Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Where’s God?


Here’s an analogy that occurs to me as a way of thinking about some of the main issues debated here on the blog over the years.  Suppose you’re looking at a painting of a crowd of people, and you remark upon the painter’s intentions in producing the work.  Someone standing next to you looking at the same painting -- let’s call him Skeptic -- begins to scoff.  “Painter?  Oh please, there’s no evidence of any painter!  I’ve been studying this canvas for years.  I’ve gone over every square inch.  I’ve studied each figure in detail -- facial expressions, posture, clothing, etc.  I’ve found plumbers, doctors, dancers, hot dog vendors, dogs, cats, birds, lamp posts, and all kinds of other things.  But I’ve never found this painter of yours anywhere in it.  No doubt you’ll tell me that I need to look again until I find him.  But really, how long do we have to keep looking without success until people like you finally admit that there just is no painter?”

Needless to say, Skeptic, despite his brash confidence, will have entirely misunderstood the nature of the dispute between you and him.  He would be making the crudest of category mistakes.   He fundamentally misunderstands both what it means to say that there is a painter, and fundamentally misunderstands the reasons for saying there is one.

But now consider another onlooker, who rushes to your defense.  Let’s call him Believer.  “I think you’re overlooking crucial evidence, Skeptic,” Believer says.  “I agree that you’re not going to find evidence of the painter on any cursory examination, or in most of the painting.  But consider that in the upper left corner, among the other figures, there’s a policeman leaning at about a ninety degree angle, yet whose facial expression gives no indication that he feels like he’s going to fall over.  Now it’s possible that he’s leaning on something -- a mailbox perhaps -- but that seems very unlikely given that we see no mailbox, and a mailbox would be too big for part of it not to be visibly sticking out from behind one of the other figures standing around.  No, I think that the best explanation is that there is an invisible figure standing next to the policeman, or at least an invisible force of some kind, which is operating at that spot to hold him up.  And an invisible cause like that is part of what we think the painter is supposed to be, no?  Also, you’ve said that you’ve gone over this painting square inch by square inch.  But we’ve got techniques now to study the painting at the level of the square centimeter or even the square millimeter.  Who knows what we’ll find there?  In fact it seems there are some really complicated patterns at that level and it doesn’t seem remotely probable that any of the figures we do see in the painting could have produced them.  But an invisible painter could have done so.  In fact the patterns we find at that level show a pretty high level of cleverness and artistic skill.  So, when we weigh all the evidence, I think there’s just a really strong case for the existence of a painter of some sort, in fact of a really skillful sort!”

Needless to say, Believer, despite his chipper earnestness in the cause of arguing for the existence of the painter, is in fact as clueless as Skeptic is.  If you are trying to explain to Skeptic the error of his ways, Believer is no help at all.  In fact he’s only getting in the way, muddying the waters, and indeed reinforcing Skeptic’s error. Like Skeptic, he’s treating the painter as if he were essentially some part of the picture, albeit a part that is hard to see directly.  And like Skeptic, he’s supposing that settling the question of whether the painter exists has something to do with focusing on unusual or complex or hard-to-see elements of the painting -- when, of course, that has nothing essentially to do with it at all.  In fact, of course, even the most trivial, plain, and simple painting would require a painter just as much as a complicated picture of a crowd of people would.  And in fact, the painter is not himself a part of the picture, and therefore, looking obsessively within the picture itself at various minute details of it is precisely where you won’t find him. 

You know where I’m going with this.  Skeptic’s and Believer’s shared conception of the painter is like the conception of God one finds both in New Atheist writers like Richard Dawkins on the one hand and in “theistic personalism” or “neo-theism” on the other; whereas the correct conception of the painter is like the conception of God one finds in classical theism.  (See the posts collected here for discussion of the difference between these views.) 

Skeptic’s and Believer’s shared conception of how to determine whether the painter exists is like the dispute over whether William Paley or ID theory provide sufficient “scientific evidence” for a “designer”; whereas the correct conception of how the painting points to the painter is like the conception of God’s relation to the world one finds in the cosmological argument rightly understood -- understood, that is, the way Aristotelian, neo-Platonic, and Thomist and other Scholastics understand it.  It is not a question of natural science -- which, given the methods that define it in the modern period, can in principle only ever get you from one part of the world to another part of it, and never outside the world -- but rather a question for metaphysics, which is not limited by its methods to the this-worldly.  (See the posts collected here for what’s wrong with “design inferences” as usually understood.  See the posts collected here for what the cosmological argument, rightly understood, has to say.)

To change the analogy slightly, it’s as if the New Atheist on the one hand and his “theistic pesonalist” and “design inference” opponents on the other are playing a pseudo-theological variant of Where’s Waldo? (also known as Where’s Wally?)  The New Atheist thinks that the problem is that too many people refuse to admit that Waldo is nowhere to be found in the picture.  The theistic personalist and the ID theorist think the problem is that the New Atheists refuse to see how strong is the evidence that Waldo is at such-and-such a place in the picture (hiding behind a bacterial flagellum, perhaps).  The classical theist knows that the real problem is that these guys are all wasting enormous amounts of time and energy playing Where’s Waldo instead of talking about God.

We hear in these debates about “open theism,” “process theism,”  “onto-theology,” “neo-theism” and so on.  Perhaps we need a new label for the essentially creaturely or anthropomorphic conception of deity that gets endlessly hashed over in pop apologetics and pop atheism while the true God -- the God of Athanasius and Augustine, Maimonides and Avicenna, Anselm and Aquinas -- gets ignored.  Call it “Wally-theism” or “Waldo-theology.”

135 comments:

Luke Barnes said...

Sorry to hijack the post ... Are there plans for an ebook/kindle version of Scholastic Metaphysics?

Gary C. Moore said...

This is a good exposition. But would “Waldo-theology” then put in question direct divine interferences in human time and space such as Jesus as the son of “God” as well as the “Spirit” of the trinity and miracles and any direct ‘personal’ [?] experience of God in temporal and spatial human life? Now, I realize many, maybe all, of my “questions” are open to a better metaphysical reformulation as, though I am Skeptic, I find all the METAPHYSICAL formulations of Scholastic metaphysics and theology a patterning description of how the ‘human’ mind actually exists as “actus purus” [?], that is, the trinity gives an intellectual model that accords with Martin Heidegger’s “mitsein”, “being-with” where in language a ‘person’ is really in their factual thinking in dialogue with “others” reflecting the Dyad of Plato’s SOPHIST and the first emanation from the “One” of Neo-Platonism which I am glad to see you give a place of honor to some degree. And the nature of “language” per se – which cannot be observed or studied from the outside – reflects in some ways the “Holy Spirit” but not necessarily in a positive manner. But, then, would it need to? The schema of the Old Testament of “God’s wrath” bringing down horrendous disasters on the Jews for their transgressions is certainly “negative” at least partially, for how can the dead correct their evil ways once dead? The last, though, brings up the problem of why Origen is STILL a church father of NO repute. I do not understand why he is still utterly ignored. Anthony Levi did not, in his studies of Erasmus, and in his ERASMUS: AN INTELLECTUAL BIOGRAPHY that was to have been released by Yale University Press August of 2013 Levi said he had a “shock” for his readers. Obviously too much for Yale (but which part? The Press or the theological school?)! I could say more, but I usually say too much for readers use to the ‘summaries’ of “computer ontologies” (that STILL seems an obscene phrase to me).
Gary C. Moore
Gottlos752004@yahoo.com

Anonymous said...

Is your disagreement with intelligent design that it is not providing evidence of God, or that is not even able to find evidence of intelligent design in nature? ID is not necessarily looking for God. ID is about looking for artifacts of intelligence in nature the same way an archeologist can distinguish a stone arrow head from a chip of stone formed in a avalanche. Do you think it is possible to find evidence that the universe and life were designed by an intelligence if such evidence exits?

The Irish Thomist said...

@Anonymous

The real problem is they concede too much to philosophical notions of mechanism in nature, they understate the limits of the scientific method (what it can and cannot achieve), they ignore final causality or even the questions why there is ‘a painting’ by falling into a trap of an almost ‘theistic scientism’ type. That’s just a start. I think the whole project of ‘ID’ can be saved but the bad news is that you need to graft it to a more Aristotelian or Thomistic philosophical tree.

Daniel said...

The main criticism Ed (and many others) have with ID is that:

1. The methodological stance ID takes up predestines it to a misleading, and in the final outcome erroneous, view of God taken in the sense of a finite intelligence albeit with vastly enhanced capacities to our own. Ed expresses this by reference to the Thomist notion of all predicates being analogues when applied to God, though on all Classical Theist models the kind of intelligence in question is erroneous when used in reference to God.

2. The deeper problem is that ID presupposes a Mechanistic view of Nature, one which is wrong in principle and in fact leads to causation problems which if taken to their logical conclusion would serve to invalidate any form of scientific theorising all well as thought itself. We may also add the famous Problem of Induction and Mind/Body Problem to this list.

3. ID is self-admittedly Probabilistic in nature and does not serve to ground the logical necessity and thus ontological of God. Ed does not stress this criticism as much as the other two but I think it is at least as important as no.1 and probably equal to no. 2

George R. said...

Hey Daniel,

You say that ID leads to an erroneous view of God? Perhaps you'd like to provide an example of this.

You say that ID precludes an understanding of the analogy of being? Perhaps you'd like to provide evidence of how this is so.

You say that ID presupposes a mechanistic view of nature? Perhaps you'd like to enlighten us on what precisely in the ID method would make you think such a thing.

You say that ID is probabilistic? So? Men have been strapped to electric chairs and have had 50k volts run through their bodies on the basis of probabilistic evidence. It's called proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and sane human beings hold that which is beyond reasonable doubt to be true.

In short, if you think you have a case, make it. If not, please spare us the naked assertions. They're boring.

Daniel said...

You asked for a summary not a a detailed analysis: I am under no obligation to sit and bandy words with you. Should you desire to know Feser’s major criticisms of ID theory read some of the examples given in his round-up post and elsewhere:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.co.uk/2010/05/id-versus-t-roundup.html

Also mere appeals to ‘proof beyond reasonable doubt’ are at best insufficient and at worst faced with many difficulties when it comes to questions of ontology and modality. For instance you should find your electric chair example is, on its own and without further philosophical backdrop, faced with the Induction and Causation problems mentioned in the second point. That example too merely bears out the point I was stressing in no. 3: to assert the existence of God in such a fashion is at best radically insufficient, since God is de facto not a being that just happens to exist in this world as, say, Feser or you yourself do, but a being which must exist in all possible worlds, one the non-existence of which is a contradiction. Of course you may think ID proponents can answer such questions, however even if this be true then they can only do so by leaving the sphere of scientific conjecture and engaging in philosophical dialogue beyond what their empirical hypothesis themselves contain.

Mr. Green said...

Needless to say, Believer, despite his chipper earnestness in the cause of arguing for the existence of the painter, is in fact as clueless as Skeptic is.

But that's not quite true. There really are skilful and complicated patterns that were not produced by any character in the painting, so he is right about something (even if his context is a bit garbled) — so he can't be as clueless. And even if science can't get you outside the world, it might be able to get you to the edge, which is nothing to sneeze at. The problem isn't that any of the philosophical criticisms are actually wrong — of course they aren't — but as a practical matter of actually convincing someone to pay attention to the metaphysics, telling someone who is more right than "Skeptic" that he is just "as clueless" is not the most relaible way to bring him around.

Mr. Green said...

The Irish Thomist: I think the whole project of ‘ID’ can be saved but the bad news is that you need to graft it to a more Aristotelian or Thomistic philosophical tree.

Yes, I agree (well, it isn't "bad" news). But there seems to be a temptation to throw the baby out with the (admittedly large amount of) bathwater, which I think doesn't help.


Daniel: 2. The deeper problem is that ID presupposes a Mechanistic view of Nature

See, I don't think that this charge can possibly be made to stick. Sure, practically everyone may view ID that way... but then again, practically everyone (or practically all physicists) view gravity that way too. But you won't find any Thomists saying that gravity it wrong, because everybody knows that gravity does not presuppose mechanism by definition. Likewise, you can tease out all the interesting and relevant parts of ID from its normal mechanistic presentation, and probably should if you want ID folks to listen to you.

3. ID is self-admittedly Probabilistic in nature and does not serve to ground the logical necessity and thus ontological of God.

Again, that's quite true, but it's hardly a problem. At least, not in itself — it can be taken out of context, but the answer is not to call the probabilistic argument "clueless" but simply to explain the proper context. (And again, Ed's philosophical points are all entirely correct, of course — but I have come around to the view that a more encouraging bedside manner would be more liable to get supporters of ID interested in the philosophy than seeming to lump them in with Krauss or Coyne or Dawkins would.)

Daniel said...

@Mr Green

'Likewise, you can tease out all the interesting and relevant parts of ID from its normal mechanistic presentation, and probably should if you want ID folks to listen to you.'

That may well be true the only issue being that once the bigger issues i.e. those needed to keep ID or any theory of the Natural sciences coherent are resolved one will have a better metaphysical understanding of reality anyway which makes ID somewhat redundant.

‘Again, that's quite true, but it's hardly a problem. At least, not in itself — it can be taken out of context, but the answer is not to call the probabilistic argument "clueless" but simply to explain the proper context.’

Again with respect (and I mean that) I do not see how this would follow. The answer is to employ a non-probabilistic proof, in which case one will explain and place in context the probabilistic one though at this point the latter will be of secondary importance, at least as far as theological issues are concerned.

Doug said...

What if Believer points out the signature (no reference to Meyer's book intended) on the painting? What if Believer learns that a common practice is for artists to paint their own portraits into their works and notices the tell-tale signs (in medieval times, the self-portrait was portrayed looking "out" of the painting)? Surely either of these could be legitimate grounds to infer a painter?

Greg said...

Doug you beat me to it.

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.

Beliefs of this sort may be inference-based and not logically necessary like the 1st Way, but they are still rational to hold to.

Edward Feser said...

Luke,

Not at the moment, but we'll see.

Gary,

The Incarnation would be comparable to the painter painting himself into the picture e.g. by giving one of the figures in the crowd his own face. Nothing in what I say rules that out. But it would, of course, be ridiculous to think that self-portraits call for the existence of a painter in a way other paintings do not. On the contrary, it is only because we already know that any painting is produced by a painter that we can interpret some paintings as self-portraits.

Similarly, as I argued in my recent post titled "Pre-Christian apologetics," events in the world can propely be interpreted as miraculous -- at least for the purposes of apologetics -- only after it has already independently established that God exists (indeed, only after it has been independently established that God as classical theism understands him exists).

Anonymous,

As I've complained before, whether ID is supposed to be giving evidence for God depends on which ID person you talk to, what audience he is trying to impress, and which day of the week it is. Anyway, no, of course I do not deny that it is possible to find evidence of intelligence. Nor do I deny that it is possible to reason from the world to a divine intelligence (as Aquinas does in the Fifth Way). What I deny is that the specific sorts of arguments ID types give can get you an inch closer to the God of classical theism, specifically -- for reasons I've given many, many times (follow the relevant link in the post above). If you're saying that ID people would be happy to admit that, well, that would be good news. But I know from experience that it isn't true.

Doug,

No, for reasons like the ones I just gave to Gary. It is only because we already independently know that there are painters that we know that what we see there in the corner is a signature rather than some object that is being represented as part of the picture. Other odd elements of the painting of the sort you cite would be markers of a painter only because we already know there are painters who do such things. They aren't evidence of a painter, but rather evidence of the painter's having this or that message to send once we already know that there is a painter in the first place. In that way they are comparable to miracles, which, as I say, are properly understood in a context in which God's existence has already been established independently.

Edward Feser said...

Greg,

Nope, for the reasons I just gave in the comment above. You're ignoring all the context that makes such an interpretation plausible or even intelligible in the first place. And when the context is spelled out, we'll find that it presupposes the existence of God in just the way that interpreting such-and-such a mark in a painting as a signature presupposes that there is a painter. In which case neither "signature" establishes the existence of the painter/God in a non-question-begging way.

And as I've said 1,234 times, I've never denied that there is a sense in which we can "detect design" of a divine sort in nature, if you're wedded to that jargon. That's what the Fifth Way does. The point is it has nothing whatsoever to do with Dembski-style inferences.

Doug said...

Ed,
I understand the point, and agree that "we already independently know that there are painters" is always prior to "look at the signature!" But it needn't be a prior conclusion - why not permit it as an arguendo?


That is, we compare the case a) there is no painter, and those marks in the corner are meaningless scratches & b) there is a painter, and because of the contrast between those marks and their context we infer that a painter might consider them special.


In either case, surely you did not mean that the signature is not evidence of a painter!! Perhaps you meant that the signature is not more evidence of the painter than the painting itself?

Edward Feser said...

Doug,

Yes, it's not more evidence than the painting itself already is.

Of course, there might be cases where a canvas just looks like a random mess, and we would suppose it is just the result of paint accidentally spilling onto it -- except for the fact that there is this thing in the corner that looks like a signature. Then we might say "Ah, someone painting this stupid thing this way intentionally. It's not just a random mess."

However, that is only because we already know independently that there are such things as painters who leave signatures. So, even here we would not have a good argument for the existence of a painter, but rather for the conclusion that, given that we already independently know that there is a painter, this might be one of his works.

Tom said...

Great, now I have the image of Ken Ham and Richard Dawkins somehow getting distracted by a literal Where's Waldo? book in the middle of a debate on evolution, at which point a baffled Ed Feser walks in. Just great.

George R. said...

Daniel writes:
I am under no obligation to sit and bandy words with you.

Translation: I have no evidence to back up my assertions.

Daniel continues:
Also mere appeals to ‘proof beyond reasonable doubt’ are at best insufficient and at worst faced with many difficulties when it comes to questions of ontology and modality.

(Sigh) Tell me, Daniel, is there a sophistry school you guys go to to learn this crap?

Here's how things are supposed to work. If the evidence indicates beyond a reasonable doubt that something is true, it should be held to be true beyond a reasonable doubt -- all 'modalities,' 'ontologies,' and whatever other red herrings you want to come up with notwithstanding.

Therefore, if the IDers are able to prove that certain things in nature are probably the result of an intelligence (and they certainly have), then they have made their case...and the only intellectually honest thing to do is to admit that they've made their case, and not try to load upon their shoulders some additional (and phony) requirement that they also prove the existence of the 'God of classical theism.'

Furthermore, if anybody wants to try to argue that the God of classical theism is incompatible with the thesis and findings of the IDers, fine. All they have to do is show how the God of classical theism is incompatible with things in nature being better explained as being caused by an intellect.

Good luck with that.

Edward Feser said...

Greg,

Think of it this way. Suppose we found, imprinted in every human cell, the phrase "Made by Quetzalcoatl" or "Made by Steve Jobs." Would there be "only one thing we could reasonably conclude"?

Sure there would, and it would be this: Something really weird is going on, but who the hell knows what.

Here's what it would not be, though: good reason to believe in Quetzalcoatl, or good reason to think Steve Jobs is God. Nor do I think you or anyone else (except maybe a Quetzalcoatl devotee or a Steve Jobs fan) would disagree.

What you're failing to see is how much conceptual baggage you're bringing to bear on this little thought experiment of yours. You think "Sure, if we all saw that in the cell, what else could we conclude?" But that's only because you have independent reason to think that God exists, is the cause of living things, revealed himself as Yahweh, etc. And those independent reasons are what's really doing the work here, not the "Made by Yahweh" stuff.

Thomas Donnelly said...

I'm new to this blog (was attracted to it after reading some of Professor Feser's scintillating writings), so please pardon me if I ask a question that may have been already answered 1,234 times.

I don't understand why, on a blogsite that seems to be inhabited by a large number of intelligent and articulate Catholics, there seems to be virtually total acquiescence in the notion that the theory of Evolution is a proven fact.

As a Traditional Catholic I maintain that the Scriptural account of Creation has always been, and remains today, a dogmatically binding article of the Faith. That account unmistakably precludes Darwinism in any form.

As a scientifically-literate skeptic of scientism, I maintain that there is no coherent scientific support for Darwinian evolution, that in fact the scientific evidence for the account in Genesis is convincing.

So my question: why do we concede the field to the enemy by framing our investigations in total conformance with his unproven presuppositions?



Doug said...

Ed,

You write, "even here we would not have a good argument for the existence of a painter" -- but...

There needs to be some explanation for the "anomaly" that a signature represents on an otherwise "spilled" canvas of paint. And while one could claim that the statistics of paint-spill could support such an anomaly, it is certainly a "good argument" to carefully assess that the anomaly is so out of keeping with those statistics that something else (besides "spill") is likely to be in play.

Daniel said...

@George

You and the other poster have in both cases ducked the question and focused on the fact that I gave a list of the main reasons why Classical Theists have problem with ID rather than summarised an entire issue in philosophy. In your case this is further compounded as whatever your stance maybe you know full well these issues have been put forward at length elsewhere on this blog.

1. If ID sets out to 'prove an intelligence' then strictly speaking it has little meaning for theological concerns as there is nothing in that statement alone which relates to a First Cause in the sense of Ground of Being. This is a somewhat blunt a summary of my original point 1.

2. ID either presupposes Mechanism or it does not. In both cases it will have to turn to explicitly metaphysical concepts. If ID presupposes Mechanism and Mechanism is found to metaphysical and epistemically problematic then so much the worse for ID.

Edward Feser said...

Thomas Donnelly,

As I've also said 1,234 times, my objections to ID have nothing essentially to do with evolution one way or the other. They have to do with (a) the conception of God that is implicit in in the usual ID arguments and (b) the metaphysics of nature that is implicit in the usual ID arguments.

Suppose someone said "Darwinism is wrong. Here's why: Because Quetzalcoatl exists and revealed such and such about it to me in a dream." If I criticized this argument, no one would accuse me of somehow selling out to modernism, giving aid and comfort to the naturalist enemy, etc. Yet when I criticize ID I get these sorts of accusations flung at me.

I find that almost no one who gets upset with what I've written about ID bothers to read it very carefully. They bring to bear all sorts of "culture war" baggage that is irrelevant. They are, too often, not thinking philosophically but politically. So, I ask you to please read what I've said in earlier posts before commenting further.

I would add as a side note that the question of evolutionary explanations vis-a-vis Catholic theology is more complicated than you might be aware. If you look at the standard Thomistic manuals dealing with this subject that appeared in the 50s -- with the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur -- you'll find that they both (a) allow considerable scope in principle for evolutionary explanations while (b) also insisting that there are certain metaphysical and theological limits in principle to such forms of explanation. It simply isn't a matter either of giving a blank check to evolutionary naturalism (no Thomist would do such a thing) or of ruling out all evolutionary explanations a priori. The philosophical and theological situation is much more complicated than either most "theistic evolutionists" or some traditionalists (who sometimes, here and elsewhere, take positions that are actually more conservative than Thomists of the pre-Vatican II period themselves did) seem to realize.

But that is neither here nor there vis-a-vis ID. Even if all evolutionary explanations were false, that would not entail that ID arguments, specifically, were good ones. And it is, again, aspects of ID that are irrelevant to the truth or falsity of evolutionary explanations that I have been critical of.

Edward Feser said...

Doug,

Well, sure, there needs to be some explanation. The point, though, is that we only know that marks of such-and-such a sort count as these things we call "signatures" because we already know that there are such things as painters, that painters often make these special sorts of marks on their work, etc. There's no intelligible way to get from signatures to painters without already knowing independently that painters exist.

Daniel said...

Talking of metaphysics and scientism one might be tempted to conclude that rhetorical similarities between ID supporters and Jerry Coyne fans was more than a mere coincidence.

Doug said...

Ed,

You write: "there is no intelligible way to get from signatures to painters without already knowing independently that painters exist."

What if I have experience with bank drafts (checks? cheques? whatever you might call them in your neighborhood), so that I know what a signature is? Is there now an intelligible way to get from a signature to a painter (even if I have no experience with art, let alone painting)?

Gary C. Moore said...

Dear Doctor Feser,
For personal reasons I am so glad you are not an MD but a Doctor of Philosophy. Yes, your point is valid, but though what you said touches on this, what I said really meant, my fault, was: How can a nontemporal “God” act temporally? Of course this has problems with my presuppositions about how “God” as an “object” or “genus” exists which, operating on Lloyd P. Gerson’s analysis of what Plotinus’ “One” is – or better, what ‘it’ is NOT but is necessary in the so-called “Great Chain of Being” for it to even begin temporally or have an intellectual starting one, all concepts dependent on human contingency and finite, predicates that apply whether “God” ‘exists’ or not. Gerson would say that “God” or the “One” is beyond or above existence which, though it sounds at first glance like babble, is the only human way to conceive of the beginning of existence and time, that is “being alive” in two (2) different senses. The “One” would not need to state as First principle “existence exists” as a human being must – phenomenological perception which is “always already” corrupted by thinking and language – and the utter strangeness of ‘time’ which is at every moment “now” (Augenblick) yet whose whole evaluation comes from ‘things’ that do not exist at all – the past and the future. Ergo the human decision in “free choice” (whose problem is not whether it ‘exists’ but WHERE it exists) is in EXACTLY that same point of “God” interfering in purely human time. When do we cvhoose to get up from the chair? We don’t. We just get up from the chair. Does “God” act in the same way? This would be relevant even if one just accepted “God” as a necessary intellectual principle. Because as humans, just as Philoponus said, we simply cannot think of time as “infinite” (or anything else). But there is always a “beyond” ANY temporal starting point, ergo “needing” a “starting point” like Galileo did one must presuppose it with as few necessary presuppositions as possible in order to be able to measure absolutely anything. But such “measure” – like “past” and “future” – are pragmatic inventions of the human imagination which, however, are necessitated for trying to understand utter aporias like the “present” or “existence exists” or Kant’s “What is the human being?”, his 4th question after 1] What can I know? 2] What should I do? 3] What may I hope? These are all utter aporias never to be solved, but, though we know a human being exists, we only know tiny bits and pieces of what that thing is.
Gary C. Moore

Edward Feser said...

Doug,

Well, what exactly would you be trying to prove by appealing to the signature on the canvas in that case?

Suppose you said "I'm trying to prove, from the fact of the signature, that there is an intelligence of some sort or other." In that case the argument would fail because it implicitly presupposes that there are intelligences. For you only know that things of this sort count as "signatures" because they are often made on bank drafts and the like, which you know independently to be caused by intelligent beings. So the argument would be circular.

Suppose you said instead "No, I'm trying to prove from the signature that there is a painter specifically." Then too the argument would fail. For all you could conclude is that some intelligent being or other left the signature there for whatever reason -- a banker, say -- rather than a painter specifically.

Suppose you answered "No, because we know that signatures usually appear on canvases precisely because a painter wants to sign his work, and not because bankers or whomever signed the canvas for some other reason." But now you would be appealing once again to what we know independently about painters, specifically. So, again, the signature itself would not be doing any independent work in getting you to the existence of a painter.

rank sophist said...

A good analogy. If only the ID brigade didn't start foaming at the mouth, like a bunch of Neo-Darwinists, whenever the holes in their ideology were pointed out.

Doug said...

Ed,

Fair question... but...

I would not be attempting to "prove" anything. Rather, I would be making an argument (evidence-to-inference) that the signature (so-construed) could imply a signatory.

Then, from the statistics of paint-spill, I would argue that a signature is a better interpretation of the evidence than just "spill".

In sum, I would be making the case that the signatory/signature is a better explanation of the existing evidence than "spill".

Edward Feser said...

Doug,

Nothing rides on the word "prove." Even to make the probabilistic inferences you're talking about, you have to presuppose what you already independently know about painters etc.

Doug said...

Ed,

On the contrary -- the case above only requires knowledge of signatures (including the fact that they typically require signatories). I didn't make the leap to painters at all!

Anonymous said...

There is unanimous agreement that paintings have painters and we all know that is the case. We have seen how paintings originate and understand the process very well. Almost all of us have painted things for ourselves. To deny that a painting has a painter is to deny something for which everyone is agreed there is overwhelming evidence.

In the case of universes, in contrast, we have experience of ONLY ONE and we certainly do not have unanimous agreement that universes are created by intelligent persons, and even less agreement they are created by a single deity resembling the Catholic notion of God. None of us has ever observed such a thing happening. So the analogy is hopeless from the start. It unreasonably likens a highly controversial issue to one about which there is no controversy at all [kind of like an atheist asserting that believing in God is like believing in fairies or Santa - how do you feel about that sort of analogy?]

A proponent of the Argument From Divine Hiddenness (or Ted Drange's Argument From Nonbelief) could concede that the universe may have been intelligently created (or perhaps not), but maintain that the arguments mentioned successfully establish beyond a reasonable doubt that any creators were not a powerful and knowledgeable beings who greatly want humanity to know they exist and worship them (or to take certain actions regarding their son, or accept the authority of the Catholic Church, etc). I don't see how anything written above would address such a perspective.

Paul Amrhein said...

@Doug

How do we tell the difference between products of nature and products of artifice? Or how would we tell that the Golem, or Dolly, are artificial life forms, without knowing their histories? Say a car is stamped “Made by Henry Ford.” What would make that true? Say a machine could paint a perfect Picasso. What would make that signature false?

George R. said...

rank sophist:
If only the ID brigade didn't start foaming at the mouth, like a bunch of Neo-Darwinists, whenever the holes in their ideology were pointed out.

Foaming at the mouth?

I would like to invite the impartial reader to scroll up, read all the pro-ID statements, and ask himself whether there is anything there that can be considered 'foaming at the mouth.'

Doug said...

Paul,

Too many questions! :-)
One at a time... a machine that could paint as well as Picasso was certainly programmed by an art aficionado! The artifice does not vanish because it is so abstracted. (I hope you don't mind my ignoring the issue of forgery -- I didn't feel that was your intended subject -- correct me if you think it pertains)

Edward Feser said...

Doug,

With all due respect, it seems to me you're cutting the baloney pretty thin at this point. We only know that something counts as a "signature" because we have independent knowledge of intelligent beings who produce marks for the purposes of functioning as signatures. Everything I said above goes through once this is seen.

Anonymous,

You seem to be under the impression that the painter analogy was primarily intended as a way to understand the reasoning of the cosmological argument. It was not. It was rather intended merely to illustrate some key differences between two conceptions of God and, yes, between two approaches to arguing for God's existence. But to say "This analogy is in some respects helpful in understanding how e.g. a Thomistic cosmological argument differs from an ID argument" does not entail "This analogy is a good way to understand how a Thomistic cosmological argument works, full stop." That simply wasn't the point.

If you want to understand how such an argument does work, go back and read what I've written on that subject. You'll see that objections like "the universe is a unique case" have no force.

Arthur said...

Good analogy, professor.

I'm very much on the same page; it summarizes both why I'm not an atheist and why I'm not into miracles or isolated, weird events as evidence for God.

The way I see it, no finite event, by itself, could be proper evidence for something like God. Would that be right?

Doug said...

Ed,

We clearly have different definitions of one of the following words "all" "due" or "respect".

I clearly asked for signatures as a "what if" -- and (at least until it made you uncomfortable) you certainly appeared to permit it! But hey - it's your blog: you can change the rules on the fly if you want... without me.

Edward Feser said...

Doug,

I meant no offense. But I do think you're missing the point.

Something counts as a "signature" -- as opposed to a mere string of meaningless marks -- only because and insofar as we take it that there are, in general, intelligent beings around who make certain marks for the purpose of functioning as a signature. Without this as background knowledge, there's simply no sense to be made of how probable or likely it is that such-and-such a specific set of marks is a signature and thus points to an intelligent being of some sort or other, a painter specifically, or whatever.

That's the point it seems to me you keep failing to address. How anything I've said shows that I'm "uncomfortable," am "changing the rules," etc. is beyond me. On the contrary, I've consistently been making the same point, and, it seems to me, you've been consistently dancing around it.

Again, I'm not saying that to be insulting. I'm just saying that it seems to me that that's what you're doing (inadvertently, anyway) based on what you've said. But if I am misunderstanding you, I'm happy to be corrected.

Greg said...

Doug,

It appears that you even seem to be conceding the point here:

I would be making an argument (evidence-to-inference) that the signature (so-construed) could imply a signatory.

The argument rides on the parenthetical qualification so-construed. The question is whether the instance of designed can be "construed" as a signature. It only can if you already know that there is a signatory. So it can't be used to infer the existence of a signatory. (And the probabilistic nature of the inference does not avoid this, since what is at issue is not how likely it is that a signature has a signatory but whether the mark is a signature in the first place, the existence of a signatory being a necessary condition of which.)

Gary C. Moore said...

Dear Doctor Feser,
I am sorry about the mistakes in the last post, but since I do not know how to chance something at your blog once posted I hope context explains what I really meant. The following relates to what I have said and to what you say in SCHOLASTIC METAPHYSICS about “Hume’s fork” (p. 26), “the thesis that ‘all the objects of human reason may naturally be divided into two kinds, to wit, *Relations of Ideas* and *Matters of Fact*(Hume, ENQUIRY CONCERNING HUMAN UNDERSTANDING, Section IV, Part 1, first paragraph). Now Hume’s Fork is notoriously self-refuting, since it is not itself either a conceptual truth (a matter of the “relations of ideas”) or empirically testable (a “matter of fact”).”
-x-
In that paragraph at least, Hume says nothing about a “fork” which is supposed to be representative of “conceptual analysis” for which I cannot find a specific definition in your text and can find nothing obviously similar in Hume. Hume is a real philosopher and does not think like modern scientists who are in a hurry to achieve practical results at any cost. Ergo, “relations of ideas” I do not think is correctly labeled as a “conceptual truth”. Rather, by what I remember from A TREATISE OF HUMAN NATURE, Hume starts with “sensation” (NOT sensation of . . .), then imagination creates Ideas (which I consider to be essentially “words” that, as such, distinguish or divide sensation into sensations of such-and-such), and then “Ideas” are joined by grammar into language, the latter actually and necessarily being a “matter of fact” from being taught language by a superior authority since language itself is not ‘natural’ like having five fingers to a hand but comes in over a 100,000 accidental varieties of which you are forced to learn at least one. In my immediate purview of the following paragraphs, nothing seems [?] to be said relating to a “matter of fact” being necessarily but only possibly RELATED to any empirical test since, as Hume says, “the contrary of every matter of fact is still possible”, that “it may… be worthy of curiosity to enquire what is the nature of that evidence which assures us of any real existence and matter of fact beyond the PRESENT testimony of our senses, or the records of our memory.” I think Hume elsewhere comments upon the fallibility of human memory. This hardly seems the stuff of science or “conceptual analysis”, whatever that is (I am just beginning your book).
-x-
But, regardless, you seem to be applying the species of “conceptual truth” and “empirical test” to the genus of “all objects of human reason or enquiry”, that is, you are using the parts to define the whole, a procedure you rightfully condemn elsewhere. This was something Porphyry also condemned in the ISAGOGUE. And the precedence of “genus” over its “species” parts is necessary for Plotinus definition of the “One” and his justification that it is beyond all definitions whatsoever including even being a “genus”, something I think Aquinas has something to say. I might say, “Here I have all the parts which because of so-and-so have a relation of some kind of identity which implies a further overall cause for that relation to exist but otherwise it is wholly unknown.” Being “wholly unknown” makes it “One” unknown absolutely. You know for sure these ‘parts’ are present in this time and place for some reason for, after all, they are ‘parts of . . .’ related in some way or another (I have them all within my present perception if nothing else) and are accidently ‘there’ because of some other situation, accidental or not. Once again I say too much.
Gary C. Moore

Paul Amrhein said...

@Doug

"... without me"

Oh darn. Fare well.

In case you're still there, I was going to ask;

Okay just one question. Can you give some examples of things that count as signatures?

Greg said...

Ed, let me reference something else you wrote:
And in fact, the painter is not himself a part of the picture, and therefore, looking obsessively within the picture itself at various minute details of it is precisely where you won’t find him.

But it is precisely in the world; as prophesied by Isaiah, typified through the Passover lamb, and promised through the covenant to Abraham; where we find the painter who came to fulfill these things. The Logos formed the world by His word and then condescended to it to redeem it. What do you take Emmanuel to mean?

In your response to me you said:
You're ignoring all the context that makes such an interpretation plausible or even intelligible in the first place. And when the context is spelled out, we'll find that it presupposes the existence of God in just the way that interpreting such-and-such a mark in a painting as a signature presupposes that there is a painter.

The problem is a confusion between the metaphysical and epistemological. Undoubtedly, God must exist before He can design DNA, appear to Moses in the burning bush, or be the incarnate Messiah. But it is through these things we come to find Him; even before we have proof of Him.

TheOFloinn said...

Even to make the probabilistic inferences you're talking about...

It's worth pointing out that probabilities have no objective standing. They are always, and in "always," dependent on model assumptions. That is, there is no Pr(X). There is only Pr(X|M,A) where M is the model and A is other prior assumptions. If one is going to say "the probability of such a color blotch in the painting has a really low P-value" you have to be sure you haven't smuggled the existence of the painter into the M or A in the first place.

Samson Corwell said...

What can we infer about the nature of such a painter from the nature of their painting?

Timotheos said...

@ Arthur

"The way I see it, no finite event, by itself, could be proper evidence for something like God. Would that be right?"

I can't speak for Dr. Feser, but I think that just the opposite is true; EVERY finite event, insofar as it is a being, shows that God must be the cause, via cosmological arguments like Aquinas' five ways.

What I would say is true is that no finite event, simply by being greater than some other event, somehow increases the probability of God's existence.

What they may show, especially in extreme cases such as miracles, is God's approval of some authority to do his purposes, but that's a completely different sort of thing altogether, and one that presupposes God's existence for its maximal argumentative strength.

Doug said...

Ed,

When I said "What if I have experience ... so that I know what a signature is?" you can well believe that I was quite aware of the background knowledge you reference -- indeed, I acknowledge, understand and embrace it! (as opposed to "missing the point", "failing to address [it]" or "dancing around [it]"). I think that implies you misunderstood me.

Greg,

Bravo. The argument does indeed ride on our construal of "signatures"! But you only half understand: I repeat -- said construal is not to infer the existence of a signatory (it assumes a signatory, as Ed correctly has been saying, though not in contradiction of anything I've written). But the point at issue is whether the proposal "signatory and signature so-construed" is a better inference from the available evidence than "no signatory/signature, just 'spill'".

Paul,

Identity markings tend to be at the whim of the identified. I'm guessing this question leads to another one... why beat around the bush?

Mr. Green said...

Daniel: once the bigger issues i.e. those needed to keep ID or any theory of the Natural sciences coherent are resolved one will have a better metaphysical understanding of reality anyway which makes ID somewhat redundant.

It's redundant only if the only point was to prove metaphysically the existence of God. My point is that it isn't, and if you do focus only on that one single point, it's no surprise if at least some people start to suspect that you don't deal with any of the other questions because you can't. It's pesky and annoying that (fallen) human psychology works that way, but it does.

The answer is to employ a non-probabilistic proof, in which case one will explain and place in context the probabilistic one though at this point the latter will be of secondary importance, at least as far as theological issues are concerned.

And it will be of more importance where theological issues are not concerned, which for a lot of people is simply not where their concerns lie. Which is in fact a good thing — we cannot and should not all be theologians. If your response to the self-creating-gravity gobbledegook of Krauss & co. is that theories of gravity are redundant and unimportant because we can prove the Prime Mover in other better ways, physicists will remain unimpressed.

Timotheos said...

@ TheO'Floinn

"It's worth pointing out that probabilities have no objective standing"

Slip of the tounge there O'Floinn? (or at least misleading phraseology)

Seems to me that it would be better to say that, while probabilities are objective truths (not just arbitrarily chosen numbers designed to make lots of lottery money), there is no One-True-Probability, that is to say, there is no absolute probability curtailing the likelyhood of an event, taking into account every and all explanatory factors (because then the probability is either 100% or 0%)

But there are indeed what might be called relative objective probabilities, that is to say, objectively true probabilities grounded in some limited form of evidence. For instance, there are 3 red and 1 white marbles in a jar, and I picked one from it. With ONlY this information, the probability that it's a red marble is 3/4. Add in the information that I like the color white the best, and the probability of a white marble radically changes with this new information.

Not that I need to teach you any of this, but I did want to clarify what I thought was deficient in your phraseology for the sake of others.

Paul Amrhein said...

@Doug

“.. why beat around the bush?”

You said “too many questions.” So I thought I’d limit myself to one. ;)

I guess my next question would have been something like “What do these examples have in common that makes them all signatures?”

“Identity markings tend to be at the whim of the identified.”

Prince.
AFKA Prince.
And Prince once again.

What makes “Prince” a signature? Is the pent-angular shape of the starfish a signature? If not, why not? Is that what you thought I was going to ask?

Mr. Green said...

Ed: So, even here we would not have a good argument for the existence of a painter, but rather for the conclusion that, given that we already independently know that there is a painter, this might be one of his works

Well, great — we have a good argument, then. Like any other argument, it doesn't establish everything, but it establishes something. That's a start.

Think of it this way. Suppose we found, imprinted in every human cell, the phrase "Made by Quetzalcoatl" or "Made by Steve Jobs." Would there be "only one thing we could reasonably conclude"?

Of course: that someone put that message there. That's not the end of the story — there's always more, just as there's more than "this Prime Mover all men call God" to classical theism. Now whether Quetzalcoatl is the angel whom God charged with "making" cells (in some sense), or whether it's an inside joke because God is a big fan of Steve Jobs, or what — that's a question for another day. As long as nobody claims that this proves Steve Jobs is God, it's not a problem.

For you only know that things of this sort count as "signatures" because they are often made on bank drafts and the like,which you know independently to be caused by intelligent beings. So the argument would be circular.

Russell and Whitehead didn't spend hundreds of pages proving 1+1=2 because they didn't know, or thought 1+1 equalled something else. They knew exactly where they were going (or they wouldn't have been able to get there!) — but that doesn't make their arguments circular.

See, here's my friend, Ivan Denisovich. He knows very well there are painters, and that they leave signatures. He just doesn't happen to believe that this particular painting is, well, a painting. He thinks it's random splotches caused by an overturned tin of paint. So I point out the signature to him — it takes a bit of work, because the signature itself is covered by paint splatter, and so on — but in the end I establish that it is there, and Ivan now knows something that he didn't before, and for legitimate reasons. My argument was quite limited, it was probabilistic, it was even sloppy (guess I spent too long staring at the Pollock)... but it wasn't circular, or pegged to mechanism, or cheating, or anything like that. In fact, it was just the right argument for that particular circumstance.

Can somebody misapply my argument?
Take it out of context? Otherwise make a mess of it? Of course. But abusus non toll it usum. I'm not sure you or anyone else actually would suggest otherwise. But there is sometimes the implication that "this argument is imperfect, therefore it is no good at all" (as opposed to, say, "this argument is imperfect, so to make it work, it really should go like this...").

George R. said...

Mr. Green writes:
It's redundant only if the only point was to prove metaphysically the existence of God. My point is that it isn't, and if you do focus only on that one single point, it's no surprise if at least some people start to suspect that you don't deal with any of the other questions because you can't.

First of all, Mr. Green, I am grateful for your fair-minded treatment of the ID position in this thread.

Secondly, you're absolutely right. The more I hear the anti-ID camp accuse ID of not being able to prove that which it never intended to prove, the more I am convinced that they know that they cannot lay a glove on ID with respect to that which the latter does intend to prove, i.e., that certain things in nature are better explained by an intelligent cause than by random natural processes (which processes, of course, as Thomists know, must themselves be intrinsically ordered toward an end by an intelligence, Who is God).

TheOFloinn said...

certain things in nature are better explained by an intelligent cause than by random natural processes

Since randomness simply means "we don't know the reason," no natural process can be called "random," no matter what tendentious hay some people try to make of it. Growing microbiological evidence indicates that mutation is not as random as supposed by 19th century naturalists.

Take a process that is typically thought of as "random," viz., a casino. Yet everything in the casino is carefully planned. So why suppose that random processes are not planned? The choice between "random" and "intelligent" is a false one. If, for example, the Darwinian mechanism of variation-plus-culling should prove scientific, it would be taken by Aquinas as just one more evidence for God, since it is the existence of these 'natural laws' themselves and not apparent glitches, exceptions, or "improbabilities" that provide the evidence he starts from.
IOW, a painting wants a painter regardless whether it bears a signature or not.

"Creation should be thought of, not according to the model of the craftsman who makes all sorts of objects, but rather in the manner that thought is creative. And at the same time it becomes evident that being-in-movement as a whole (and not just the beginning) is creation..." -- Benedict XVI

Figulus said...

An amazingly fruitful analogy, Professor, destined to be a classic.

Thank you.

Doug said...

Paul,

Fair enough! :-D
Your second question (viz:what is the essence of a signature?) is very sensible. Sadly, as in all communication, there is opportunity for misunderstanding. There are almost certainly extant historical identification marks that we are unable to discern as such. So part of the signature-essence is some form of common "culture" (between us and the signatory).

I'm not at all convinced that "Prince" in your example represents a signature. Accepting the shape of a starfish as a signature would require an alternate sense of the word. (i.e., the word can be used that way, but it hasn't been up until now, and it is usually helpful to avoid equivocation)

ccmnxc said...

@Thomas:

I don't understand why, on a blogsite that seems to be inhabited by a large number of intelligent and articulate Catholics, there seems to be virtually total acquiescence in the notion that the theory of Evolution is a proven fact.

I'm speaking entirely for myself here (as a hopefully Orthodox Catholic), so perhaps this is just me, or perhaps others share the same sentiment.
At the end of the day, I just can't really say I care all that much about whether Evolution is true or false. Now, to be fair "Evolution" can be somewhat amibiguous, as there is often a lot of baggage that can sometimes come with the word, but we'll basically think of it as descent with modification via means such as genetic mutations and natural selection (though natural selection being used somewhat loosely).

There just doesn't seem to be a whole lot to the theory that would significantly affect my theology or philosophy regarding God. Evolution can be true, and I'd still have no problems; I would simply see it as a process guided be God with certain aspects in its history (such as the Fall) being explained as theologically true, but also metaphorically in Genesis (and I would still hold to the likelihood of metaphor even if Evolution was proven to be false). Of course, I don't support the atheistic meta-narrative that it is an entirely natural and unguided process that just magically spat us out at the time it did. Disproving Evolution, after all, does not prove God nor does it prove a literaly Genesis story.It would perhaps be entertaining to see some of the more frantic and militant atheists freak out if Evolution was disproven, but really, as a Catholic, I just can't say I care about this issue all that much as it pertains to theology and philosophy. In other words, I don't have a dog in the fight and would prefer to focus on other areas I deem more important. And given my ignorance of the topic, I'm perfectly happy to concede that Evolution (as I defined it above), is true on the basis of authority (cause even though argument from authority is the weakest form of argument, it still is an argument, and I don't feel any particular need to question the authority as it pertains to Evolution as defined above).

My two cents, anyways.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

As an ID advocate, I'd like to make a few remarks.

1. Why us? When I look back at my posts, I find that most of them are directed at the real enemy: atheistic materialism. If I were a prominent Catholic philosopher like you, that's what I'd be focusing on, too. You may have philosophical differences with the Intelligent Design movement, but frankly, haven't you got bigger fish to fry?

2. I was particularly disappointed with your painting analogy. The first question that occurs to me is: how do we know that it's a painting in the first place? What if we had found the painting on Mars? What would we conclude then?

3. You say that arguments making the existence of God certain beyond reasonable doubt aren't good enough for you. That would be fine, if you had an iron-clad one. Unfortunately, you don't, for reasons I've explained in detail here: http://www.angelfire.com/linux/vjtorley/feser6.html . Your version of the Fifth Way is based on numerous metaphysical assumptions (about 20, by my count) that a materialistic atheist isn't likely to grant you in the first place. Even your premise that things are directed at future ends is highly problematic, as I show in my article.

4. You argue that a signature on a painting cannot, by itself, point to its having an intelligent cause. That's because signatures don't have a function that can be identified without background knowledge about human agents. By contrast, proteins and other complex biological molecules all have a specific function that can be identified without any knowledge about agents, and if we can demonstrate that the odds of these structures with highly specific functions emerging via unguided processes is vanishingly low, then the production of these structures by an intelligent agent is the only rational explanation. That's all Intelligent Design has tried to show.

5. You keep arguing that ID won't take us closer to the God of classical theism. But we've never tried to argue for classical theism. You want proof? Try this:

“Today we recognize that appeals to intelligent design may be considered in science, as illustrated by current NASA search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). Archaeology has pioneered the development of methods for distinguishing the effects of natural and intelligent causes. We should recognize, however, that if we go further, and conclude that the intelligence responsible for biological origins is outside the universe (supernatural) or within it, we do so without the help of science.” (Of Pandas and People, 2nd ed., 1993, pp. 126-127)

Personally, I would argue that we can get to a supernatural agent on scientific grounds, if we could establish that not only the universe but also the multiverse must have been fine-tuned, as Robin Collins attempts to do in his online essay, "The Teleological Argument." But even a being outside space-time need not be the God of classical theism - i.e. Pure Being. To get there, you need metaphysical arguments. What use, then, is Intelligent Design? The point is that these metaphysical arguments rely on premises that a hard-headed materialist is likely to reject out of hand. It's only by destroying the credibility of materialism on scientific grounds and forcing the materialist to concede that the cosmos (and life on Earth) may have had an intelligent cause that we can get them to take metaphysics seriously in the first place. If you like, we're hoeing the ground for you metaphysicians. That's the role I see us as playing in the arguments for God's existence. Cheers.

David T said...

Doug:
What if Believer points out the signature (no reference to Meyer's book intended) on the painting? What if Believer learns that a common practice is for artists to paint their own portraits into their works and notices the tell-tale signs (in medieval times, the self-portrait was portrayed looking "out" of the painting)? Surely either of these could be legitimate grounds to infer a painter?


The signature indicates something because it is not organic to the rest of the painting. It "doesn't belong" in the economy of the painting in the sense that a figure's hands and feet, or the sun and clouds, do. But ID doesn't look for things that are not organic to nature and argue from them; just the opposite. It finds things, like the bacterial flagellum, that are so perfectly organic to their creatures that it is felt a design inference can be drawn. This is more like arguing from the finely drawn features of a portrait to the artist than from a signature.

The same goes for the other example. Whether a figure is looking out of the frame or into the frame is accidental (in the Aristotelian sense) to its perfection as a figure. But ID doesn't argue from accidental properties of the bacterial flagellum to a designer. It argues from the perfection of its construction to a designer.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Vincent,

I do agree with you that undermining the popular scientistic naturalist worldview, of which the current perspective on evolution is an important part, would make many more people reconsider other metaphysical viewpoints.

The popular view of evolution is one of the most important aspects of this popular scientistic vision, but any legitimate area where we can bring the non-materialist and non-scientific back into view would help.

But still, metaphysics must accompany such a goal and not wait for it to be completed, because if theists don't have a reputable philosophical and metaphysical foundation, then this will undermine us amongst the intellectual cultural leaders.

Greg said...

Well said Vincent. Those wedded to scientism aren't going to be convinced away from naturalism through purely metaphysical arguments no matter how good the arguments are. But they do seem to protest hysterically whenever their materialism is challenged on empirical grounds, showing that perhaps design inferences do have an effect after all.

But another thing that hasn't been mentioned is the two-fold nature of ID. Even if positive design inferences are illegitimate, arguing that the naturalistic mechanisms postulated by evolutionists are inadequate to explain the complexity and diversity of life does not commit this error. Thus Behe, Meyer, Dembski, Berlinski, et al. are apparently not wholly useless in answering the Skeptic.

Alex said...

I love a good bum on a woman, it makes my day.
To me it is palpable proof of God’s existence, a posteriori.

- Jake Thackray

Doug said...

David T,

Not sure why you get to be the spokesman for ID... their (recent) focus has been less things like flagellum and more things like the information in DNA...

Anonymous said...

Their adherence to scientism is simply a cultural bias. Moreover, in the case of the strident members of the trend, it is made and sustained due to emotional reasons. No amount of arguments, metaphysical or empirical, is likely to change the minds of such people.

The Irish Thomist said...

@Mr. Green
It is bad news in the sense that most ID proponents do not hold such a metaphysical view of God and causation and might be quite unwilling to change their position because of prior ‘theological’ commitments (that usually involve some anthropomorphic God).
@Doug
“What if Believer points out the signature (no reference to Meyer's book intended) on the painting? What if Believer learns that a common practice is for artists to paint their own portraits into their works and notices the tell-tale signs (in medieval times, the self-portrait was portrayed looking "out" of the painting)? Surely either of these could be legitimate grounds to infer a painter?”
Clever reply; although natural theology does this and is a ‘philosophical’ endeavour. Ed responded quite accurately as to why this still does not prop up ID as it stands (or the over emphasis on it over the more fundamental philosophical issues at play).
@ George R.
“(Sigh) Tell me, Daniel, is there a sophistry school you guys go to to learn this crap?”
We are all imperfect but at least for your own good consider whether that contained the charity that might win someone over? Sometimes debates have to be more about winning hearts by ones mentality than minds by their arguments.
Your interaction with Daniel seems to be overly negative, which is a pity. You’re passionate about your view, you think his is rubbish. Fine. Just consider what he is saying in a more charitable context – what he says may be worth taking at face value before reading anything else between the lines.
@ Thomas Donnelly
Actually The Church does not teach we must interpret Genesis literally and that was the case even in Aquinas and Augustine’s time. Nor was there ever a great censorship of Darwin’s ideas. The Church only intervened when it worried that there was a stepping over into the realms of Theology by overstating scientific claims. I am totally opened minded; I have read even YEC and ID stuff. I wouldn’t reject what I do not know enough about. I am not a YEC or traditional IDer I might add. All you must bear in mind is what the Church says we have to believe about Genesis and that ‘Truth cannot contradict truth’. Science belongs to its own field, not that of Theology (although I consider it the higher ‘science’ in the ‘traditional’ sense of the word). You also must be very careful to recognise that the Church is not infallible in scientific matters [of themselves] and CAN change her position relating to scientific discoveries without any contradiction.

@Ed
Are you a Traditionalist? I was wondering that already but you mentioned something there that made me more curious (as in SSPX type?).

Also what is your current position on belief in Adam and Eve (if you accept some form of evolution - as I do of course since there is certainly plenty of evidence - although my position is nuanced and fits to the evidence and would accept an act of special creation of man through some process)?
@All
This discussion has went a lot of different directions - interesting the spread of views.

David T said...

Doug,

My fault then, I hadn't realized that ID advocates had given up on the bacterial flagellum as evidence for ID.

My point still holds for information in DNA or whatever. The flagellum was just an example.

Doug said...

David T,

Information "doesn't belong" in the economy of matter and energy. So... just the opposite of "just the opposite". ;-)

George R. said...

Irish Darwinist writes:
if you accept some form of evolution - as I do of course since there is certainly plenty of evidence...

Plenty of evidence, huh. Such as? Oh, don't tell me... it's because things change, and all the (atheist) scientists tell us that they change because of random mutation and natural selection, and, of course, a bunch of God-hating, fornicating swine would never lie to us...would they?

David T said...

Doug,

Remove the artist's signature from a painting and you don't change the painting in a significant way. It's something extra added on to the painting to indicate the painter.

Remove DNA information from an organism and you have no organism at all. It's not something extra added on, but intrinsic to the organism itself. So the analogy between DNA and an author's signature doesn't work. I don't think it works in general for the sort of evidence ID refers to, because that evidence is always intrinsic to the nature of the organism.

Doug said...

David T,

Analogies are for the purpose of understanding the commonalities between the analogs. But there are almost always opportunities to find disanalogies between those analogs, if you really want to. Not sure of the value of that exercise, however.

Michael said...

On the surface, the real problem appears to be that Christians are always attempting to play by the rules of the secularist crowd where it concerns scientific matters. No matter how complex the mechanism behind the organism, the impossibility of abiogenesis, let alone the absurdity of the universe causing itself into being, the secular crowd will never concede that God created everything. Evolution can do all things, even contradict reality and defy common sense. It is not observable, testable, falsifiable or repeatable in any way, shape or form. And no, adaptation does not constitute evolution: the flu virus can build immunity to antibiotics, but it still remains the flu virus. Evolution, therefore, is a blank check applied after the fact at the secularists' convenience.

David T said...

Doug,

Your understanding of analogies is correct. The problem for you is that what you need to prove your point isn't common between the elements of your analogy.

TheOFloinn said...

they change because of random mutation and natural selection

You say that like it's a bad thing.

Just keep in mind the amount of intelligent design that is required to set up a game of chance and a casino, and who the author of natures is.

Besides, why assume that mutation is necessarily "random"?

Let's ask Thomas Aquinas what he thinks...
"Species, also, that are new, if any such appear, existed beforehand in various active powers; so that animals, and perhaps even new species of animals, are produced by putrefaction by the power which the stars and elements received at the beginning.
-- Summa theologica, Part I Q73 A1 reply3

Or more broadly, Augustine:
"It is therefore causally that Scripture has said that earth brought forth the crops and trees, in the sense that it received the power of bringing them forth. In the earth from the beginning, in what I might call the roots of time, God created what was to be in times to come."
On the literal meanings of Genesis, Book V Ch. 4:11

Hmm. So it has been Catholic teaching for a long time that God has endowed natures with the power to act directly upon one another. That creation ab initio includes creation of what was to be "in times to come." That any new species would come about through the powers that God had given to nature. That the new species would be implicit in the old species, as one genome might emerge from another through various "mutations" and internal genetic mechanisms.

It seems that IDers share with Skeptics the notion that the "common course of nature" is somehow not-God.

Doug said...

David T,

The problem for you is that you don't seem to understand what my point actually was.

Anonymous said...

George R said :

"of course, a bunch of God-hating, fornicating swine would never lie to us...would they?"

George - You may want to try slow diaphramatic breathing with your eyes closed.

Anonymous said...

George R:

Plenty of evidence, huh. Such as? Oh, don't tell me... it's because things change, and all the (atheist) scientists tell us that they change because of random mutation and natural selection, and, of course, a bunch of God-hating, fornicating swine would never lie to us...would they?

What exactly is wrong with the model of random mutation and natural selection? That (some) purveyors of it are atheists?

We know that mutations sometimes occur "randomly." We know that whether we are Aristotelians or materialists, genotype and phenotype are not unrelated. We know that phenotype can influence reproductive fitness. Where is the issue?

Michael said...

That a mechanism exists to enable mutation to occur isn't "blind chance" - it's a designed allowance for change to occur, inevitably in a consequential way. Even so, "random" mutation (as it's referred) has never resulted in the production of a new species. Adaptation, mutation and evolution are each exclusive terminology; they're not interchangeable at the evolutionist's convenience.

Doug said...

Anonymous asks:

"What exactly is wrong with the model of random mutation and natural selection?"

Answer: nothing and everything. The model itself is fine, but it is quite unable to achieve the acts of wonder attributed to it.

Consider: the evolution of Homo Sapiens (HS) from the HS-Pan Troglodyte (PT)-Common-Ancestor (HPCA). The best model we have of this involves ~5My and a average population size of ~30k. If we permit an average generation of ~10y, this implies ~15G organisms required to accumulate the mutations required for the evolution from HPCA to HS.

From genome sequencing, we know that there are ~120M base-pair differences between HS & PT genomes.

So, the simple math of the matter is that there was one "positive" (i.e., conferring selective advantage for natural selection to act) point mutation along the required genomic trajectory for every 125 to 250 of those evolving organisms.

How feasible is this?

If you consult talkorigins, they hand-wave the problem away by pretending that any ~120M point mutations would be sufficient for the necessary evolution (as if all genomic trajectories were equal!!!)

But we don't have to resort to such guessing. In fact, history provides a very interesting data point on the matter: the historic evolution of Homo Sapiens!! Over recorded history, there have been ~75G HS organisms. How many "positive mutations" have been observed over that population? Even at the most generous, we can only find less than a handful.

So let's compare: on the one hand, we observe ~75G organisms with ~0 positive mutations, and no natural selection to observe as a consequence; on the other hand, we conjecture ~15G organisms with ~120M positive mutations.

Anyone with a lick of mathematical sense can see that something is broken in that model.

PS: I understand that this is a quick approximation of the matter, and I am quite aware of the many attempts made to solve this conundrum. None succeed. The more you dig at the actual science of the matter, the more difficult the problem becomes.

Al said...

So, the simple math of the matter is that there was one "positive" (i.e., conferring selective advantage for natural selection to act) point mutation along the required genomic trajectory for every 125 to 250 of those evolving organisms.

This point doesn't actually follow from what you've written before.

In fact, history provides a very interesting data point on the matter: the historic evolution of Homo Sapiens!! Over recorded history, there have been ~75G HS organisms. How many "positive mutations" have been observed over that population? Even at the most generous, we can only find less than a handful.

Human evolution has vastly accelerated since the beginning of civilization, precisely because of the larger number of humans.

See here for a blog post:
http://johnhawks.net/weblog/topics/evolution/selection/acceleration/accel_story_2007.html

Here for a paper:
http://www.pnas.org/content/104/52/20753.full

And I recommend the book "The 10,000 year explosion" by Harpending and Cochran.

Vincent Torley said...

To TheOFloinn:

You didn't really expect to get away with those quotes from Augustine and Aquinas, did you?

In his work, De Genesi Ad Litteram, St. Augustine theorized that at the beginning of time, God created all living things in the form of germinal seeds, or rationes seminales (also known as "seminal reasons"). Was this a a proto-evolutionary theory, as some scholars have argued? Allow me to quote from Fr. Frederick Copleston's monumental work, A History of Philosophy. Volume 2: Augustine to Scotus (Burns and Oates, Tunbridge Wells, 1950; paperback edition 1999, p. 77):

"The rationes seminales are germs of things or invisible powers or potentialities, created by God in the beginning in the humid element and developing into the objects of various species by their temporal unfolding... Each species then, with all its future developments and particular members, was created at the beginning in the appropriate seminal reason."

Since St. Augustine believed that each species of plant and animal was created separately by God with its own ratio seminalis, it should be quite clear that his theory was not an evolutionary one. The only “development” Augustine envisaged was that of individuals from invisible germ seeds. The idea that species may have arisen in this fashion was utterly contrary to what he wrote on the subject of origins.

St. Augustine also maintained that the world was 6,000 years old (City of God, Book XII, chapter 12); that creatures of all kinds were created instantly at the beginning of time; that living creatures were created separately according to their kinds (De Genesi ad Litteram 3.12.18-20, 5.4.11, 5.6.19, 5.23.46); that Adam and Eve were historical persons; that Paradise was a literal place (City of God, Book XIII, chapter 21); that the patriarch Methuselah actually lived to the age of 969 (City of God, Book XV, chapter 11); that there was a literal ark, which accommodated male and female land animals of every kind (City of God, Book XV, chapter 27); and that the Flood covered the whole earth (City of God, Book XV, chapter 27).

What's more, St. Augustine vigorously defended these doctrines against philosophical opponents (including some Christians who preferred a more allegorical interpretation of Genesis), who maintained that the human race was very old; that Paradise was a purely spiritual state and not a place; that none of the Biblical patriarchs lived past the age of 100; that the Ark wouldn't have been big enough to accommodate all of the animals; and that no flood could ever have covered the whole earth.

To be continued...

Vincent Torley said...

To TheOFloinn:

What about Aquinas? He did indeed believe that the spontaneous generation of some animals was a possibility, but he was emphatic that animals generated from seed ("perfect animals") could not be generated from non-living matter. Animals that are "generated from seed" can only be naturally generated from the right kind of matter (which had to be supplied by a mother of the same species, according to the Aristotelian biology adopted by Aquinas) and the right kind of form-building agent (the "seed" supplied by a male parent of the same species), which (Aquinas believed) kick-starts the development of the embryo. The reason why these animals cannot be generated from inanimate matter is that "more conditions are required to produce a perfect than an imperfect thing." Moreover, according to Aquinas, plants and animals that are "generated from seed" always reproduce after their own kind: like begets like. Thus a baby hippopotamus can only be naturally generated from hippo parents, and not from any other kind of animal.

"Reply to Objection 1. It was laid down by Avicenna that animals of all kinds can be generated by various minglings of the elements, and naturally, without any kind of seed. This, however, seems repugnant to the fact that nature produces its effects by determinate means, and consequently, those [living] things that are naturally generated from seed cannot be generated naturally in any other way. It ought, then, rather to be said that in the natural generation of all animals that are generated from seed, the active principle lies in the formative power of the seed, but that in the case of animals generated from putrefaction, the formative power of is the influence of the heavenly bodies." (Summa Theologica I, q. 71 art. 1, reply to obj. 1)

"Reply to Objection 2. Perfect animals, produced from seed, cannot be made by the sole power of a heavenly body, as Avicenna imagined... But the power of heavenly bodies suffices for the production of some imperfect animals from properly disposed matter: for it is clear that more conditions are required to produce a perfect than an imperfect thing." (Summa Theologica I, q. 91 art. 2, Reply to Objection 2 )

"[5] ... Of course, corporeal matter may be brought to less perfect actuality by universal power alone, without a particular agent. For example, perfect animals are not generated by celestial power alone, but require a definite kind of semen; however, for the generation of certain imperfect animals, celestial power by itself is enough, without semen." (Summa Contra Gentiles Book III, chapter 102, paragraph 5)

"[6] ...There are, however, many sensible forms which cannot be produced by the motion of the heaven except through the intermediate agency of certain determinate principles pre-supposed to their production; certain animals, for example, are generated only from seed. Therefore, the primary establishment of these forms, for producing which the motion of the heaven does not suffice without their pre-existence in the species, must of necessity proceed from the Creator alone." (Summa Contra Gentiles Book II, chapter 43, paragraph 6)

You can read more about it here: http://www.angelfire.com/linux/vjtorley/thomas1.html

As for the quote from Pope Benedict XVI: I completely agree that thought rather than craftsmanship is the best metaphor for God's creative designs. Living things embody genetic programs. Language (which can only arise from thought) is part of their warp and woof.

TheOFloinn said...

"random" mutation (as it's referred) has never resulted in the production of a new species

Since it's probably not actually random, and since a new species would not be immediately recognized as such, this is a simple epistemological issue.

Besides, even in the classic theory, mutation -- we only actually need variation -- must be accompanied by selection. Farmers do it all the time. Hard to see how natural circumstances would not.

Everyone forgets the fourth cause: natural teleology. An organism possessing a novel trait will, in its pursuit of the good, incl. its own life, try this or that and sometimes succeed. So a bird with a beak too short for nectar-sucking may try its hand (or rather beak) at seed-cracking. It is what the organism is trying to do that defines "fitness."

The four Aristotelian causes of evolution, which I ran across in a Thomist magazine (but have forgotten the author) are:
Material: the variation in the genetic code, from whatever prior source. IOW: "a variety of differing individuals within a species capable of transmitting their differences."
Formal: "the tendency of interbreeding population to reproduce itself in a stable manner and increase in numbers."
Efficient: "natural selection by the environment which eliminates those variants which are less effective in reproducing their kind."
Final: "the flexibility of living things by which they are able to occupy new niches in the changing environment; i. e., a feed-back mechanism which guides the selective process toward a new type which can exploit new environmental possibilities."

George R. said...

George - You may want to try slow diaphramatic breathing with your eyes closed.

Well, you know, I didn't want anybody to accuse rank sophist of being a liar for saying that the IDers were "foaming at the mouth," so I figured I'd foam at the mouth a little to give him some cover.

TheOFloinn said...

animals generated from seed ("perfect animals") could not be generated from non-living matter.

Indeed. But that is not the theory of evolution. Natural selection requires the prior existence of a breeding population. It is a theory of change to an existing species. The change of non-living matter to organic, living matter is a different issue and would not occur by Darwinian selection.

For an animal to emerge directly from non-living matter would be like a man emerging from clay.

Vincent Torley said...

Here's another great quote from St. Thomas Aquinas:

"[D]ivine power can sometimes produce an effect, without prejudice to its providence, apart from the order implanted in natural things by God. In fact, He does this at times to manifest His power. For it can be manifested in no better way, that the whole of nature is subject to the divine will, than by the fact that sometimes He does something outside the order of nature. Indeed, this makes it evident that the order of things has proceeded from Him, not by natural necessity, but by free will." (Summa Contra Gentiles Book III, chapter 99, paragraph 9.)

Here, Aquinas says that God's power and voluntary agency "can be manifested in no better way ... than by the fact that He sometimes does something outside the order of nature." I conclude that he would have had no qualms whatsoever about appealing to supernatural effects, in order to convince skeptics of God's existence.

TheOFloinn writes:

"If, for example, the Darwinian mechanism of variation-plus-culling should prove scientific, it would be taken by Aquinas as just one more evidence for God, since it is the existence of these 'natural laws' themselves and not apparent glitches, exceptions, or 'improbabilities' that provide the evidence he starts from."

Intelligent Design does not presuppose that the Designer of Nature broke any natural laws in the process of producing us. This is a common misunderstanding. Some ID advocates are front-loaders, who believe God set up the initial conditions of the cosmos in a highly specific way, so as to make "goo-to-you" evolution possible (at least, on the physical level), without the need for any acts of intervention. What all ID supporters agree on, however, is that the evolution of life would be impossible without some very specific initial conditions, which themselves point to a designing Intelligence. Laws alone are not enough to account for evolution, as they are relatively non-specific.

Finally, I fully agree the mere existence of natural laws points to a designing Intelligence. But you need metaphysical premises to argue that point, and atheists (who generally hold that we have no knowledge of such premises, as they are neither logical truths nor known by experience) tend to be impervious to metaphysical arguments. At least, that's been my experience.

Doug said...

Al,

Thanks for the links and the recommendations.

About the "doesn't actually follow" -- I am aware: this is the simplest possible rendering of the current best model.

About the "acceleration" of human evolution: don't you find it interesting that in order to provide an example of positive mutation, Hawks chooses one from 6-10kya? If there were such an explosion of recent positive mutation, perhaps we could identify a more recent one?

David T said...


Doug:
What if Believer points out the signature (no reference to Meyer's book intended) on the painting? What if Believer learns that a common practice is for artists to paint their own portraits into their works and notices the tell-tale signs (in medieval times, the self-portrait was portrayed looking "out" of the painting)? Surely either of these could be legitimate grounds to infer a painter?


Again my fault. I was wrong that IDers still think that bacterial flagellum prove anything about design, and now I've misunderstood your point completely.

Help me to understand. You just referred to informtion in DNA. Is it your position that the information in DNA is analogous to a signature that an artist leaves on a painting?

Vincent Torley said...

TheOFloinn writes:

"Natural selection requires the prior existence of a breeding population. It is a theory of change to an existing species. The change of non-living matter to organic, living matter is a different issue and would not occur by Darwinian selection."

I'm afraid you can't reconcile Aquinas with Darwin that easily. Remember that Aquinas draws a sharp line between animals generated from seed and animals generated via other means. Thus Aquinas would argue that we still need to address the question: where did the first animal generated from seed come from? As I've shown above, Aquinas taught that such an animal could only originate from a father and a mother - or from the creative power of God, working outside the order of Nature. Hence the first animal generated from seed could only have been created by God.

I should add that Aquinas believed that new species could arise through hybridization of existing species, grafting or spontaneous generation, but not through mutation.

In his Summa Theologica I, q. 72 art. 1, reply to obj. 3, Aquinas writes: "In other animals, and in plants, mention is made of genus and species, to denote the generation of like from like."

In his Commentary on Aristotle's Physics, Book II, lecture 7, paragraph 204, Aquinas writes:

"For it is clear that a thing is not generated from any seed whatsoever, but man from a determinate seed, and the olive from a determinate seed."

Moreover, Aquinas also expressly taught that existing species did not evolve into new species over time. He believed that the original species of plants and animals had been created in the works of the six days, and that they would last until the end of time, when the movement of the heavens will stop (see his Quaestiones Disputatae De Potentia Dei, Q. V, art. IX).

In his Summa Theologica I, q. 73 art. 1, obj. 3, Aquinas allows that new species might appear as a result of spontaneous generation, or as a result of hybridization of existing species. Nowhere does he envisage one species changing into another.

There's another reason why Aquinas and Darwinism simply don't mix. Aquinas cites the Biblical verse, "God's works are perfect" (Deuteronomy 32:4) fifteen times in his Summa Theologica. Moreover, he repeatedly insists that "God creates nothing in vain." Finally, in his Summa Theologica I, q. 103 art. 5, he quotes St. Augustine (City of God v, 11): "Not only heaven and earth, not only man and angel, even the bowels of the lowest animal, even the wing of the bird, the flower of the plant, the leaf of the tree, hath God endowed with every fitting detail of their nature."

However, neo-Darwinism tells us that the design of living things is rife with imperfections. The flaws and imperfections in the design of living things were crucial to Darwin's case against creationism, in "The Origin of Species." In a recent PNAS article (May 5, 2010, doi: 10.1073/pnas.0914609107) entitled Footprints of nonsentient design inside the human genome, Professor John Avise spells out the atheistic implications of Darwin's theory:

"[M]any complex biological traits are gratuitously complicated, function poorly, and debilitate their bearers. Furthermore, such dysfunctional traits abound not only in the phenotypes but inside the genomes of eukaryotic species. Here, I highlight several outlandish features of the human genome that defy notions of ID by a caring cognitive agent. These range from de novo mutational glitches that collectively kill or maim countless individuals (including embryos and fetuses) to pervasive architectural flaws (including pseudogenes, parasitic mobile elements, and needlessly baroque regulatory pathways) that are endogenous in every human genome."

Aquinas and Avise can't both be right.

Doug said...

David T,

My turn to ask you a question... :-)
Is information "intrinsic to the nature of the universe"?
If so, how do we get to information from the big bang?
If not, it begins to appear analogous to a signature, no?

TheOFloinn said...

Is information "intrinsic to the nature of the universe"?

If the universe were a thing, it would be a compound of matter and form, and therefore would be informed, in a state of information.

However, the universe is not a thing. It is a mereological sum of things, each one of which is individually informed.

Arthur said...

"The way I see it, no finite event, by itself, could be proper evidence for something like God. Would that be right?"

"I can't speak for Dr. Feser, but I think that just the opposite is true; EVERY finite event, insofar as it is a being, shows that God must be the cause, via cosmological arguments like Aquinas' five ways."

Hmm, maybe I don't get this then.

My thought so far is that finite objects can't show that an infinite God exists. (Of course, I'm more a fan of Aquinas' arguments anyway, so I don't take that as an argument for atheism.)

For instance, if some fairy appeared in front of me and said 'I'm caused by God! I've appeared to help you see that God exists!', it would be interesting, sure, but I don't see how it would be evidence of something omnipresent, omnipotent, etc.

And it would be no better for the apparition to show say, power. If it conjured flames from thin air, that would be power, but not omnipotence. Even if it made whole galaxies out of nothing before my eyes, the same problem would persist. I would witnessing a powerful being, but hardly Being Itself.

That's essentially my reason for not thinking that the presence or absence of miracles is very important to theism. On the other hand, it's also my reason for rejecting the idea that if only God 'showed himself' in some way, that would be a reason to be a theist. I don't think God 'showing himself' in such a way really makes any sense. I think an atheist who says, 'Why doesn't God show himself if He exists?' is confused.

David T said...

Doug,

That was three questions, not one, but I'm game anyway. :)

Information is intrinsic to the material universe because every physical being is a composite of matter and form, with the form being the intelligible aspect (informational content) of being. There simply is no physical being without informational content, so whatever accounts for the origin of the universe has to account for the informational content intrinsic to it. We are close to the classical arguments for the existence of God here.

If you want to think of form as God's signature because only God can account for the existence of form and the composition of form and matter, then I agree. I think Feser would as well.

The idea that information is not intrinsic to the universe is the essential principle of the materialist view of nature, which is why Feser criticizes ID as involving a false philosophy of nature.

rank sophist said...

Vincent,

I conclude that he would have had no qualms whatsoever about appealing to supernatural effects, in order to convince skeptics of God's existence.

Considering that he explicitly argues from miracles to support Christianity in numerous texts, I'm not sure how you missed that until now. However, it really has no bearing on ID, because Aquinas rejects the natural order envisioned by ID. It would make no sense to him to suggest that the natural order was not capable of conducting its ontic operations by itself, without God's tinkering. If evolution happened, it would be an event written into the natural order and performed by the natural order, as TOF said.

Doug said...

David T,

Heads-up: your handling (and that of OFloin) of "information" is unrecognisable to those in the ID camp.

Also: "The idea that information is not intrinsic to the universe is the essential principle of the materialist view of nature" is correct, but to follow it with "which is why Feser criticizes ID as involving a false philosophy of nature" is incoherent: the materialist view of nature cannot be the basis of anyone's criticism of ID.

David T said...

Heads-up: your handling (and that of OFloin) of "information" is unrecognisable to those in the ID camp.

Just so. I'm simply repeating the classical philosophy of nature on which the classical arguments for God are based; as you say, the terms are unrecognizable to the ID camp. Which, again, is why Feser says you won't get to God as understood by classical philosophy through ID, since it talks a completely different language.

Also: "The idea that information is not intrinsic to the universe is the essential principle of the materialist view of nature" is correct, but to follow it with "which is why Feser criticizes ID as involving a false philosophy of nature" is incoherent: the materialist view of nature cannot be the basis of anyone's criticism of ID.

Sure it can, when ID buys into a materialist philosophy, whether inadvertently or not. This, again, is one of Feser's basic criticisms of ID.

Doug said...

David T,

The energy with which Feser criticizes ID is hardly congruent with "it talks a completely different language". :-D

The materialist view of nature that you referenced (viz: "the idea that information is not intrinsic to the universe") is not even remotely part of the ID subscription. You might need to think about this a bit more...

Vincent Torley said...

ranksophist writes:

"It would make no sense to him [Aquinas] to suggest that the natural order was not capable of conducting its ontic operations by itself, without God's tinkering. If evolution happened, it would be an event written into the natural order and performed by the natural order, as TOF said."

That depends on how you define "evolution." If you just mean "common descent," as I do when I say I accept evolution, then it doesn't follow from that description that evolution is an ontic operation of the natural order. All that follows is that the matter from which the body of the first member of each current species was generated came from the body of some prior species of organism - nothing more and nothing less. Nothing follows with respect to forms, however.

You refer to the natural order as having its own "ontic operations," as if it were a single thing. But as TheOFloinn writes, "the universe is not a thing. It is a mereological sum of things, each one of which is individually informed."

Scott said...

@Arthur:

Timotheos wrote:

"EVERY finite event, insofar as it is a being, shows that God must be the cause, via cosmological arguments like Aquinas' five ways."

You replied:

"My thought so far is that finite objects can't show that an infinite God exists. (Of course, I'm more a fan of Aquinas' arguments anyway, so I don't take that as an argument for atheism.)"

Since Timotheos is explicitly adverting to Aquinas's arguments, I find this reply puzzling. What is it that you're "more a fan of Aquinas's arguments" than?

At any rate, surely Timoetheos is on solid Thomist ground in asserting that the existence of even a single finite being is sufficient to ground Aquinas's Five Ways and thus to demonstrate the existence of God; all we need is one actually existing object insufficient to account for its own existence and activity. Why, as a fan of Aquinas's arguments, do you disagree?

Gary C. Moore said...

What is the nature of "time" and who does it apply to?

Vincent Torley said...

Re the bacterial flagellum: for those who are interested, it is still regarded in the Intelligent Design as a masterpiece of irreducibly complex design. See this 2013 paper by Jonathan McClatchie, a contributor to Evolution News and Views:

http://machineryoflife.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/The-Bacterial-Flagellum.pdf (see especially pages 21-25).

While we're on the subject of design, here's an awesome video from RIKEN: http://www.youtube.com/embed/-ygpqVr7_xs . I defy anyone to view it and not be moved by it. It packs a much more powerful punch than any metaphysical argument ever could.

Al said...

Hi Doug,

About the "acceleration" of human evolution: don't you find it interesting that in order to provide an example of positive mutation, Hawks chooses one from 6-10kya? If there were such an explosion of recent positive mutation, perhaps we could identify a more recent one?

I think we may be misunderstanding each other because of the jargon. I don't quite get what you mean by "recent positive mutation", because each and every one of us has thousands of new mutations, not to speak of the new effects generated by the recombination of our parents' genes.

So we can, and do identify tons of more recent mutations. We just, usually, don't know their function, because linkage between specific DNA strands and phenotypic effects is both very complicated to establish, and still in its infancy. It's only been a decade or so since we've had the blueprint of the human genome, after all, and we still can't determine protein shape from first principles (we have to empirically determine the shape of each and every protein we find). Finally, the more recent the mutation, the more difficult it is to know if natural selection is acting on it, and in which direction.

I'd guess you really mean something like "new and highly noticeable phenotypic change", in which case the obvious examples are a few millenia old at least. Why hasn' something like lactose tolerance arisen, say, two hundred years ago? Well, the shortest answer is that, if it did, we most likely would not have noticed it yet, because it would be a trait shared by a relatively small number of people. However, if it is favored by natural selection, if will eventually because noticeable, the quicker the more favored it is.

I'll be offline for a few days, so I'll probably not be able to continue the conversation. Best.

David T said...

Doug,

I'm anxious to think about it more, which is why I was asking you questions. I'm still very confused. You asked these questions:


My turn to ask you a question... :-)
Is information "intrinsic to the nature of the universe"?
If so, how do we get to information from the big bang?
If not, it begins to appear analogous to a signature, no?


I got the impression that you took the negative fork here, i.e. information is not intrinsic to the universe, since you draw the conclusion of a signature from it. But your last comment says that the idea that information is not intrinsic to the universe is not part of the ID subscription, which implies that ID thinks it is intrinsic to the universe. That pulls the rug out from your signature idea, doesn't it?

TheOFloinn said...

What is the nature of "time" and who does it apply to?

Time is the measure of change in corruptible (changeable) being.

It applies to all changeable beings.

The Irish Thomist said...

"George R. said...

Irish Darwinist writes:
if you accept some form of evolution - as I do of course since there is certainly plenty of evidence...

Plenty of evidence, huh. Such as? Oh, don't tell me... it's because things change, and all the (atheist) scientists tell us that they change because of random mutation and natural selection, and, of course, a bunch of God-hating, fornicating swine would never lie to us...would they?"

Are you just trolling or did you not read what I said about your attitude or the way you are coming across? Tone it down.

My own view of evolution is very much my own and I am open to all the evidence - lets start with domestication, selective breeding and environmental adaptation shall we? Do you not believe in any form of adaptation? When I say I believe in evolution I am speaking very broadly (intentionally so) as my own position varies from the mainstream view slightly.

Arthur said...

'What is it that you're "more a fan of Aquinas's arguments" than?'

I was thinking of using 'weird' or exceptional events as evidence for God, as with arguments from miracles. The way I see it, God should be, in a way, the most 'normal' thing there is. Trying to find evidence for Him in exceptional or anomalous events strikes me as a mistake from the start. That seems to be what the 'Believer' character in Feser's metaphor is doing.

"Even a single finite being is sufficient to ground Aquinas's Five Ways and thus to demonstrate the existence of God"

I don't pretend to have this particularly figured out, Scott. On the one hand, I suspect that finite objects, by themselves, can't show that an infinite God exists. On the other hand, I'm now reminded that Aquinas' arguments don't start from a grand premise about the universe as a whole, but just by pointing out the existence of any finite thing at all. Evidently, Aquinas disagrees with me.

Sounds like I need to check Aquinas' arguments more thoroughly because I'm pretty sure I've got conflicting ideas about this.

If you want a debate, I can't give you one; I'm still figuring this out.

The Irish Thomist said...

"Michael said...

That a mechanism exists to enable mutation to occur isn't "blind chance" - it's a designed allowance for change to occur, inevitably in a consequential way. Even so, "random" mutation (as it's referred) has never resulted in the production of a new species. Adaptation, mutation and evolution are each exclusive terminology; they're not interchangeable at the evolutionist's convenience."

I have to agree with a few threads of this idea - maybe not all of it. I am sympathetic to some of it.

Anonymous said...

Hey Fezzy, this is exactly the same argument that Ray Comfort uses. Are you going to convert to Evangelical Christianity as well and renounce the Pelagian system known as Roman Catholicism?

Scott said...

@Arthur:

"I was thinking of using 'weird' or exceptional events as evidence for God, as with arguments from miracles."

Fair enough. The way you phrased it, it looked like you were disagreeing with Timotheos somehow or had perhaps overlooked his reference to Aquinas.

"If you want a debate, I can't give you one[.]"

Nope, just trying to find out what you were getting at. Thanks for clarifying.

The Irish Thomist said...

"TheOFloinn said...

What is the nature of "time" and who does it apply to?

Time is the measure of change in corruptible (changeable) being.

It applies to all changeable beings."

Or this https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time#Spacetime

Although it depends on whether it is a 'physical' or 'metaphysical' question I suppose?

TheOFloinn said...

Although ["time"] depends on whether it is a 'physical' or 'metaphysical' question I suppose?

Or on whether it's a question of the perception of time.

Doug said...

David T,

I'd like to help with your confusion, but in order to do so, you need to do me a favor (please?): set aside all your assumptions about ID. Let's talk about the painting first, and then discuss the analogy (rather than dismissing the analogy on the basis of misconceptions), 'k?

So, as you say: there is something "extrinsic" about signatures on paintings. Indeed, it is this very thing that makes a signature "interesting" in the context of a "spill-canvas". The statistics of spills simply make the signature jump out at the careful observer (well before it need be construed as a signature).

But there are two schools of thought looking at the painting: group A insists that since it is possible (however unlikely) for the "signature" to be congruent with the spills, then it must be caused by a spill (i.e., it is just a spill-statistical outlier); group T considers the evidence better explained by a signatory and a signature.

The signature (if it is a signature) is problematic for group A because it really is a stretch of their observed spill statistics. The signature is problematic for group B because they need to assume a signatory.

When B's discuss the matter with A's, they really-and-truly do not subscribe to the "signature is intrinsic to spills" philosophy. BUT - they acknowledge that A's do so subscribe.

And their position is not to claim a signatory on the basis of the signature. Rather, it is to claim that a {signatory-and-a-signature} is a better explanation for the observations than {spill-statistics-with-an-outlier}.

NB: just because the A's position (i.e., {spill-statistics-with-an-outlier}) is embedded in the B's argument, this does not mean that it is part of the B's position.

If you have followed so far, and I hope you have, then we can proceed to discuss ID. But if you respond to this comment with more ID misconceptions, I'm done. Let's agree about paintings first, please?

David T said...

Doug,

Well, so there isn't a misunderstanding, I've read Behe, several of Dembski's books, Jon Wells (Icons of Evolution is excellent) and Philip Johnson going all the way back to the original publication of Darwin on Trial in the early 90s. So I'm not a neophyte with respect to ID. I used to be an ID advocate until Feser convinced me otherwise.

But, for the purposes of this discussion, I'm letting you be the ID expert, and if you say ID doesn't care about the bacterial flagellum anymore, so be it (Vincent Torley notwithstanding.)

I appreciate the detail you put into your presentation of the painting analogy (I mean that sincerely). I don't disagree with anything you said, but I will point out the following: Your point about the statistics of spills and signatures only works because we have examples of spills with signatures and spills without signatures. That is, we can develop the statistics of spills independently of any signatures, because we have plenty of spills without signatures to develop them on. Were all spills to have signatures, this would not be possible.

David T said...

Doug,

Well, I've read Behe, several of Dembski's books, Jon Wells (his Icons of Evolution is excellent) and Philip Johnson going all the way back to Darwin on Trial in the early '90s. So if I'm misunderstanding ID, I've been misunderstanding it for more than 20 years. Which is always possible. I used to be an ID advocate until Feser convinced me otherwise.

In any case, I don't disagree with your analysis of paintings, but I will point out some further things. Your recourse to the statistics of spills and signatures is only possible in light of the following: Spills and signatures are separable so that the statistical characteristics of spills can be developed independently of signatures and vice versa. We have examples of spills with signatures and spills without signatures, and even in the case of spills with signatures, we can cut out the signature and develop statistics on the rest of the item.

Doug said...

Al,

I'll grant all you write -- and it was well written, too!

Outside of a laboratory, it seems quite difficult to distinguish between genetic drift and true selective advantage.

But all that evolution -- is it "going" anywhere? Are we becoming something other than human? How would we know if we weren't just visiting historical genomic territory? (without some observable phenotypic difference, I mean)

A data-point for your consideration: read Plutarch's "Lives" -- and observe that human beings haven't changed much in the last two thousand years (in spite of all that accumulated evolution).

Doug said...

David T,

For prints of the painting (going far afield from any analogy ;-) ), it might be impossible for the signature to be separated from the painting, but an ergodicity check would fail in the vicinity of any signature, in any event.

Gary C. Moore said...

If time were not perceived would it exist?

If time did not change would it exist?

If time changes, what is it that changes?

If there were no change, would anything be perceived or exist?

How is change distinguished from the same?

Does only the present effectively exist pragmatically whereas the past and future are conjectured?

If "past" and "future" are purely conjectured, are they the sole explanation of what the "present" is?

David T said...

Doug,

That's fine.

George R. said...

What exactly is wrong with the model of random mutation and natural selection? That (some) purveyors of it are atheists?

The fact that atheists are rabid supporters of Darwinism should make us very suspicious of the thesis. The fact that atheists are willing to pour all kinds of resources into preventing any criticism of Darwinism from being permitted in school textbooks should raise an eyebrow of anyone who puts himself forth as a Christian. The fact that the most zealous atheists are also the most zealous evolutionists might suggest, perhaps, that zealous Christians ought to be also zealous anti-evolutionist.

But that's not the reason why we should reject it. The real reason we should reject the model of random mutation and natural selection is because random mutation can never, in a trillion billion Gillion years, ever produce anything worth selecting. That's because all mutations take place at the nucleotide level, and no mutation of a nucleotide can ever improve a phenotype -- even if the nucleotide were changed by an intelligent agent! Therefore, there could be no cause for such a mutation to be selected. All geneticists know this. That's why they've all given up on natural selection altogether, and they've begun to prattle on about 'genetic drift instead -- which is itself equally incapable of capable of causing new organic systems, but it at least buys them some time until they're able to cook up some other story.

Scott said...

@George R.:

"The real reason we should reject the model of random mutation and natural selection is because random mutation can never, in a trillion billion Gillion years, ever produce anything worth selecting. That's because all mutations take place at the nucleotide level, and no mutation of a nucleotide can ever improve a phenotype -- even if the nucleotide were changed by an intelligent agent! Therefore, there could be no cause for such a mutation to be selected. All geneticists know this."

I think some geneticists would be surprised to hear that remarkable news.

DavidM said...

"If time were not perceived would it exist?"

No.

"If time did not change would it exist?"

What is the expression "time changes" supposed to even mean? (Can't make sense of this question without knowing that.)

"If time changes, what is it that changes?"

See last response.

"If there were no change, would anything be perceived or exist?"

Yes.

"How is change distinguished from the same?"

They are contraries.

"Does only the present effectively exist pragmatically whereas the past and future are conjectured?"

Not clear what "effectively exist pragmatically" means.

"If "past" and "future" are purely conjectured, are they the sole explanation of what the "present" is?"

No(?) - what does it mean to say that 'past' and 'future' are purely conjectured?

Anonymous said...

George R:

The real reason we should reject the model of random mutation and natural selection is because random mutation can never, in a trillion billion Gillion years, ever produce anything worth selecting. That's because all mutations take place at the nucleotide level, and no mutation of a nucleotide can ever improve a phenotype -- even if the nucleotide were changed by an intelligent agent! Therefore, there could be no cause for such a mutation to be selected.

Why can't a mutation of a nucleotide ever improve a phenotype? The mutation of a nucleotide obviously influences gene expression because it affects what sort of proteins are assembled by ribosomes as RNA passes through them. Some mutations will be disastrous; for example, if the sequence of nucleotides marking the end of the gene is altered, then much more of the DNA than "should" be transcribed will be transcribed, resulting in a likely useless and defective protein. Since specific proteins are often essential to the functioning of an organism, such mutations that render specific proteins would often prevent the organism from surviving. But other mutations may do nothing, or may make a slight but non-fatal change in phenotype.

You claim that such a mutation could never "improve" a phenotype? By this I take you to mean that the slight but non-fatal change in phenotype would not be an improvement. (If you mean something else, please clarify.) But why should that be the case?

For example, say that the change prevents a pigment from being expressed, so that a particular rodent does not have its characteristic color. Due to recent changes in habitat, say, the new color leads to those of mutant descent being killed less frequently.

Which part of such an account would you reject? I am trying to figure out where Thomists who accept ID feel threatened.

Anonymous said...

You claim that such a mutation could never "improve" a phenotype?

Sorry, this was not intended to be a question, rhetorical or otherwise.

For example, say that the change prevents a pigment from being expressed, so that a particular rodent does not have its characteristic color.

I'll add that it is not implausible that such a phenotypic change could arise as a result of the mutation of a single nucleotide. If the mutation of a single nucleotide renders the gene that encodes the pigment completely ineffective (as is possible, in the case of more "radical" mutations, like phase shifts, in which a nucleotide is added or removed so that the groups of every three nucleotides no longer "match up," or if one of the last three nucleotides in the gene is altered so that transcription does not end when it is supposed to), then the now-botched protein would likely play no role in the organism, so you might get an albino or something similar, as a result of one mutation.

George R. said...

I think some geneticists would be surprised to hear that remarkable news.

Sarcasm, Scott? Be careful, the charity-mongers on this site might want to chastise you for that.

Also, I'm having a difficult time seeing the relevance of your link to what I was saying. Perhaps you'd like to explain it.

As for random mutation and natural selection being the cause of the variety of life, I assure you it is as dead as mutton. The geneticists know it can't work, although they still might pretend it does when they have to. The problem is that the overwhelming majority of mutations are neutral, and those that aren't are harmful. So there's nothing worth selecting. RM NS is strictly for tourists, rubes, undergrads, and pompous Thomists.

Scott said...

@George R.:

"I'm having a difficult time seeing the relevance of your link to what I was saying. Perhaps you'd like to explain it."

It's a paper by some geneticists about a (nucleotide) mutation that apparently has beneficial (and thus selectable) effects on the human phenotype. It isn't atypical in that regard, either, and it's intended as a reply to your odd claim about what "all geneticists know."

George R. said...

It's a paper by some geneticists about a (nucleotide) mutation that apparently has beneficial (and thus selectable) effects on the human phenotype.

Where do they say that? Please provide a quote.

Scott said...

@George R.:

"Where do they say that?"

In the very first paragraph of the abstract, where they state that a "32-bp deletion in the host-cell chemokine receptor CCR5, CCR5Δ32" protects "[i]ndividuals homozygous for CCR5Δ32…against HIV infection whereas those heterozygous for CCR5Δ32 have lower pre-AIDS viral loads and delayed progression to AIDS," and add that "HIV can provide selective pressure for CCR5Δ32, increasing the frequency of this [mutant] allele."

Really, George, if you weren't able to work that out yourself, you have no business holding forth on this subject.

George R. said...

Really, George, if you weren't able to work that out yourself, you have no business holding forth on this subject.

Well, I don't think if I ever tried to impersonate a geneticist I'd get to far.

OK, maybe my statements on this particular issue were a little too dogmatic.

That being said, I don't think that I've been left without a case.

First of all, the paper refers to alleles and not nucleotides, and I don't think the allele is synonymous with nucleotide.

Here's the Wiki definition:
An allele (UK /ˈæliːl/ or US /əˈliːl/), or allel, is one of a number of alternative forms of the same gene or same genetic locus.

A gene involves many nucleotides, so an alternate form of that may involve many differing nucleotides. Therefore, I don't see how this paper is necessarily relevant to the issue of one mutant nucleotide.

But let's stipulate that it does refer to one such mutation. There's still a question of whether this mutation is really an improvement of the phenotype. After all, sickle-cell anemia prevents malaria, but it's hardly an improvement to the phenotype. There is also the fact that correlation does not necessarily imply causation. Who knows? There may be a particular genetic makeup that tends both to prevent AIDS and cause the mutation.

Even if the mutation is preventing the disease, it is almost certainly just an accidental cause, and not a real cause in itself. For example, if some madman locked a bunch of people in a room and killed all of them whose names didn't begin with "M", this would not mean that people whose names began with "M" were more immune to violent death.

Moreover, how did the writers of this paper determine that this allele was the result of random mutation and not just an already existing variation in the population? It's not really clear... (to a guy who hasn't actually read the paper, anyway.)

You see, the problem with the nucleotide mutation providing a selectable improvement to the phenotype is intrinsic to the nature of the nucleotide: it just has no value as a stand-alone thing, only as a part of a coordinating system that already exists. That's why it's foolish to think it could ever be selected as a part of a system that doesn't yet exist.

Gary C. Moore said...

Thomas Kjeller Johansen, The Powers of Aristotle's Soul. Oxford Aristotle studies. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Pp. ix, 302. ISBN 9780199658435. $85.00.
Reviewed by Peter D. Larsen, Trinity College Dublin
Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2014.07.33

Gary C. Moore said...

Anonymous DavidM said...
1] "If time were not perceived would it exist?"
Anonymous DavidM: No.
GCM: a] Then “eternity” has either nothing to do with “time” or does not exist, ergo “God” does not exist? b] Does “God” perceive? And if so, is “his” point of view different from “your” point of view and how so? c] Time as humans ‘know’ it abstractly [not “direct experience”] is the artificially pragmatic measurement by arbitrarily established parameters in 21st century English scientific culture. Therefore how does “God” act in such human time, or rather, how can “God” judge human acts meaningful only in such a context?
2] "If time did not change would it exist?"
Anonymous DavidM: What is the expression "time changes" supposed to even mean? (Can't make sense of this question without knowing that.)
GCM: You move your arm. You perceive that you move your arm. The movement of your arm changes the position of your arm. The ‘measurement’ of the perception of the moving of the arm is serial or sequential time, a measurement of human invention. However, this concept of time, a mere pragmatic necessity, is liable to Zeno of Elea’s paradoxes.
-x-
3] "If time changes, what is it that changes?"
Anonymous DavidM: See last response.
GCM: See last response
-x-
4] "If there were no change, would anything be perceived or exist?"
Anonymous DavidM: Yes.
GCM: How would you know that without change?
-x-
5] "How is change distinguished from the same?"
Anonymous DavidM: They are contraries.
GCM: In what way, fashion, mode, is change specifically the contrary of the same?

6] "Does only the present effectively exist pragmatically whereas the past and future are conjectured?"
Anonymous DavidM: Not clear what "effectively exist pragmatically" means.
GCM: Mea culpa. Redo: “Is your immediate material pragmatic purpose to effectively exist? If so, how does the conjectured “past” and “future” - that cannot exist at-hand like your immediate purpose but only as verbal abstractions in the present - effect present-at-hand motivations?
7] "If "past" and "future" are purely conjectured, are they the sole explanation of what the "present" is?"
Anonymous DavidM: No(?) - what does it mean to say that 'past' and 'future' are purely conjectured?
GCM: If the “present” is the experienced “now” that is not an analytical abstraction [cf. “Augenblick”, Meister Eckhardt, Friedrich Nietzsche], then is the “past” and the “future” another kind of “present” or “now” – or something else altogether? If the “past” and the “future” literally exist in the “present”, how do they do so experiencially and not just abstractly? If “past” and “future” cannot be experienced literally, then do they exist at all other than for abstract pragmatic motivational reasons?

Scott said...

@George R.:

"A gene involves many nucleotides, so an alternate form of that may involve many differing nucleotides. Therefore, I don't see how this paper is necessarily relevant to the issue of one mutant nucleotide."

As you've already acknowledged ("all mutations take place at the nucleotide level"), all genetic mutations are mutations of nucleotides (or sequences thereof). They're just not all point mutations (mutations of a single nucleotide).

I wasn't aware that you intended your claim to apply only to point mutations. But if you did, then its relevance isn't clear even if it's true (which, as Anonymous has already helpfully explained, it isn't).

Mutations can and do involve short stretches or long strings of a DNA sequence. If your claim is only that point mutations can't result in beneficial changes to a phenotype—well, even if that were the case (which, again, it isn't), it would leave "the model of random mutation and natural selection" pretty much right where it was. In order to support the strong claim you appeared to be making, you'd need to argue that no mutation (of a nucleotide sequence of any length) could ever have any beneficial (and selectable) effects on a phenotype, and I think it's clear that that would be a losing game.

I don't think I have anything else to add here, so I'll bow back out. But thank you for your gracious acknowledgement that your earlier remarks might have been a bit dogmatic.

Anonymous said...

@ vincent torley,

I watched the RIKEN "machinery of life" video. While I am certainly impressed with the factory management skills displayed, I was left completely cold. The thought of all these cogs & sprockets being ordered about by an unseen genius does not inspire in me one iota of awe or reverence. To me this video is a perfect encapsulation of what is wrong with the ID approach -- it reduces God to a super-engineer who brings about the appearance of life via the controlled motion of billions of little dead piece parts. But "He is not God of the dead, but of the living."

Besides all the idealized representation of components (e.g. as airplanes, shuttles, conveyors, etc) gave the whole film an air of fakery.

Anonymous DavidM said...

@ Anonymous Gary C. Moore:

I actually rather like Heidegger, I think there's generally more to him than decadent obscurantism, but that's because of the present reality of his established past. You, for me, have no present, effective reality in relation to an established past, so I don't think I'll have much luck in interacting with your obscurantism.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Anonymous,

In your comment on the RIKEN video, you wrote:

"To me this video is a perfect encapsulation of what is wrong with the ID approach -- it reduces God to a super-engineer who brings about the appearance of life via the controlled motion of billions of little dead piece parts."

Where are you getting this nonsensical picture of a super-engineer from? Not from RIKEN, which has no religious affiliations whatsoever. All that ID theory claims is that we have scientific evidence that life was designed. How it was designed is another matter entirely, about which ID is silent.

I'd like to confront your question head-on, so I'll ask one of my own. Do you or do you not accept that in the process of designing the first living cell, God must have also designed each and every one of its components, and their interactions?

What I'm saying is that a cell cannot simply be made from the top down: "Let there be a cell." It also has to be designed from the bottom up. It's no use pretending that specifying the ends (or final causes) for which a cell is designed will somehow flesh out all the underlying biochemistry. There's no escaping the biochemical nitty-gritty: that had to have been to be planned, too, even if the cell's designer was God.

In the words of St. Augustine (City of God v, 11): "Not only heaven and earth, not only man and angel, even the bowels of the lowest animal, even the wing of the bird, the flower of the plant, the leaf of the tree, hath God endowed with every fitting detail of their nature."

Marie M said...

Vincent,

I was not replying to a presumed religious intent of RIKEN, but to your religious inferences: "I defy anyone to view it and not be moved by it. It packs a much more powerful punch than any metaphysical argument ever could."

"Do you or do you not accept that in the process of designing the first living cell, God must have also designed each and every one of its components, and their interactions?"

The notion "God's design process" seems absurd to me. Sounds like a super-engineer.

I also think the idea of God designing the "first" living cell is problematic. As TOF quoted Benedict XVI: "(B)eing-in-movement as a whole (and not just the beginning) is creation..."

So instead of "the process of designing" I think we need to say "creating."

But with those changes, I agree with you: every component and interaction is created by God.

"It's no use pretending that specifying the ends (or final causes) for which a cell is designed will somehow flesh out all the underlying biochemistry. There's no escaping the biochemical nitty-gritty: that had to have been to be planned, too, even if the cell's designer was God."

Seems like we're trying to venture here into "what it's like to be God" -- I believe there are cherubim in front of that gate with flaming swords. IOW, I don't believe we can say "had to have been done this way, even if God did it."

I am reminded of the famous atheist barb that if there is a God, he must have an inordinate fascination with beetles. The fascination, of course, is all the atheist's.

Thanks for the thoughtful questions.

-- Simon James

Riccardo said...

Prof. Feser, I would like to translate in Italian this post on my blog, with a link at the original english post; can I proceed?