Sunday, April 11, 2010

Never again!

Every time I get into the ID controversy I soon regret it. It gets too nasty and personal. And of course, it’s everyone else’s fault, since I’m too shy and mild ever to say anything mean. Never again!

Well, until next time, anyway. Which will probably be within a few days, when I get a chance to write up that reply to Torley. Plus the other post in the series I was going to write up anyway. In the meantime, enjoy this appropriate classic from Benny Goodman and the greatest of his vocalists, Helen Ward, on whom I had something of a crush when I was a teenager. Which is saying something, given that she was in her seventies by that time. (Actually, it was her younger self I was sweet on – that’s her at left.)


  1. Prof. Feser, I used to think that you were anti-ID because of wanting to be in with the sophisticated Darwinians. I was a fool, of course.

    Now I am older, and I see that Thomistic-style argument for God, to the exclusion of ID-style argument, is like fideistic belief in God to the exclusion of reason. On the other hand, ID-style argument for God to the exclusion of Thomistic-style argument is like "rationalism" (as opposed to fideism), believing only as/when rendered by reason.
    If both are true, and there is no contradiction between two truths (Fides et Ratio), then ... why are we schisming over language? :o)

    All the same, man, keep up the great, great work, Prof. Feser. Your Little Yellow Book is doing the rounds in my neighbourhood. Next, I'll gather us an army. ;o)

  2. Thank you, Professor Feser, for introducing me to Helen Ward, and letting me hear Benny Goodman. I forgive you for presenting such a bad argument against ID. But I fear the argument remains unforgivable.

  3. It could be worse Mr. Feser... you ever been to the Biologos site? Those guys feel the wrath of ID advocates on a daily basis.

    Anyways, thanks for the article, I look forward to the follow-ups. Personally, I've never really taken to ID, not because of the A.T. argument, but just because ID in general seems a little too shaky of an argument. In my opinion, wagering that we'll find more order in the evolutionary process as we continue to learn about it has a better payoff than hoping our current stumbling blocks (such as irreducible complexity or the origin of life) will hold for the rest of time.

  4. Hi Anon,

    I've been one of the ID proponents that frequents Biologos. They seem to be a fairly good bunch of people, and I haven't had to treat them to my usual wrath.

    Yes, yes, I wake up every morning holding my breath, hoping against hope that nobody has figured out how the bacterial flagellum evolved. So far I've been lucky. But how much longer can my luck endure?

  5. Anon,

    ID isn't opposed to the idea of evolution (or for that matter, common descent, etc.) Nor is the topic limited to biology alone. The idea is we can infer design in the natural world, and that these inferences are scientific. After that, a lot of ID proponents diverge.

    I will say this much: While I'm more and more sympathetic to thomism (and while I realize the limitations of the ID project where theology is concerned), I really feel as if I hold more in common with ID proponents than many of the contributors at Biologos. I would be surprised if most thomists were sympathetic to views of men like Ayala (Who argue God foresaw no outcome of evolution, and it's a good thing He didn't, because He'd be a monster if so).

    For me the real question is: Does ID's "Big Tent" pivot on whether or not one insists that ID must be scientific? If not, then the tent is big enough for thomism. If so, the tent excludes thomism. Given that many ID proponents have no problem making philosophical arguments, I'm not sure sure they intend to exclude thomism. Maybe the Big Tent really IS big.

  6. Hi Crude,

    I'm afraid I don't follow you. How would insisting that ID is scientific exclude Thomism.

  7. Heya Bilbo,

    What I mean is this: If it's insisted that an ID claim must at heart be a [scientific, empirical] claim, then thomism as I know it is going to be excluded. Thomism isn't an empirical claim, but a philosophical and metaphysical one. And even though Thomism concerns itself with demonstrations of and arguments for God (I suppose the "Ultimate Designer" for ID proponents), Thomism just won't be ID.

    However, if ID's Big Tent is broader - if providing arguments for God, or creative powers operating in or through nature, is all that required for one to be an ID proponent (meaning, arguments and metaphysical views that are explicitly not empirical and scientific are included), then Thomism is not only compatible with ID. It would literally be another form of ID, and the disputes we're seeing are internal (Such as how there are ID proponents who accept macroevolution and common descent, and those who don't. None accuses the other of not promoting ID, though they'll naturally have disagreements.)

    Or put more simply: Are all ID arguments scientific arguments? Or are some ID arguments philosophical / metaphysical arguments? If the former, thomism is excluded. If the latter, it seems thomism can be included.

    Mind you, that's just my amateur, from-the-sidelines view.

  8. "Every time I get into the ID controversy I soon regret it. It gets too nasty and personal."

    I'm not an IDist ... and many of your criticisms of ID seem to me unfair. How much more must it seem to IDists?

  9. Hi Crude,

    I'm not that familiar with Thomism, but it seems to follow the form of drawing conclusions from general empirical observations, e.g., there are contingent beings, therefore there must be a necessary being that they depend upon; there are physical laws, therefore there must be a designer of those laws. Though these arguments begin with empirical observations, I don't think we would call them "scientific."

    I think ID just takes the observations to the next step: the laws are fine-tuned for life, therefore they were probably fine-tuned by a designer; the cell appears to be a product of nanotechnology, therefore someone probably initially designed it. Here the empirical observations are more specific. Are the arguments more scienific? We can form hypotheses based on ID, and test them. Thus Mike Gene is developing his front-loaded evolution hypothesis, and seemas to be finding all sorts of supporting evidence.
    ID arguments seem reasonable to me. Maybe not as strong as Thomistic arguments. But reasonable. And I fail to see how they conflict with Thomism.

  10. Bilbo,

    Thomism aside, I've checked out Mike Gene's blog. Don't you two regularly have it out on the grounds that you think his views are science, and he disagrees?

  11. Hi Crude,

    Yeah, Mike and I have crossed swords a few times. His view -- as far as I can tell -- is that science can only determine that something is designed if there is independent empirical evidence of a designer. Since there presently is no such evidence for the origin of life, then ID isn't science.

    But Mike will also claim that we can have empirical knowldge that is outside of science, and that he is engaged in an empirical investigation that may result in that kind of knowledge.

    I say that if Mike succeeds, then the scientific community will call it science, regardless of what he calls it.

  12. Thinking about the relative cogency of Thomistic (or other philosophical arguments compared to ID arguments.

    One obvious difference is that ID arguments depend upon the available probabilistic resources, whereas philosophical arguments don't. If we live in an infinite multiverse, ID arguments are either much weaker or fail altogether. But the cosmological and teleological arguments wouldn't be affected at all.

  13. On the other hand, people who view philosophical arguments with a suspicious eye are often more willing to consider arguments based on scientific findings.

  14. That woule be because *some* people strongly desire to unexaminedly hold to "suspicious" philosophical systems. Considering that these "suspicious" philosophical systems can rarely stand up to a critical eye, it may be the best stance for such folk to pretend that "all philosophy is bunk."

  15. "If we live in an infinite multiverse, ID arguments are either much weaker or fail altogether."

    Not really.

    Even in the imaginarily infinite less-than-speculative multiverse -- which vain and fanciful chimera is, by definition, un-scientific (*) -- the task is still to rationally explain the reality of living organisms in this universe (which happens to be the only one we shall ever have).

    In a reality in which everything (including the totality of the reality) is subject to an iron law of entropy, how is it that there even exist entities able to harness entropy to further their own, if local, anti-entropic ends? Sure, entropy wins in the end, as it must, but how to sensibly explain this interesting meantime?

    (*) So, naturally that’s just what the poseurs for scientism shall turn to as the means to protect their unscientific, and worse, illogical, philosophy from critical and logical examination.

  16. If water were observed flowing uphill, even though the inevitable downward flow ultimately prevails over the local counter-flow, how would appealing to a multiverse "theory" either explain that interesting observation or make the observation go away?

  17. I don't think there can be any particular conflict between Thomism and ID because there isn't much overlap between them in the first place. Of course, I'm taking "ID" in its basic sense as the question of whether science can detect design. Since Thomistic philosophy allows for the modern scientific method (indeed, implies it, given that it provides a solid metaphysical foundation for science itself), it can have no problem with that question. Conversely, ID as a scientific question is compatible with any system of philosophy that is capable of grounding the scientific method.

    Now perhaps it follows from Thomistic principles that science can [or cannot] determine design. It's not obvious to me, and I suspect that there's no metaphysical basis for it one way or the other in particular — other than engaging in the ID project itself (which, even regarded as science, still counts as philosophy too, since science is only natural philosophy after all). All the misguided talk about forms and teleology is unfortunate insofar as scientists get their philosophy wrong (and vice versa!), but at the end of the day, that has nothing to do with the answer to the actual question at hand. At least in theory; in practical terms, it obviously does matter if people can communicate effectively, or nobody's going to get very far in figuring out what the answer is, and perhaps that's the problem we find ourselves in today.