us than that the Matrix or round squares exist, or that Kilroy or Steve Jobs is responsible.  Nor would we judge that a “transcendent intelligence” -- if by that we mean a strictly divine one (i.e. an intellect that was infinite, purely actual, perfectly good, etc.) -- was responsible.  (Indeed, I would say that when we understand what it would be to be the divine intellect, we can see that such a frivolous action would be ruled out.)  And we might not even attribute the scenario to intelligence at all; on the contrary, you might judge that everyone’s cognitive faculties -- or maybe just your own (including your perceptions of what other people were reporting about what they’d seen in the cell) -- were massively malfunctioning and producing pop-culture-influenced hallucinations.

Now, it doesn’t take much thought to see that we’d think the same thing about finding “Made by Quetzalcoatl” imprinted in every cell.  I doubt that any Christian ID theorist would propose that “there is only one thing we could reasonably conclude” from this, viz. that we should renounce Christianity and take up Aztec religion.  More likely such an ID theorist would conclude that someone, somehow -- a New Atheist biotech cabal, maybe, or the devil -- was trying to shake everyone’s faith in Christianity.  Or he might just conclude that no intelligence at all was responsible for it, and that his cognitive faculties were massively malfunctioning.   Whatever he would conclude, though, the occurrence in human cells of the phrase “Made by Quetzalcoatl” would not by itself be doing the main work. 

But the same thing is true in the “Made by Yahweh” scenario.  The reason the reader I was quoting thinks (like many other people no doubt think) that the “one thing we can reasonably conclude” in such a case is that Yahweh put the message there, is that he already believes on independent grounds that God exists, that he is the cause of living things, that he revealed himself to the ancient Israelites as Yahweh, etc.  And those independent reasons are what's really doing the heavy lifting in the thought experiment, not the “Made by Yahweh” stuff.  Some secularist who thought he had good independent reasons to think that Yahweh does not exist might conclude instead that the whole thing was a gag foisted upon us by Erich von Däniken’s extraterrestrials, or by a cabal of Christian biotech whizzes -- or maybe that it is just a massive cognitive malfunction on his part, caused by his excessive fear of the Religious Right.

“But those wouldn’t be reasonable interpretations of such an event!” you say.  Well, maybe, and maybe not.  The point, though, is that you’re not going to know from the event itself, considered in isolation.  If we’re to judge that Yahweh, rather than extraterrestrial pranksters, hallucination, or some other cause, was behind such an event, it is considerations other than the event itself that will justify us in doing so.  In short, we could take “Made by Yahweh” to be a sign from Yahweh only if we already have, on other grounds, good reason to think Yahweh exists and is likely to send us messages by leaving them in cells.  And in that case the occurrence of the phrase in the cell would not be giving us independent reason to think Yahweh exists

Of course, the “Made by Yahweh” scenario is pure fiction.  The “messages” or “information” that ID theorists actually identify in the cell is, needless to say, far less dramatic than that.  It has nothing specifically to do with Yahweh at all, or with anyone else for that matter.  Indeed, whether regarding it as “information” in any literal sense is even appropriate in the first place is a matter of controversy in the philosophy of biology.  How much more, then, is the real work in ID arguments being done by considerations apart from what we actually find in the cell?  If even “Made by Yahweh” wouldn’t by itself do much to get you to Yahweh, how much less does the presence of genetic information per se do so? 

II. You keep using that word “natural”; I don’t think it means what you think it means

That brings us to a second confusion in the reader’s remark quoted above.  He speaks of “detect[ing] design or infer[ring] transcendent intelligence through natural processes.”  But the example he gives is of finding the phrase “Made by Yahweh” in every human cell.  And the problem is that the occurrence of the phrase “Made by Yahweh” simply wouldn’t be a “natural” process, certainly not from an Aristotelian-Thomistic (A-T) point of view (so that the example simply begs the question against A-T objections to ID).  Even if this occurrence happened repeatedly in every cell over the course of millennia, it wouldn’t be “natural” in the relevant sense.

The reason is the obvious one that it is purely a matter of convention that the string of shapes “Made by Yahweh” counts as a sentence in the English language, and purely a matter of convention that the sentence has the specific meaning that it has.  For an arrangement of physical marks to count as the English sentence “Made by Yahweh” is thus for it to have what Aristotelians call an “accidental form.”  But a “natural” object is one that has a “substantial form” rather than an accidental form.  And objects with accidental forms are metaphysically less fundamental than those with substantial forms.  Accidental forms presuppose substantial forms, insofar as it is only an object or collection of objects that have substantial forms that can come to have an accidental form.  The stock examples of objects with accidental forms are artifacts (watches, beds, coats, computers, etc.), and the stock examples of objects with substantial forms are those that occur in the wild (animals, plants, stones, water, etc.), though the “accidental form/substantial form” distinction doesn’t match up precisely to the “human artifact/thing-that-occurs-in-the-wild” distinction.  There are man-made things that have substantial forms (human babies, new breeds of dog, water synthesized in a lab) and things that occur in the wild that have only accidental forms (a pile of stones that randomly forms at the bottom of a hill). 

This distinction is closely related to another one, viz. the distinction between immanent teleology and extrinsic teleology.  An acorn’s “pointing to” or being “directed at” the end or outcome of becoming an oak would be an example of immanent teleology, since this “pointing” or “directedness” is grounded in the very nature of an acorn insofar as it follows from an acorn’s having the substantial form it does.  A watch’s “pointing to” of being “directed toward” time-telling is an example of extrinsic teleology, because its having that function follows from the watch’s parts having a certain accidental form imposed on them from outside. 

These are distinctions I have discussed and defended in many places -- and by far at greatest length, and in the most systematic detail, in Scholastic Metaphysics.  (If you want to criticize what I have to say on the grounds that you reject these distinctions, fine, but you really have no business doing so unless you read and can answer the arguments I develop in that book.)  Suffice it to say here that from an A-T point of view, what is “natural” is what has a substantial form and immanent teleology, and it simply makes no sense to describe what has an accidental form and extrinsic teleology as “natural.” 

Now a problem A-T writers have with Paley’s “design argument” and with ID theory is that they relentlessly blur these distinctions.  In particular, in comparing organisms and other natural phenomena to human artifacts they treat them as if they had accidental forms and extrinsic teleology, and from the A-T point of view this is just a complete muddle.  It simply makes no sense.  It gets the metaphysics of natural objects just fundamentally wrong, and it also has a tendency to lead us into getting the “designer” and his relationship to the world fundamentally wrong.  In particular, it tends to lead us into an anthropomorphic conception of the designer that is incompatible with classical theism, and a conception of his relationship to the world that is implicitly either deist or occasionalist.  (I’ve developed and defended these claims too in many places -- and by far at greatest length, and in the most systematic detail, in my Nova et Vetera article “Between Aristotle and William Paley: Aquinas’s Fifth Way.”  See also my many posts on Paley and ID theory.  Again, there really is no point to criticizing what I say about the implications of Paley’s argument and ID theory unless you’ve read and have an answer to these arguments, though I know from long experience that that won’t stop many readers from doing it anyway.) 

Now suppose someone said: “Fine, suppose we go along with all these A-T scruples.  Suppose we characterize natural phenomena in terms of substantial forms and immanent teleology, and suppose we put aside any examples the evaluation of which would be highly sensitive to context, e.g. cases like ‘Made by Yahweh’ being written in the cell.  Would you still deny that we can infer transcendent intelligence from natural processes?”

The answer is No, I would absolutely not deny it.  Those who suppose, like the reader quoted above and like so many other ID sympathizers, that we A-T philosophers “claim that we cannot detect design or infer transcendent intelligence through natural processes” simply haven’t been reading very carefully.  Neither I nor any other A-T writer I know of would make such a claim.  On the contrary, Aquinas’s Fifth Way is devoted precisely to a demonstration of the existence of the divine intellect on the basis of the existence of immanent teleology in nature.  But this argument has nothing to do with modeling natural objects on watches, outboard motors, or other artifacts; nothing to do with explaining rare or strange phenomena; nothing to do with “gaps” in current scientific explanations; nothing to do with “specified complexity” or any other kind of complexity; nothing to do with weighing probabilities; nothing to do with biological phenomena per se; and nothing to do even with “information” as such either. 

It has instead to do with there being irreducible immanent teleology of at least some sort in nature, at the very least at the level of the most primitive patterns of efficient causality.  Even if you could reduce or eliminate every other apparent instance of teleology in nature -- everything at the “macro” level from human beings down to complex inorganic chemical phenomena -- the barest efficient-causal relations at the “micro” level would still be intelligible only in teleological terms.  For as the A-T philosopher argues, there is no way for an efficient cause A regularly to generate a particular characteristic effect or range of effects B unless generating B is the “end” or outcome toward which A “points” or is “directed,” as to a final cause.  (Again, see Scholastic Metaphysics for detailed defense of this line of argument.)  For the Fifth Way, it’s not that there is in nature “directedness” of a complex sort (as in bodily organs), or of a semantic sort (as in “information” in the ordinary sense), that requires a transcendent divine intellect; it’s the fact that there’s any “directedness” at all that requires it, and it requires it as a matter of metaphysical necessity, not mere probability.  (Compare: A painting requires a painter not by virtue of having this or that unusual or complex element in it, but just by virtue of being a painting at all.)

But couldn’t there also be irreducible immanent teleology at the biological level, or at some other “macro” level -- even irreducible teleology whose direct cause could only have been God himself?  Of course there could be; indeed, there is at least one example -- the human intellect, which (the Thomist argues) cannot in principle have arisen from material processes and has to be specially created every time a new human being comes into existence.  But if and wherever else there are such irreducible levels of immanent teleology, that will be by virtue of things at the “macro” level having substantial forms rather than being mere aggregates of lower level phenomena (and thus having merely accidental forms).  And if a divine cause alone could account for them, that will be by virtue of there being nothing in any natural efficient-causal precursors that contains what is in the effect either “formally,” “virtually,” or “eminently” (as the Scholastic “principle of proportionate causality” requires).  (I discussed the relevance of the latter point to disputes over the origin of life in a post from a few years ago.)

In other words, it is in terms of the A-T metaphysical categories alone that various proposed naturalistic explanations of biological and other phenomena can adequately be evaluated.  “Complex specified information” and other such theoretical tools get the conceptual territory wrong and otherwise lack the conceptual nuance of the Scholastic metaphysical apparatus.  From an A-T point of view, investigating the metaphysics of the natural world using these tools rather than the A-T ones is like investigating combustion and the like using phlogiston theory rather than modern chemistry, or studying human behavior using phrenology.  You might accidentally hit upon some insights, but it will be mixed in with a ton of serious errors, and even what you do get right you’ll describe in seriously misleading ways.  The enterprise will be a waste of time and energy at best and at worst seriously distort our understanding of the phenomena studied. 

This is why the stock responses of ID sympathizers to A-T criticisms miss the point.  “We’re not claiming in the first place that our arguments get you all the way to God; other work would be needed to do that.”   That’s like saying: “Sure, phrenology doesn’t give us a complete psychology; other work would be needed to do that” or “We never claimed phlogiston theory tells us everything about the phenomena it studies; other approaches are needed too.”  In both cases, the “other work” is (from an A-T point of view) doing all the real work. 

Here’s another stock response: “How can you object to seeing the world as a product of divine design, or as God’s artifact?”  The answer is that I don’t object to that.  What I object to is blurring the distinctions between substantial form and accidental form, immanent teleology and extrinsic teleology

Then there’s my favorite stock response: “Why are you giving a blank check to evolutionary naturalism?  How much are your Darwinist buddies paying you?”  To which I answer: Search the text aboveI didn’t say anything about evolution.  Get off this Darwin fixation, wouldja Captain Ahab? 

III. If the facts are not on your side, pound the table; if the table’s not on your side, thump the Bible.

OK, that’s not really my favorite response.  My favorite response is this: “You demmed Thomists, letting your Aristotelianism trump scripture!  Where do you get off telling God what sorts of things he can do to reveal himself?  The Bible describes God causing all sorts of things you would characterize as having ‘accidental forms’ rather than ‘substantial forms.’  For example, it describes him miraculously speaking to us through sentences in man-made languages.  You’re letting your metaphysics determine how you read scripture rather than the other way around!”

‘Cause, you know, the really biblical thing to do would be to let Bill Dembski’s doctoral dissertation determine how we read scripture. 

But seriously.  I have never said that God cannot reveal himself through sentences, artifacts, and other things having accidental rather than substantial forms, nor does anything I have said imply that.  Of course God can cause artifacts to exist miraculously, he can cause a voice to be heard from the sky or from a burning bush, and for that matter he could also cause “Made by Yahweh” to appear in every human cell.  And of course he can, and has, revealed himself via miraculous actions like some of these.  I don’t think it has ever occurred to any Thomist to dispute any of that.  It simply isn’t what is at issue.

What is at issue is the context in which such events could be known to be divine revelations -- and, in particular, whether such events could by themselves constitute evidence for the existence of God for someone who didn’t already know that God exists.  For there are different sorts of miracles, and different sorts of context in which they might be interpreted.  Suppose God miraculously caused the English words “I, God, exist” to be written in the dust on a certain car’s windshield -- but that the car was parked on a small side street in a neighborhood where most people spoke Mandarin, nobody was particularly religious, and the words appeared in the middle of the night when no one was around to see them.  This would, needless to say, be a pretty ineffective way of revealing himself.  There would be nothing about the evidence that those who come across it would be at all likely to see as miraculous.  It would just seem to be a silly prank, unworthy of a moment’s attention.  And pointing this out has nothing to do with arrogantly imposing idiosyncratic Aristotelian metaphysical limits on what God might do to reveal himself.

Consider something more dramatic, such as God miraculously causing a voice from the sky shouting “God loves you!” above a crowd all of whom spoke English -- but where this happened at Universal Studios or Disneyland in the course of a typically busy day there.  Almost certainly, no one would think that God was acting in a special way to reassure these people of his love.  Even if they were churchgoers, they’d think it was just some goofy prank by an employee with access to the requisite equipment.  Even if the context was a more unlikely one for such an event-- a quiet neighborhood, or the desert -- these days they might just as well wonder if the CIA or extraterrestrials were responsible. 

Contrast the sorts of contexts we find with biblical miracles like the burning bush or the voice from the sky at Christ’s baptism.  The audiences in these cases were people who had no doubt that God exists -- indeed, that the God of Israel, specifically, exists -- and that he reveals himself via unusual events of this sort.  Nor, given their cultural context, would it have occurred to them to wonder whether extraterrestrials or a CIA-type organization might be responsible instead.  It is, as it were, as if they were already “waiting by the phone” for God to “call” in one of these ways, and all he needed to do was to make it happen.  Even in the case of Elijah and the priests of Baal, where some of the people involved worshipped Baal rather than the God of Israel, they were already convinced that one or the other existed.  What the miracle was intended to accomplish in this case was merely to make it clear, to people who were already willing to concede that much, which of the two was in fact the true God.  If it had been instead (say) a contemporary audience of X-Files-watching atheists who’d read Chariots of the Gods and were familiar with Hollywood special effects and CIA-controlled drones raining death from above, an Elijah-and-the-priests-of-Baal type miracle might not be so effective in sending a divine message.  Again, the question isn’t whether God can cause these sorts of things.  The question is what sort of context they must occur in for them to be effective.  And that depends in part on what the specific point of the miracle is.

This is a question I addressed in my recent post “Pre-Christian apologetics.”  As I there argued, if the specific purpose of a miracle is the “general apologetics” one of establishing, for those not already inclined to believe that divine revelations occur, that such a revelation really has in fact occurred, then this cannot be accomplished via an event that is merely unusual and could in principle occur via a non-divine cause.  It has to be an event that no one other than God -- that is to say, God as classical theism conceives of him -- could in principle have caused.  Christ’s resurrection from the dead would be a paradigm case of such a miracle.  But establishing such a miracle in turn requires a lot of philosophical stage-setting.  It requires establishing God’s existence and nature, divine providence, the possibility in principle of miracles, the possibility in principle of a resurrection, and so forth.  All this groundwork has to be established before the occurrence of a miracle like the resurrection can be defended. (Again, see the post just linked to for discussion of this subject.)

Someone might object: “But in the biblical stories, no one first sets out a fancy philosophical argument for classical theism before God causes a miracle!”  Well no, of course, not, but our context is simply not at all like the one in which the people of biblical times found themselves.  The existence of the God of Israel and the possibility of divine revelations backed by miraculous interventions was in general simply not an issue.  The people involved generally took all that for granted, so that there was no need for philosophical argument.  Also, unlike the resurrection -- part of the point of which was to provide unmistakable divine confirmation of Christ’s authority and teaching, which was necessary for the foundation of the Church -- many other biblical miracles did not have such an absolutely fundamental and “general purpose” character, and thus did not need to be so dramatic.  Given a context in which it was already widely accepted that God had established a covenant with Moses, and that he sometimes spoke through prophets via special events, an unusual event which could in principle have been brought about by some agency other than God (an angel, say, or an extraterrestrial) -- but where no one in that context would have entertained such alternative explanations -- could suffice.

With this subject as with so many others, Aquinas and other Scholastic writers draw a number of careful distinctions which contemporary writers ignore at their peril.  “Miracles” in the strictest sense (a) have a publicly observable character, (b) are beyond the power of any created thing to produce, and (c) are outside the ordinary course of the created order.  These three conditions are best understood by way of contrast.  The operation of grace in the soul is not miraculous, because while only God can produce it, it is not publicly observable.  Alleged poltergeist phenomena and other purported weird occurrences often mislabeled “supernatural” would not count as miracles, because finite spirits could produce them and thus they are not beyond the power of created things.  The creation and conservation of the world is beyond the power of anything other than God to produce, but since it just is the causing of the created order it is not outside the ordinary course of the created order.  (This is one reason it would, from an A-T point of view, just be a muddle to assimilate the divine causation of some ordinary biological phenomenon to the “miraculous.”  That just doesn’t reflect a precise enough understanding of the various ways God acts vis-à-vis the world.  Bacterial flagella, for example, are -- unlike resurrections from the dead -- just ordinary everyday parts of the created order rather than something outside the usual course of the created order, and are thus not “miraculous,” whatever else one wants to say about how they came into being.) 

“Miracles” in the strict sense are thus to be distinguished from mere “wonders.”  The strictly “supernatural” must be distinguished from the merely “preternatural.”  And so forth.  But we needn’t pursue the issue further here.  Suffice it to note that although some have tried to make pro-ID hay out of a comparison of ID’s favorite examples on the one hand and biblical miracles on the other, the two topics have nothing to do with one another.  (Unless you count the nearly miraculous multiplication of red herrings which ID sympathizers have produced, including this one!)

206 comments:

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Gary C. Moore said...

Dear Doctor Feser,
Part 1: AGNOSTICISM
EF: ”Would there be “only one thing we could reasonably conclude”? Well, sure there would, and it would be this: Something really weird is going on, but who the hell knows what.”
GCM: You realize that someone is going to accuse you of being a secret atheist or an agnostic like John Duns Scotus did of Aquinas, now, don’t you?
-x-
Except, of course, Scotus knew what he was going and knew Aquinas’ agnosticism had very specific parameters defining what we can know only “ens rationis” whereas Scotus sought to ‘know” “God” as “ens reale” in some fashion as literally and undeniably “hands on” in the only possible way we can as in the dreaded and utterly vile Ayn Rand’s First Principle “existence exists”. There is “existence” as a contingent human fact and “existence” as a fairly useless abstract concept. Aquinas fully developed the latter concept contrasting human experience with natural human prevarication in ST but far more dramatically in “Super librum De causis” and “Super De divinis nominibus” and more or less implicitly in other works like “Expositio libri De ebdomadibus”. John N. Deely touches directly on it in his “The Absence of Analogy” http://www.thefreelibrary.com/The+absence+of+analogy.-a090219818
John Duns Scotus, whom Martin Heidegger wrote so lovingly about (though confusing him in the second half with Thomas of Erfurt)
http://www.scribd.com/doc/228600569/Martin-Heidegger-Duns-Scotus-Theory-of-the-Categories-and-of-Meaning
would have despised, like Aquinas, the “signature on a cell” as just another kind of “absence of analogy”, the poetic metaphors trying – and failing – to achieve contact with “God” as if on the telephone (and we know what Sartre said about that) and set his and Heidegger’s sights on Leibnitz’ “Ce principe posé, la première question qu’on a droit de faire sera : pourquoi il y a plutôt quelque chose que rien? Car le rien est plus simple et plus facile que quelque chose.” Opposing “God” to “le rien” identifies “him” with Ayn Rand’s “existence exists” not only as First Principle as he does in A TREATISE ON GOD AS FIRST PRINCIPLE
http://www.ewtn.com/library/THEOLOGY/GODASFIR.HTM
but as “ens ut primum cognitum”, the very first thing, temporally and logically, a human physically senses.

Gary C. Moore said...

Part 2: AGNOSTICISM
GCM: THAT “the hell knows what” is an abstract intellectual ‘object’ in its only proper function as “pointing something out” as 1] we do not sensually perceive where we come from or where we are going toward or even if there is a “coming from” or “going toward” but we do sensually perceive that we exist [“we”? Who is this?] points to the beginning of the natural chain of logic described as “the Great Chain of Being” described by Lovejoy in 1936 as what formed the context of the Renaissance and Scholastic thinkers not only like Aquinas and Scotus and Ockham but Montaigne, Shakespeare, Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibnitz. You can also find it in Locke, Berkeley and Hume, but not in the way you would commonly expect. More significantly for these ‘scientific’ times you most eminently find it in Charles Sanders Peirce and Umberto Eco. They all know there is “hell to pay” intellectually. Most of all, Catholicism’s favorite atheist Jean-Paul Sartre (cf. Hans Küng, Rocco Buttiglione).
-x-
EF: “We would judge it far more likely that someone, somehow, is playing a massive joke on us . . .”
GCM: This catches it perfectly. The only possible such “massive joke” that can ‘be’ – is ‘being’ itself as expressed in Leibnitz/Heidegger’s question.
-x-
EF: “Nor would we judge that a “transcendent intelligence” -- if by that we mean a strictly divine one (i.e. an intellect that was infinite, purely actual, perfectly good, etc.) -- was responsible. (Indeed, I would say that when we understand what it would be to be the divine intellect, we can see that such a frivolous action would be ruled out.) And we might not even attribute the scenario to intelligence at all; on the contrary, you might judge that everyone’s cognitive faculties -- or maybe just your own (including your perceptions of what other people were reporting about what they’d seen in the cell) -- were massively malfunctioning and producing pop-culture-influenced hallucinations.”
GCM: No, not ruled out but seen as Russell’s “propositional function” solving the Cretan Liar Paradox by Porphyry’s denial that a genus can be classified under itself as its own species which is the problem with most of the chatter at this blog. Why? Because “when we understand” (I Cor. 13:12 βλέπομεν γὰρ ἄρτι δι᾽ ἐσόπτρου ἐν αἰνίγματι, τότε δὲ πρόσωπον πρὸς πρόσωπον: ἄρτι γινώσκω ἐκ μέρους, τότε δὲ ἐπιγνώσομαι καθὼς καὶ ἐπεγνώσθην) “what it would be to be the divine intellect” then both ‘serious’ and frivolous actions would be contingent effects ultimately from the same “One” and, as such, both be “Good”. The question of “serious” and “frivolous”, “malfunctioning” or “hallucination”, would ontologically be ruled “Out!”

Gary C. Moore said...

Part 3: AGNOSTICISM
EF: “The point, though, is that you’re not going to know from the event itself, considered in isolation.”
GCM: The point is that you are going to “know” per se from the “event” itself, i.e., “existence exists”, “Ereignis”, “der Augenblick” [“Who has an inkling of the necessity of thinking and questioning, of the necessity that requires no crutches of the Why, no props of the Wherefore?”], of ‘that’ in which there can be no ‘isolation’.
-x-
EF: “If we’re to judge that Yahweh, rather than extraterrestrial pranksters, hallucination, or some other cause, was behind such an event, it is considerations OTHER THAN the event itself that will justify us in doing so. “
GCM: That is, “considered in isolation”.
-x-
EF: “And the problem is that the occurrence of the phrase “Made by Yahweh” simply wouldn’t be a “natural” process, certainly not from an Aristotelian-Thomistic (A-T) point of view (so that the example simply begs the question against A-T objections to ID). Even if this occurrence happened repeatedly in every cell over the course of millennia, it wouldn’t be “natural” in the relevant sense.”
GCM: “Made by Yahweh” is a registered trademark, a de facto legal object created in lawyer thinking than is valid only as long as it is a valid “trademark” in the eyes of the law, and that can be revoked. And since it is not even really legally registered, then it is nothing but imagination.
-x-
EF: “And objects with accidental forms are metaphysically less fundamental than those with substantial forms.”
GCM: But is not the verbal labeling of ‘something’ as “substantial form” a mere accident of accidental English? You reply, “But that isn’t the thought of the matter!” Then you think in something besides English with its accidental vocabulary and its accidental grammar and its accidental logic? “But LOGIC IS PER SE A SUBSTANTIAL FORM!” No, not until it is figured out in physical time and space by the human monkey. Or does “logic” as it LITERALLY exists, exist outside time and space? But it not have exactly the same inherent fallibility as mathematics or scientific observation wherein First Principle parameters must be first ARBITRARILY imposed:
<< “What we have just said but not said clearly, let us say again: when one of the unidifferentiated things makes a stand, there is a primitive universal in the mind (for though one perceives the particular, ‘perception’ is of the universal – e.g. of “man” but not of Callias the man): again a stand is made by these, until what has no parts and is universal stands – e.g. such-and-such an animal stands, until “animal” does, and IN THIS STAND IS MADE IN THE SAME WAY. Thus it is clear and it is necessary for us to become familiar with the primitives by induction; for “perception” too instills the universal in this way.” POSTERIOR ANALYTICS, Bk II, chap. 19, 100a15-100b5 >>

George R. said...

Pretty pathetic stuff, Ed.

You write:
In particular, in comparing organisms and other natural phenomena to human artifacts they treat them as if they had accidental forms and extrinsic teleology, and from the A-T point of view this is just a complete muddle.

But according to Thomistic teaching, organisms do have accidental forms. Eyes, ears, arms and legs are all accidental forms; that's why they're called proper accidents. They also have extrinsic teleology; for all immanent teleology is reducible to extrinsic teleology. Or do you deny this?

DavidM said...

EF wrote: "“Miracles” in the strictest sense (a) have a publicly observable character, (b) are beyond the power of any created thing to produce, and (c) are outside the ordinary course of the created order."

So in the strictest sense, transubstantiation is not a 'miracle' (even though it is certainly miraculous)? (In Thomas' original plan for ST III q. 75, article 7 was even to be "whether transubstantiation is more miraculous than any other change.")

How does this square with SCG III.101 n.1?:
"Illa igitur proprie miracula dicenda sunt quae divinitus fiunt praeter ordinem communiter observatum in rebus."
"Those things are properly to be called miracles which happen through divine [causality], beyond the ordering commonly observed in things."
Here, at least, it's not clear that a "publicly observable character" is necessary (depending upon what exactly you mean by that expression - does transubstantiation have this character?).

Mr. Green said...

I was discussing this with my good friend Socrates, and you will not be surprised to learn that he wanted to know what "ID theory" actually is. "Oh, you know, biology is impossible and also it tells us that DNA = YHWH was here, that stuff," I replied. "No, I don't know," he said. (He says that a lot. It's starting to get annoying.) So, fine: to forestall charges of vagueness and strawmen and self-moving goalposts, just what claim or argument is the topic here?

Edward Feser said...

Gary,

I'm finding of late that your comments are taking up gigantic blocks of space in the combox. Would you please try to shorten your comments, stop posting so many of them, and make them more focused instead of bringing in all these topics at once with long block quotes and links, etc.? Thanks.

George,

Your "ready, fire, aim" routine is getting old. Surely you know that the term "accident" has different uses in Scholastic philosophy. Surely you know that an eye or a leg or the like is not a "form." Surely you know that just asserting dogmatically that "all immanent teleology is reducible to extrinsic teleology" merely begs the question. Nor is it clear what you mean. If you mean that all teleology derives ultimately from God, then of course I agree with that and explicitly said so. But that's not what's at issue. If you mean instead that animals and the like have teleology in the same way that watches and the like do, then that's question-begging, false, and anti-Aristotelian, for reasons I've explaining a million times and in arguments you never answer but just dismiss dogmatically.

"Pretty pathetic stuff" indeed. No wonder I feel like I'm entering the Twilight Zone whenever I post on ID. What a fever swamp.

DavidM,

Obviously there is a sense in which transubstantiation is a miracle. But as what I said indicates, "miracle" has different senses and I was merely focusing on one sense that is emphasized in some Scholastic works for the specific purpose of clarifying how Scholastic thinkers conceive of miracles in the context of apologetics and in the philosophy-of-nature context of relating miracles to natural occurrences. I was not addressing the topic of miracles in a general way, bringing out every distinction that is made, explaining how it relates to other theological questions, etc.

Mr. Green,

If ID is a moving target, that's not my fault, but the fault of self-identified ID people. I've had people insist to me that ID isn't saying anything about God in the first place, and yet when I say that ID doesn't get you any closer to God other people get very upset. So which is it? I've had some people tell me that ID and A-T are perfectly compatible and others say that they are not and so much the worse for A-T. (Sometimes these seem to be the same people -- go figure.) Some people say that ID is merely a reductio ad absurdum of certain false naturalistic premises, others that it is a grand new positive program for biology. Some say that ID is this specific method that Dembski or whomever is using, others that ID is any old thing that gets you "design" in some sense or other. Hence I've been told that even I am really an ID theorist, because I accept Aquinas's Fifth Way. Some say that ID is compatible with theistic evolution, and others regard it as a refutation of evolution.

So, if my target seems amorphous, that because of the target, not because of me. But it's easy enough to bring things into greater focus just for you, Mr. Green. I've engaged Dembski's arguments specifically in a number of earlier posts. Go back and look at those. If you conclude: "Oh, well, OK, fine, you're right that Dembski's approach is all wrong. But what I mean by ID is this other thing..." -- that would be progress, I guess.

Glenn said...

Whether a miracle in the strictest sense has a publicly observable character

"Most general" and "most specific" are at opposite ends of the same spectrum.

Since "most general" and "most specific" are at opposite ends of the same spectrum, it follows that what is more general is less specific, and what is less general is more specific.

But that which is kept within narrowly specific limits is said to be strict.

Therefore, what is more general is less strict, and what is less general is more strict (i.e., "stricter" (but we'll continue with the usage of "more strict")).

Consider now the following statement, which we'll call statement G: "Those things are properly to be called miracles which happen through divine [causality], beyond the ordering commonly observed in things."

It'll be observed (no pun intended (yeah, sure)) that nowhere in statement G is it mentioned that those things which are properly to be called miracles have a publicly observable character, i.e., be it with or without a publicly observable character, a thing may properly be called a miracle -- provided that thing happens "through divine [causality], beyond the ordering commonly observed in things".

Now let's convert statement G into what we'll call statement S, which we'll do by rendering statement G less general and more strict: "Those things are properly to be called miracles which happen through divine [causality], beyond the ordering commonly observed in things, and have a publicly observable character."

So, generally speaking a thing which properly qualifies as a miracle may or may not be have a publicly observable character, whereas strictly speaking a thing which properly qualifies as a miracle has a publicly observable character.

Objection: But statement G can be rendered less general and more strict in the following manner: "Those things are properly to be called miracles which happen through divine [causality], beyond the ordering commonly observed in things, and have not a publicly observable character." In this sense, then, "miracles" in the strictest sense have not a publicly observable character.

Reply: In that sense, yes. But that sense is not the sense in which it is said that "miracles" in the strictest sense have a publicly observable character. Additionally, statement G is from SCG 3.101.1, the first statement of which not only says what something is a miracle, but why that something is called a miracle –"for we admire with some astonishment a certain event when we observe the effect..."

George R. said...

Ed writes:
Surely you know that an eye or a leg or the like is not a "form."

And you know very well that I know it.

Of course they are not forms. They're composites of form and matter. But guess what, Ed? Their forms are accidental, because they inform determinate matter and not primary matter. So the form of the eye is an accidental form, as are the forms of legs and wings. So the objection still stands, and you haven't yet addressed it.

As far as teleology goes, I don't know why you always want to make this issue more complicated than it actually is. 'Directedness' implies a 'director.' It's as simple as that. The former is immanent in substances; the latter is not. But the latter, since it's the cause and principle of the former, is the primary component in the teleological system. Therefore, all teleology is primarily extrinsic. QED

See? No begging the the question, no swamp fever... just good, solid, masculine logic.

David T said...

As far as teleology goes, I don't know why you always want to make this issue more complicated than it actually is. 'Directedness' implies a 'director.' It's as simple as that. The former is immanent in substances; the latter is not. But the latter, since it's the cause and principle of the former, is the primary component in the teleological system. Therefore, all teleology is primarily extrinsic

You mean all natural teleology, right, since the director's teleology can't be extrinsic or we are in an infinite regress?

Edward Feser said...

George,

Like I said, and as you well know, the term "accident" has different uses in Scholastic philosophy. Yes, having an eye is a "proper accident" of those animals which have them. But that -- as is blindingly obvious -- is not what I was talking about. In distinguishing between things with accidental forms and those with substantial forms, I was talking instead about the distinction Aristotle draws in the Physics between (for example) being a bed or a coat on the one hand, and being stone or an animal on the other.

That is -- again, utterly obviously -- the distinction that is at issue here, and as is your custom, you completely ignore it and instead raise your usual chickenshit point-missing objections.

Re: "directedness," as you well know, I agree that it requires a director. The question is how the reasoning to a director goes in the case of immanent teleology as opposed to extrinsic teleology. As I've argued so often, the reasoning cannot be the same in each case because of the Aristotelian distinction between beds, coats, etc. on the one hand and animals, stone, etc. on the other (whether we want to capture this distinction in terms of accidental vs. substantial forms or in some other jargon -- it's the reality behind the jargon that you are falling over yourself to avoid seeing). There is also the problem that to collapse immanent teleology into extrinsic teleology leads to occasionalism, for -- given the connection between finality and efficient causality -- it implies a collapse of secondary causes into the primary cause.

As usual you ignore these arguments entirely and mistake question-begging bluster for "masculinity." You must think Dawkins, Coyne, Krauss, et al. very masculine indeed.

Mr. Green said...

George R.: Therefore, all teleology is primarily extrinsic. QED

Uh-huh. And the child is for the sake of the adult, which is the state of primary importance of the substance. Therefore children are "primarily adult". And I guess if that's what you mean by "primarily adult", then great, but it is still true to say that children are not adults. Of course, Ed wasn't saying that in the first place — in fact, he didn't say "primarily intrinsic" at all. So either you don't understand this issue as well as you claim, or you're just being a smart-alec.

Mr. Green said...

Edward Feser: If ID is a moving target, that's not my fault, but the fault of self-identified ID people.

Of course. But one can (soundly) attack only one position at a time — and as I have always said, I agree with all the specific arguments you offer against each particular point; but individual bad points don't add up to "ID theory" as a whole. If "ID" were a trademarked term, we could at least all agree on the "official" definition, but it's not, anymore than "Christianity" is. Some Christians claim that God is immutable; some that He changes. Some Christians claim all men are sinners; some that Mary isn't. Some Christians claim that Christianity is the one true faith; other Christians[?!] claim not. There are those who insist that Christianity demands acceptance of corporate capitalism, or of deviant behaviour. And yet I'm sure that you have as little sympathy as I do for someone who trots out such laundry lists of "inconsistencies" as actual problems for Christianity. Again let me reiterate that I do not think this excuses bad philosophy; but I maintain that there is a (reasonably obvious) core of interesting and important ideas at the centre of "ID theory" that merit further study, rather than getting thrown out with the bathwater.

If you conclude: "Oh, well, OK, fine, you're right that Dembski's approach is all wrong. But what I mean by ID is this other thing..." -- that would be progress, I guess.

I have indeed read those posts (and all your related posts, most or all of them more than once). Which is of course why I can't dispute any individual point, where you are addressing one specific claim at a time. In fact, my concern is not really anything you say, but rather what you don't: the are obvious legitimate questions mixed in with all the ID cruft — where are the serious, Thomistic or Scholastic answers? Are there any real philosophers who are addressing these issues and explaining how ID-type issues are to be properly understood? (Not the mistakes, which is mainly what you yourself have addressed, but the positive content.) There easily could be lots of work going on in this area of which I am ignorant, but I would've expected to see some references pop up in the comments. (Perhaps there's technical work that would be beyond my abilities. There was a paper going around a while back which purported to put a Thomistic spin on ID, but I found it sorely lacking — including making some of the very mistakes you had already dealt with.)
Is DNA literally a language? Analogically one? It's not nothing, there is a reason why biologists (including anti-ID ones) call it one. What are we to make of the apparent intricacy of biological structures? Saying "reductionism is wrong, it's virtual" explains what isn't going on, but not what is. How does true intentionality figure into "complex specified information"? That people may try to misapply the concept doesn't stop it from having a proper metaphysical explanation when legitimately applied — any more than not needing Russell & Whitehead to figure out that 1+1=2 means that the Principia Mathematica was a waste of time or not a significant contribution to the field of mathematics. And of course being able to point to Thomistic treatments of ID-type questions will at least reduce suspicions that it can't answer them.

rank sophist said...

Another good post ignored by the ID fanatics.

Honestly, it's a shame to see such an interesting analysis of the influence of cultural context on interpretation go to waste. An event's indication of God is only "obvious" given certain cultural (or personal) conditions--very fascinating observation. It puts current attempts to convert atheists into perspective. To Christians, stories of modern miracles like Padre Pio's stigmata and levitation confirm, as did biblical miracles, Christianity's truth. Atheists, though, will rationalize these events as hoaxes or as the actions of aliens or the CIA, as Prof. Feser suggests. Miracles happen to Christians every day, all around the world--but atheists can't see them. It would make sense to leverage Christian miracles against people in other religions, but atheists, with their maze-like conspiracy theories to explain away supernatural events, are particularly irrational in this regard.

I doubt that even Christ's resurrection, were it to happen now, would sway many secularist/atheist types. Their background beliefs are too impoverished. They'll believe absolutely anything, no matter how outrageous (evolutionary psychology, anyone?), as long as it isn't supernatural. Christ's resurrection would be explained with an appeal to super-advanced technology, or to some David Blaine-style endurance/illusion performance, or to mass hysteria, or to a million other things. Secularists like to see the world as controllable through human rationality, and they despise anything that shatters that bubble. The only way to convert these people to Christianity is to first wake them up to the self-referential inexplicability of the world and its existence, and a crash course in traditional metaphysics, particularly the cosmological argument, is the best remedy. ID is a bad joke all the way around.

Edward Feser said...

Mr. Green,

Well, OK. But I have allowed for that in my previous remarks on ID. I've never said that ID writers have never said anything of value.

Take the notion of "information." If there really is information of a semantic sort in nature, then that is a big problem for the usual forms of naturalism, because whatever else those forms of naturalism are, they are positions which deny that there is any irreducible "directedness" in nature. And that means there can't be any semantic information in nature, since that would imply directedness. And even if there is only information of the syntactic, Claude Shannon sort in nature, that too would in my view be incompatible with naturalism. For this too cannot be made sense of except in terms of at least a very rudimentary sort of teleology -- for reasons I set out in my recent paper at the Berkeley conference.

So, if an ID writer focuses on the problem information poses for naturalism, then sure, he is bound to make some good points.

The trouble is this. The problem information poses for naturalism has nothing at all to do with complexity, probability, etc. All that stuff just completely muddies the waters and gives the naturalist an occasion to dismiss the real problem. Indeed, it makes it harder for the naturalist even to see what the real problem is. So when ID people go on about this stuff and throw in all this mathematical hoo-hah, that might impress the rubes, but it allows the naturalist wrongly to pretend that the issue has crucially to do with whether Dembski (say) has got his probability theory straight. It's just a gigantic dust cloud and time waster.

Or take Behe's idea of "irreducible complexity." Insofar as he's talking about the idea that there can be certain properties of a whole that cannot be accounted for in terms of an aggregation of the parts, I have no problem with that much. Indeed, that's just part of what the notion of substantial form is about. However, the Scholastic analysis of such "irreducibility" -- hammered out over the course of centuries -- is far more nuanced than anything you'll find in an ID writer. Furthermore, what this tells us about the origin of an "irreducible" feature is a more complicated matter than ID people suppose, because the principle of proportionate causality allows what is in an effect to have been in its total cause in ways that are not always straightforward. So, while the general idea Behe is pointing at has some value, it doesn't go very far, and it doesn't necessarily have the implications for specific cases that he thinks it does.

In effect, even at its best ID is like a guy who's reinventing the wheel and so far has been able to reconstruct a single spoke. At it's worst, it's like a guy who's trying to reinvent the wheel and so far has decided that a square shape for it would be good.

Edward Feser said...

rank sophist,

I love it when we can agree. I thought the same thing. I devote all this space to developing a point about interpretation, and what I get in response is "Uh well, isn't an eye an accidental form?"

Pathetic.

TheOFloinn said...

The way I understand it, an eye is not even an eye except that it is part of a particular organism, and it is the substantial form of the organism that matters. Plucked from the organism, the eye is simply a bag of chemicals, incapable of self-maintenance. Or have I misunderstood?

But unlike the parts of a mousetrap, which must be forced together by an outsider, the parts of a plant or animal grow out of an original seed/egg. It "self-assembles" by its own internal logic; and that includes cellular mechanisms for repair and/or accommodation of glitches.

Crude said...

The only way to convert these people to Christianity is to first wake them up to the self-referential inexplicability of the world and its existence, and a crash course in traditional metaphysics, particularly the cosmological argument, is the best remedy.

With respect, Rank - you declare ID to be pathetic, in part because the irreligious are taken to be so immune to their arguments as to make any talk of irreducibly complexity or the like hopeless for changing or even opening their minds...

...But 'a crash course' in metaphysics will do the trick?

You and I have argued metaphysics with atheists before, Rank. How did it go, when we pointed out the very things you're saying we should point out to them?

Did we do any better than the ID proponents to break down what was, for the ones we argued with, entirely willful and motivated self-deception?

Edward Feser said...

Hi Mike,

No, that's right. It's the substantial form of the whole organism that informs the eye. The eye by itself is not a substance, but only part of a substance.

By contrast, the copper that makes up the bar of a mousetrap is a complete substance in its own right. The bar-like shape is a merely accidental form it has taken on, and the mousetrap configuration is a further accidental form that it, together with the other substances that make up the mousetrap (the wood, other bits of metal, etc.) have taken on.

This is just elementary Aristotelianism. That George, who purports to be an Aristotelian, completely ignores it for the sake of clinging desperately to ID, gives us an object lesson in the power of ideological thinking.

George R. said...

Ed writes:
I feel like I'm entering the Twilight Zone whenever I post on ID.

You and me both, Ed.

Here's the passage I initially quoted from you (with emphasis):

In particular, in comparing organisms and other natural phenomena to human artifacts they treat them as if they had accidental forms and extrinsic teleology, and from the A-T point of view this is just a complete muddle.

Then I simply pointed out that organisms DO have accidental forms and DO have extrinsic teleology, so your assertion was wrong on both counts. Eventually, you conceded both points(how often does that happen in blogging?), thereby completely vindicating my post by any objective standard. But now I'm being treated as if I had just posted the dumbest comment in the history of the internet. Oh well, that's human nature for you.

But I'm not so obtuse. I know what this is really about. So I will only say this: don't be so offended by criticism, Ed... even (apparently) insulting criticism. It engenders humility, the foundation of all virtues.

Anonymous said...

"The only way to convert these people to Christianity is to first wake them up to the self-referential inexplicability of the world and its existence, and a crash course in traditional metaphysics, particularly the cosmological argument, is the best remedy."

RS,

I agree with the first half of this (most of it, anyway). They must experience astonishment at the bare, gratuitous fact of existence. But such an experience doesn't strike me as being the kind of thing that another person can easily initiate in another, let alone something that a single argument can engender. An encounter with, say, a Himalayan sunrise seems far more likely to awaken them to the mystery and contingency of Being than an isolated encounter with philosophical argument.

Some atheists, no matter how fervently we approach them with philosophical arguments and exhortations to see the world's utter and blindingly obvious contingency, will dismiss it all as "empty verbiage," "meaningless word-play," "hocus pocus designed to help people cling to their pet fairy story," etc. For whatever reason, they simply lack the temperament to convert to theism.

Edward Feser said...

Eventually, you conceded both points(how often does that happen in blogging?), thereby completely vindicating my post by any objective standard

?? I didn't concede anything. I pointed out that you were equivocating on the word "accident." That's called "pointing out a fallacy in what you said," not "completely vindicating what you said."

But I'm not so obtuse. I know what this is really about

George, old buddy, you are unbelievably obtuse. You haven't the foggiest idea as to what it's really about. Just sayin'.

don't be so offended by criticism, Ed... even (apparently) insulting criticism. It engenders humility, the foundation of all virtues.

It's really amazing how often, when you calmly and carefully show how someone is being absolutely clueless, he accuses you of "really" being motivated by personal pique, lack of humility, etc.

Anyway, I'll go ahead and add "ad hominem" to your list of favorite fallacies, George. As an aspiring Aristotelian, though, you should be aware that Aristotle's Sophistical Refutations was not meant as a "how to" guide.

Scott said...

@George R.:

"Then I simply pointed out that organisms DO have accidental forms…"

Surely it was clear enough in the first place (and if not, it was clear enough after Ed's second reply to you) that his point was simply that what makes a dog a dog is a substantial form and what makes a bed a bed is an accidental form. His statement was very obviously not a blanket denial that a dog has accidental forms in any sense, just an assertion that a dog qua dog has a substantial form rather than a merely accidental one.

Mr. Green said...

Ed: Well, OK. But I have allowed for that in my previous remarks on ID. I've never said that ID writers have never said anything of value.

Thanks for the reply. And yes, you have noted that, including that anything they actually do come up with scientifically would of course have to have a legitimate interpretation.

The trouble is this. The problem information poses for naturalism has nothing at all to do with complexity, probability, etc.

Right. But the complexity and probability are relevant to the scientific side of things; but I think saying it "completely muddies the waters" goes too far. One should move carefully, so as not to stir up the mud (and naturally this means learning more (Scholastic) philosophy — which also means Scholastic philosophers need to show how this is done). Anything can stir up mud, after all — even Thomism. Studying Thomism does not make one a better person… well, it can help, but not per se — you don't get into heaven by passing a theology exam. So getting caught up in philosophy "might" muddy the waters and distract you from more important things, but we don't dismiss it.

Some of this is a practical or psychological matter rather than a theoretical or philosophic one. If you tell folks that they can't see ID at all, they'll just sneak out the window. If you say they can, but only when suitably chaperoned, there is a better chance that they'll go along with it, and maybe some day grow up to see why you were so concerned.

So when ID people go on about this stuff and throw in all this mathematical hoo-hah, that might impress the rubes

(Heh, I'm sure the rubes are correspondingly impressed by Scholastic jargon — "sure, if every time you get cornered, you just invent another new definition for what a 'cause' is...!")

Insofar as he's talking about the idea that there can be certain properties of a whole that cannot be accounted for in terms of an aggregation of the parts, I have no problem with that much. Indeed, that's just part of what the notion of substantial form is about.

Well, of course he's not addressing it from the perspective of substantial forms. It's more like showing how the physics of ink on paper explains the "whole" of Hamlet — no parts are left out — and yet doesn't explain the whole, because there's an additional "layer" of meaning. You can investigate what Shakespeare meant in Hamlet and you can investigate what that might tell us about Shakespeare the man — and trying to mix the two together might result in a lot of confusion, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't ask the questions, or even try asking them both at the same time, as long as we're careful! And even though meaning in the sheer sense of intentionality applies just as much to "See Spot run" as to any highfalutin' poetry by the Bard, the latter is worth studying in its own right. Though I still agree that it's better to build on a solid foundation than on mud, no matter how careful you are not to stir it up! — so the proper philosophy is still required.

Crude said...

Ed,

Or take Behe's idea of "irreducible complexity." Insofar as he's talking about the idea that there can be certain properties of a whole that cannot be accounted for in terms of an aggregation of the parts, I have no problem with that much.

May I ask - if you have the time and the interest, and hey, maybe you don't - just what you think 'irreducible complexity' is? Properties of a whole that cannot be accounted for in terms of an aggregation of the parts is not it.

And what do you think Behe thinks the implications of irreducible complexity are anyway? From what I've read, he believes it's a general, provisional indicator of intelligent activity, at least insofar as ID itself is concerned. Someone else may choose to draw conclusions beyond that - but what conclusions they draw at that point is not ID.

I say this as someone who's sympathetic with the idea that Thomism and ID either can't mix, or shouldn't mix - it's hard enough to get people to understand what's meant by the fifth way without ID stuff coming in. But you've mentioned Behe, and I've read quite a lot of Behe, so I feel like this is a good time to ask all this.

Bilbo said...

Hi Ed,

Not sure I qualify as an ID fanatic, but I'll give it my best shot:

(1) A voice from the sky saying, "God loves you," to an English speaking audience, will be understood by that audience to have been intelligently designed, regardless of who the designer is. This conclusion is all that an ID proponent would want to draw about the event.
(2) Once all the natural parts are in their proper place, they may have the (God given) immanent ability to become a living thing. However, what ID is interested in is what are the chances of all the natural parts coming to be in their proper place. Origin of life researcher (and atheist?) Eugene Koonin has called for a very large multiverse to exist in order for this to happen just once. An ID proponent would look at Koonin's conclusion and say, "So if there is only one universe, it's reasonable to believe that the event(s) bringing all the natural parts together into their proper place was designed. We'll let others quibble about who the designer was."
(3) If the probability of a bacterium evolving a flagellum by means of random mutation and natural selection is too small to be taken seriously, then an ID proponent would suggest that the idea that the flagellum was intelligently designed by somebody be taken seriously. And again, we will let others quibble about who the designer was.

There. I've offered some responses. Will you offer some replies?

Doug said...

Ed writes:

"So when ID people go on about this stuff and throw in all this mathematical hoo-hah, that might impress the rubes, but it allows the naturalist wrongly to pretend that the issue has crucially to do with whether Dembski (say) has got his probability theory straight."

Naturalists are so very much more likely to acknowledge that the issue has crucially to do with whether someone has his metaphysics straight?

(NB: I'm not saying it isn't crucially to do with metaphysics... but I'm with Crude: how do you get the naturalist to believe it?)

George R. said...

Ed,
I don't think you're taking full advantage of this humility-building opportunity.

________________

Scott writes:
Surely it was clear enough in the first place (and if not, it was clear enough after Ed's second reply to you) that his point was simply that what makes a dog a dog is a substantial form and what makes a bed a bed is an accidental form.

If the parts of organisms are accidents that have accidental forms, and they are and they do, then what difference does it make if the substance itself does not have an accidental form, since the IDers only compare the parts of organism to artifacts, not the substance itself?

OK, Ed was thinking substantially and not about the parts. That's fine. But notice, he's still somewhat denying they have accidental forms, claiming that I am somehow equivocating with the term, which I was not doing. An accidental form is a one that inheres in detrminate matter. The forms of both organic parts and artifacts inhere in detrminate. They are both accidental forms in an univocal sense.

Brandon said...

Properties of a whole that cannot be accounted for in terms of an aggregation of the parts is not it.

On the contrary, this is indeed what irreducible complexity is: that the functional system in question cannot be generated by incremental selection, since any stage of the system that does not integrate all its parts is nonfunctional, or, in other words, there are functional properties of the integral system that cannot be accounted for by aggregation of parts.

Mr. Green said...

Crude: I say this as someone who's sympathetic with the idea that Thomism and ID either can't mix, or shouldn't mix - it's hard enough to get people to understand what's meant by the fifth way without ID stuff coming in.

I'm sympathetic to that insofar as people who don't understand either one — and people who don't but think they do! — create a lot of confusion. I'm full of sympathy all around on this issue: I'm sympathetic to philosophers like Ed who are trying to plug the disintegrating dyke of modern ignorance one finger at a time. I'm especially sympathetic to Ed when he's just repeated himself for hundredth time and still gets the same point-missing retorts. I'm sympathetic to the ID folks who are not just horribly misrepresented and abused, but are misrepresented even by people who supposedly agree with them. (It's astounding how many people think ID is the new 3-D drop-shadowed version of special-creationism.) I'm sympathetic to their dismay when theists whom they assume will be friendly and give them the cold shoulder. (Yes, their philosophy really is a mess, but emotionally, I understand that they don't like hearing it.) I'm sympathetic to ordinary folks who were raised to be metaphysically illiterate struggle to understand any of it.

(I wonder what the chances are of Feser and Behe ever sitting down over a beer together some day? Though Berlinski and Feser might be more entertaining….)

Bilbo said...

Hi Mr. Green,

If Feser has some theory explaining how the bacterial flagellum evolved, I'm sure Behe would want to hear it.

Crude said...

Brandon,

On the contrary, this is indeed what irreducible complexity is: that the functional system in question cannot be generated by incremental selection,

I do not see how that cashes out to 'Properties of a whole that cannot be accounted for in terms of an aggregation of the parts is not it.' That sounds more like a holism versus reductionism topic. Yes, incremental (unguided) selection is the target of Behe on this front, though more in a 'very unlikely' than a 'cannot' sense.

Besides, you -can- 'account for' the function of an IC structure by the aggregation of its parts, insofar as that function is still just some mechanistic happening. Anyway, how you're parsing what I quoted to get that definition is something I do not understand. Ah well.

Mr. Green said...

Brandon: since any stage of the system that does not integrate all its parts is nonfunctional, or, in other words, there are functional properties of the integral system that cannot be accounted for by aggregation of parts.

Wait, isn't that non-aggregation of parts? That is, if you have an aggregation of only some of the parts, then you don't have the whole aggregate, so it's no surprise that it doesn't have the properties of the whole. (That would be true even of an artifactual whole.) X and Y without Z cannot perform the function of XYZ, so X and Y cannot be selected for that function. And to some extent that seems to be implicitly accepted even by Behe's opponents, since the typical response ("a" typical response?) is to explain how the X and Y can perform, say, the function of XY, which happens to be useful in some other way, and so gets selected anyway.

Brandon said...

Anyway, how you're parsing what I quoted to get that definition is something I do not understand. Ah well.

Since I explicitly said it in the very next clause, it's not that difficult to figure out.

Wait, isn't that non-aggregation of parts? That is, if you have an aggregation of only some of the parts, then you don't have the whole aggregate, so it's no surprise that it doesn't have the properties of the whole.

But we aren't talking about whether prior systems are complete aggregates but whether the functional properties of the final system can be reached by a process of aggregation.

Step2 said...

I don't think you're taking full advantage of this humility-building opportunity.

Ugh. George R. has now won the lifetime achievement award for surreal arguments three times. An unholy trinity of chutzpah.

Crude said...

Brandon,

Since I explicitly said it in the very next clause, it's not that difficult to figure out.

It's not parsing your explanation that's difficult, but how to get that explanation from what I quoted with Ed. I'd remark about how that was obviously what I meant, maybe slip in an 'of course' or an 'as anyone would realize', but I'm trying to ease up on the snark lately.

But we aren't talking about whether prior systems are complete aggregates but whether the functional properties of the final system can be reached by a process of aggregation.

'Process' wasn't mentioned in the portion I quoted. And 'process of aggregation'? Yeah, I'm going to say that's a mighty curious reading.

For all I know Ed hasn't really read Behe and doesn't damn well care to, which is fine. Or maybe he has and I just misunderstood, or he didn't come across clearly. I was just curious what Ed does know of Behe and the IC topic. Maybe the guy who should answer - if he cares to - is Ed himself, eh?

Bilbo said...

Hi Mr. Green,

My reply to you above about Behe wanting to hear Feser's theory of how the bacterial flagellum evolved is actually what this whole issue is about. Behe is trying to do empirical science, and believes that the conclusions of empirical science is that intelligent design was involved in the evolution of life by causing the necessary genetic mutations to happen at various times and places throughout natural history.

What I don't understand is why Feser finds Behe's stance so objectionable. Does Feser have an alternative theory to explain the evolution of multi-protein complexes? If so, what is it? If not, then is there a current theory of evolution that Feser prefers? If so, then what is it? If not, then does Feser know that Behe's theory is incorrect? If so, how? If not, then why is he objecting to it?

PLEASE! Somebody explain Feser to me! Because he obviously won't explain himself.

Crude said...

Bilbo,

PLEASE! Somebody explain Feser to me! Because he obviously won't explain himself.

I don't think that's fair. Ed's explained himself plenty of times about this in particular. (Though I'm asking him about something else, right above this comment.)

As far as I understand him, Ed's disinterest in the ID project stems from A) the perception that ID, even if for the sake of argument, requires taking on a mechanistic view of the universe which is incompatible with the metaphysical view he thinks is correct (and, if it's employed only for the sake of argument, misses the point and cedes too much) and B) by ID's own reckoning, all ID can ever get one to is 'an intelligent agent'. But Ed's not interested in intelligent agents. He's interested in God, and therefore interested in arguments that uniquely lead to God. God is not some 'big powerful human' in essence, so treating God as 'just another intelligent agent - but really powerful' is counterproductive from his view.

That's my impression, but luckily we've got an army of Feser readers who would love to correct me if I'm wrong, so stay tuned.

Edward Feser said...

Crude,

I wasn't trying in the first place to give a summary of what Behe means by "irreducible complexity," but rather identifying a particular feature or implication of the notion that might seem to overlap somewhat with the notion of substantial form. (Compare: If someone says "Aquinas thinks that what is purely actual cannot be a member of a genus," he isn't giving a summary of what pure actuality involves, but rather identifying an implication of it. And it would be a mistake to think "Hmm, I'm not sure he knows what Aquinas means by pure actuality.")

Bilbo said...

Hi Crude,

So does Feser have a theory of evolution that is non-mechanistic? If so, then what is it?

And since ID proponents admit that there arguments don't prove God's existence, which is what Feser himself says, why is Feser objecting to ID?

Bilbo said...

As far as I can tell, Feser's objection to ID in biology is that if God was the intelligent designer, then God worked miracles without an audience, which is a theological no-no.

To which I say, if God worked miracles without an audience, then he has my permission, even if He'll have to answer to Feser someday.

Crude said...

Ed,

That's fair. I just had to ask.

Bilbo,

So does Feser have a theory of evolution that is non-mechanistic?

I don't see why you'd want a philosopher to give a scientific theory.

And since ID proponents admit that there arguments don't prove God's existence, which is what Feser himself says, why is Feser objecting to ID?

I guess the better question is, if ID doesn't prove God's existence, why do (not all, but a few - usually commenter-level than Behe level) ID proponents keep acting like Ed's rejection of ID is some affront to theistic apologetics?

Keep in mind over at UD there was for a time a habit of Ed getting put in the same bucket as super-liberal Biologos sorts, and cast as an 'apologist for Darwinism' which was... man, actually pretty surreal, honestly.

I mean, I don't speak for Ed, but I gotta ask... Ed gives a lot of arguments, powerful critiques, of naturalism and materialism, and arguments for God's existence (courtesy of Aquinas, etc.) Why's it so damn important he endorse ID? Or even talk about it? The dude's got his hands full as is.

Edward Feser said...

PLEASE! Somebody explain Feser to me! Because he obviously won't explain himself.

Bilbo, I know it's been two whole hours since you posted your first batch of comments, but -- you might not realize this -- I don't myself actually spend my entire afternoon reading and responding to combox comments. Not only that, but as comments on a post proliferate (as they have been this afternoon) the probability that I will have time even to read them, much less respond, starts to plummet.

Anyway, sorry to disappoint you, but I'm not a biologist and have nothing special to say about the bacterial flagellum, multi-protein complexes, etc. Nor do I have any idea why you think I would have, given that I have never addressed such questions. As I have consistently and repeatedly said for years now, my beef with ID has to do with (a) the mistaken (as I see it) philosophy of nature that ID arguments presuppose and (b) the mistaken conception of God and his relationship to the world that its conception of the "designer" tends to foster.

Whether/how the bacterial flagellum, multi-protein complexes, etc. arose evolutionarily is completely irrelevant to all of that. Yet no matter how many times I make it crystal clear that my criticisms have nothing one way or the other to do with evolution, someone shows up to ask: "What about evolution? How did such-and-such evolve? What about the bacterial flagellum? How about that visual cascade? What about eyeballs? Huh? Huh? Huh?"

Well, contrary to what ID fans and Richard Dawkins all seem to think, not everything is "really" about Darwin. Deal with it.

Edward Feser said...

And since ID proponents admit that there arguments don't prove God's existence, which is what Feser himself says, why is Feser objecting to ID?

Seriously? You really just asked that?

Really, I'm just wasting my time.

But I knew that already.

Bilbo said...

Hi Crude,

I don't see why you'd want a philosopher to give a scientific theory.

Normally I wouldn't. But when a philosopher objects to a scientific theory it makes me curious if he has a replacement in mind. Does he?

I guess the better question is, if ID doesn't prove God's existence, why do (not all, but a few - usually commenter-level than Behe level) ID proponents keep acting like Ed's rejection of ID is some affront to theistic apologetics?

Commenters are likely to say all sorts of things that they shouldn't say. I'm sure Feser thinks I fit this category.

Why's it so damn important he endorse ID? Or even talk about it? The dude's got his hands full as is.


I don't think it's important that Feser endorse ID. Frankly, I wasn't going to post any comments here until he made a snide remark about being ignored by ID fanatics. I've made my comments. I take his silence as an indication that I've won the argument.

BTW, Crude, do you object to God performing miracles without an audience?

Crude said...

Bilbo,

I take his silence as an indication that I've won the argument.

Anyone know how to make a cool ascii emoticon of a guy rolling his eyes? Anyone? I ain't good at this.

BTW, Crude, do you object to God performing miracles without an audience?

I'm more sympathetic to ID than most of the people around here, so you're gunning for the wrong guy.

Bilbo said...

Not gunning for you, Crude. Do you think one of Feser's objection to ID in biology is that it involves God performing miracles without an audience?

Edward Feser said...

So, here's Bilbo's takeaway from the post: "Feser's got some weird hang-up about God causing a miracle when there's no one around. And this is the reason why he doesn't like ID. Also, I didn't read anything about the bacterial flagellum."

Really, why do I bother?

I'm outta here. Dinner and a movie and a good stiff drink.

Bilbo said...

Let us know how the movie was, Ed.

Mr. Green said...

Bilbo: Normally I wouldn't. But when a philosopher objects to a scientific theory it makes me curious if he has a replacement in mind.

OK. You let me know when you find a philosopher who's objecting to a scientific theory, I'll be curious with you.


>I take his silence as an indication that I've won the argument.
>Commenters are likely to say all sorts of things that they shouldn't say.

... ... ...


>BTW, Crude, do you object to God performing miracles without an audience?

I don't know where the heck you got that from, but it's got to be one of weirdest misreadings of anything Ed's said, and we pretty much run the gamut around here.

Look, I know you've been here before for some ID posts, and I get the impression you're sincere. I don't know if you've ever really read any of Feser's other stuff, but this is not something you can pick up with a post here or there — to really understand where Feser is coming from, you need to make a serious effort to learn the basics of Scholastic philosophy. If you don't, you're pretty much guaranteed not to understand what he's talking about. If you aren't interested, or just don't have the time, or whatever, that's fine — your curiosity will have to remain disappointed, but hey, c'est la vie. If you're actually interested in learning the background, there are lots of knowledgeable folks here who will be glad to help. And if you want to play the fanatic, then fine, you'll get just what you expect.

Bilbo said...

Mr. Green:

OK. You let me know when you find a philosopher who's objecting to a scientific theory, I'll be curious with you.

Just to be clear and get you on the record, Mr. Green, are you saying that Feser has no objection to ID as a scientific theory?

>I take his silence as an indication that I've won the argument.
>Commenters are likely to say all sorts of things that they shouldn't say.


Unless they want to have some fun.


Bilbo: >BTW, Crude, do you object to God performing miracles without an audience?

I don't know where the heck you got that from, but it's got to be one of weirdest misreadings of anything Ed's said, and we pretty much run the gamut around here.

So again, just to be clear and get you on the record, Mr. Green, are yoy saying that Feser is not objecting to the idea of God performing miracles without an audience?

As to your longer comment, I've bought and tried to read two of Feser's book on A-T philosophy. I'm not sure how it's relevant to the question of whether ID is a good scientific theory. Does he think it's a bad scientific theory? Why? Does he have a replacement? What is it?

Rodrigo Jungmann said...

Professor Feser,

I realize that what follows is an off-topic question and I beg you to bear with me.

I did graduate work in philosophy of language in the United States, before returning to my own country, Brazil.

As it turns out, I am less and less interested in philosophy of language as a specialty - it has worn me out really - and now want to move to philosophy of religion. I've read some authors writing on the usual menu of topics from a perspective that is firmly rooted in analytic philosophy. But now I feel like gaining a foothold in the tradition, both as a result of increasing interest in the Catholic faith ( from which I once rebelled ) and in its interplay with philosophy from the Fathers onwards.

So, for obvious reasons, Aquinas sounds like a great thinker to study. Now to my question:

What commentaries on Aristotle's metaphysics would you recommend aside from those written by secularists like David Bostock, Jonathan Barnes and the like?

Do they provide enough of the "A" in "A-T" to help one immerse oneself in the "T" or would you suggest that I read other folks?

I'd be very grateful indeed for any help with this.

thefederalist said...

Wow, what a busy day. I'm obviously pretty late to it, but then I had a daughter's birthday to celebrate who, twenty-eight years ago, had to have her middle name changed on the fly because she got herself born on the Feast Day of St. Anne instead of not on the feast of St. Anne. Which reminds me of why I'm posting which has little or nothing to do with Intelligent Design.

Dr. Feser and I and a number of other followers of this site are devout and fairly knowledgeable Christians. Given that, wouldn't it be a reasonable restriction on the conduct of discussion here to avoid dragging the actual name of God into use in exemplars of this or that? Obviously, I think that every website ever brought into existence, plus all those that ever will be, should understand that to be a reasonable restriction. However, knowledgeable Christians and Jews would KNOW it to be so, and so should avoid using His name carelessly.

Now, I realize that this is not something that, strictly speaking, can be known upon purely philosophical principles. That is, while it can be known purely from reason that His name is not to be taken in vain, that He actually has a name, or what it is if He has one, can only be known if He chooses to reveal it. Which He has, as we know. For the last, oh, since Moses, His name has been kept in honor by, among other things, never using It in public. At least among Anglophones, I blame the publication of the Jerusalem Bible in English for opening the floodgates of blasphemy which we have experienced in the last forty-some years, and which occasioned an apostolic letter from Pope Benedict to correct, at least with regard to liturgical music.

Off topic, I know. But Dr. Feser is not going to get much more agreement on ID from his followers than he already has. Perhaps he can nudge them in the direction of obeying more carefully the second commandment.

Bilbo said...

A big oops and sorry on my part to Ed and everybody else here. Somehow I missed Ed's earlier response to me. I just now saw it and will reply.

As I have consistently and repeatedly said for years now, my beef with ID has to do with (a) the mistaken (as I see it) philosophy of nature that ID arguments presuppose and (b) the mistaken conception of God and his relationship to the world that its conception of the "designer" tends to foster.

Whether/how the bacterial flagellum, multi-protein complexes, etc. arose evolutionarily is completely irrelevant to all of that.


But unless you want to deny that evolution has occurred over hundreds of millions of years (do you?), then the question of how it occurred remains. You can quip that both Darwinists and IDists have it all wrong, but unless you have an alternative theory (do you?), I fail to see how what you say matters. You can say that if science were based on A-T philosophy, then we would see that the best theory of evolution would be X. But would X be, exactly? And are you saying that you know that nobody (efficiently) caused the mutations to happen? And you know that how? You see, you say that evolution is irrelevant to your case, but it isn't.

Well, contrary to what ID fans and Richard Dawkins all seem to think, not everything is "really" about Darwin. Deal with it.

When it comes to understanding evolution, the question scientists want to answer is, how did it happen? If you are going to deny Darwinism (do you?)) or ID (obviously you do), then what should we put in its place? If you don't have a replacement, then why are you so sure either one of those is wrong?

Bilbo said...

Bilbo: And since ID proponents admit that there arguments don't prove God's existence, which is what Feser himself says, why is Feser objecting to ID?

Feser; Seriously? You really just asked that?

Really, I'm just wasting my time.

But I knew that already.


Seriously. (Biological) ID is the theory that some biological features are best explained by having been efficiently caused by a designer. That's all it says. Now if your objection is that the theory is false, then fine. Your argument is about evolution. If your objection is that only God could have been the designer, and God wouldn't do it that way, then what way did He do it? Again, your argument is about evolution.

Sorry, Dr. Feser. You don't want your argument against ID to be about evolution, but it is. Deal with it.

Mr. Green said...

Brandon: But we aren't talking about whether prior systems are complete aggregates but whether the functional properties of the final system can be reached by a process of aggregation.

We may be, but is Behe? I thought he subscribed to front-loading, so presumably he believes the final system could be reached by a process of aggregation; someone would just need to "stack the deck" to do so. In fact, consider a stacked deck, by which you contrive to get dealt four aces, vs. hiding cards up your sleeve: getting the aces is irreducible insofar as the goal isn't to get one ace this hand, one in the next, and so on — the point is to get all four aces at once, which is very unlikely to happen by a chance process of aggregation (i.e. dealing the cards in the hand out one at a time). If you hide cards up your sleeve, that's intervention. But stacking the deck works too, by making the aggregating process work in a specially contrived manner.

(And the aces don't have to be more than the sum of their parts, either. It depends on the exact rules for scoring a particular game, but having four aces doesn't mean that each ace is worth any more than it would be by itself.)

Bilbo said...

Mr. Green, yes in Edge of Evolution Behe offers a hypothetical scenario where the designer chooses one of the rare possible universes that has all the necessary mutations and actualizes it. So that gives two ways that ID could work: Intervention or somehow stacking the deck so that all the needed events occur.

My question is, what would the A-T alternatives be?

Mr. Green said...

Bilbo: Just to be clear and get you on the record, Mr. Green, are you saying that Feser has no objection to ID as a scientific theory?

This is almost a trick question because of course it is highly sensitive to what is meant by "ID" (not to mention "scientific"); Ed has quite explicitly said that anything in ID that qualifies as actual science he of course has no objection to. But simply taking "ID" and tacking "as a scientific theory" on the end doesn't make it actual science; at best only parts of what typically falls under the banner of "ID" would qualify as science in a strict sense. If you have a more detailed definition of ID to offer, we can work from there.

So again, just to be clear and get you on the record, Mr. Green, are yoy saying that Feser is not objecting to the idea of God performing miracles without an audience?

This one is much easier: I can positively guarantee that Ed has no objections to God's performing miracles whenever or wherever He chooses. If you go back and see what he said, he makes it quite clear that he is talking about "miracles in the strict sense" — i.e. his point is not even about the nature of miracles, but about terminology. He is referring to specific kind of miracle, or rather, a specific class of supernatural actions that is called miraculous in a very specific, technical context. God can do anything He wants, but if we are using that terminology, we might or might not call it by the word "miracle".

As to your longer comment, I've bought and tried to read two of Feser's book on A-T philosophy.

OK, great. (We can throw page numbers at you now!) Since I was sympathising with everyone else in a previous comment, I'll sympathise with your "tried to read". In one way the material isn't that hard, but I think it tends to require several re-readings before it all suddenly clicks into place. (Call it... well, irreducible complexity. If you try to understand one part of it in the context of mushy modern thought, you get a confusing and inconsistent mixture. You somehow have to get all the parts in your head at once to see how well the whole system really works!)

I'm not sure how it's relevant to the question of whether ID is a good scientific theory. Does he think it's a bad scientific theory?

But it's primary as a philosophical theory that Feser has problems. And there most certainly is a philosophical side to it. When you talk about productive research directions for science, that's philosophy about science. Arguing against naturalism is philosophy — even if the weapons you use are scientific in themlseves, the wielding of them in this way is a philosophical act. And when it gets to God — even something that we're definitely not saying is God, mind you, but might be — that's philosophy too.

If you strip out all these aspects so that you're left with pure science — well, as I said, Ed will be happy to leave that to the scientists to deal with. But if you think this is just about science, then what scientifically do you believe Ed objects to? And how does that fit in with all his philosophical objections? Even if ID works scientifically [whatever that may mean], that wouldn't make the philosophical problems go away. Conversely, if it's all about science, why do you get so worked up about the issue? Ed's criticisms aren't going to stop any actual scientists from doing any actual science, so you might read his posts out of idle curiosity but not care about them. Yet you do (and I agree that you should!).

Mr. Green said...

George R.: I don't think you're taking full advantage of this humility-building opportunity.

Ah, but he is taking advantage of it applied to you — alas, it went over your head. You see, it was clear to me, and others, what Ed meant. Based on what follows this, it was not at all clear what you meant. I think now I see what you were getting at, but I still don't see it in what you said at first. A little more modesty on your part and a little less snark would likely have avoided the whole problem.

If the parts of organisms are accidents that have accidental forms, and they are and they do, then what difference does it make if the substance itself does not have an accidental form, since the IDers only compare the parts of organism to artifacts, not the substance itself?

Now we're getting somewhere. I think this is actually an important and relevant point. One of the major metaphysical problems with ID is that its proponents more or less seem to accept mechanistic reductionism. But scientists deal with what is empirically measurable, and you can't see a substantial form under a microscope. So to some degree it is appropriate for scientists to treat things as if they were reducible to part(icle)s, because that's how science works (well, sort of).

So when biologists look at a flagellum and see it working "like" a machine, there is some sort of justification for that — they're not just hallucinating it, there really is something in the appearance of these biological parts that accounts for their mechanical-seeming properties regardless of whether at the metaphysical level, they are actually substances rather than genuine machines.

Mr. Green said...

Bilbo: So that gives two ways that ID could work: Intervention or somehow stacking the deck so that all the needed events occur.
My question is, what would the A-T alternatives be?


But that's not the right question. A-T isn't providing an alternative to that; it's providing the foundation for either of those things (or any other options) to even make sense. It's perhaps more like this fanciful example: we're arguing about whether to build a car or a motorcycle. A-T is metal, and modern reductionist philosophy is papier-mâché. Feser comes along and says, "Build a vehicle out of papier-mâché? You're nuts, you need metal!" And then you ask, "What kind of vehicle is metal, and how is it better than a car or a bike?"

(By the way, if you're wondering how modern scientists actually manage to get anything done if they're building out of paper, it's easy: they've plastered papier-mâché on the outside, but underneath it's still metal! They claim to have thrown out all the old Scholastic ideas, but they don't really practice what they preach, or even recognise that they're doing it.)

So does Feser have a theory of evolution that is non-mechanistic? If so, then what is it?

One that's substantial and immanent, of course! (Short on details? Well, Ed has more to say about the relevant metaphysics, of course — it's in his books. But note that neither ID nor Darwinian ["unguided"] evolution have much in the way of step-by-step details either. Details are supposed to come from biologists, of whom Ed is not one.)

See, when we talk about ID being a "scientific theory", it isn't a theory like the theory of gravitation. Newton's theory of gravity, or Einstein's, gives scientists some formulas they can use to predict where planets will end up, for example. ID — and "Darwinian evolution" too, let's note — don't give us some algorithm for predicting what will evolve next, or when, or how. They're both more like theories about scientific theories. The equivalent in physics would be something like the concept that forces are mediated by an exchange of virtual particles — that doesn't tell us if some particle is charged, or what the value of the charge may be, or even whether there is such a thing as electromagnetic charge at all. That has to be figured out by experimentation (a.k.a. "real science").

Mr. Green said...

Bilbo: Seriously. (Biological) ID is the theory that some biological features are best explained by having been efficiently caused by a designer. That's all it says.

If you've read Ed's past articles, and the above comments, you'll know that that is itself one of the bones of contention. Everyone seems to use "ID" to mean something slightly different. But OK, I asked people for definitions, so I'm glad you gave one. And if that is all you mean by "ID", then that's far less problematic than some of the claims and definitions that Ed has been addressing. In your definition there is no refuting naturalism, no hinting at God — the "designer" part may be problematic, we need a definition of that too. The biggest concern will be about exactly how to interpret "biological features": if this entails some kind of materialist/mechanistic view, which A-T denies is possible, then we're in trouble. We'll need to know what this means in terms of intrinsic teleology.

If your objection is that only God could have been the designer, and God wouldn't do it that way, then what way did He do it? Again, your argument is about evolution.

No, no, and no. Where are you getting this? Feser never said anything about "God wouldn't do it that way", that's not even close to any of his criticisms. "What way did He do it" as in what would we see before our eyes if we went back in time to watch life develop is 100% not anything to do with any of Ed's points. You can't take arguments you've seen somewhere else and decide that, oh, Feser is criticising ID, so I'll just take these totally unrelated arguments and assume that's what he's saying.

Sorry, Dr. Feser. You don't want your argument against ID to be about evolution, but it is. Deal with it.

C'mon, Bilbo, Feser isn't an idiot, he knows what his argument is. Perhaps you don't know, because he didn't explain it very well. Or even more likely, perhaps you don't know because you simply misunderstood him. Don'tcha think that that's a possibility, just maybe, huh?

rank sophist said...

Prof. Feser,

Indeed. But, despite appearances, we agree far more often than we disagree. I mainly post when I see opportunities for rewarding debates, though, so disagreements get amplified way out of proportion. Your books and blog posts lifted me out of my presupposed scientism and introduced me to serious, classical thinking. Compared to that foundation of agreement, the disagreements are minor.

Crude,

I wasn't talking about combox debates. Those can only plant seeds. Secularist/atheists have to man up and study traditional metaphysics themselves, as open-mindedly as they can.

Anon at 3:59 PM,

I agree. But traditional metaphysics are not just a "philosophical argument", let alone a single one. They're a way of understanding the world that differs vastly from contemporary thought. I cited the cosmological argument, in its many forms, because it so perfectly demonstrates creation's "explanatory poverty" (DBH's phrase). It won't convince everyone, but neither will a Himalayan sunrise. Both attest to a truth that certain people refuse to see, no matter what.

Bilbo said...

Mr. Green: Ed has quite explicitly said that anything in ID that qualifies as actual science he of course has no objection to.

So let's take Behe's theory: All current living things have a common ancestor, from whom they have evolved by a process of natural selection working on genetic mutations, some of which have been efficiently caused by an intelligent designer. As far as Ed is concerned, then, such a theory could be true?


I can positively guarantee that Ed has no objections to God's performing miracles whenever or wherever He chooses.

I'm sure God will be relieved to hear that.

Arguing against naturalism is philosophy — even if the weapons you use are scientific in themlseves, the wielding of them in this way is a philosophical act. And when it gets to God — even something that we're definitely not saying is God, mind you, but might be — that's philosophy too.

Yes, but if Behe's theory is true, most people think that it is most likely that God was the designer who efficiently caused those mutations. For example, Behe believes it was God, though he insists that it is not part of his theory. That's when Ed shows up and says, "No He didn't!" And that's when I get a headache trying to understand why Ed is so sure God didn't do it that way.

But if you think this is just about science, then what scientifically do you believe Ed objects to? And how does that fit in with all his philosophical objections

As far as I can tell, Ed objects to God acting like a mechanic.

Ed's criticisms aren't going to stop any actual scientists from doing any actual science, so you might read his posts out of idle curiosity but not care about them. Yet you do (and I agree that you should.

Ed's criticisms will help to stop people from thinking ID, regardless of which specific theory of ID is put forward, could be true.

Michael said...

Mr. Feser, most people are ignorant of the amazingly complex mechanisms which work within our bodies.

Cell Organelles and Cytoskeleton

http://apbrwww5.apsu.edu/thompsonj/Anatomy%20&%20Physiology/2010/2010%20Exam%20Reviews/Exam%201%20Review/Ch03%20Cell%20Organelles%20&%20Cytoskeleton.htm

Here is an animal cell (celula animals), along with information.

http://www.animalport.com/animal-cells.html

Here's a list of the various cells/glands in the human body.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_distinct_cell_types_in_the_adult_human_body

Scientists tells us that all this stuff naturally assembled itself through blind chance, i.e. evolution, but there's nothing scientific about such an assertion. Even where the data creates an inherent conflict of interest, the experts simply conform the data to fit the theory with just-so stories and hand-waiving. For you see, there is nothing beyond evolution's ability - not only can it work miracles, it can work them in succession.

Bilbo said...

Bilbo: So does Feser have a theory of evolution that is non-mechanistic? If so, then what is it?

Mr. Green: One that's substantial and immanent, of course!

Yes, I suspect that Ed believes that organisms somehow have the (God given) ability to cause their own evolution. Perhaps that is the correct theory. Some biologists are exploring that option. I have nothing against it. What I object to is declaring ID false because it conflicts with one's favorite unproven theory.

In your definition there is no refuting naturalism, no hinting at God — the "designer" part may be problematic, we need a definition of that too.

There's no "hinting at God" in Behe's theory, but Behe believes that God is the designer.

The biggest concern will be about exactly how to interpret "biological features": if this entails some kind of materialist/mechanistic view, which A-T denies is possible, then we're in trouble.

It entails the causing of specific genetic mutations to occur.

Anonymous said...

"There's no "hinting at God" in Behe's theory, but Behe believes that God is the designer. "

I'm sure God will be relieved to hear that.

Daniel Joachim said...

@Bilbo

Feser has several times recommended a little jewel by Etienne Gilson: From Aristotle to Darwin & Back Again. That book more specifically explains how Darwins theory is to be understood in a framework of A-T. Not as an alternative to the theory or ID, but as a foundational gamechanger.

Could I recommend that one as well before you continue your "objections" or "tryin' to win", so these comboxes could stop being a conversational frenzy of shooting past each other?
http://www.amazon.com/From-Aristotle-Darwin-Back-Again/dp/1586171690/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1406467699&sr=8-1&keywords=from+aristotle+to+darwin+and+back+again

If you want something more contemporary, I think Conor Cunningham and Darwins Pious Idea is a gold mine too. He's also well informed by the classical perspective.


The best,

DJ

Bilbo said...

Hi DJ,

ID proponents' main objection to Darwinism is that it is inadequate as a theory that explains how evolution occurred. Do the books and authors you recommend show how Darwinism is able to adequately explain how evolution occurred? Then by all means I'll read it! Because so far, no biologists have been able to explain it.

Or do they just attempt to show that Darwinism is consistent with theistic or Christian belief? But I have no theological quarrel with Darwinism.

Daniel Joachim said...

@Bilbo

That sort of depends on how you define "Darwinism". If you mean a mechanistic interpretation of the whole evolutional process accompanied by random, unteleological mutations, then I'm sure we would agree that it's incoherent. But even science can look a whole lot different when interpreted in another philosophical framework. Some examples could be abiogenesis or the emergence of the human intellect! :)

But without regarding the philosophical issue at hand as primary, we're just ignoring the crux of the matter (pun intended).

Bilbo said...

Hi DJ,

ID's criticism of Darwinism is not that it is incoherent, but that it is inadequate. It hasn't really been able to give a plausible account of getting from bacteria to animals and plants. Randomness, even with natural selection, can't provide the probabilities to take it seriously.

As for abiogenesis, it could be that God has instilled the ability in matter to become living organisms, once the parts are in proper relation to each other. It's getting those parts in proper relation that is the problem. All proposed scenarios are wildly implausible. Origin of life researcher Eugene Koonin wants either an infinite universe or a very large multiverse, not so abiogenesis would happen, but just to get a long enough string of the right kind of RNA.

Now if your books can shed some light on these kinds of problems, I'll read them. Somehow I doubt that they even realize that there are such problems.

Michael said...

Evolution : The denial of the miracle of creation by God. That's how I see it.

Random chance can do nothing of its own accord, no matter how much time. The universe was created; it couldn't just poof into existence absent a greater force. This is called logic. We are free to use science, or any other field of research, in order to explore His creation. Science isn't some exclusive privilege - it doesn't require membership, nor does it need to meet with the approval of the secular atheist 'peer review' group-think. There's far more to life than data and theory, things which science is in no position to account for and explain away.

Porphyry said...

The arguments about acidental forms pointing to a particular type of God does work quite well in forming Christian justified beliefs in what one might call an enlightenment deist. But I agree with you that it does almost nothing to convince an atheist whose worldview (beliefs extrapolated from knowledge) involves far more cognitive dissonance than most people realize, i.e. most of them dont even find the idea of anything extramental, even plausible.

Porphyry said...

*extramaterial

Mr. Green said...

Bilbo: So let's take Behe's theory: All current living things have a common ancestor, from whom they have evolved by a process of natural selection working on genetic mutations, some of which have been efficiently caused by an intelligent designer. As far as Ed is concerned, then, such a theory could be true?

As long as we're careful with the definitions (e.g. we're not taking the "process" to mean that organisms are literally built out of separate parts, etc. on the metaphysical side), then yes.

For example, Behe believes it was God, though he insists that it is not part of his theory. That's when Ed shows up and says, "No He didn't!" And that's when I get a headache trying to understand why Ed is so sure God didn't do it that way.

Ed is saying nothing about whether God did anything "this way" or "that way", which probably explains why you get a headache trying to figure out why. He's not making a statement about scientific processes at all — again, that's up to biologists to sort out; he's addressing the metaphysical aspects.

As far as I can tell, Ed objects to God acting like a mechanic.

Sort of, but not the way you're thinking. "Mechanistic" as Ed talks about it has a technical metaphysical meaning. The problem, however, is not that God couldn't or wouldn't put things together this way instead of that way; that He wouldn't tinker with cells the way an auto-mechanic tinkers with your car, instead of zapping them miraculously. It's that God doesn't "put" things together at all — at least not in the sense you're thinking when you wonder about "processes" (of natural selection or miraculous intervention or otherwise). Of course, God could front-load the Big Bang or "intervene" to cause a specific mutation, or anything else. But it's the organisms that aren't mechanistic, not God's chosen method of action. Because no organism is mechanistic (in this particular sense), any theory that takes it to be one is just wrong regardless of "how" it happens.

Ed's criticisms will help to stop people from thinking ID, regardless of which specific theory of ID is put forward, could be true.

Insofar as Ed thinks that it relies on a wrong-headed view of nature plus a wrong-headed view of God, then it couldn't be true, so it would be good for people not to think it was. The same, of course, can be said for Darwinistic views (taking "Darwinism" to mean something equally mistaken — certainly any typical Darwinist holds the same broken view of nature as your typical ID proponent).

Again, the actual biological details are something else — of course, the differences between these various theories tend to evaporate when we stick strictly to the science, which is why people keep turning back to the philosophical interpretations. But what use is "good" science in a false philosophical context? Ed doesn't want people to stop thinking about whether God is responsible for creating life, he wants them to appreciate the true metaphysical context, which makes it even more clear and certain that God is the Creator, and that He is transcendent, not just some super-being. This is important stuff, and it's not especially difficult, so why would we hesitate to follow Ed's advice instead of getting hung up on a broken metaphysics that is of no advantage to science and actively misleads people philosophically?

DavidM said...

Ed wrote: "Obviously there is a sense in which transubstantiation is a miracle. [yes, obviously!] But as what I said indicates, "miracle" has different senses and I was merely focusing on one sense that is emphasized in some Scholastic works for the specific purpose of clarifying how Scholastic thinkers conceive of miracles in the context of apologetics and in the philosophy-of-nature context of relating miracles to natural occurrences."

Well actually, Ed, you indicated that you were explicating 'miracle' in the strictest sense, not just in one sense, and in the strictest sense for Aquinas (among other Scholastics). So I'm still wondering if this is something that Aquinas ever actually maintains about 'miracle' in the strictest sense.

@Glenn:
Glenn attempts to defend the affirmative response to my question. But his reply is fallacious.

"But that which is kept within narrowly specific limits is said to be strict."

This is true only in the sense in which "narrowly specific" can be read broadly as "narrowly specified," such that the specific mode of specification (i.e., relative to what context?) is left open.

"Therefore, what is more general is less strict, and what is less general is more strict..."

Therefore it doesn't follow that "more general" is equivalent to "less strict," or that "less general" is equivalent to "more strict."

That is to say: "Strictest" or "speaking most strictly" or "speaking most properly" never indicates that one is speaking with the least amount of generality. It is quite likely to mean the opposite, as is the case in SCG III, 101. A miracle in the strictest sense is what Thomas specifies by the term "properly speaking" and it is a properly metaphysical (and most general) specification. It is strictest because it gives the most rigorous criterion for whether something is actually a miracle or not.

Mr. Green said...

Bilbo: Yes, I suspect that Ed believes that organisms somehow have the (God given) ability to cause their own evolution. Perhaps that is the correct theory. Some biologists are exploring that option.

This is still a misunderstanding. "Causing their own evolution" isn't some alternative scientific process to "Darwinism" or "ID". And "causing their own evolution" isn't a good way to put it anyway, the point is that an organism is its own being, it's not just shorthand for a bunch of particles that are the real beings doing all the work.


ID's criticism of Darwinism is not that it is incoherent, but that it is inadequate. It hasn't really been able to give a plausible account of getting from bacteria to animals and plants. Randomness, even with natural selection, can't provide the probabilities to take it seriously.

But once you understand the metaphysics, you will see that it is incoherent — but not because of anything about evolution or probabilities. On the "mechanistic" (reductionist, materialist) view, even just having a bacterium is incoherent, forget where it came from! And as long as ID sticks to the same bad philosophy, it will be just as incoherent. That's Ed's complaint.

Let's turn it the other way around: instead of ID folks getting all upset about Ed pointing out bad metaphysics, why aren't they adopting the correct view and getting upset about Darwinists/materialists being even more wrong? Doesn't it put ID in a stronger position to be right both scientifically and metaphysically? From Ed's perspective, the ID side is being as bad as those darn Darwinists by sticking to their own incorrect view of something despite clear and certain evidence, and what's more it's a more serious problem than the one the they get all upset about with regard to Darwinists!

Now if your books can shed some light on these kinds of problems, I'll read them. Somehow I doubt that they even realize that there are such problems.

Somehow that sounds patronising.

Michael said...

Mr. Green, if I may interject, it doesn't matter how intricately designed something is, nor how valid whatever points you can raise. Since the materialists have seized the reigns of the various fields of science, don't expect them to concede any ground. Their primary job is to safeguard and promote the abiogenesis-evolution-big bang-multiverse-AGW delusion so that the secular crowd feels secure in calling their beliefs a "settled science" and brandishing the usual appeal to authority fallacy, e.g. "The reason you creationtards don't get peer review backing is because you do religion, not science!" The hard fact is that they have yet to provide even a single shred of evidence on their end.

Edward Feser said...

Mr. Green,

I appreciate your tremendous patience, but I think it's pretty clear you are wasting your time.

In my nearly ten years of blogging, I have found that only New Atheist types and 9/11 Truthers rival (certain members of) the ID crowd for sheer irrationality and inability to think outside the little box into which they've welded themselves.

I have made crystal clear over the years that, and why, my objections to ID have nothing one way or the other to do with evolution. And yet evolution is all guys like Bilbo here want to talk about. He's utterly, fanatically fixated upon it and simply cannot get his brain around the idea that an objection to ID might have some motivation other than a Darwinian one. Ergo, my criticism "must" "really" be about whether the bacterial flagellum or some other esoteric object of ID obsession could have evolved. I "must" "really" be carrying water for the Dread Darwinian Naturalist Menace. It's like trying to argue with Marxists who insist on finding the sinister "real motive" behind every objection you raise against them, an on wedging absolutely every phenomenon into their dogmatic, Procrustean analysis of class and history.

Take just one of the points I've alluded to here and developed at length in other places (e.g. my Nova et Vetera article on the Fifth Way), to the effect that collapsing immanent teleology into extrinsic teleology threatens to lead us either to deism or occasionalism (where, as Thomists argue, deism in turn tends toward atheism and occasionalism toward pantheism). Any sane critic would think: "OK, I don't know if I agree with all that, but I can see why a classical theist and Thomist would find that seriously theologically dangerous and want to oppose it strongly." And so on for the other metaphysical and theological issues I've emphasized.

Yet as far as I know, none of my critics on the ID side has even addressed that particular point. What we get instead is stuff like: "Duh, er, but what about that flagellum?" The most fundamental theological and metaphysical issues are at stake, and they can't get their eyeballs unglued from some tail at the end of a bacterium. Utterly, utterly pathetic.

Bilbo said...

Hi Ed,

I don't consider you to be a Darwinist. As I noted to Mr. Green above, I suspected you were an advocate of a different theory, sort of a neo-Lamarckism, which some recent biologists are starting to favor. When I think of immanent teleology such a theory comes to mind. I have nothing against such a theory. For all I know it might turn out to be true. Nor do I have anything against Darwinism, except that it seems terribly improbable.

I've heard the objection to ID that it leads to deism or occasionalism. My response is the Ginger Rogers/ Fred Astaire analogy: most of the time Ginger dances on her own two feet, led and supported by Fred. Every once in a while Fred picks her up and twirls her around. That is what seems to be going on in evolution. Most of the time nature can handle things, being led and supported by God. But every so often we see leaps in natural history suggesting that God has picked up nature and given her a twirl. Those are times when the evidence for ID is strongest. But it doesn't mean that God hasn't been supporting and interacting with nature all the time. So objecting to ID on this issue seems rather misguided to me.

Now you say that your objection to ID has nothing to do with evolution. But since ID is about evolution, I don't know how you can separate the two. Evolution happened. And the question is, how? If you don't like ID's answer, you're welcome to offer one yourself. But at least make clear why ID couldn't be true. And since you like to complain that there are too many definitions of ID, let's just focus on Behe's theory as I explained it to Mr. Green. What is your objection to it?

BTW, since I'm also a 9/11 Truther, I have the immense pleasure of earning your disdain in two separate areas.

And finally, how was the movie?

George LeSauvage said...

I hope this isn't really OT, but I wish someone would clear up a problem I have with the 5th Way. I don't see how it necessarily leads to the God of classical theism, rather than to a demiurge (as does ID, if accepted.)

I don't have a problem with final causation; I've always accepted that. But I don't see how it necessarily follows that He who guides the world, or built the natural teleology into it, or is the final end of all in nature, (or any other description you choose), MUST be the kind of deity that does follow from, e.g., the First Way.

I'm not trying to argue anything here - faith seeking understanding, if you will. How does it necessarily lead to what "everyone understands to be God"?

Doug said...

My primary difficulty with the O/P is that God can choose to communicate in any way He pleases.

When faced with the accidental form of a burning bush, Moses didn't conclude that it was extraterrestrial pranksters. When faced with a still small voice communicating according to the accidental form of ancient Hebrew, Elijah didn't conclude that it was malfunctioning cognitive faculties.

Guessing their responses were the wise ones.

Not sure if telling God what he cannot do is particularly wise.

Edward Feser said...

George LeS:

Quick answer: Since a potential is always a potential for some actuality -- and thus entails directedness toward that actuality -- anything that is in any way a mixture of actuality and potentiality will be an instance of the teleology that the argument is supposed to be explaining. Hence the ultimate source of directedness or teleology -- the only thing which would not itself exhibit directedness of the very sort that it is supposed to be explaining -- must be that which is pure actuality. Etc.

Edward Feser said...

Doug,

Of course he can. Where did I say otherwise?

I imagine you don't speak Urdu. So, suppose God caused a sentence to appear in Urdu, in ordinary ink, in the back page of a library book that you will check out three years from now. Suppose there was no other context that he caused to exist, miraculously or otherwise.

Presumably if you saw it you'd think it was just some weird scratches someone put in the book and wouldn't give it a second thought.

Could God cause such a sentence to appear? Of course. If he did so, would I complain that God wasn't doing what I want him to? Of course not. But would it be a good way to send you, Doug, a message, if no other context was provided? Of course not. Or if it would, I'd love to hear from you how it would,

The difference from the Moses case is obvious: Given the religious and cultural context, the only interpretation Moses was going to give to it was that it was a message from God. It would never have occurred to him that it was extraterrestrials, etc..

Really, it's an extremely simple point. That anyone's accusing me of trying to tell God what to do is simply bizarre. And frankly, it's really hard at this point to attribute some of these "objections" to good faith misunderstandings...

Edward Feser said...

An analogy: Aquinas, like pretty much everyone other than Descartes, holds that God cannot cause to exist what is inherently contradictory, e.g. round squares.

Now, is this a case of arrogantly "telling God what he cannot do" and thus not "particularly wise"? Of course not. It is just an analysis of what it means for something to be capable of existing at all, what it means therefore to speak of God as all-powerful, etc.

Really, people, think here, would you?

Doug said...

Ed,

You enjoin me with "think"; in return let me recommend "be polite".

Let me slightly tweak your paragraph.

"Given the [right] religious and cultural context, the only interpretation [the discovering scientist] was going to give [finding "made by Yahweh"] was that it was a message from God".

As you say, "it's an extremely simple point." God gets to communicate in any way he chooses. Your proscribing such a method of communication (for that indeed is strongly implicit in the O/P) is problematic.

Edward Feser said...

Doug,

Re: politeness, I was just following your example. But perhaps smart-ass remarks based on obvious misreadings -- like, say, "Not sure if telling God what he cannot do is particularly wise" -- aren't exactly master classes in the subject.

Re: the rest of your comment, sure, of course "given the [right] religious and cultural context" such-and-such a message from God would be effective. That doesn't conflict with my point, but confirms my point.

And that point has nothing whatsoever to do with "proscribing" God from doing something or with whether "God gets to communicate in any way he chooses." It has to do with what a communicative context must be like in order for a message from anyone (including God) to be effective.

But I realize that, for someone who for whatever reason doesn't like what I'm saying, "Feser thinks he can tell God what to do" makes a great sound bite. So I'm sure you'll keep looking for ways to attribute this absurd straw man to me, between lectures on politeness.

George LeSauvage said...

@Ed:

Thanks for the clarification. Then it's of God as ultimate (truly final) cause that the argument speaks; not just ordinary final cause of the "I got a coke because I was thirsty" sort.

I hope that's right. If so, I'd never really noted before the symmetry of the 5 Ways: Starts with a proof from a first cause, ends with a proof from a last
cause.

Another point: Your choice of Kilroy is particularly apt here.

@Doug: I think you are missing part of the point here. The "Yahweh" message is here taken as being offered as a proof (or probable argument) for the existence of God. But that isn't what He was doing with Moses; Moses needed no such evidence, as the conclusion was not in doubt. And it is only as evidence of His existence that it is being discussed here.

DavidM said...

@Bilbo:

"Evolution happened. And the question is, how? If you don't like ID's answer, you're welcome to offer one yourself."

Sorry if I missed this the first (or second or third) time, but could you remind me: what is ID's answer to 'how' evolution happened?

Doug said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Doug said...

George,

Thank you for that clarification. Point taken.

But then sometimes God does choose remarkable "accidental forms" to communicate: Saul's experience on the road to Damascus comes to mind.

Edward Feser said...

Doug,

At this point you could say "OK, I guess I misunderstood what you were getting at and was a bit snarky. Let's move on." Or you could just keep shoving your foot deeper into your mouth. Your choice.

Why you think the Urdu and round square examples are "red herrings" I have no idea.

The point of the Urdu example was to illustrate how context is important to the effectiveness even of a divine message. And I've yet to hear from you what is wrong with the point I was making there (which is the same point developed at greater length in the OP). Do you deny that even a divine message is bound not to be effective if the right context isn't in place? If you do deny this, why, exactly?

The point of the round square example was to illustrate that to say "Even God can't do such-and-such" doesn't entail "Presumptuously telling God what he may do." It is instead a matter of getting clear how the metaphysics of divine action works. In the present case, the point is that even divine messages have to have an appropriate context in order for people to understand them. Saying "Who are we to tell God what to do?" sounds pious and all, but it really just misses the point entirely.

Edward Feser said...

But then sometimes God does choose remarkable "accidental forms" to communicate

Well, yeah. I said that in the OP.

Did you actually read it?

Doug said...

Ed,

You did indeed, my bad.
I gotta read slower sometimes, sorry.

Edward Feser said...

OK, Doug, no problemo. Peace.

Bilbo said...

Hi DavidM,

It depends on which theory of ID you're asking about. The one I have discussed is Behe's. He accepts (and even argues for) common descent, natural selection, and thinks that random genetic mutations have a very limited ability to change organisms. His idea is that somebody caused many of the genetic mutations needed to make major changes in organisms. In the latter part of his book, The Edge of Evolution he offers one hypothetical scenario of how this might have happened: the designer chooses one of the rare possible universes where all the right mutations would occur and somehow actualizes it. Another possibility would be intervention of some kind.

So a large part of what (biological) ID is trying to do is offer an account of how one organism can change into a different organism.

Bilbo said...

Here's a recent paper espousing a neo-Lamarckian view, which strikes me as something that would be more in line with immanent teleology

Physiology is rocking the foundations of evolutionary biology.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if I understand thing correctly...

There is a "scientific" part of ID, which simply points out the examples of things that are hard to explain by Darwinian evolution. By themselves they might show that Darwinian evolution needs some modification. Using the analogy in the post, Darwinian evolution is something like a theory that a specific pattern on the paper appeared when some buckets of paint were above paper and an earthquake happened. Then "scientific ID" would correspond to pointing out one pattern which was unlikely to be created in that way, but perhaps, happened when a snail moved on the paper when paint was still wet.

This "scientific ID" hardly anyone objects to, because, well, hardly anyone cares. It gives us neither "intelligence" nor "design". But there is a "philosophical" part of ID that adds some assumptions and arguments and gets to something that could be called "intelligent design".

Now Thomists think that those arguments and assumptions are highly questionable. And even if we granted them, we would get something like "It is more likely that Marsians did it.", which doesn't look like much of an improvement compared with "normal" Darwinian evolution. especially given that Five ways promise us much more at a much lower "price".

Would that be a good summary..?

Glenn said...

DavidM,

1. The phrase "strictly speaking" wasn't employed idiomatically.

2. As qualifications, refinements, requirements, stipulations, etc., get added or tacked on to a statement which starts out as general, the result becomes less general and more specific (i.e., stricter).

3. ST II-II q 2 a 1: "To think" can be taken in three ways. First, in a general way for any kind of actual consideration of the intellect, as Augustine observes (De Trin. xiv, 7): "By understanding I mean now the faculty whereby we understand when thinking." Secondly, "to think" is more strictly taken for that consideration of the intellect, which is accompanied by some kind of inquiry, and which precedes the intellect's arrival at the stage of perfection that comes with the certitude of sight.

General sense of "to think": any kind of actual consideration of the intellect, i.e., any kind of actual consideration of the intellect, whether that consideration of the intellect is accompanied or is not accompanied by some kind of inquiry.

Less general, more specific (i.e., stricter) sense of "to think": that [actual] consideration of the intellect, which is accompanied by some kind of inquiry (and which precedes the intellect's arrival at the stage of perfection that comes with the certitude of sight).

4. To say that, in a stricter sense, "to think" is to engage in an actual consideration of the intellect which is accompanied by some kind of inquiry, is not to say that engaging in an actual consideration of the intellect which is not accompanied by some kind of inquiry is not "to think".

And to say that, in a stricter sense (or even in the strictest sense**)), miracles have a publicly observable character, is not to say that things which have not a publicly observable character cannot qualify as miracles.


** It would be the "strictest" sense, non-idiomatically, if one has bottomed out re the adding or tacking on (to the original general statement) of qualifications, refinements, requirements, stipulations, etc.

DavidM said...

@Bilbo:
So how does Behe-ID explain how evolution happens? Behe "accepts (and even argues for) common descent, natural selection, and thinks that random genetic mutations have a very limited ability to change organisms. His idea is that somebody caused many of the genetic mutations needed to make major changes in organisms. In the latter part of his book, The Edge of Evolution he offers one hypothetical scenario of how this might have happened: the designer chooses one of the rare possible universes where all the right mutations would occur and somehow actualizes it. Another possibility would be intervention of some kind."

So the answer is just that it happened somehow, but not likely in virtue of random genetic mutation. Now what, in your view, does Feser not like about this answer, to this question? (Could you refer to his actual words in answering this question?)

"So a large part of what (biological) ID is trying to do is offer an account of how one organism can change into a different organism."

Rather, how one species can evolve into a different species - right?

Douglas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DavidM said...

@Glenn:
The usual meaning of "strict(est) sense" (as in St. Thomas' "proprie 'miracula' dicenda sunt") is just the sense that most precisely expresses the general formal character of the thing. There are no connotations here of a restricted or narrow sense. In any case, in SCG III.101, St. Thomas indicates that the strict sense does not involve public observability. If St. Thomas does speak of a restricted or narrow sense corresponding to Feser's criteria somewhere, I'd appreciate someone directing me to it. A restricted/narrow sense is not necessarily a 'stricter' sense, as in a more precise formal characterization of the essence of something.

Bilbo said...

DavidM: So the answer is just that it happened somehow, but not likely in virtue of random genetic mutation.

That doesn't sound like what I wrote.

Now what, in your view, does Feser not like about this answer, to this question? (Could you refer to his actual words in answering this question?)

If you are referring to your paraphrase of my explanation of Behe's theory, then I'm not sure what Feser wouldn't like, but I don't like that your paraphrase is rather inaccurate.

Rather, how one species can evolve into a different species - right?

Which involves a series over time of one organism changing into a different organism.


DavidM said...

1. If S, then G would be one conclusion.
2. Not S.
3. Nothing further follows.

DavidM said...

Bilbo: "That doesn't sound like what I wrote."

How not? I omitted some detail, but what I wrote is still accurate.

"I'm not sure what Feser wouldn't like..."

Ignoring your dodge, I think that's the real problem you need to think about: you're not sure what Feser wouldn't like, but you're still complaining about whatever it is you think he doesn't like. You need to get clear about this before attempting to make any more arguments.

And who??? is it that thinks that evolution involves ONE organism changing A DIFFERENT organism?

Brandon said...

In any case, in SCG III.101, St. Thomas indicates that the strict sense does not involve public observability.

As Glenn already noted, though, this is not actually so clear if one reads the entire section rather than just reading the last sentences out of context.

Scott said...

@Bilbo:

"Which involves a series over time of one organism changing into a different organism."

No, it doesn't. At no point in the series does any organism change into a different organism.

Douglas said...

DavidM,

The toy arguments I gave are consistent with S's falsity.


Bilbo said...

DavidM: So the answer is just that it happened somehow, but not likely in virtue of random genetic mutation.

DavidM; How not? I omitted some detail, but what I wrote is still accurate.

Really?

Greg said...

@Bilbo,

I don't consider you to be a Darwinist. As I noted to Mr. Green above, I suspected you were an advocate of a different theory, sort of a neo-Lamarckism, which some recent biologists are starting to favor. When I think of immanent teleology such a theory comes to mind. I have nothing against such a theory. For all I know it might turn out to be true.

This strikes me as an ironic response. Ed says that he is not critiquing ID from a Darwinist perspective. You only read objections to ID in terms of evolution, though, so instead, you try to read Ed has taking some other position on the issue of evolution.

I've heard the objection to ID that it leads to deism or occasionalism. My response is the Ginger Rogers/ Fred Astaire analogy: most of the time Ginger dances on her own two feet, led and supported by Fred. Every once in a while Fred picks her up and twirls her around. That is what seems to be going on in evolution. Most of the time nature can handle things, being led and supported by God. But every so often we see leaps in natural history suggesting that God has picked up nature and given her a twirl. Those are times when the evidence for ID is strongest. But it doesn't mean that God hasn't been supporting and interacting with nature all the time. So objecting to ID on this issue seems rather misguided to me.

This is also ironic, because you've taken Ed's point about intrinsic and extrinsic teleology and read it as a comment about evolution, because again, you only read objections to ID in terms of evolution.

You seem to be up-to-date on issues about ID, so I assume you are familiar with Nagel's Mind and Cosmos? Nagel draws a distinction between historical and constitutive accounts by appeal to which we might diagnose your consistent misunderstanding of what Ed is talking about. When Ed talks about intrinsic or extrinsic teleology, the matter is constitutive, not historical. It has nothing to do with what historically caused an organism to be the way it is, whether in "neo-Lamarckian" fashion some feature was used and improved, or whether in Darwinist fashion some feature was naturally selected. The issue is constitutive, in that a natural substance like an organism exhibits intrinsic teleology unlike an artifact. This teleology must be accounted for, and neither neo-Lamarckianism nor Darwinism nor Beheism accounts for it, because they all provide historical explanations of how the organism came to exist in the plane of secondary causes, whereas the account demands a constitutive explanation hic et nunc. (This is true because the natural substance's intrinsic teleology is independent of its origins. A human being created from nothing would still exhibit this intrinsic teleology even though there is ex hypothesi no evolutionary account of its teleology.)

Edward Feser said...

What Greg said. Good grief, Bilbo, what part of "my objections to ID have nothing one way or the other to do with evolution" do you not understand?

I mean, seriously... now I'm a "neo-Lamarckian"? Where the hell are you getting this stuff?

To repeat my parallel example from earlier: Suppose someone said that he didn't believe in evolution on the grounds that Quetzalcoatl spoke to him in a dream about it. And suppose I answered: "That's not a good objection, because Quetzalcoatl doesn't exist, and here's why..."

Obviously it would be ridiculous in this case to say: "Ah, Feser must be defending some alternative position on the origin of species. Maybe he's a neo-Lamarckian..." In fact, of course, I would in this case be saying or implying absolutely nothing whatsoever about evolution, Darwin, neo-Lamarckianism, etc. I would be saying only that Quetzalcoatl doesn't exist.

Similarly, when I criticize Dembski's methodological commitment to mechanism, the notion of "complex specified information," etc., that entails exactly nothing one way or the other about Darwinism, neo-Lamarckianism, bacterial flagella, the origin of eyeballs, etc. "Nothing," as in zero, zip, zilcho, bupkis.

Bilbo said...

Hi Greg and Ed,

I'm trying to get what you two are driving at. "A natural substance exhibits intrinsic teleology." Let's stick with living organisms. Okay, you would say they have intrinsic teleology. I assume that an acorn's growing into an oak tree would be an example of an acorn's intrinsic teleology?

The Irish Thomist said...

Could I just throw the request out there to maintain Christian charity even if others disagree with ID?

Be open to rethinking your position. Step away from the keyboard, think about all the points made, and reply in a less passionate way (If you want to) on your return. You may continue to reject the A-T view, fine. Say so in a way that understands we both hope and aim for the truth.

Also I think its best not to 'shoot fish in a barrel'. Point out the logical problems, but if the same points by the same people are dragged out and old detailed arguments ignored or sidestepped - (point it out) then move on. Your time is worth more.

I have been wrong, just as wrong and much worse, about many things - I thought about things later and I changed my mind. That might not happen in an online debate under blog posts, but maybe seeds will be planted for a less hostile time of reflection.

DavidM said...

@Brandon:
"As Glenn already noted, though, this is not actually so clear if one reads the entire section rather than just reading the last sentences out of context."

Well, yes, Glenn "noted" that, but incorrectly. He cited Thomas' etymological commentary on the word 'miracle,' which evokes the general meaning of the term, as evidence for Thomas' view of the strict meaning of the term - which is the exact opposite of the correct analysis. Thomas starts from the general, customary, broad meaning, and works towards the strict meaning:

SCG III.101.1: "Haec autem quae praeter ordinem communiter in rebus statutum quandoque divinitus fiunt, miracula dici solent: admiramur enim aliquid cum, effectum videntes, causam ignoramus. Et quia causa una et eadem a quibusdam interdum est cognita et a quibusdam ignota, inde contingit quod videntium simul aliquem effectum, aliqui mirantur et aliqui non mirantur: astrologus enim non miratur videns eclipsim solis, quia cognoscit causam; ignarus autem huius scientiae necesse habet admirari, causam ignorans. Sic igitur est aliquid mirum quoad hunc, non autem quoad illum. Illud ergo simpliciter mirum est quod habet causam simpliciter occultam: et hoc sonat nomen miraculi, quod scilicet sit de se admiratione plenum, non quoad hunc vel illum tantum. Causa autem simpliciter occulta omni homini est Deus: probatum enim est supra quod eius essentiam nullus homo in statu huius vitae intellectu capere potest. Illa igitur proprie miracula dicenda sunt quae divinitus fiunt praeter ordinem communiter observatum in rebus."

Elrond said...

Bilbo,

I could be mistaken, but I think that you seem to be very much missing the point.

I'm sure others will correct me if I have got this wrong, but I believe that the debate is something like the following:

Darwinist: Assuming a mechanistic metaphysics, and given the available evidence, some form of neo-Darwinism provides the best explanation of the diversity of life on earth.

ID Advocate: No! Assuming a mechanistic metaphysics, and given the available evidence, some form of ID theory provides the best explanation of the diversity of life on earth.

Ed Feser: Why do we have to assume a mechanistic metaphysics?

Granted neither the Darwinist nor the ID advocate explicitly state that key assumption; but it is there implicitly in their models. In the worst case, they probably don't even realise that they are making it, or that it can be challenged, but it is still there, and it can be.

Some background information: Mechanism is the belief that the universe is like a big machines, with lumps of indistinct matter acted on by some external `laws of physics' which are universal, omnipotent, immutable, and pretty much unbreakable.

Aristotlean Thomists, on the other hand, believe that the best explanation of the world around us is that actions of each individual particle are determined by their own internal nature. This is exhibited in the substance of the being expressed as the union of form (describing how the matter of a being needs to be arranged for it to be that type of being) and matter; change being due to the actualisation of various potentials inherent in the substance; and in terms of the efficient, formal, material, and final causes intrinsic to each type of substance and each individual being. Ed Feser explains all this far better in his books and this blog than I can here.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the mechanistic view became almost universally accepted by philosophers. In the 19th and early 20th century, the philosophers came to another almost universal opinion that mechanism necessarily implies either deism or (more likely) atheism. That second opinion has been challenged more recently, but is still very much dominant. That is, of course, why our contemporary society is dominated by an implicit atheism.

Professor Feser's life work has been devoted to the following:
a) Demonstrating that the arguments leading to the initial rejection of AT were really exceptionally poor and are easily refuted.
b) Showing that the mechanistic philosophy has various inherent and intractable problems in numerous areas (such as in ethics and the philosophy of mind) which are entirely absent in the AT theory.
c) Showing that if you accept AT metaphysics you are pretty much forced to also accept classical theism.

Elrond said...

(cont)


Ed Feser's objection to ID is solely that, by assuming mechanism, they are conceding the argument before they start. Even if the ID advocates win the scientific argument, they still have the problem of all the philosophical arguments leading to atheism or something close to it. Certainly any `God' you wind up with won't be the God of the Bible. On the other hand, if you can reformulate ID, Darwinism or whatever other theories you come up with in terms of AT metaphysics, it doesn't ultimately matter which one wins, because you still end up in the same place with classical theism.

Obviously, Ed Feser can't complete his work on his own. He's a philosopher (and a pretty good one), but needs a top quality physicist to show how modern physics can be reformulated in terms of AT metaphysics, and a top quality biologist to reformulate modern biology; and probably an all round genius to put it all together and iron out any wrinkles. It's that biologist you should be directing your questions towards, not Professor Feser.

Is a reformulated Darwinism or reformulated ID theory (or something else) best in line with the observed evidence? Prof Feser is not going to answer that question (and neither am I) because a) he is not an expert in the area and is therefore unable to critically evaluate the details of the arguments on both sides, so even if he gave an opinion it wouldn't be worth very much anyway; and b) its not ultimately such an important question (at least for him, or me). Sure, it would be nice to fill in the details, but that will almost certainly have to be someone else's project, who knows far more about biology and has a particularly thick skin. Professor Feser can't do everything himself all at once; his job in this project would be to teach that biologist the necessary metaphysics and philosophy; and to beat up any mechanistic philosophers who try to attack him. However, Professor Feser is an expert on metaphysics, and is thus amply qualified to have an informed view on the drawbacks of the metaphysics underlying both Darwinism and ID theory as they are currently commonly expressed.

DavidM said...

@Bilbo:
"I'm trying to get what you two are driving at."

Really? (Finally! As a sign of good faith, how about you do some re-reading then? Both those two have already expressed themselves pretty clearly.)

DavidM said...

Elrond:

"Obviously, Ed Feser can't complete his work on his own. He's a philosopher (and a pretty good one), but needs a top quality physicist to show how modern physics can be reformulated in terms of AT metaphysics, and a top quality biologist to reformulate modern biology; and probably an all round genius to put it all together and iron out any wrinkles. It's that biologist you should be directing your questions towards, not Professor Feser."

That sounds wrong. I would think that Feser doesn't have a problem with scientists formulating their theories, commensurate with their own proper methodologies, however they want to formulate them, and A-T metaphysics doesn't look for its own completion in any formulation of physical or biological theory. Rather, what is necessary is that physicists and biologists recognize the inherent limitations in the scope of their modes of investigation vis-à-vis metaphysical investigation. And so it's also wrong to say that Darwinism or ID is intrinsically wedded to 'mechanistic metaphysics.' Rather, they would seem to be constituted through a mechanistic methodology, which is fine in itself, but becomes a problem if one fails to recognize the inherent limitations in the scope of one's inquiry and one's conclusions, limitations which will necessarily accompany a science which proceeds on the basis of this kind of methodological regime.

Brandon said...

Well, yes, Glenn "noted" that, but incorrectly. He cited Thomas' etymological commentary on the word 'miracle,' which evokes the general meaning of the term, as evidence for Thomas' view of the strict meaning of the term - which is the exact opposite of the correct analysis.

This is irrelevant to the point Glenn was making in noting it, since the point did not rely on the larger analysis.

What Glenn pointed out, and what is very clear from the Latin, is that we are already talking about observed effects that are such as to excite wonder in people; this is essential for the remaining argument. Of these phenomena, those that are suited to excite wonder in everyone are those whose cause is such that its operation is hidden from everyone; thus the claim that miracles in the proper sense are done by divinity outside of the commonly observed order of things is not exclusive of their being in-principle observable by anyone. Nor is this surprising; etymologies or 'etymological commentaries' as you call them are for scholastics partial definitions. Thus the point, which you have still not addressed, stands: when the section is read entire rather than its last lines being quoted out of context, it is not clear that public observability is not part of the meaning of 'miracle' in the strict sense.

DavidM said...

@Brandon:

"This is irrelevant to the point Glenn was making in noting it, since the point did not rely on the larger analysis."

Irrelevant? Yikes. Brandon, I was responding to your claim that I took a sentence out of context. Therefore "the larger analysis" is anything but irrelevant.

"What Glenn pointed out, and what is very clear from the Latin, is that we are already talking about observed effects that are such as to excite wonder in people;"

Yes: Thomas begins his analysis there. Just as I pointed out. So your pointing this out is a little strange.

"this is essential for the remaining argument."

Sure, in the sense that the remaining explains the (in-)adequacy of this broad 'definition.'

"Of these phenomena, those that are suited to excite wonder in everyone are those whose cause is such that its operation is hidden from everyone; thus the claim that miracles in the proper sense are done by divinity outside of the commonly observed order of things is not exclusive of their being in-principle observable by anyone."

Of course it's not exclusive of this: in principle a miracle may be 'observable by anyone.' But neither is it inclusive of this.

"Nor is this surprising; etymologies or 'etymological commentaries' as you call them are for scholastics partial definitions."

You mean starting points for developing (strict, proper) definitions (I hope).

"Thus the point, which you have still not addressed, stands: when the section is read entire rather than its last lines being quoted out of context, it is not clear that public observability is not part of the meaning of 'miracle' in the strict sense."

Sure it is. But thanks for begging the question. I'm curious: Is it your position that Aquinas holds that transubstantiation is not a miracle in the strictest sense?

Glenn said...

DavidM,

I think Brandon's response is clearer than the one I'm about to give. Still, you misunderstand what I was doing, so I’m giving my response as well.

Well, yes, Glenn "noted" that, but incorrectly. He cited Thomas' etymological commentary on the word 'miracle,' which evokes the general meaning of the term, as evidence for Thomas' view of the strict meaning of the term - which is the exact opposite of the correct analysis.

No, this is not right.

In drawing on what St. Thomas wrote, I was not offering evidence for St. Thomas' view of the strict meaning of the term, but instead was offering (some) support for what Dr. Feser was getting at. He himself -- Dr. Feser, that is -- had clarified for you what he was getting at:

"I was merely focusing on one sense
that is emphasized in some Scholastic works
for the specific purpose of
clarifying how Scholastic thinkers conceive of miracles
in the context of apologetics and
in the philosophy-of-nature context of
relating miracles to natural occurrences."

It seems clear enough (to me): the context for Dr. Feser's mention of miracles in the strictest sense is not, and was not, St. Thomas' view as expressed in the last sentence of SCG 101.3.1

Consider now what St. Thomas says in SCG 101.3.2-4.

Subsequent to his having given the strictest sense of miracles in SCG 101.3.1, St. Thomas goes on to mention three degrees, orders or ranks of miracles, only the lowest of which involves something done by God which can be done by nature. This means that with the two higher degrees, orders or ranks of miracles something is done by God which cannot be done by nature.

If the first two of the three ranks of miracles are combined into one, the result is two basic ranks of miracles: things done by God which cannot be done by nature, and things done by God which can be done by nature.

Given the context of either apologetics or philosophy-of-nature, it is the former rank of miracles, and not the latter rank of miracles, which is efficacious.

The real issue here is what Dr. Feser meant when he said what he said, not what St. Thomas meant when he said what he said. (Had Dr. Feser said, "St. Thomas said...", then, of course, the real issue would be otherwise than as just stated.)

Brandon said...

Irrelevant? Yikes. Brandon, I was responding to your claim that I took a sentence out of context. Therefore "the larger analysis" is anything but irrelevant.

(1) I claimed no such thing. I pointed out that your claims are not so obviously true if one looks at the section entire rather than just at the last sentences of it out of context. (2) This is an obvious equivocation. The sentences in Aquinas are not by Glenn; thus Glenn's larger analysis would only be considered relevant to addressing the question of their interpretation in and out of context by an idiot.

Of course it's not exclusive of this: in principle a miracle may be 'observable by anyone.' But neither is it inclusive of this.

Again, an equivocation. The question at hand is whether in making the definition Aquinas is excluding public observability as part of the definition; the point, which was quite clear, is that since he only specifies miracles in the strict and proper sense (as being those that are done by divinity outside the commonly observable order of things) in a context in which all the candidates for miracles are already identified in terms of their observable effects being such as to call admiration, and since this context is essential for the argument for the definition, it isn't so clear as you keep pretending that some kind of public observability isn't a part of the definition.

And thus we've also established that you don't know what 'begging the question' means. The only one who is begging the question here is you, since you seem to think that the proper response to an argument is merely to repeat what you said before. So I say again: You have not addressed the point in question.

Is it your position that Aquinas holds that transubstantiation is not a miracle in the strictest sense?

I don't know; it's not a point in Aquinas I've looked at specifically. But it certainly is the standard view among later scholastics, and was a standard part of Catholic catechesis at least up to the early twentieth century: transubstantiation is not a miracle in the strict sense but only in a figurative sense, just as creation is a miracle only in a figurative sense.

Greg said...

@Bilbo,

I'm trying to get what you two are driving at. "A natural substance exhibits intrinsic teleology." Let's stick with living organisms. Okay, you would say they have intrinsic teleology. I assume that an acorn's growing into an oak tree would be an example of an acorn's intrinsic teleology?

Yes, that is the example that Ed has been using. (He argues that acorns and other natural substances manifest intrinsic teleology in a number of places. See the section on finality in Scholastic Metaphysics, for example.)

Brandon said...

I forgot this point:

You mean starting points for developing (strict, proper) definitions (I hope).

I didn't mean that, but exactly what I said, although it is certainly true that etymologies are starting points for developing strict, proper definitions. This is elementary, and is a fundamental precondition for understanding a great many argument in Aquinas and other scholastics, so it is worth some space. Etymologies, like descriptions, are imperfect definitions; and this is true all the way across the scholastic board. They are getting this idea from St. Isidore, whose entire Etymologies is based on the idea that etymology captures something important about the nature of things. When Isidore identifies the etymology of hope as 'a foot moving forward', for instance, he is not toying with words but making the point that any adequate account (definition) of hope will include something which this figurative phrase identifies. When scholastics take the Isidorean etymology that a stone is 'hurting the foot', they are not playing cute games with language but establishing, albeit indirectly, something that is a necessary part of any adequate definition of a stone. And we see this, again, all over the place; the standard definition of 'etymology' by the modistae, for instance, is that it is a definition or description constrained by using the same letters or sounds as the word itself. This would be recognized by anyone who had studied the Topics commentary tradition.

Thus when Aquinas remarks that miracle is etymologically connected with wonder (admiratio), he is not making a pedantic, antiquarian point about how we got the word; it is a point about what a miracle is.

Bilbo said...

Greg: Yes, that is the example that Ed has been using. (He argues that acorns and other natural substances manifest intrinsic teleology in a number of places. See the section on finality in Scholastic Metaphysics, for example.)

Okay. Now if I suggested that the acorn exhibits this intrinsic teleology because of its genetic and epigenetic properties, you would say...?

DavidM said...

@Glenn:

"It seems clear enough (to me): the context for Dr. Feser's mention of miracles in the strictest sense is not, and was not, St. Thomas' view as expressed in the last sentence of SCG 101.3.1"

Right - but that was only made clear when Feser offered us the substantial clarification of what he originally wrote, wherein he chose to replace "strictest sense" with "one sense" etc. (You seem to be ignoring the fact that he did that.)

"Given the context of either apologetics or philosophy-of-nature, it is the former rank of miracles, and not the latter rank of miracles, which is efficacious."

That seems wrong, purely fabricated, not found in the text. Can you justify this claim?

"The real issue here is what Dr. Feser meant when he said what he said, not what St. Thomas meant when he said what he said. (Had Dr. Feser said, "St. Thomas said...", then, of course, the real issue would be otherwise than as just stated.)"

But Feser SAID that he was talking about Aquinas' view, so I was (and still am) wondering what the textual foundation there is (if any) for the attribution of this view to Aquinas.

Scott said...

@Bilbo:

"Now if I suggested that the acorn exhibits this intrinsic teleology because of its genetic and epigenetic properties, you would say...?"

…that you have just suggested one possible relationship between the acorn's formal and final causes.

DavidM said...

@Brandon:

"(1) I claimed no such thing."

??

"I pointed out that your claims are not so obviously true if one looks at the section entire rather than just at the last sentences of it out of context."

Yes, you did question-beggingly 'point that out' - among other things...

"(2) This is an obvious equivocation. The sentences in Aquinas are not by Glenn; thus Glenn's larger analysis would only be considered relevant to addressing the question of their interpretation in and out of context by an idiot."

Right... a non sequitur, I believe? I must say, I think Glenn is mistaken if he thinks his explanations are less clear than yours.

"Again, an equivocation. The question at hand is whether in making the definition Aquinas is excluding public observability as part of the definition; the point, which was quite clear, is that since he only specifies miracles in the strict and proper sense (as being those that are done by divinity outside the commonly observable order of things) in a context in which all the candidates for miracles are already identified in terms of their observable effects being such as to call admiration, and since this context is essential for the argument for the definition, [HOW SO??] it isn't so clear as you keep pretending that some kind of public observability isn't a part of the definition."

Seeing that it is omitted from the definition, it seems clear that it isn't part of the definition.

"And thus we've also established that you don't know what 'begging the question' means."

LOL - another non sequitur? Thanks - keep 'em coming!

"I don't know; it's not a point in Aquinas I've looked at specifically. But it certainly is the standard view among later scholastics, and was a standard part of Catholic catechesis at least up to the early twentieth century: transubstantiation is not a miracle in the strict sense but only in a figurative sense, just as creation is a miracle only in a figurative sense."

Okay, thanks. FYI, from my reading, I think it's very clear that Aquinas does not share this view that transubstantiation is only figuratively a miracle.

DavidM said...

Is 'earth' an imperfect definition of man?

DavidM said...

Is "injures foot" a partial definition of a stone?

Bilbo said...

Scott:
…that you have just suggested one possible relationship between the acorn's formal and final causes.

Okay, let's assume that this possibilty is actually the case. If it were possible for someone to change the genetic or epigenetic properties of the acorn so that instead of growing into an oak tree, it grew into a walnut tree, would this particular acorn have a different intrinsic teleology than before?

DavidM said...

Thomas Aquinas, Super Sent., lib. 1 d. 23 q. 1 a. 2 ad 1. Ad primum ergo dicendum, quod in significatione nominis duo sunt consideranda: scilicet id a quo imponitur nomen ad significandum, et id ad quod significandum imponitur. Contingit autem quandoque quod substantia alicujus rei nominatur ab aliquo accidente quod non consequitur totam naturam de qua nomen illud dicitur; sicut lapis dicitur ex eo quod laedit pedem, nec tamen omne laedens pedem est lapis, vel e converso. Et ideo judicium de nomine non debet esse secundum hoc a quo imponitur, sed secundum id ad quod significandum instituitur.

[...And therefore the judgment about a name should not be according to that from which the name is imposed [its etymology], but according to that for the signifying of which it was instituted.]

Glenn said...

DavidM,

But Feser SAID that he was talking about Aquinas' view

He did? Where?

Yes, Dr. Feser said, "Aquinas and other Scholastic writers draw a number of careful distinctions which contemporary writers ignore at their peril."

But for some unknown reason you take this to mean that he said something else, something like, say, "Aquinas' view of the strictest sense of miracles, is as follows:..."

Egads.

Glenn said...

DavidM,

I shouldn't have said, "Egads." Sorry. I was expressing an exasperation I feel, but I'm not apologizing for feeling that exasperation, only for having expressed it the way I did.

Glenn said...

DavidM,

[...And therefore the judgment about a name should not be according to that from which the name is imposed [its etymology], but according to that for the signifying of which it was instituted.]

I don't see where this counters what Brandon has said. As best I can tell, it supports what he has said -- especially that part about "according to that for the signifying of which it was instituted".

JesseM said...

and the stock examples of objects with substantial forms are those that occur in the wild (animals, plants, stones, water, etc.)

Kind of a side issue, but would "stones" really be substantial forms for a modern advocate of A-T philosophy? I had the impression from previous comments by Dr. Feser that the only directly observable entities (i.e. leaving out disembodied entities like angels and God) that have substantial forms are either living organisms, or basic types of matter that can be considered "natural" categories inasmuch as they repeat throughout nature and behave the same way wherever they are found (like H20 molecules).

If a pile of sand (including one formed naturally, like a sand dune) is a mere accidental form, why should a piece of sandstone be a single substantial form, when sandstone is just a bunch of sand grains that have been naturally cemented together with clay or some other material, and different pieces of sandstone have slightly different properties (shape, weight etc.) that are attributable to differences in the arrangement of basic materials that make them up?

Scott said...

@Bilbo:

"If it were possible for someone to change the genetic or epigenetic properties of the acorn so that instead of growing into an oak tree, it grew into a walnut tree, would this particular acorn have a different intrinsic teleology than before?"

I'm not sure where you're hoping to go with this question and it strikes me as more than a bit vague, but I'll address it as it stands.

Assuming this prima-facie-unlikely scenario came to pass, we might understand it in either of (at least) two ways depending on precisely how the change was accomplished:

(1) The acorn no longer exists, and its matter has received the substantial form of a walnut. In this case the intrinsic teleology of the acorn hasn't changed but merely vanished along with the acorn itself, and the newly minted walnut manifests an intrinsic teleology appropriate to a walnut.

(2) We've discovered that it's the nature of acorns to manifest, under certain circumstances, different properties from those with which we were already familiar. In this case the intrinsic teleology of the acorn hasn't changed fundamentally; the change is in which properties it manifests. (An acorn, like anything else, needn't simultaneously manifest every property that flows from its essence.)

I suspect the first interpretation would probably be found to be more empirically plausible than the second, but then I think the entire scenario is pretty improbable in the first place.

Glenn said...

DavidM,

o Nothing is called a miracle by comparison with the Divine Power; because no action is of any account compared with the power of God, according to Isaiah 40:15: "Behold the Gentiles are as a drop from a bucket, and are counted as the smallest grain of a balance." But a thing is called a miracle by comparison with the power of nature which it surpasses. ST I q 105 a 8

If a miracle has not a 'publicy observable character', then what discernible thing is present which can be compared with the power of nature? Who could make the comparision? And who would benefit from the comparision?

Scott said...

And perhaps more fundamentally (though not much), how would the question of what to call it arise in the first place? Aquinas seems to be concerned with the propriety of the name miracle and taking as a background assumption that there's someone observing at least the effects of the event under consideration.

Greg said...



Ed, thank you for responding so thoroughly to my hastily constructed response, were I to know you’d spend 4400 words on the topic I’d have been a bit clearer on what I was thinking. I still think the underlying intuition I made the original comment from is tough to escape.

Context
You write:
In short, we could take “Made by Yahweh” to be a sign from Yahweh only if we already have, on other grounds, good reason to think Yahweh exists and is likely to send us messages by leaving them in cells. And in that case the occurrence of the phrase in the cell would not be giving us independent reason to think Yahweh exists.

If you read my original comment again, you’ll notice that far from my argument denying context it presupposes it. There is a reason I chose Yahweh and not Steve Jobs or Quetzalcoatl; the former has the attributes of omnipotence and Creator ascribed to it; the latter two do not. And as a thought experiment we can stipulate this anyway we choose; say that we can definitively rule out any human agency as the cause of the message(s). Perhaps we discover messages not in cells but in the night sky; perhaps radio signals detectable by human instrumentation sent from a quasar 50 million light years away arrived with myriad of messages, all of which affirming various biblical truths.

True, as far as ID is concerned all we can conclude is the presence of an intelligent source for these messages, and one that transcends time and space to some degree (since the messages were sent 50 million years ago and before human technology or language). But we can reason from more than that which is empirically observed; we can infer that even very advanced extraterrestrials aren’t capable of transcending time and space or controlling quasars for instance. We can also reject a mass hallucination or Cartesian devil on the grounds that this is self-defeating skepticism which prevents us from knowing any proposition.

On nature
You write:
What I object to is blurring the distinctions between substantial form and accidental form, immanent teleology and extrinsic teleology.

The problem here is that neither ID, nor any appeal to God’s revelation through nature be it in scripture or through the Holy Spirit or miracles such as the Resurrection, seeks to deny this distinction. The issue here is epistemic not ontological. God can (and does) reveal Himself through accidental forms and extrinsic teleology.


Miracles and the Bible
I think this is where the main disagreement lies:
Christ’s resurrection from the dead would be a paradigm case of such a miracle. But establishing such a miracle in turn requires a lot of philosophical stage-setting. It requires establishing God’s existence and nature, divine providence, the possibility in principle of miracles, the possibility in principle of a resurrection, and so forth. All this groundwork has to be established before the occurrence of a miracle like the resurrection can be defended.

This, frankly, grants too much to the naturalist. Although it is ontologically true that God must exist before Christ can rise from the dead through God’s power, epistemically we do not have to know that God exists before we can use Jesus’ Resurrection as proof of that claim. All that is required is the possibility of God’s existence and miracles—things the naturalist must grant lest he beg the question, and a proper context for interpreting the Resurrection.

Getting back to the validity of ID reasoning, all that is required is the ability for humans to detect intelligence and evidence that intelligence is required for certain biological features to exist/flourish. One doesn’t have to first show there is a transcendent intelligence to give evidence for a transcendent intelligence.

Anyway, thanks for taking my argument seriously enough to respond to in such detail. God bless,

Greg.

Bilbo said...

Scott: I'm not sure where you're hoping to go with this question and it strikes me as more than a bit vague, but I'll address it as it stands.

I'm hoping to understand what the A-T objections to ID are, since so far, I don't. Gred and Ed mentioned that it had something to do with intrinsic teleology, so I'm doing a thought experiment to try to see where the problem with ID is.

Assuming this prima-facie-unlikely scenario came to pass, we might understand it in either of (at least) two ways depending on precisely how the change was accomplished:

(1) The acorn no longer exists, and its matter has received the substantial form of a walnut. In this case the intrinsic teleology of the acorn hasn't changed but merely vanished along with the acorn itself, and the newly minted walnut manifests an intrinsic teleology appropriate to a walnut.


But let's say that this newly minted acorn appears to the naked eye to still be an acorn. Should we still call it a walnut?

(2) We've discovered that it's the nature of acorns to manifest, under certain circumstances, different properties from those with which we were already familiar. In this case the intrinsic teleology of the acorn hasn't changed fundamentally; the change is in which properties it manifests. (An acorn, like anything else, needn't simultaneously manifest every property that flows from its essence.)

OK. Some people claim that we humans are just fish manifesting different properties than usual.

I agree that this thought experiment is very improbable, though there are more modest examples of genetic engineering, such as glowing fish. But given the possibility of my thought experiment, which would seem to be a case of intelligent design, how is this a contradiction of A-T philosophy?

Brandon said...

DavidM,

Most of your comment is just gibberish, in which you misuse terms like 'non sequitur' and 'question-begging', and, even worse, fail to grasp that one must establish, and not merely assert, that these terms apply. But in terms of the general argument, I will spoonfeed it to you in little bits to make it easier for you to digest.

(1) The section in question begins with the etymology: things are called miracles because we wonder at them, we wonder at things when, seeing the effect, we do not know the cause.

(2) However, the section goes on to note, in many cases, one person would wonder at the effect but not another, as in eclipses.

(3) So in order to have something simply wonderful (simpliciter mirum) and thus a miracle in the proper sense, it has to be an effect that is due to a cause whose operation is hidden to everyone. This cause is God.

(4) Thus he draws the conclusion: "Those things are properly said to be miraculous that are done by the divinity outside the commonly observed order of things."

(5) From all of this we can see that the nature of a miracle as an observed mirum is important context, since it is from this that he actually draws the conclusion. Observation, seeing, and the like run throughout the entire argument.

(6) Thus it is, contrary to what you've repeatedly stated without any evidence or argument, not clear that public observability is being excluded as part of the definition.

As I noted, most of the rest of your comment is just junk, but I will also address your etymology questions, since the etymology itself serves as a confirming evidence:

Is 'earth' an imperfect definition of man?
Is "injures foot" a partial definition of a stone?


The answer to both these questions is Yes, that is exactly how medieval scholastics saw them. The reason for this I've already given, and it is uncontroversial: they learned how to use etymologies from St. Isidore, and this is exactly how St. Isidore uses them, and unlike you, none of the medieval scholastics would have thought themselves clever for treating St. Isidore as if he were an idiot. They would of course have recognized that the language was figurative; they would also have recognized that it was incomplete and relative to human experience (which is in fact essential to how St. Isidore of Seville uses them). Hence the imperfect/incomplete, or, as I put it, 'partial' definition part. But they would also have recognized these things as identifying a genuine aspect of the nature of things. That's how they use them. And as I already pointed out (and which you've ignored, as you seem to have a habit of doing with countervailing evidence), it's even easy to find logicians in the period, like the Modists, explicitly characterizing etymology as imperfect definition. When Aquinas uses the etymology 'goodly fire' for 'benignity', he would obviously have recognized that this was a figurative description. But he treats it as identifying something about the real nature of benignity, which a proper definition will also have to identify. He clearly does the same thing with 'miracle' here; its etymological connection to 'admiratio' is not just mentioned but used as part of the argument: God comes in because he is the only causes such that, his effects being seen, they would be wondrous (mirum) to everyone.

Scott said...

@Bilbo:

"[G]iven the possibility of my thought experiment, which would seem to be a case of intelligent design, how is this a contradiction of A-T philosophy?"

As my reply indicates, I don't see that it would be. And why should it be? Even if it were unambiguously a case of intelligent design (which I'll accept arguendo for the purposes of this post), why would you expect that to contradict A-T? A-T doesn't deny intelligent design as such, just certain understandings of it and certain arguments for it.

Scott said...

@Bilbo:

"[L]et's say that this newly minted acorn appears to the naked eye to still be an acorn. Should we still call it a walnut?"

I'd regard that as an empirical question, and again, the answer would depend (at least in part) on precisely how the change was accomplished.

Now, it's important to understand in A-T terms just what the empirical question is. The object of the inquiry would be to determine what the nature or essence of the acorn/walnut/whatever is, and the answer would presumably be an inference from the properties that it manifests. (A-T distinguishes between an essence and the properties that flow from it.)

However, I don't offhand see what this has to do with ID.

Scott said...

@Bilbo:

"I'm hoping to understand what the A-T objections to ID are, since so far, I don't. [Greg] and Ed mentioned that it had something to do with intrinsic teleology[.]"

Yes, and it would probably be a good idea at this point for you to step back and make sure you understand what "intrinsic teleology" is. That will help you understand why Ed objects to its complete reduction to extrinsic teleology, which in turn will help you understand why he objects to the usual ID approach(es) to "design."

The heart of the idea is that a natural substance (living or otherwise) is by nature "oriented" toward certain ends. The chemicals used in a match head have a natural tendency to react in certain ways that produce heat and thus fire; the acorn has a natural tendency to take in water, nutrients, and sunlight and grow into an oak. These tendencies are built in to the natures of these substances, whereas others are not; the acorn has no natural tendency to speak, to take to the air and fly, to become invisible, and so forth.

If you bear that in mind, Ed's objections may come to make more sense to you.

Bilbo said...


Scott: A-T doesn't deny intelligent design as such, just certain understandings of it and certain arguments for it.

Okay, you've got my attention. What sort of understandings of ID and what arguments for it does A-T deny?

Bilbo said...

Hi Scott,

You posted just before I did. No, Ed's objections are not making more sense to me.

Scott said...

@Bilbo:

Relevantly here, Ed thinks ID tends to treat natural substances as having no substantial forms (only accidental ones) and no immanent/intrinsic teleology, thereby running roughshod over some very significant metaphysics and effectively ruling out the God of classical theism.

You may have to give his posts more than a quick re-skimming before that begins to make sense to you.

Scott said...

I mean, I really wasn't expecting three minutes to be long enough. ;-)

Bilbo said...

Scott: Relevantly here, Ed thinks ID tends to treat natural substances as having no substantial forms (only accidental ones) and no immanent/intrinsic teleology, thereby running roughshod over some very significant metaphysics and effectively ruling out the God of classical theism.

But as you pointed out in my thought experiment, someone could alter the genetic information of an organism, and the resulting change could still be understood in terms of A-T philosophy.

This isn't the first time I've tried to understand Ed's objections. Three minutes was all I needed to see that there wasn't any new grounds covered here.

So, any other A-T objections to ID?

Scott said...

@Bilbo:

"But as you pointed out in my thought experiment, someone could alter the genetic information of an organism, and the resulting change could still be understood in terms of A-T philosophy."

And as I also pointed out, it's far from clear what your thought experiment has to do with ID (or conflicts between ID and A-T) in the first place. Nor have I accepted your thought experiment as a genuine example of intelligent design, except for the sake of the argument.

"This isn't the first time I've tried to understand Ed's objections."

And have you succeeded yet? If not, then it's time to try again, armed with what I hope is a better understanding of one of the key underlying concepts.

"Three minutes was all I needed to see that there wasn't any new grounds covered here."

You don't need any new ground to be covered; you need to go back over the old ground until you understand it.

"So, any other A-T objections to ID?"

Tell you what—why don't you try giving a clear statement of the ones you've been given so far? If you can do that, there will be some point in continuing.

Otherwise I'll leave you to it. At the very least, though, it should be obvious from what we've said so far that Ed's objections (as he's pointed out repeatedly) have nothing to do with evolution or the precise mechanisms by which it might occur.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Bilbo,

If you want to understand the A-T position in full, you will have to read your way through the articles on this blog or, better yet, read Dr. Feser's work.

At the moment, you are asking people to walk you through an entire philosophy in a combox.

Elrond said...

David M (July 28, 2014 at 7:06 AM, sorry late in replying).


I would think that Feser doesn't have a problem with scientists formulating their theories, commensurate with their own proper methodologies, however they want to formulate them, and A-T metaphysics doesn't look for its own completion in any formulation of physical or biological theory. Rather, what is necessary is that physicists and biologists recognize the inherent limitations in the scope of their modes of investigation vis-à-vis metaphysical investigation.


I agree that AT metaphysics stands on it own. Unfortunately, when you present it to an atheist, who doesn't appreciate (or even one that does) the philosophical arguments why it is superior to mechanism, their natural response is

1) Since Newton, physics has been formulated in terms of a mechanistic methodology
2) Therefore, since Newton, physics is consistent with an ontological mechanism
3) Physics is inconsistent with a AT methodology
4) Therefore physics since Newton is inconsistent with ontological A-Thomism
5) Physics derived from mechanistic methodology does far better at explaining the universe than any physics derived from an AT methodology
6) Therefore, mechanism is to be preferred over AT explanations.

Now obviously, to you and me at least one of premises 3) and 4) in this argument are very suspect (and I have questions over 1 and 2 as well). But to convince people who are generally distrustful of philosophy (which is most of the scientific community) and therefore will regard the philosophical motivation behind AT as mere word-play, we have to show in terms of the details of modern quantum field theory that those premises are erroneous and modern physics is consistent with A-Thomism (there is no point in discussing Newton's theory, since Newton was wrong; or even basic Schroedinger quantum mechanics for the same reason. Of course, QFT might be overthrown in the future; then we would just have to perform the same step in terms of whatever replaces it). That will require an expert on QFT; in short a physicist who also knows his philosophy.

The same argument needs to be repeated for biology.

Aristotle's system was complete: physics; philosophy; biology in union. The mechanistic system is (perceived to be) the same. We have the problem that there is the appearance of a disconnect between philosophy and the other sciences (based on 400 years of prejudice originally founded on poor principles). It is only an appearance -- but, to convince people, the appearance has to be reversed.

Bilbo said...

Scott:
And as I also pointed out, it's far from clear what your thought experiment has to do with ID (or conflicts between ID and A-T) in the first place. Nor have I accepted your thought experiment as a genuine example of intelligent design, except for the sake of the argument.


Let's take Behe's theory of ID and see how it applies: Behe accepts common descent, natural selection, and thinks that random genetic mutations have played a limited role in evolutionary history. He thinks most multi-protein complexes (and most proteins only function in such complexes) had to be intelligently designed. And by that, he means that there had to be genetic mutations or changes that were caused on purpose by some kind of intelligence. My thought experiment would be a hypothetical (albeit unrealistic) example of what Behe had in mind. Does that make it clear how my thought experiment relates to ID?

Tell you what—why don't you try giving a clear statement of the ones you've been given so far? If you can do that, there will be some point in continuing.

Let's see:
(1) There was the one that Feser stated up above: Somehow ID would encourage deism or occasionalism. I think I dealt with that rather effectively. If not, feel free to point out why not.

(2) There is the argument that ID is at best a very weak argument for God, and distracts from the stronger A-T arguments for God.
My answer to that is that ID is (or should be) an attempt to provide an explanation for evolutionary history and the origin of life. It's goal is not (or should not be) essentially to provide a religious apologetic.

(3) And there is the argument that ID gets the concept of God wrong, seeing Him as a demiurge, instead of the God of classical theism. And here the question is whether God can or would do things like cause genetic mutations. But if even if God wouldn't do it, it seems He could just appoint somebody else to do it. Perhaps -and this is merely my own amateurish theology - that is what is meant by God the Son being the means through which God the Father creates.

Those are the objections I can think of. Are there others?

Bilbo said...

Been there, done that, Jeremy.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Professor Feser,

Your latest post, Signature in the Cell?, has not gone unnoticed. I will be posting a reply on Uncommon Descent within the next day or so. Cheers.

Scott said...

@Bilbo:

"My thought experiment would be a hypothetical (albeit unrealistic) example of what Behe had in mind. Does that make it clear how my thought experiment relates to ID? "

Only slightly. If there was something in your thought experiment that implied that such genetic and epigenetic changes couldn't occur without the intervention of an intelligent designer, I'm afraid I missed it.

"Let's see:…Those are the objections I can think of. Are there others?"

Sure. You've skipped the one about getting the metaphysics wrong (which is also why your Fred-and-Ginger response on point (1) was not, in fact, rather effective). That one is pretty basic, and Ed elaborates on it (among other places) above, under the heading II. You keep using that word “natural”; I don’t think it means what you think it means.

But I think I've done all I can here; I can't put that objection much more clearly than I have, let alone more clearly than Ed (repeatedly) has. To paraphrase Dr. Johnson: Sir, we have given you an argument, but we are not obliged to give you an understanding.

So I'm passing the baton to anyone else who wants it.

Johannes said...

I agree with the "Miracles and the Bible" section of Greg's comment @ July 28, 2014 at 12:21 PM. The groundwork that "has to be established before the occurrence of a miracle like the resurrection can be defended" is the metaphysical plausibility, or even just possibility, of God’s existence and nature, divine providence, etc., not the metaphysical certainty thereof.

To note, this is just the case with Thomas Cajetan and the immortality of the soul, about which he wrote in his Commentary to Ecclesiastes: "nulla apparet demonstrativa ratio, sed fide hoc credimus, et rationibus probabilibus consonat".

Greg said...

@Bilbo,

Now if I suggested that the acorn exhibits this intrinsic teleology because of its genetic and epigenetic properties, you would say...?

I am in agreement with Scott's points here so I'll just make a few points.

The "because of" here is a bit vague. Intrinsic teleology is a very general phenomenon; even inanimate natural substances manifest it, and animate natural substances do possess the powers of inanimate matter as well. For that reason the intrinsic teleology could not be wholly accounted for by its genetic and epigenetic properties.

In describing the function of an organism, one will inevitably appeal to genetic and epigenetic factors, because they play roles in the life of a cell even apart from reproduction. So they are "part" of the organism's intrinsic teleology, because they are integral parts of the organism which are themselves directed toward the organism's ends. (But again, to say that genetic and epigenetic properties enter into the intrinsic teleology of the acorn is not to say that intrinsic teleology would have to be specified hereditarily. The A-T account is accounting for intrinsic teleology hic et nunc. If God created an acorn from nothing, it would have genetic and epigenetic properties but no heredity, but the same intrinsic teleology as all other acorns possess.)

But given the possibility of my thought experiment, which would seem to be a case of intelligent design, how is this a contradiction of A-T philosophy?

I am not sure whether your thought experiment is a case of intelligent design. I am reminded of the anecdote at the beginning of David Oderberg's article "Synthetic Life and the Bruteness of Immanent Causation". A team of scientists produced a bacterium with a synthetic genome (using pre-existing biological mechanisms to synthesize it), and the media interpreted it as creating "synthetic life." So the acorn which someone modifies so that it grows into a walnut tree may be a similar case. Humans may have "guided" the process in a very weak sense, but the new acorn was "created" by humans in the same sense that golden retrievers were "created" by humans.

For that reason, I think the thought experiment is underdescribed, at least. There are two extreme interpretations of this scenario. In one case, humans use other biological factors to bring it about that an acorn acquires some dispositions of a walnut, but are not themselves acting on the acorn. (As Scott says, whether the entity after the fact is an acorn or a walnut is an empirical question. Its substantial form might change, or it might just acquire a number of other accidental forms while retaining the substantial form of an acorn. The scenario as described could not tell us. Furthermore, you've described the post-modification nut as having the disposition to grow up into a walnut tree, but it is also an empirical question, in the same sense, whether the tree it grows into will be an oak or a walnut tree.) The other extreme is that humans are literally tinkering with the organism, and the acorn has actually acquired the substantial form of a walnut strictly by the action of the humans. (On this extreme, it is almost as though the humans discard the acorn and build a walnut from other inanimate materials.)

(continued)

Greg said...

(continued)

The thought experiment does not distinguish between these senses, but Oderberg's argument in the rest of that paper would disqualify the possibility of the second argument. (On that extreme reading, the humans would be changing the acorn in the walnut basically without "using" the acorn's immanent causation.)

(I'll also add that it's important to watch the terminology here. Feser has spoken about intrinsic and extrinsic teleology and has also (I think) used intrinsic teleology and immanent teleology interchangeably. Oderberg draws a distinction between immanent and transient causation. While intrinsic/immanent teleology is characteristic of all natural substances, including inanimate substances, Oderberg argues that immanent causation is characteristic strictly of life, and for that reason immanent causation is a proper subset of the causation that is immanently directed, while some transient causation may be immanently directed.)

But as you pointed out in my thought experiment, someone could alter the genetic information of an organism, and the resulting change could still be understood in terms of A-T philosophy.

Here is one of the issues I see with ID. You've said, "(Biological) ID is the theory that some biological features are best explained by having been efficiently caused by a designer." But "efficient cause" is an analogical term. One strength of classical theist arguments is that they can contribute to an understanding of in what sense God's causality differs from our own.

However, our efficient causation in bringing about an organism has to be of the dog-breeding type. We cannot take transient causation and produce immanent causation; in fact, Thomists would argue that no one could "tinker" with inanimate matter and bring about that it becomes life: not even God. But this is not really a limitation on God's power because God never acts by "tinkering"; by that I mean that one does not analyze God, on the classical theist understanding, as acting on natural substances. So one would not say, "God causes the plane to stay in the air" or "God directs the two amino acids toward each other." Rather God causes the natural substances to exist, and God "concurs" with their activity: "God causes it to be that (the plane flies)" or "God causes it to be that (two amino acids link)." So God's efficient causation stands on a totally different level of reality on which our own depends.

So one objection would be that none of these distinctions are made, nor does it seem like they could be made. Consider the two extremes given above in discussion of Oderberg's argument. The first is not particularly useful for ID, because it is not "intelligent design" and the change in organisms over generations depends substantially on the underlying biological mechanisms. The second extreme is also problematic if matter is conceived mechanistically, for there can be no designer who rearranges mechanistically conceived matter into life, yielding immanent causation from transient causation.

(These are of course considerations of the two "extremes"; possibly some third way works better, but I doubt that there is any walking the line here that avoids both of these conclusions. I don't necessarily claim that these are decisive considerations. (Nor are these last several points Ed's argument.) But I think there are tendencies to get a misleading picture of God's causality and relation to the world. Perhaps there is some way to avoid them, though.)

Johannes said...

"The reason is the obvious one that it is purely a matter of convention that the string of shapes “Made by Yahweh” counts as a sentence in the English language, and purely a matter of convention that the sentence has the specific meaning that it has. For an arrangement of physical marks to count as the English sentence “Made by Yahweh” is thus for it to have what Aristotelians call an “accidental form.”"

To note, there is a potential medium for a message from the Creator that belongs to the "substantial form" of the universe, namely the fine structure constant:

alpha = e^2 / (2 h c ε0)

This constant is dimensionless, meaning that its value is completely independent from the units adopted for the various physical magnitudes such as length, time, mass and electrical charge. It is also not accidental but substantial and related to the immanent teleology of the universe, as different values would yield vastly different universes, unfit for life. It is usually expressed as its reciprocal, currently measured to around 137.035999084. Of that, the integer part must probably be just that or otherwise we would not be here. But could there be a signature in the fractional part? I came up with a highly speculative hypothesis regarding this a few years ago (from two basic intuitions: a. If we interpret the fractional part as representing a length of time relative to 1,000 years, what's the age in years of someone who dies 8 hours before turning 36? b. When did 14 Nissan fall in 7 BC?) Anyone interested can find it as the only article of one of my blogs.

Sure enough, this observation from Prof. Feser fully applies to my hypothesis, with the appropriate changes: "In short, we could take “Made by Yahweh” to be a sign from Yahweh only if we already have, on other grounds, good reason to think Yahweh exists and is likely to send us messages by leaving them in cells. And in that case the occurrence of the phrase in the cell would not be giving us independent reason to think Yahweh exists."

Greg said...

But "efficient cause" is an analogical term. One strength of classical theist arguments is that they can contribute to an understanding of in what sense God's causality differs from our own.

I've thought about this a bit more, and I think there is another issue.

The term "efficient cause" is analogical. This means that if a consequence of some metaphysical demonstration is that "efficient cause" must be extended to another usage, there is no contradiction, and we may do so. This is essentially what the classical arguments for God's existence do; they show that God must be the First Cause, and there must be an efficient cause (for instance) that does not merely cause new substances to come into existence but sustains them in existence.

There is a formal issue if one is trying to find something out about God using a probabilistic argument. In the above case, the classical arguments constrain us to conclude that God is the First Efficient Cause and that he differs from other efficient causes. This is allowable because the extension of "efficient cause" is indeterminate given the doctrine of analogy. Other senses of the term can legitimately be "forced" on us.

But the indeterminacy of the term is a much greater liability if your argument is not a metaphysical demonstration but is probabilistic. There are probably a ton of conceivable senses of "efficient cause" that may or may not be instantiated. I don't think ID really has a way to determine which sense of efficient cause applies to the "designer," and (as I mentioned in my other reply) Oderberg's argument might be adapted to rule out certain senses.

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

OMO dEI (you know Uncial writing for the d?)

Eye, eyebrow, eye.

Nose from side, nosetip from below, closed mouth.

Open mouth and you get OMO dEO (whatever we now owe to God, like "LAUDEM" etc.)

Gary Black said...

Johannes,

Even if the number is dimensionless, base10 would be an arbitrary standard.

Gary Black said...

Johannes,

I just read your article and I see you addressed my point. Although you say base10 is natural for us, it diminishes the importance of the original number being dimensionless. Perhaps we should also look at the significance of various lengths measured in cubits.

Johannes said...

Gary, base10 does not play any role at all in the interpretation of the fractional part. The division by 1000 comes from Psalm 90:4 stating that, for God, 1000 years in his sight are like one day. The role of 1000 as a symbolical asymptotic upper limit of human age, and therefore a natural unit for expressing it fractionally, is reinforced by the fact that the maximum symbolical length of human life in the Bible is 969.
Then you can represent 0.035999084 and 1000 in any base you like, and nothing changes.

Base10 does play a role in interpreting the integer part, but clearly the core of my hypothesis is about the fractional part.

Bilbo said...

Scott: Only slightly. If there was something in your thought experiment that implied that such genetic and epigenetic changes couldn't occur without the intervention of an intelligent designer, I'm afraid I missed it.

But ID doesn't say that such changes couldn't happen without an intelligent designer. They say that such changes are too improbable to believe that they happened without an intelligent designer guiding the process.

"Let's see:…Those are the objections I can think of. Are there others?"

Sure. You've skipped the one about getting the metaphysics wrong (which is also why your Fred-and-Ginger response on point (1) was not, in fact, rather effective). That one is pretty basic, and Ed elaborates on it (among other places) above, under the heading II. You keep using that word “natural”; I don’t think it means what you think it means.

I know what "deism" and "occasionalism" mean, and there is nothing in ID that implies either of those positions. Now if evolution occurred, and bacteria evolved into animals and plants, then either nature had the ability to get it done within the 3.5 billion years that have gone by, and God merely supported and concurred with nature; or nature didn't have the ability to get it done within that time period and something extrinsic to nature had to happen.

Let's go with the first alternative, that nature had the ability. Neo-Darwinism claims that the process that nature used was natural selection and random mutation (NS + RM). ID proponents (and others) claim that the data show that NS+RM couldn't have accomplished it in the provided time frame, and that therefore some other process must have been at play. Now those who reject an extrinsic process have suggested other alternatives, such neo-Lamarckianism or Symbiogenesis. And it may turn out that those are indeed the ways that it happened.

But if those processes also turn out to be inadequate, then it may be reasonable to consider some extrinsic process. Though Behe's hypothetical scenario, of a designer picking out the rare possible universe where all the right genetic mutations occur and actualizing it needn't be seen as extrinsic. But if that scenario is not allowed for some reason (too deterministic?), then again some extrinsic process would need to be considered, such as someone altering the genetic information in an organism. As far as I can tell, you've shown that A-T philosophy can handle this.

Bilbo said...

Greg:
In describing the function of an organism, one will inevitably appeal to genetic and epigenetic factors, because they play roles in the life of a cell even apart from reproduction. So they are "part" of the organism's intrinsic teleology, because they are integral parts of the organism which are themselves directed toward the organism's ends.


Yes, and Scott suggested that perhaps they were the part that played the role between an organisms formal and final cause.

I suggest that my thought experiment shows how it might be possible to change or replace the formal cause of an organism and change its final cause.

Bilbo said...

What I think Ed and everybody else here are missing is that if evolution is true, if bacteria did evolve into animals and plants, then we need some explanation of how that happened. I'm curious what process A-T philosophers suggest happened.

The Irish Thomist said...

@Bilbo [Baggins?]

JUst search the term evolution on this blog to start with.
http://edwardfeser.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=evolution

Mr. Green said...

Bilbo: What I think Ed and everybody else here are missing is that if evolution is true[...] then we need some explanation of how that happened.

No, we're not missing anything. First of all, we don't "need" anything — knowledge of evolutionary details are not required for human survival. More specifically, metaphysicians don't need such an explanation because it isn't metaphysics, it's science (—actually, it's not science either, it's history, but history that is extrapolated from scientific knowledge, so we'll ignore that detail). For that matter, ID does not explain how that happened either, except at a very vague level: as I said before, it is really a theory about theories, a template that indicates what certain scientific explanations will look like.

What you are still missing is that the metaphysical point transcends the (historico-)scientific details of how a particular event played out, or what class of event it was. That's the problem with analogies like the Fred-Ginger example, which ignore the flawed foundation on which it rests. Whether God "leads" or "lifts" nature is a false dichotomy, because God transcends nature. Fred and Ginger are both beings who interact on the same plane (or for some of their fancier footwork, on a dance-floor that isn't so planar, but I digress…). God is more like an author who is outside of the story he tells.

Suppose an author writes a story with a character who dies of old age, and one who gets shot. We can distinguish between the one who dies of natural causes, and the murder victim; one was the victim of "chance and nature", the other of an intelligent killer. And yet both deaths were "intelligently designed" by the author. Does it make sense for the killer to protest that the evidence doesn't single him out because Methuselah over there also died as a result of "design"? There is an obvious difference: characters in the story are working on a different level from the author. Even moreso for God: He transcends creation, acting at the level of primary causation, while creatures act at the level of secondary causation. To play detective on God is to treat him as a secondary cause, like Fred who co-operates with Ginger — inside the story. And that's one of the key problems Ed keeps repeating: if the argument requires treating God like a dancing partner, then it's not the Prime Mover, but some kind of pagan god — obviously a serious concern.

You may protest that that's reading too much into the metaphor, that you don't mean to indicate that God exists alongside creation, just that He operates in different ways. But the author does not act in one kind of way to have Methuselah die of natural causes, and some other kind of way to have the other character murdered. It's exactly the same thing from the author's point of view: just writing a story. So for the example to make a distinction at all, it seems to require explicitly assuming that God is not transcendent in that way. The author designs some things to happen by change, and designs other things to happen by design. To ensure that vital distinction is not lost, you have to start from the metaphysical end, from primary and secondary causation, from the Prime Mover and the rest — but once you've got all that, you've got a solid proof of God, so the rest becomes superfluous anyway.

Now you've claimed that ID isn't about God, and if you really do pare away all the metaphysics and talk about God, I think you might be left with something that Ed and others would not dispute. It's not entirely clear just what that would leave, though; you yourself still bring up issues about whether God could or would act this way or that way in bringing about the current state of life on Earth. But you have to admit that most people who talk about ID are explicitly quite keen on its having to with God (even if only by implication), so Ed can hardly be blamed for responding to those people.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Bilbo writes,


"But ID doesn't say that such changes couldn't happen without an intelligent designer. They say that such changes are too improbable to believe that they happened without an intelligent designer guiding the process. "

But doesn't what is probable, in a sense, depend upon one's metaphysical and philosophical horizon? One of the reasons evolution is considered such a plausible explanation is precisely because only naturalistic explanations are considered as part of the scientific understanding of the development of life on earth (and explanations like aliens are not considered). Indeed, the only stable definition of evolution is the naturalistic explanation of the development of the life.

So, to get ID taken seriously, anyway, you'd have to weaken naturalism's imaginative hold beforehand.

E.Seigner said...

Bilbo: I suggest that my thought experiment shows how it might be possible to change or replace the formal cause of an organism and change its final cause.

Your thought experiment uses extrinsic teleology to make it appear that intrinsic teleology changes, but intrinsic teleology does not change. It's always the a particular acorn's intrinsic teleology to become a particular tree. This potential - to become a particular tree - may be actualised or not - and both these options are aspects of the acorn's teleology. Suppose someone changes the acorn so that it becomes a different particular tree. The change is extrinsic, and it is not contrary to the acorn's intrinsic teleology any more than the event of early death due to whatever causes would be contrary to the acorn's instrinsic teleology. The acorn's intrinsic potentials fail to actualise due to adveerse environment, but it will change nothing about the intrinsic potentials. It's part of the whole metaphysical conceptual framework that the actualisation of the acorn's potentials depends on its environment.

I have an example from a whole different field. Suppose there's a dictionary saying that a certain word in a certain language has a certain meaning. This is the job for the dictionary to describe. Let's further suppose the pronunciation or spelling or the meaning (or all of that) of the word has changed and the dictionary is historical enough to reflect the old state of affairs rather than what you are familiar with. Now, you can legitimately argue that there's been a change and you can speculate about the reasons of the change, but your speculations do not change these facts:

- The state of affairs involves the relationship of the word's spelling and its meaning
- The description of the state of affairs at any time is the job for a dictionary
- The mechanics and reasons for the relevant changes are not the job for a dictionary

In my example, replace dictionary with metaphysics, spelling with form and meaning with teleology, and perhaps you see where the misunderstanding lies. Ed is talking about the metaphysical components that are inevitable for the analysis of the state of affairs at any time, whereas you focus on the mechanics of the change, which is not of direct interest to metaphysics. You are talking past each other because you are talking about different dimensions of the issue altogether.

As far as I have understood, God of A-T lies in the metaphysical presupposition of formal and final causes that determine what can exist in what way and in what limits the existents can change and/or be changed. The biological mechanics of Darwinism and ID either fail to consider or sometimes directly deny final causes, which makes for a different kind of God, namely God of the gaps, if God be inserted into the mechanistic argumentation at all. A-T would never bend to the mechanistic framework, because dropping teleology is like, re my example, losing the meaning from the dictionary, and only allowing the spelling. Moreover, mechanistic assumptions allow for the spelling of a word as a mere variable, denying its substantial form that invariably refers to a meaning (teleology).

As far as I have understood ID, in the best cases ID tries to inform Darwinism that substantial form entailing teleology is a useful concept (deism?) - or, less satisfactorily, that some God occasionally interferes with material existence (occasionalism?) - but Ed's point is that the nomenclature and methodology of ID-ers is insufficient.

(My first comment here. I may be misrepresenting things here and there.)

Bilbo said...

I took the Irish Thomists suggestion and searched Ed's blog for evolution. I wasn't having much luck, but did find something he<a href=" http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/04/id-theory-aquinas-and-origin-of-life.html</a>wrote on the origin of life</a> that I think might be a way of making peace between A-T and I-D:

<i> No contemporary A-T theorist accepts the mistaken scientific assumptions that informed Aquinas’s views about spontaneous generation. But might a contemporary A-T theorist hold that there could be some other natural processes (understood non-mechanistically, of course) that have within them the power to generate life, at least as part of an overall natural order that we must in any event regard as divinely conserved in existence? He might, and some do. But the actual empirical evidence for the existence of such processes seems (to say the least) far weaker now than it did in Aquinas’s own day, precisely because no one any longer believes that spontaneous generation is an ongoing natural process; and the confidence that naturalists have that purely natural processes can generate life rests, I would submit, on their commitment to metaphysical naturalism rather than on actual empirical evidence

Hence, some A-T thinkers conclude that the first living things could not have arisen out of inorganic processes in any way and must have been specially created by God in an extraordinary intervention in the natural order.</i>

I'm wondering if what Ed wrote here may open the way to understanding ID in an A-T metaphysics: Ed admits that because of empirical research that it is much more difficult to believe that the origin of life was a natural event, and that it took a special act of creation by God to bring it about. And since most ID proponents believe in God, they would have no problem accepting that that is what happened.

But now, what about the rest of evolution? Because of empirical research, most ID proponents have difficulty accepting the idea that much can be attributable to natural events, also. But would that mean that God has to continually perform special acts of creation throughout natural history? If so, then these creative acts wouldn't no longer be "extraordinary," but almost routine and mundane. There is something about such a state of affairs that strikes most -- A-T philosophers or not -- as irrational.

So here is what I am wondering: Could the one act of special creation of the origin of life, which for God is a single moment, but spread out over billions of years in our universe? Thus, for example, when the "Cambrian Big Bang" happened about 540 million years ago, it was part of the same act of special creation that God had performed 3 billion year earlier? If that is a real possibility, then we have a way of making peace between the two warring factions. Every time there appears to be a case of evolution where natural processes simply can't seem to account for it (and there are myriad such cases), we can tentatively accept that they were a part of that one special act of creation that began with the origin of life. Thus, no need for some designer to tinker around with organisms, no need to see them as artifacts or machines, but as part of the special act of creation of God that first began with the origin of life.

Any thoughts?

Bilbo said...

Whoops! Let's try linking Feser's article on the origin of life again.

E.Seigner said...

I doubt you were supposed to search for evolution. You were supposed to search for intelligent design and some of its proponents, such as Dembski and Torley.

Meanwhile Torley has published a response to this article. His main thrust against Feser seems to be that Feser is more skeptical than Coyne. Also, Torley makes this argument: "---what if the same message were found in the DNA of Neanderthal man? --- My point is that Neanderthal man lived over 30,000 years before the Hebrew language was spoken, or before English was spoken, for that matter. Consequently, if we found a message in Neanderthal DNA saying “Made by Yahweh,” the only reasonable inference we could draw is that the Being who produced it must have had foreknowledge of future human actions. Such a Being could only be God. And if the message were even more explicit, and said something like, “Made by Yahweh and discovered by Sarah Smith on Wednesday, July 28, 2014 at 11:45:32 GMT, 100 years to the day after the outbreak of World War I”, and if the same message were found in ancient human DNA, then there could be absolutely no doubt that God was responsible." Obviously, Ed would remain skeptical also in this case. Foreknowledge or capacity to prophecy does not irrefutably point to God.

Different concepts of God, evidently, as Ed has been saying.

Scott said...

@E.Seigner:

"I doubt you were supposed to search for evolution."

Since Bilbo was expressly responding to The Irish Thomist's suggestion JUst search the term evolution on this blog to start with. http://edwardfeser.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=evolution, I'm pretty sure he was supposed to search for "evolution." ;-)

E.Seigner said...

@Scott
Fair enough. Except that it's still better to look for the terms I suggested.

Vasco Gama said...

A long, long, long post from Torley to say nearly nothing.

One thing is sure, he is not refering to God (at least as Catholics understand God), maybe to something else.

Bilbo said...

First, I tend to side with Ed on the "Made by Yahweh" example. That's not the sort of thing God would do, and I think we should be suspicious of it.
Second, I have a pretty good idea of Ed's criticisms of ID. What I was wondering about were Ed's thoughts on evolution. But no luck.
Third, however, Ed's article on the origin of life that I linked to might provide a way of making peace between the two factions. I'm hoping to get some sort of feedback from the A-T people here to see if perhaps this might provide a way of understanding what ID people see going on the history of evolution.

So, any feedback?

E.Seigner said...

Bilbo: So here is what I am wondering: Could the one act of special creation of the origin of life, which for God is a single moment, but spread out over billions of years in our universe? Thus, for example, when the "Cambrian Big Bang" happened about 540 million years ago, it was part of the same act of special creation that God had performed 3 billion year earlier? If that is a real possibility, then we have a way of making peace between the two warring factions. Every time there appears to be a case of evolution where natural processes simply can't seem to account for it (and there are myriad such cases), we can tentatively accept that they were a part of that one special act of creation that began with the origin of life.

This is the definition of God of the gaps. What makes you think anyone can accept this, theist or not? Do you have a problem with constant ever-present God?

Vasco Gama said...

Bilbo,

I guess the real problem is not the knowledge of evolution (or the current scientific knowledge on evolution or cosmology, or chemistry, or...).

The real dispute concerns metaphysics.

BenYachov said...

VJ


YOU ARE KILLING ME!

KILLING ME!


Killing me.

Oy Vey!!!!!

Anonymous said...

BY, you and I and Feser are just being hyperskeptical.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi everyone,

I've made a few last-minute updates to my post. By the way, while I certainly wouldn't expect God to leave a "Made by Yahweh" message in every cell, my position is that if we found one, the most obvious and reasonable inference to draw would be that it was put there by God - especially if we found it in ancient human DNA as well. To infer instead that we were all suffering from a collective hallucination would be a case of intellectual stubbornness - and it would also have disastrous epistemic consequences, as I argue in my post.

Finally, I really do think that Ed needs to respond to my criticisms of his re-vamped version of Aquinas' Fifth Way, which he keeps touting as a knockdown demonstration. It isn't - at least, not yet. So for Ed to claim that we can bypass Intelligent Design and rely solely on his metaphysical arguments is presumptuous: it amounts to putting all your epistemological eggs in one basket.

Scott said...

@Vincent Torley:

"Finally, I really do think that Ed needs to respond to my criticisms of his re-vamped version of Aquinas' Fifth Way, which he keeps touting as a knockdown demonstration."

He does? Where? And moreover…

"It isn't - at least, not yet. So for Ed to claim that we can bypass Intelligent Design and rely solely on his metaphysical arguments is presumptuous: it amounts to putting all your epistemological eggs in one basket."

…where does he tout it as the only metaphysical argument that conclusively establishes the existence of God? (Your argument about the danger of putting all one's metaphysical eggs in one basket just because Ed's version of the Fifth Way isn't, in your opinion, airtight doesn't go through if Ed offers other such arguments—as of course he does.)

Bilbo said...

E.Seigner: This is the definition of God of the gaps. What makes you think anyone can accept this, theist or not? Do you have a problem with constant ever-present God?

Ed pointed out that some A-T philosophers are willing to believe that the origin of life was a special act of creation by God, based on empirical findings that suggest that such an event is beyond the capabilities of nature. Would you call that "God of the gaps"?

Bilbo said...

Vasco Gama:

I guess the real problem is not the knowledge of evolution (or the current scientific knowledge on evolution or cosmology, or chemistry, or...).

The real dispute concerns metaphysics.


Okay. Let's assume that ID proponents are correct and that most of evolutionary history could not have been produced by natural processes. Is there a way to reconcile this with A-T metaphysics?

Bilbo said...

Vincent Torley; I've made a few last-minute updates to my post. By the way, while I certainly wouldn't expect God to leave a "Made by Yahweh" message in every cell, my position is that if we found one, the most obvious and reasonable inference to draw would be that it was put there by God - especially if we found it in ancient human DNA as well.

You have a good point. And, given that A-T philosophy insists that living organisms are not artifacts or machines, then would the only way for it to be put there is as a special creation by God?

Scott said...

@Bilbo:

"Let's assume that ID proponents are correct and that most of evolutionary history could not have been produced by natural processes. Is there a way to reconcile this with A-T metaphysics?"

"This" what? The fact itself: yes, of course. ID proponents' usual arguments for it: no.

E.Seigner said...

Bilbo: Ed pointed out that some A-T philosophers are willing to believe that the origin of life was a special act of creation by God, based on empirical findings that suggest that such an event is beyond the capabilities of nature. Would you call that "God of the gaps"?

Apparently Ed did not make this point sufficiently clear so that it would reach you, but the point is that context is everything. Meaning: When God acts, on the spot there will be absolutely no doubt that God acted. It is not a matter of a posteriori empirical findings. And never will be.

So the answer is like this: I agree with you up to "special act of creation by God". Further than that I don't. "Empirical findings that suggest that such an event is beyond the capabilities of nature" is an incoherent concept because empirical findings absolutely depend on capabilities of nature. When it's beyond capabilities of nature, there will be no corresponding empirical findings. If you suggest that you might empirically find something miraculous enough that you can show to others and say "This proves that God did it" then this is God of the gaps.

Bilbo said...

Hi E. Seigner,

Allow me to repeat the quotation from Ed that I posted up above:

No contemporary A-T theorist accepts the mistaken scientific assumptions that informed Aquinas’s views about spontaneous generation. But might a contemporary A-T theorist hold that there could be some other natural processes (understood non-mechanistically, of course) that have within them the power to generate life, at least as part of an overall natural order that we must in any event regard as divinely conserved in existence? He might, and some do. But the actual empirical evidence for the existence of such processes seems (to say the least) far weaker now than it did in Aquinas’s own day, precisely because no one any longer believes that spontaneous generation is an ongoing natural process; and the confidence that naturalists have that purely natural processes can generate life rests, I would submit, on their commitment to metaphysical naturalism rather than on actual empirical evidence

Hence, some A-T thinkers conclude that the first living things could not have arisen out of inorganic processes in any way and must have been specially created by God in an extraordinary intervention in the natural order.


Now if you go back to original post by Ed, he continues that other A-T thinkers still think the origin of life was a natural event. From that I think we can conclude that there is doubt that God performed a miracle in the case of the origin of life.

E.Seigner said...

@Bilbo
We both agree God acts. But which act is a miracle and which is natural? If you wanted to say that the creation of the universe was an absolute miracle and a total wonder because God did it, I'd point out the fact that the universe looks astonishingly natural now. This is so with origin of life too: There was nobody around to be dazzled by the miracle, therefore it's contextually more appropriate to say it was a natural act rather than a miracle. Now that we have life, it seems totally natural to have it. Life has miraculously taken rational human form, but we have atheists who don't wonder about it at all. They have rational minds, living organisms, the complete array of emotions, etc. but they see no problem with physicalist assumptions about it all.

This is always so: After the fact it looks totally natural, even though it may have been a miracle when it was done.

Let's take a Biblical example: Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. A miracle? Of course! But when you study the living Lazarus, is there any way to deduce he was miraculously resurrected from the dead? ID theory is hopeless in precisely this way.

Bilbo said...

@Bilbo:

"Let's assume that ID proponents are correct and that most of evolutionary history could not have been produced by natural processes. Is there a way to reconcile this with A-T metaphysics?"

Scott; "This" what? The fact itself: yes, of course. ID proponents' usual arguments for it: no.

Has any A-T thinker said what that way is? If so, please tell me where, so I can read or hear the answer. If not, could you be so kind as to provide the answer yourself?

Bilbo said...

Hi E. Seigner,

I don't think you are coming to grips with what Ed wrote. Even though it is after the fact, some A-T thinkers believe, based on empirical evidence, that the origin of life was a miracle. Some don't.

Bilbo said...

Scott, I missed your comment up above the first time, and it occurred to me that you might have missed mine. So I'll repeat it:

"Let's assume that ID proponents are correct and that most of evolutionary history could not have been produced by natural processes. Is there a way to reconcile this with A-T metaphysics?"

Scott; "This" what? The fact itself: yes, of course. ID proponents' usual arguments for it: no.

Has any A-T thinker said what that way is? If so, please tell me where, so I can read or hear the answer. If not, could you be so kind as to provide the answer yourself?

E.Seigner said...

Bilbo: Even though it is after the fact, some A-T thinkers believe, based on empirical evidence, that the origin of life was a miracle. Some don't.

Not a miracle, but an act of special creation. As to empirical evidence, the quote only mentions Aquinas' biological theory of spontaneous generation (such that flies come from dirt and such), and says that "the actual empirical evidence for the existence of such processes seems (to say the least) far weaker now".

As to what some Thomists believe, "there could be some other natural processes (understood non-mechanistically, of course) that have within them the power to generate life"... Note non-mechanistic natural processes - it's not empirical evidence. The processes would be non-mechanistic, i.e. intractable for mechanistic science, but also natural, i.e. if empirically tractable, they would look perfectly natural. Exactly as I have been saying.

Conclusion. Yes, the origin of life may be interpreted as an instance of special creation. No, we do not deduce it based on empirical evidence. The whole interpretation depends completely on the metaphysical framework - context.

Scott said...

@Bilbo:

"Has any A-T thinker said what that way is?"

Why in the world would an A-T thinker need to make a special effort to "reconcile with A-T metaphysics" events that "could not have been produced by natural processes"? It's pretty basic to A-T that supernatural events can (and do) occur (the Resurrection being one of the most obvious). If some events in evolutionary history turn out to fit that description, they're just more items on the list; no special effort is needed to accommodate them.

Mr. Green said...

Bilbo: Let's assume that ID proponents are correct and that most of evolutionary history could not have been produced by natural processes.

But ID doesn't say that anything couldn't have been produced by natural processes. If I stack the deck in a card game so that I get dealt aces, that's different from hiding cards up my sleeve. The latter is "intervention", it bypasses the normal act of dealing; but the former is hardly something that "could not be produced by natural card-dealing" — that's exactly how it is produced.


E.Seigner: When God acts, on the spot there will be absolutely no doubt that God acted.

Not sure what you're referring to there. God can act in ways that do not advertise that fact.

"Empirical findings that suggest that such an event is beyond the capabilities of nature" is an incoherent concept because empirical findings absolutely depend on capabilities of nature.

Miracles (in the relevant sense) are empirical insofar as we can see them (or otherwise observe them via our senses). That is, the empirical measurability does not need to be the particular natural capability that is being miraculously overridden. (If, say, the miracle was to make something invisible, inaudible, intangible, etc., then yes, we would not be able to detect anything to say a miracle had taken place. But of course we are rarely interested in such kinds of miracles, for obvious reasons!)

Bilbo said...

Scott: If some events in evolutionary history turn out to fit that description, they're just more items on the list; no special effort is needed to accommodate them.

But if the "some events" turns out to be thousands of events, would that be a problem for A-T philosophy?

Bilbo said...

Mr. Green: But ID doesn't say that anything couldn't have been produced by natural processes.

In the same way that, according to Ed, some A-T philosophers conclude from the empirical evidence "that the first living things could not have arisen out of inorganic processes in any way," ID proponents conclude that evolution could not occurred by natural processes.

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