Intelligent Design

A reasonable man

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I would like to commend Thomas Cudworth for his latest attempt to engage ID critic Professor Edward Feser in dialogue. Over the past few weeks, I have been greatly heartened by Professor Feser’s clarifications of his position vis-a-vis Intelligent Design. For instance, in a recent post on his blog site, he wrote:

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

Moreover, in an email sent to me last month, Professor Feser wrote:

I have never accused any ID defender of heresy, and would never do so. To say to a theological opponent “Your views have implications you may not like, including ones that I believe are hard to reconcile with what we both agree to be definitive of orthodoxy” is simply not the same thing as saying “You are a heretic!” Rather, it’s what theologians do all the time in debate with their fellow orthodox believers.

I welcome Professor Feser’s statements that he regards the Intelligent Design movement as theologically orthodox, and that he believes God is the designer of living things.

In his latest post, Thomas Cudworth put a question to Professor Feser. He asked Professor Feser whether, in his view, God could have possibly planned to create a universe in which intelligent beings could infer His existence from studying nature – in particular, from observing clues such as cosmic fine-tuning and irreducible complexity, which would show that the evolutionary process must have been intelligently planned. I know that Professor Feser is a very busy man with a lot of work on his hands, so I’d like to attempt a reply on his behalf.

Recently, I’ve been closely studying Professor Feser’s books, The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism. Aquinas. One thing that Feser makes abundantly clear in his books is that he thinks the existence of God can be proved with certainty. So in response to Thomas Cudworth’s question, Professor Feser would never say: “No, I know that God would never have hatched such a plan, would never have wanted human beings to have the ability to infer his existence in this way, and would never have created a universe in which such inferences from nature are possible.”

Instead, the answer which Professor Feser would give is:

“God did in fact create a universe in which intelligent beings could infer His existence from studying nature. But we don’t need cosmic fine-tuning and irreducible complexity to make that inference. Any old law of nature would be enough – even a simple one like ‘Protons and electrons tend to be attracted to one another.’ What’s more, the laws of nature allow us to deduce that the Creator of the universe is the God of classical theism.”

How can I be sure that Professor Feser would respond in this way? In his book, The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism, Professor Feser describes Aquinas’ Fifth Way as “a strict and airtight metaphysical demonstration of the existence of God” (p. 112) and adds:

Even if the universe consisted of nothing but an electron orbiting a nucleus, that would suffice for the Fifth Way… All that matters is that there are various causes here and now which are directed to certain ends, and the argument is that these couldn’t possibly exist at all if there were not a Supreme Intellect here and now ordering them to those ends… Nor is this a matter of “probability,” but of conceptual necessity: it is not just unlikely, but conceptually impossible that there could be genuine final causation without a sustaining intellect. (p. 116)

Could such a Supreme Intelligence possibly be anything less than God? It could not. For whatever ultimately orders things to their ends must also be the ultimate cause of those things: To have an end is just part of having a certain nature or essence; for that nature or essence to be the nature or essence of something real, it must be conjoined with existence; and thus whatever determines that these things exist with a certain end is the same as what conjoins their essence and existence. But as we have seen, the ultimate or First Cause of things must be Being Itself. Hence the Supreme Intelligence cannot fail to be identical with the First Cause and thus with the Unmoved Mover, with all the divine attributes. The arguments all converge on one and the same point: God, as conceived of in the monotheistic religions.

There can be no doubt, then, that the Supreme Intelligence which orders things to their ends cannot fail to be Pure Being and therefore cannot fail to be absolutely simple. (p. 116)
(Emphasis mine – VJT.)

It is evident from the foregoing quotes that Professor Feser has great confidence in Aquinas’ Fifth Way, and that he believes it leads straight to the God of classical theism. Where he and I differ is that he thinks that Intelligent Design detracts from the Fifth Way (which is why he regards ID as a theological distraction), whereas I think that Intelligent Design actually reinforces the Fifth Way, making Aquinas’ argument much stronger, and much easier to defend from the attacks of modern skeptics. But that will be the subject of a future post.

100 Replies to “A reasonable man

  1. 1
    Mung says:

    Hi vjt,

    I really like this. It’s good that we can try to reason about how others might respond rather than having to hear it from their own mouths.

    I hope you’re enjoying reading TLT as much as i did.

  2. 2
    Mung says:

    oops. Meant TLS not TLT.

    TLS = The Last Superstition

    TLT = Too Little Time

  3. 3
    Lamont says:

    vj,
    I hope you are successful in showing how ID can support Aquinas’ 5th Way. That would require fully embracing final causality and rejecting the claim that ID is just another empirical science like any other.
    You really can’t have it both ways unless you have discovered how to read the genetic code and have found secret messages from God. 🙂

  4. 4
    StephenB says:

    —Lamont: “I hope you are successful in showing how ID can support Aquinas’ 5th Way.”

    If ID science, based on inductive logic and probability estimates, compromises and trivializes Aquinas’ fifth way, why doesn’t “big bang” science, based on inductive logic and probability, compromise and trivialize Aquinas’ second way?

    Or, to put it the other way, if “big bang” science can reinforce Aquinas’ second way, why cannot ID science reinforce Aquinas’ fifth way?

    Or, returning to the fifth way, would Feser seriously argue that cosmological science, which can tell us with a high degree of probability that we live on a “privileged planet,” does violence to Aquinas’ philosophy on the grounds that the former cannot arrive at its conclusions with apodictic certainty?

  5. 5
    Mung says:

    Professor Feser describes Aquinas’ Fifth Way as “a strict and airtight metaphysical demonstration of the existence of God” (p. 112)

    Maybe we need to explain “metaphysical demonstration so” that people aren’t comparing apples and oranges.

  6. 6
    buffalo says:

    http:www.idvolution.org

    Where Faith and Reason Intersect.

    God “breathed” the super language of DNA into the “kinds” in the creative act.

  7. 7
    Ilion says:

    Meh. Professor Feser doesn’t know his own mind … for, heresy is precisely the logical implication of his past criticisms of the IDists.

  8. 8
    Ilion says:

    I really like this. It’s good that we can try to reason about how others might respond rather than having to hear it from their own mouths.

    Oh, come on, Mung! Mr Torley *did* present words from Mr Feser’s “own mouth.” Lengthily so.

    Moreover, at this point in time (as witness his recent posts), Feser has committed himself to intransigently digging in his heels and acting the ass and the fool. Or, at least, the heel. Until he changes his mind about that behavior, it is a fool’s errand to try to dialogue directly with him; you’ll just get more vituperation and “apologies” of the “I’m sorry … you’re stupid” sort.

  9. 9
    Mung says:

    But I am stoopid. 😉

    And I bet Jesus was a heretic, so I’m not too worried myself on that point.

    But my point is that VJT didn’t just fire off a bunch of quesitons and hope for an answer. He thoughfully considered what answer he might receive. I think that’s a good thing. I’ll not spend time listing the reasons.

    That said, I am unclear as to how ID could contribute to the Fifth Way. The fifth Way is a metaphysoical demonstration. ID is a scientific research program.

    Prof Feser no doubt thinks that the Fifth Way is a much more powerful argument for the existence of God. I agree. Unfortunately most people today don’t have the background to understand it.

    So if ID is framed as an argument for the existence of God, which in many cases it is, it is seen as a weaker argument, and therefore as not putting for the best argument for the existence of God, and in that sense it detracts from the Fifth Way.

    But then, I also don’t think ID is about demonstrating the existence of God. Apples and Oranges.

  10. 10
    Mung says:

    The Catholic Church did not cease with Aquinas:

    The two Disputations of the present volume open the second part of Francisco Suárez’s famous Disputationes metaphysicae. Marking a turn from being in general, the subject matter of metaphysics and the concern of the first part, Disputation 28, presents various divisions of being in general, whose members equate with God and creatures. Disputation 29, in an expressly metaphysical way that reflects Avicenna, demonstrates the existence of God, the principal member. The demonstration hinges on the principle, “Everything which comes to be, comes to be by another” and scales the ladder of the common analogous concept of being from lesser and lower being to a First Being. In the course of his argument, Suárez rejects any “physical” demonstration, which would employ the Aristotelian principle, “Everything which is moved is moved by another,” in order to pass from motion to a First Mover.

  11. 11
  12. 12
    Thomas Cudworth says:

    Vincent Torley:

    Thanks for this follow up.

    Regarding the word “heretic” or “heretical,” I think that Feser’s use or non-use of the actual charge is a matter of rhetoric rather than substance. Feser may not be aggressive enough to say “You Iders are all heretics,” but his argument plainly indicates that he believes that ID implies an unorthodox view of God. But let us move to a more central point, because I have some questions for you.

    Feser keeps referring to “classic theism.” He also keeps on speaking of “Aristotelianism-Thomism” as a sort of unified position. But as he certainly knows, and as you and I know, there are major differences between Aristotle and Thomas on a number of things, including the nature and activity of God. This raises the question whether Aristotle, taken on his own, without the modifications introduced by Aquinas, would count as a representative of “classic theism.” I suspect that he would not. Is there anywhere where Feser says something like: “Aristotle believed X about God, and Aquinas believed Y about God, and Aristotle was wrong and Aquinas was right, because Y rather than X is true about God”?

    On another point, I don’t understand how Feser can argue that any old natural law will do. You quote him as saying:

    “Even if the universe consisted of nothing but an electron orbiting a nucleus, that would suffice for the Fifth Way… All that matters is that there are various causes here and now which are directed to certain ends, and the argument is that these couldn’t possibly exist at all if there were not a Supreme Intellect here and now ordering them to those ends…”

    How would Feser know, in the situation described, that the electron’s “orbiting” the nucleus (we’ll overlook Feser’s outdated-by-80-years Bohr model of the atom, as it’s irrelevant to the argument) demonstrates any causes *directed to certain ends*? There’s nothing about the motion of the electron in itself that indicates any “end” at all. It may be just the mathematical expression of a physical necessity. By what right would Feser infer that any “end” is being served? He seems to be presupposing the very Aristotelian analysis of causation that is at issue.

    More generally, I don’t see how the existence of natural laws logically implicates the God of classic theism. Someone like Dawkins could always argue that the existence of the natural laws is just a blunt fact of the universe, without explanation; it’s just the way the world is, and we’re just lucky that such laws happen to be able to facilitate evolution, so that we can exist.

    But even if we grant (as I do) that the existence of natural laws indicates the existence of *some* sort of God, why the God of “classic theism”? Why not just a God who loves calculus and algebra, and who loves making things? Why read more into the natural laws than that? I’m not here opposing the God of “classic theism,” but merely being cautious, as philosophers should: why assert more about God than the evidence warrants? The evidence warrants that there is a designer who is into mathematics in a big way. Anything beyond that is debatable.

    I actually think that the argument from “the general fact of law” is a *weaker* argument for the existence of God (as God is understood in the Bible, anyway) than design-type arguments. In design-type arguments, not the mere existence of laws as such, but the particular character of those laws (e.g., their fine-tuning), is the basis of the argument, just as not the mere existence of orderly configurations (as e.g. in a crystal) but the existence of certain kinds of orderly configurations (as e.g. in an organism) is the basis of the argument. In other words, in design-type arguments reason works from *the particular character* of the created universe, and is to that extent grounded in empiricism. But Feser prefers arguments from the general characteristics of existence, characteristics so general that they have very little tether in the empirical plane at all. I’m not sure that such arguments can prove anything about God at all, without surreptitiously slipping in exactly what it is meant to prove (e.g., as Feser slips in “ends” above); but even if they *can* prove the existence of some sort of God, it appears to me that the God whose existence they prove is the God of the philosophers (an abstraction of simplicity, being, etc.), not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who is not an aloof, simple, pure being, but very much a doer, interactive with the world of his creation. Thus, while “God as mechanic” or “God as engineer” is an inadequate image to fully capture Christian truth, it certain captures some aspects of Biblical truth – God as planner, God as dynamic – aspects of God which are much harder to think of when God is conceived of as “simple” or “pure Being” or the like. But for some reason, the Thomists appear to have a distaste for the Biblical (as opposed to the philosophical) way of speaking about God.

    I think that this last point, as much as any alleged philosophical problems with ID arguments, explains much of the friction between Feser/Beckwith and ID. For Feser/Beckwith, “classic theism” is not negotiable; they are so committed to “classic theism” that the Bible is interpreted within its boundaries. For the Christian ID proponent, however, this is putting the cart before the horse. Most ID proponents are Protestants (which is not to belittle the contribution of Catholics such as Michael Behe or Vincent Torley), and for Protestants the one non-negotiable in Christianity is not “classic theism”; it is the Bible. And the language of the Bible is certainly compatible with an ID interpretation.

    In any case, I await Professor Feser’s answer to the question in my original column. If he runs true to form, i.e., if he speaks to me the way that he normally speaks to me and to others who do not share his perspective, he will spend most of his answer explaining how I am asking the wrong question because I do not understand metaphysics or because I am a prisoner of the erroneous categories of thinking initiated by Descartes, etc. But I am prepared to be pleasantly surprised and receive a straight answer from him, in the very clear terms in which I posed the question.

  13. 13
    Ilion says:

    Well, you know the old saying: “Converts are frequently the most fervent of Christians … and sometimes they’re right asses.

  14. 14
    Mung says:

    But Feser prefers arguments from the general characteristics of existence, characteristics so general that they have very little tether in the empirical plane at all.

    I don’t believe this is accurate. I think he would say, as with Aristotle, so with Aquinas, from the particular to the universal.

    But then, what do I know, I’m just a converted ass 🙂

    How would Feser know, in the situation described, that the electron’s “orbiting” the nucleus demonstrates any causes *directed to certain ends*?

    Because it’s not off doing something else, of all the other possible things it could be doing.

  15. 15
    Mung says:

    p.s. In the above, note the observational aspect. We’re not reasoning from some “first principle,’ but are rather looking at particular instances of what is actually happening, and reasoning from that.

  16. 16
    vjtorley says:

    Thomas Cudworth:

    Thank you for your very interesting post. I’ll respond at further length later today, but for now I’ll just say that Mung’s comment in #14 above is accurate, and I’d like to add that Aristotle (unlike Aquinas) was definitely not a classical theist. None of the ancient Greeks were. Classical theism can be defined as the belief in a God who is transcendent, perfect, omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, omni-benevolent, immutable, eternal and incapable of being decomposed into parts (i.e simple).

    Some Biblical passages are rather anthropomorphic – e.g. God walking in the Garden of Eden – so Thomists are very careful when interpreting them.

    Professor Feser states several times in his posts that Aristotle’s view of final causes is not the same as Aquinas’s. Of course, Feser agrees with Aquinas’s view, which forms the basis of the Fifth Way.

    That’s all for now. I’ll be back later.

  17. 17
    Ilion says:

    Mung,
    But of course. Everyone who really is a Christian is a convert, for God has no grandchildren. And everyone has been an ass at least once and likely will be again.

    But, not everyone is intellectually dishonest; and, sadly, one must conclude that (at least on certain topics (*) ) Feser chooses to be.

    (*) But, once one realizes that, one can’t really respect him on other topics.

  18. 18
    Ilion says:

    Because it’s not off doing something else, of all the other possible things it could be doing.

    So, one has observed that atom for all of time? One knows that the electon cannot but “orbit the nucleus”? one know that its “proper” end or role in “the universe” is to “orbit” that nucleus? One knows this, as opposed to knowing that that simply happens to be what the electron is doing while one is observing it?

    Look, Feser’s constant banging on about “A-T” this and “A-T” that generally smells like question-begging to me … and I’m a Christian, meaning that I am in overall agreement with the statements Feser asserts are conclusions. If his argumentation frequently seems like question-begging to those who agree with where he wishes to go, what must it all sound like to vigorously resist giving assent to the truth-claims of Christianity.

    One must do one’s best to speak to one’s audience in its own language. “A-T,” even if it is true and non-question-begging is not the language with which to address most moderns, and certainly not materialists: they don’t even begin to listen to it.

    Trying to reach materialsts in that language is a pointless as telling him he “must be washed in the blood” — while the statement is true, it is meaningless to him, for it’s not in his language.

    Feser adamantly refuses to understand the point.

  19. 19
    Mung says:

    Hi Ilion.

    I think you make some valid points.

    After reading Feser’s TLS, I came away asking, ok, so teach me how to think that way.

    I’m still waiting for the “For Dummies” or “For Idiots” version to come out.

    I agree that it’s a different way of looking at things and indeed even a different way of thinking about things.

    But do you really want to fight such an important battle on the ground selected by the enemy? You want to abide by his rules?

    I’m not claiming this is true of you, just so we’re clear.

    One must do one’s best to speak to one’s audience in its own language.

    Is that why so few understood the real meaning behind the words of Jesus? Is that why he had to take his disciples aside and explain to them what he meant?

    So I disagree with the premise, even though it sounds great. If I weren’t in such a disagreeable mood I might even agree with it.

    But if you were Feser, who would you approach first? Who does he have a better chance of reaching? (Leaving aside any questions of the approach taken, lol.)

    I’m not a Catholic. (Who knows, maybe one day…)

    I’m not an apologist for Feser. I bought his book TLS because of the current debate over the new atheists. He made some points that intrigued me. Made me want to learn more. For that I am thankful.

    I’m just trying to understand where he might be coming from.

    So, one has observed that atom for all of time?

    No. Does one have to observe the output of one of your functions for all of time to conclude that it always, or almost always, does the same thing?

    One knows that the electon cannot but “orbit the nucleus”?

    No. We go by what we observe, not by what we don’t observe. Sure, some magical Pixie might come along and change things, but we’ve never seen it happen. The earth revolves around the sun. Perhaps an occasional nudge is needed to keep it on the right track.

    We’re talking about what it always, or almost always, is observed to do.

    …one know that its “proper” end or role in “the universe” is to “orbit” that nucleus?

    Proper? Is that a value judgment? I only care about what I observe, not about what whether what I observe is “proper” or not.

    But that does raise an interesting point. How do we determine that certain cells are not behaving “properly”?

    One knows this, as opposed to knowing that that simply happens to be what the electron is doing while one is observing it?

    The same way that we know anything else. We don’t make inferences based on a sample size of 1.

    Dude.

  20. 20
    Mung says:

    …one know that its “proper” end or role in “the universe” is to “orbit” that nucleus?

    So you apparently know what it means to speak of proper function and malfunction.

    That’s final causation at it’s core.

  21. 21
    Thomas Cudworth says:

    Mung:

    Thanks for your response. I have a couple of questions.

    1. I had written:

    “But Feser prefers arguments from the general characteristics of existence, characteristics so general that they have very little tether in the empirical plane at all.”

    To which you replied:

    “I don’t believe this is accurate. I think he would say, as with Aristotle, so with Aquinas, from the particular to the universal.”

    I don’t disagree with you about Aristotle and Aquinas reasoning from the particular to the universal. But that’s not what I’m getting at. Let me rephrase:

    Please have a look at Aquinas’s Five Ways. In which, if any, of the Five Ways, does Aquinas argue to the existence of God *from the character of particular arrangements* within nature? Not general facts of nature, such as the existence of things, or the existence of causes, or the existence of order, but particular facts about nature? I had always thought that only the Fifth Way involved such an argument, but if Beckwith and Feser are right (and they may well be), then even the Fifth Way does not constitute such an argument. This would mean that Aquinas’s proofs are all based on general characteristics of existing things, not on particularities. Do you deny this?

    Now take Paley’s arguments. They are based on particular characteristics of existing things, e.g., the complexity of the eye. Modern forms of this type of argument would be arguments from particular “irreducibly complex” structures in living things, or from the fine-tuning of physical constants. Feser repudiates that sort of argument, as leading straight to bad theology. Do you agree with him?

    2. I had written:

    “How would Feser know, in the situation described, that the electron’s “orbiting” the nucleus demonstrates any causes *directed to certain ends*?”

    To which you replied:

    “Because it’s not off doing something else, of all the other possible things it could be doing.”

    This is not an adequate answer. All that the regularity of the electron shows is that it is governed by some sort of rule or law. That can be understood entirely in terms of efficient cause. There is no need at all to posit some “end” which keeps the electron where it is. This is as wrong-headed as the erroneous physical conclusion (endorsed by Aristotle and Aquinas alike, but curiously not by Feser and Beckwith), that heavy objects fall because they have a natural “telos” or “end” to downward motion. Since the dawn of modern physics that sort of thinking has been rejected.

    Of course, one can postulate, in addition to the efficient causes recognized by modern physics, some “final cause” which keeps electrons where they are in relation to the nuclei of atoms. But it’s gratuitous — unless one already assumes the Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics/physics which is precisely what is being challenged. How can anyone know — without the aid of revelation — that there are final causes in the universe at all? (Other than those introduced by human and animal agents, I mean.)

    Of course, if by “final cause” all that one means is that acorns grow into oak trees, then of course there is final causation in the universe. But from the ancient Epicurean point of view, all such final causation can be explained away by reference to efficient causes which give the illusion of final causes. And I would be very interested if you could find me any head of any physics department in the world who would explain the adhesion of the electron to its atom in terms of final causes. Such explanations have no cognitive value in physics, and if you are Dawkins, they have zero cognitive value in biology.

    The pedagogical question for the Thomists is: is it necessary to first convert people to the “Aristotelian-Thomistic” philosophy of nature, before people will count any appeal to final causes as legitimate? If so, then your argument about the electron (and all kindred arguments that Feser alludes to) will be judged of no validity by the majority of educated people who are not Aristotelian or Thomist. If not, if there is a universal human reasoning about these matters that should be satisfactory to Thomist and non-Thomist alike, then show me how we get to a final-cause explanation for the behavior of the electron without invoking the authority of Aristotle or Thomas. Tell me how we can know that any “telos” is keeping that electron where it is, when we already have a sufficient explanation in the laws of physics uncovered by non-Aristotelian science.

  22. 22
    Ilion says:

    Mung:But do you really want to fight such an important battle on the ground selected by the enemy? You want to abide by his rules?

    All battlefields belong to Christ already, do they not? If we fear a particular battlefield, is it not due either to our own timidity or to unfamiliarity with the lay of the ground (which seems to me a result of timidity)?

    When the philosophes managed to convince most of Western society (*) that Christianity was irrational and that rationality was to be found in atheism, was the proper Christian response to retreat into pietism?

    Hell, no — we *taught* the world to be rational!

    Yet, to one degree or another, that *is* what most of Christendom did do (**). It is only within your and my lifetime that Christians (as a society) are coming out of that foolish detour — probably, in part, because the “mainline” and “elite” Christians have mostly completed the logical trajectory their intellectual forebearers set them on a couple of centuries ago and now clearly are outside Christianity, being no more than “useful idiots” for atheism/materialism.

    Since ID is about overturning Darwinism, rather than atheism (***) directly, I’ll use Darwinists as my example.

    When a DarwinDenier, whether an IDist or a creationist, shows a DarwinDefender that some aspect of Darwinism, or Darwinism as a whole, is self-contradictory, and thus seen to be false, how does the Darwinist almost invariably respond? In one way or another, he will almost always say, “Unless you can provide me a new ‘theory of evolution’ (one that I will accept), then I am rationally and scientifically justified to continue asserting Darwinism.” To put it more bluntly, he is saying, “Unless you can show me how to make Darwinism true, then I refuse to admit that Darwinism is false.”

    God-deniers almost always respond in the same way with respect to God-denial, when logically shown that God-denial is illogical, and thus false.

    Both (I say “both” to the extent that there is a difference between the two -isms) DarwinDefenders and God-deniers — who vociferously proclaim that *they* are the rational and logical ones, that they *own* Logic, Reason and Rationality — will always retreat into illogic and irrationality when pressed; for, that is, in truth, the only ground they hold or can ever hold, and it is no ground at all.

    Feser’s approach to this behavior is not to continue to press them and thus make obvious to all that their claim to own Reason is just meaningless noise, but rather to let them off the hook, both in their own eyes and in those of the wider culture. Feser says to them, “Well, look, if you make this and this and this assumptions, then you can clearly see that you have been wrong all along!” To which they reply, “And why should I make those assumptions?” And everyone forgets that they’ve just been thoroughly routed from the Field of Reason, and they creep back and replant their flags.

    (*) Perhaps I should have put “society” in quote marks, for I don’t mean everyone, but rather those elites and elite-wannabes, those who see themselves as “the sophisticates” in contrast to and over and above mere hoi polloi, those who set the general tone of society.

    (**) It is “the little people,” the “backwoods” and “unsophisticated” Christians, who remained true to Christ and continued to believe and teach that Christianity is both reasonable and rational, while their “betters” trimmed and trimmed and trimmed, so as to fit in with with the right crowds, until they had nothing of Christ or Christianity left but the word. They trimmed all the wax off their candles and can’t fathom why the wick-alone sheds no light.

    (***) The main reason most Darwinist are God-deniers, and most (westernized) God-deniers are Dawrinists isn’t so much that Darwinism is the only available “theory of evolution,” but rather that both systems of thought, to the extend that there is a sytem to them, are based on the same mode of illogical and irrational “reasoning.” Marxism and Freudianism, likewise.

  23. 23
    Ilion says:

    Mung:After reading Feser’s TLS, I came away asking, ok, so teach me how to think that way.

    That would be a good way of putting my own reaction (and, if I recall correctly, you read in on my recommendation). I had indended to read it again … but, I also know myself well enough to know that that becomes a more remote possibility as I no longer respect the man intellectually.

    Ilíon:One must do one’s best to speak to one’s audience in its own language.

    Mung:Is that why so few understood the real meaning behind the words of Jesus? Is that why he had to take his disciples aside and explain to them what he meant?
    .
    So I disagree with the premise …

    Do you, indeed? It seems to me you’ve but shown an example of the very principle.

    Mung:But if you were Feser, who would you approach first? Who does he have a better chance of reaching? (Leaving aside any questions of the approach taken, lol.)

    I deem Feser as having the best chance of reaching next to no-one, for he refuses to speak in language that is meaningful in *this* society. Rather than simply acknowledging and working with the fact that *everyone* sees the world in mechanistic terms — and that this is the natural and inevitable result of Judeo-Christian rationalism — Feser would rather say, “Meh! You’re all just a bunch of materialists!” and, sotto voce he says, “You’re also heretics, making false claims and spreading false conceptions about God” But, of course, we are neither.

  24. 24
    Mung says:

    Hi Thomas,

    You present some interesting questions and I shall want to think a bit on them (and pray that someone else will come to my rescue!). 🙂

    First let me say that I think the Five Ways are of the nature of metaphysical demonstrations and as such are quite foreign to our modern way of thinking.

    But it is very hard for me to accept that none of the Five Ways refer to observations of the way things appear to be.

    I answer that it can be proved in five ways that God exists.

    Medieval Sourcebook: Aquinas: Proof of the Existence of God

    The first and plainest is the method that proceeds from the point of view of motion. It is certain and in accord with experience, that things on earth undergo change.

    The second proof is from the nature of the efficient cause. We find in our experience that there is a chain of causes: nor is it found possible for anything to be the efficient cause of itself, since it would have to exist before itself, which is impossible.

    The third proof is taken from the natures of the merely possible and necessary. We find that certain things either may or may not exist, since they are found to come into being and be destroyed, and in consequence potentially, either existent or non-existent.

    The fourth proof arises from the degrees that are found in things.

    The fifth proof arises from the ordering of things for we see that some things which lack reason, such as natural bodies, are operated in accordance with a plan.

    The way I see it, every single one of the Five Ways proceeds from observation of the way things are or appear to be.

    And if you think that Beckwith and Feser see things otherwise, I would indeed be interested to know why.

    More later.

  25. 25
    Mung says:

    Feser repudiates that sort of argument, as leading straight to bad theology. Do you agree with him?

    No, I would not agree. IIRC, Paley structured his argument in such a way as to arrive at the Christian God.

  26. 26
    Ilion says:

    Ilíon:So, one has observed that atom for all of time?

    Mung:No. Does one have to observe the output of one of your functions for all of time to conclude that it always, or almost always, does the same thing?

    A function is a logical construct. And thus, given the same set of inputs, it *always* generates/returns the same outputs; there is no “almost always” about it. This is a matter of logical necessity.

    Now, of course, we do not live in a “Platonic” world of logical constructs, but rather in a physical world of matter. So, if we mean to make use of a logical function, we must find some way of instantiating it in physical form — we must find some way to use meaningless matter-states to represent the meaningful logical constructs we wish to use.

    We do this with computers and computer programs. It is well known that the proper execution of a computer program depends upon the proper design and functioning of the computer on which is runs. Thus, if the physical computer is improperly designed (as with the infamous math co-processor error of some of the early Pentium CPUs) or is malfunctioning, then a program or function may well return erratic results.

    But, one should not confuse the physical representation of a logical function for the logical function itself. It is logically impossible, meaning utterly impossible, for a logical function to do other than it does. One knows this via reason, by reasoning properly — just as one knows that 1+1=2 always, without deviation — not by empirical observation of all possible executions of all possible physical implementations/representations of the logical function.

    That a logical function always returns the same output, given the same input, is a matter of logical necessity: it cannot be otherwise (however often the DarwinDefenders claim and cavil to the contrary).

    ON THE OTHER HAND, in his example of “the universe” comprised of a single electron orbiting a single atomic nucleus, Feser appears to be making a claim of physical necessity, and on that basis making a claim of metaphysical necessity.

    Yet (to the limited extent that I understand it), according to modern chemistry and the underlying physics, the claim of physical necessity Feser seems to be invoking is not really there. For instance, according to modern physics, molecules are formed when two or more atoms “share” electrons between them. Further, modern physics claims that matter and energy are inter-convertible. Thus, if modern physics is essentially correct, we have at least two reasons to reject the claim is physical necessity Feser seems to be asserting.

    Furthermore — and this was the actual point of my questions — even were there a physical necessity such as Feser seems to be invoking/claiming, and even if one *were* to observe that that lone atom of “the universe” for all of time, so long as one is a finite being, specifically, so long as one does not possess “infinite” knowledge, then one can never make the claim of physical necessity with the surety that one has not made a false assumption. The strongest empirical statement one is logically justified in making is that one has never, in all of time, observed the electron to do other than it is doing now.

    If one wishes to be rationally justified in making claims of necessity, then one cannot invoke assumptions, rather, one must invoke self-evident axioms.

    Mung:We’re talking about what it always, or almost always, is observed to do.

    Are we now?

    Well, that’s a very different thing from necessity … and, in the quote, Feser certainly appears to be making a claim of necessity.

    Ilíon:[O]ne know[s] that [the electron’s] “proper” end or role in “the universe” is to “orbit” that nucleus?

    Mung:Proper? Is that a value judgment? I only care about what I observe, not about what whether what I observe is “proper” or not.

    But Feser’s entire “A-T” schtick is about what is assertedly the “proper end” of this or that … while allowing and asserting all sorts of seemingly arbitrary exceptions.

    Mung:But that does raise an interesting point. How do we determine that certain cells are not behaving “properly”?

    That’s why I sometimes, only half joking, refer to Aristotle’s metaphysics (or, at any rate, my sketchy grasp of them) as “Unintended Intensions.”

    Ilíon:One knows this, as opposed to knowing that that simply happens to be what the electron is doing while one is observing it?

    Mung:The same way that we know anything else. We don’t make inferences based on a sample size of 1.

    One cannot logically justify *any* claim of necessity on the basis of an inference. One must have a deduction which follows from self-evident axioms.

  27. 27
    nullasalus says:

    I deem Feser as having the best chance of reaching next to no-one, for he refuses to speak in language that is meaningful in *this* society.

    I agree that the approach Feser is taking will not really sink in for many people – but then, neither will ID’s. You say “next to no one”, but what are you asking for? A single approach to the question of God that will work on the widest number of people?

    Christianity doesn’t need one supreme apologist. It needs an army of them. Feser’s part of that army, and the arguments he highlights does seem to really reach a number of people. Even if it’s mostly people who are interested in philosophy – not very numerous, sure.

    ON THE OTHER HAND, in his example of “the universe” comprised of a single electron orbiting a single atomic nucleus, Feser appears to be making a claim of physical necessity, and on that basis making a claim of metaphysical necessity.

    Actually, I think that’s backwards, isn’t it? Feser argues that first principles are absolutely vital, so the metaphysics comes first, though the physical observation plays a role. The “single electron orbiting a single atomic nucleus” is sufficient to prove what it does, by Feser’s reasoning, due to what is established in advance by metaphysical reasoning.

    The biggest problem I have in these disputes is the apparent insistence some ID proponents have that everyone get onboard with their project. Feser isn’t sitting there demanding ID people give up ID for Thomism. Honestly, when he’s not be hounded to accept ID, he has precious little to say about it, and he’s admitted that ID is often maligned unjustly.

    I can understand it when ID proponents gun for those TEs who hardly even seem sincere in their belief that nature is designed. But it’s not the case with Feser.

  28. 28
    Thomas Cudworth says:

    Mung:

    Thanks for your reply.

    You’ve given a summary of Aquinas’s Five Ways rather than his full exposition, but the full text is found at the link you provided.

    Yes, Aquinas proceeds from observation — but observation of the general character of all things, not of the specific properties or arrangements of particular things. By specific properties and arrangements I mean things like the bacterial flagellum and the bat’s sonar system and winged flight in birds and the properties of carbon and so on. Since you say you read ID literature you should know what I am talking about here. None of Aquinas’s arguments rest on details of this nature, not even such details as were available to him from the science of the 13th century. He argues from general features of the world, its most colorless and abstract properties. Paley argued from specific arrangements.

    Feser applauds Aquinas’s arguments, and rejects Paley’s. He thinks (a) that Aquinas’s arguments are demonstratively certain, whereas Paley’s are only probablistic, and therefore inferior; (b) that Paley’s arguments are implicitly unorthodox in their notion of God. I disagree with him about (b) — and this goes back to a difference between us about the relative place of philosophical systematics and Biblical teaching within Christian orthodoxy. Regarding (a), I am not sure that Thomas’s arguments are demonstrative, but even if they are, they are demonstrative only for a certain philosophical notion of God, not for the God of religious believers; no one becomes a Christian, Jew, or Muslim by being convinced of the existence of a First Cause. The identity of the God whose existence Aquinas proves with the Biblical God requires a separate argument. Thomists tend not to notice this.

  29. 29
    nullasalus says:

    Thomas,

    no one becomes a Christian, Jew, or Muslim by being convinced of the existence of a First Cause.

    Granted. But as far as that goes, Feser and ID are in the same boat. No one becomes a Christian, Jew, or Muslim by being convinced that this or that aspect of nature required an intelligent cause. (That Francis Crick is a minor poster boy for ID should drive that much home.)

  30. 30
    Timaeus says:

    nullasalus (29):

    I’d like to cut in on your discussion with Thomas Cudworth, if you don’t mind, and offer my somewhat less civilized and more polemical take on the matter.

    You wrote:

    “Granted. But as far as that goes, Feser and ID are in the same boat. No one becomes a Christian, Jew, or Muslim by being convinced that this or that aspect of nature required an intelligent cause.”

    Nolo contendere.

    The difference, however, is this: ID people don’t say that Thomistic arguments for the existence of God lead to inferior or heretical Christian theology, or are advocated by thinkers who are the unwitting dupes of the erroneous, mechanistic early modern philosophers. Beckwith and Feser do say that about ID arguments, and about Paley’s arguments.

    The fact of the matter is that that Aquinas’s Five Ways don’t lead to the specifically Christian idea of God at all. They lead to a generic, philosophical God who is so devoid of affective characteristics as to be unsuited to human worship. They lead to a God for the lecture room, not for the chapel (or the foxhole). So by what right do Beckwith and Feser complain about the Paley/ID arguments for God, when the God of the Five Ways is at least as far away from the Biblically revealed God as Paley’s God is?

    Presumably they would answer: “Thomas’s Five Ways are not meant to give a full picture of God, but only an argument for his bare existence that is as valid for the Gentile as for the Christian. Their theological inadequacy is thus entirely beside the point.”

    Exactly the same answer can be fairly given by Paley and the ID people. They would say: “Of course God is much more than a mere designer. In no way are our arguments meant as a statement of an adequate Christian theology.” But Beckwith and Feser will not allow this answer from the Paley/ID people. They are determined to tell the world not just that ID is inadequate as theology (which ID people are the first to admit), but that ID is bad theology.

    In other words, to put it crudely, it is Beckwith and Feser who started this food fight, not the ID people.

    T.

  31. 31
    Mr. Green says:

    Thomas Cudworth: This is not an adequate answer. All that the regularity of the electron shows is that it is governed by some sort of rule or law. That can be understood entirely in terms of efficient cause. There is no need at all to posit some “end” which keeps the electron where it is. This is as wrong-headed as the erroneous physical conclusion (endorsed by Aristotle and Aquinas alike, but curiously not by Feser and Beckwith), that heavy objects fall because they have a natural “telos” or “end” to downward motion. Since the dawn of modern physics that sort of thinking has been rejected.

    Um… this is really off-track, I’m afraid. Perhaps it’s worth pointing out that Ed Feser has explained this particular issue many, many times — he literally wrote the book on it (well, “a” book, since there are dozens or hundreds more that explain the basics of Aristotelian or Thomistic metaphysics), not to mention many posts at his site. So consider how it must appear from Feser’s point of view: to be “challenged” on a point which you have explained over and over again must legitimately be quite frustrating, no? So comments like this last paragraph come off sounding dangerously close to, “I may be asking the wrong question, but I’m gonna keep on asking it until I get the answer I want!”

    The problem is that you have wholly misconstrued what “final causes” are all about. The point is precisely that the regularity of the electron cannot be understood in terms of efficient causality (unless you are using a radically non-Aristotelian definition of “efficient cause”). It is right and wrong to say that modern physics rejects such thinking — right insofar as the modern attempt to create a non-Aristotelian philosophy of science claims to reject final causes; but wrong insofar as such concepts are still smuggled in, only without using the actual name “final cause”. After all, the fact is that modern physics (actual science, if not philosophical interpretations of it), does indeed rely on heavy objects falling because they have an end to downward motion — “downward” towards any mass, that is. Aristotle’s mistake was in concluding that the motion was only towards the centre of the earth instead of towards the centre of any mass (but of course the earth was the only thing exerting an obvious gravitational pull in Aristotle’s observations, so his mistake is understandable). Nonetheless, the fact that objects tend to move in a certain way [which, with refined observations we know is towards any other mass] IS a natural telos. If you think that gravity is not representative of a final cause, then you have misunderstood what a final cause is. You don’t need a “telos” to “keep” the electron doing what it does — the fact that there is anything that an electron does is the very definition of a final cause in the first place.

    As to whether you need to subscribe to Thomist metaphysics first… well, Feser has said — repeatedly — that he has no argument with any actual scientific claims ID can make, qua science. He is only responding to attempts to present a Thomistic interpretation of ID, which obviously does require arguing from a Thomistic perspective. (His arguments against mechanistic-ID apply no more and no less than against mechanistic-gravity or mechanistic anything else.)

  32. 32
    vjtorley says:

    Mr. Green, Thomas Cudworth, Mung, Timaeus, mullasalus and Ilion,

    Thank you all for your comments on Professor Feser and on Aquinas and his Fifth Way. I’ll be putting up a post on Aquinas’ Fifth Way in the next few days. I hope it will be a profitable talking point, as it is intended to help people with very different mindsets to understand one another’s ways of thinking about God, and to show what the Fifth Way does and does not establish.

    For the time being, I will simply say that Mr. Green’s characterization of Aquinas’ Fifth Way is an accurate one, and I would urge readers to have a look at Professor Feser’s posts on the Fifth Way, as I will be referring to these and to his books in my next post.

  33. 33
    Ilion says:

    Timaeus @ 30:

    Exactly.

    Moreover, ID is explicitly not about finding the revealed Living God of the Bible. Feser faults the IDists for failing to do what they are not even trying to do (and are quite up-front about not trying to do) — *and* contrary to his denials of it, he is calling them heretics for failing to do what they do not set out to do.

    And, as you rightly point out, the bloodless “classical theistic God” Feser is forever banging on about is at least as far from the Living God as is the picture of the divine drawn with an ID-brush.

    ID is an act of intellectual jujutsu against materialism/atheism. It uses the language and methodologies that the materialists imagine have made their God-denial safe from rational evaluation and criticism, which they vainly imagine allows them to proclaim victory over Christ, to knock them off their high-horses and onto their asses.

  34. 34
    Ilion says:

    Nullasalus @ 27:

    Context, please!

  35. 35
    Thomas Cudworth says:

    Mr. Green:

    About gravity and Aristotle. Some of what you say is quite true. However, you are making two errors, one of detail and one of broader principle. First, Aristotle did not speak only of the downward motion of heavy bodies. He spoke of the natural place of all the elements — earth, air, fire and water. What he says about earth can be made to fit in with your adjustment of attraction so that it is toward the center of bodies rather than “down”, but what he says about air, fire and water cannot. You are also leaving out the fact that Aristotle and other ancients blundered in presupposing a “natural circular motion” of the heavenly bodies. In short, you are trying to excuse bad physics, trying to rescue it by desperate measures. The fact is that Aristotle’s physics was deeply erroneous, and his authority had a negative effect on the development of modern science. Modern science came to be, in effect, over Aristotle’s dead body. Anyone who pretends otherwise either has not read the relevant primary and secondary sources in the history of science, or is delusional.

    Second, you are cheating in your definition of “final cause.” You are making the notion of “final cause” much broader than either Aristotle or Aquinas understood it to be, in order to preserve it; and the result is nearly tautological. You are arguing that because objects tend to be attracted to each other, there must be final causes; you are arguing that because electrons behave the way they do, there must be final causes. But this is only true with a vacuous definition of final causation. If final causation can explain everything, it can explain nothing.

    Why do electrons behave the way that they do? Modern physics would explain that in terms of phenomena such as “charge.” Does the existence of “charge” prove the existence of final cause as Aristotle and Aquinas understood it? How so? Do explain. And explain not by citing the authority of Feser, but by citing passages of Aristotle and Aquinas, and providing a competent academic exegesis of them.

    Modern science (I’ll bracket out the most recent developments, e.g., quantum theory, for the sake of historical simplicity) achieved its success through the notion of “natural laws.” The origin of the notion of “natural laws” has been well researched by historians of science. Aristotle and Aquinas knew nothing or almost nothing of “natural laws”. If you want to know the history of the notion of natural laws, read the writings of Oakley and Osler and other first-rate historians of science. The notion of natural laws sprang out of late medieval theology and philosophy, and was developed through the Renaissance and Reformation periods until the modern notion emerged. It represented a different way of looking at nature from that employed by Aristotle and Aquinas. And, unlike the mode employed by Aristotle and Aquinas, it was a fruitful way. It worked. It could explain a myriad of things in nature which remained a complete mystery to Aristotle and Aquinas. The natural science of Aquinas and Aristotle was, for most purposes, useless. That is because the misunderstood what nature was, how it operated.

    There is a reason for this. Aristotle did not grasp the meaning of the doctrine of creation, and even Aquinas did not grasp it fully, because his admiration for Aristotle handicapped him.
    It was the hated late-medieval philosophers, whom Beckwith and Feser so deplore, who actually brought out the full meaning of the doctrine of creation, who understood the meaning of the contingency of God’s will; and early modern philosophy of science picked up on this and realized that only an observational and experimental science, not a rationalist science like that of Aquinas, would ever do justice to a created nature. Read the writings of Collingwood, Duhem, Oakley, Davis, etc.

    As for your point about Feser on ID, I am perfectly aware that he has not challenged ID on the scientific plane. I have not criticized him on that score. Nor have I asked him to surrender his point that the Fifth Way is different from Paley’s line of argument. Nor have I asked him to endorse ID. I have asked him, and Beckwith, to stop taking shots at ID’s allegedly bad or heretical theology.

    And I have given reasons for my view that ID “theology” (which is an odd conception, since ID as such has no theology), or, if you like, Paley’s theology, is no more “un-Christian” than Thomas’s Five Ways. Thomas’s Five Ways don’t get one anywhere near the Biblical God. They get one to the God of the philosophers, not the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. So if Beckwith and Feser are going to bash Paley’s God for being too much like a mechanic, they had better reread the Five Ways, because the God presented there is a metaphysical abstraction, a First Cause, etc., not something that Jews or Christians have ever related to with any emotional depth. Even if (as I deny) Paley’s God is too anthropomorphic to be the Biblical God, the God of the Five Ways is too abstract to be the Biblical God. The point is that neither watchmaker analogies (like Paley’s) nor abstract metaphysical arguments (like Aquinas’s) can adequately express the reality of the Biblical God.

    In any case, the deeper issue remains. What ought Christians to be beholden to: a notion called “classical theism” (where Beckwith and Feser get to define the notion, and surprise, surprise, it looks more like their version of Thomism than like any other form of theism in the history of the West), or the teachings of the Bible? When I read Beckwith and Feser I hear 90% Aristotelian metaphysics and 10% Bible. Unlike their master Aquinas, they hardly discuss the Bible at all. I’d like to see some rebalancing, before they take any more shots at Paley or at ID for not being adequately Christian in their theology. Any form of Christian thought that is not deeply immersed in the Bible, more immersed in the Bible than in any systematic philosophy, will be theologically defective. Even at their best, Thomists after Aquinas have rarely seen this.

  36. 36
    nullasalus says:

    Thomas Cudworth,

    You are arguing that because objects tend to be attracted to each other, there must be final causes; you are arguing that because electrons behave the way they do, there must be final causes. But this is only true with a vacuous definition of final causation.

    While I look forward to Green’s response on this matter, I don’t think this reply is on target. My understanding of Aquinas and Aristotle, both from their own writings and from Feser’s view of them, is that the regularities of nature – that natural things, living and non-living, are directed towards predictable, reliable patterns and behaviors and causes and effects – is teleology itself. It’s not so much that things which have these things “must have a final cause”, but that this largely is what is meant by final cause to begin with. And honestly, the teleology, guidance, and really, ‘design’ evident in the more mundane operations of the natural world is at least one area where the Thomists come out ahead of ID proponents. (And I say this as someone who repeatedly praises ID proponents for taking seriously the question of design in nature, as opposed to many TEs who are all talk, little substance.) The design and mind evident in the natural workings of the world is important to recognize, and gets taken for granted too often, or conceded entirely to naturalists who – frankly – have little warrant to claim it other than flawed ideas of ‘methodological naturalism’.

    The short of it is, yes, those four causes were applied in the context of a now-outdated scientific picture of the world. The question is whether they can be applied within the current scientific picture of the world – and the answer there seems to be “yes”, a thousand times over. The philosophy was not welded to the science. (I’m sure Feser may even make a stronger claim, and argue science is impossible on a certain level without presupposing these sorts of categories. Just as Plantinga may argue that naturalism not only is not more intellectually grounded than theism, but is via the EAAN downright self-defeating.)

    Nor does Feser “hate” or “deplore” the advances of late-medieval philosophers, and he certainly admits that the science of Aristotle and Aquinas was flawed. (It means nothing to their philosophy that their science was flawed.) Granted, by treating Aristotle as the last word on all things natural, people were holding back progress – but said progress would have been held back if Einstein or Newton were treated as the last word as well. That says more about the dangers of being too beholden to any individual when it comes to science, than about Aristotle in particular.

    Finally, I don’t think it’s fair to call Feser on the carpet for not talking about Christianity enough. Anymore than one should criticize William Lane Craig for making tremendous hay about the Kalam cosmological argument and arguments about God in the abstract. Further, Feser operates from a Catholic perspective where the church theology has a deep relation to the fundamental ideas he deals with. Everyone has their focus.

  37. 37
    nullasalus says:

    T,

    The difference, however, is this: ID people don’t say that Thomistic arguments for the existence of God lead to inferior or heretical Christian theology, or are advocated by thinkers who are the unwitting dupes of the erroneous, mechanistic early modern philosophers. Beckwith and Feser do say that about ID arguments, and about Paley’s arguments.

    I’m not so sure of that. First, Feser – if I recall right – explicitly denies calling ID proponents heretical. Yes, he thinks ID absolutely requires a certain flawed view of nature to even get off the ground. They may not be ‘unwitting dupes’ – they may well willingly subscribe to a mechanistic view of nature.

    At the same time, I do get the impression that some ID proponents do dump on Thomistic arguments, almost in a tit for tat way. It’s starting to seem like the attitude is “Well, if thomists won’t endorse ID, then we’re going to denounce thomism in retaliation”.

    So by what right do Beckwith and Feser complain about the Paley/ID arguments for God, when the God of the Five Ways is at least as far away from the Biblically revealed God as Paley’s God is?

    To put it in an extremely crude way, the problem is this.

    What if someone came up with a way to identify design in nature, and it was assumed for practical purposes that the designer was corporeal and physical? Not “it’s possible they do”, but “for this identification to work, this is a necessary assumption”. Would it be at all encouraging for many Christians to try and use this method to provide evidence for God’s existence? Even if a proponent said, “Well, hey now, this is only part of the story. A fuller theology would fill in the missing pieces about this designer, and would or could in the end be identified as the God of Christianity!”? Well, clearly not, because any such “designer” identified by this method would be fundamentally corporeal, and thus be at odds with what I think is clearly the orthodox Christian view of God as immaterial. It doesn’t matter what more is said about this God, once that commitment is part of the bargain.

    Likewise, Feser and Beckwith seem to be saying that there’s something about the fundamental assumption necessary for ID to get off the ground that requires a commitment that just cannot be squared with a particular (and in their eyes, extremely important) view of God. Whether they are right or wrong about this, that’s the reasoning to keep in mind. It’s not that the identification does not go far enough, but that it goes in what they consider a bad direction, period.

  38. 38
    Thomas Cudworth says:

    Nullasalus (36):

    Thanks for your post.

    You say:

    “My understanding of Aquinas and Aristotle, both from their own writings and from Feser’s view of them, is that the regularities of nature – that natural things, living and non-living, are directed towards predictable, reliable patterns and behaviors and causes and effects – is teleology itself. It’s not so much that things which have these things “must have a final cause”, but that this largely is what is meant by final cause to begin with.”

    Here is my comment and question: I have studied a fair bit of Aristotle and Aquinas. I’m not an expert on either of them, and I wish I knew a lot more about both of them. But I have studied a fair bit of them, and in particular I have worked on Aristotle’s understanding of nature, especially his *Physics*, parts of which I have read in Greek. My impression is that what you are saying about Aristotle and Aquinas here is incorrect. I do not believe that “the regularities of nature” are “teleology itself” in either Aristotle or Aquinas. I do not believe that “the regularity of nature” is “what is meant by final cause to begin with.” I do not find such equations in Aristotle’s *Physics*, and I have not found such expressions in the *Summa Theologiae*, or in any of the standard reference works on Aristotle and Aquinas which I own, or in any of the detailed studies I have read concerning the history of the notions of teleology and final causation. However, I am not an expert, and could be wrong. So I would appreciate it if you would provide passages from Aristotle and Aquinas, with your commentary added, to show me where you are getting these equations.

    You also say:

    “The philosophy was not welded to the science.”

    I have heard this claim from Feser and Beckwith. I think they are both wrong. I think that it is impossible to separate Aristotelian philosophy from Aristotelian science. Completely, that is. Individual bits of the science (e.g., Aristotle’s erroneous view of comets) can be subtracted without damaging Aristotle’s overall philosophy. But a complete separation of the science from the philosophy? I don’t believe it can be done. Take the “four causes”? Is that science, or metaphysics? In Aristotle (for whom the terms “science” and “metaphysics” as we use them would make no sense), it’s both. Aristotle’s understanding of change in nature was, in modern terms, both physical and metaphysical at once, both scientific and philosophical at once. And ironically, the separation of “science” from “metaphysics” or “philosophy” — a separation under which, e.g., Ken Miller’s work on cell walls has absolutely nothing to do with Henri Bergson’s discussion of life as an expression of the elan vital — is a *modern* distinction, characteristic of *modern* philosophy, precisely the modern philosophy that Beckwith and Feser are always complaining about. So in trying to strictly divorce Aristotelian science from Aristotelian metaphysics, they are being moderns, and not true to Aristotle at all. (But of course they *must* attempt the divorce, because Aristotle’s science, outside of his observational biology, is wholly discredited, and they want to keep essential aspects of what they call his philosophy.)

    You also say:

    “I don’t think it’s fair to call Feser on the carpet for not talking about Christianity enough.”

    I didn’t do that. I noted that Feser doesn’t talk about *the Bible* very much. And I have been reading Thomists for a long, long time, and I notice that they all seem much more interested in the Aristotelian aspects of Thomas than they are in the Biblical aspects of Thomas. And the glowing endorsements of “classic theism” in Beckwith and Feser seem to have little to do with the Bible. Why are Genesis 1, Psalm 19, Isaiah 45, the Flood story, the verses in Exodus about God’s hardening the heart of Pharaoh, the story about Elijah and the bears, the story of the parting of the waters, and so many others, rarely or never brought into the picture of God that they count as “classic theism”? Is the simplicity, unicity, ubiquity, etc. of God more important to Beckwith and Feser than God’s active involvement, his harsh judgments, his humanlike responses (grief, anger, repentance, jealousy, in some cases apparent learning from observation rather than knowing all in advance), his seeming overridings of human free will, etc.? Why is so much Biblical data simply left out of their account? Does the picture of God in the Bible fall below their standard of “classic theism”? It seems to me that what they call “classic theism” represents a form of Christian belief that has been pruned of a good deal of Hebraic thinking, and is highly Hellenized.

    If Feser and Beckwith want to be Catholics and Thomists, I say, more power to them. I have great respect both for Rome and for Thomas. But to judge whether or not Paley or ID or anyone else is theologically adequate on the grounds of a form of theism which shortchanges Hebraism in the name of a very Hellenizing rationality? That’s presumptuous, to say the least. I revere the Greeks, probably more than Feser or Beckwith or anyone here, but I would still go so far as to say that Christianity has a vital, central Hebraic component, and that this component has often been wrongly minimized in the history of Christian thought, by Christians of all denominations. And Thomists have often been among the leading minimizers.

  39. 39
    Timaeus says:

    nullasalus @ 37:

    The Thomists don’t have to explicitly charge heresy. It’s implied in virtually everything they write about ID. ID people have a wrong view of nature and a wrong view of creation and a wrong view of God. Catholic Thomists have the right view of nature and the right view of creation and the right view of God. The meaning is plain.

    I agree that the Thomists have the motive that you attribute to them in your last two paragraphs. Yes, they think that ID arguments imply (whether ID people know it or not) a dangerous and ultimately non-orthodox idea of God. And yes, that explains their desire to criticize ID.

    The communications difficulty is this: when ID people, even moderate, careful, polite ID people like Vincent Torley and Jay Richards, try to explain why ID arguments don’t imply an un-Christian idea of God, they are met with (a) condescension — Feser regularly writes as if he is a professor teaching a particularly thick group of students with no natural talent for metaphysics (even though both Richards and Torley have Ph.D.s in philosophy that are just as good as his own); (b) the demand that the playing field for the debate must be the Thomist-Aristotelian one; no other conception of philosophy and no other conception of theology is taken seriously; this is of course narrow, doctrinaire, dogmatic, and programmatic.

    Most ID proponents are Protestant and simply do not accept Catholic assumptions about Christianity, which they often find un-Biblical, and they find the quasi-religious reverence of Thomas Aquinas spiritually repugnant. Also, philosophically, many ID proponents are Platonists rather than Aristotelians, and there are very good reasons why a person might be a Platonist rather than an Aristotelian. Feser and Beckwith need to learn how to conduct a dialogue with those who do not take for granted what they take for granted, without giving the very clear impression that they think their debating partners are intellectual primitives who weren’t taught philosophy very well. If you read some of the comments that Beckwith has posted here, and many of the comments Feser puts on his site, you will see that the condescension is unmistakable. So I think that a lot of the friction has to do as much with bedside manner as with philosophical and theological contents.

    If Beckwith and Feser would occasionally give the impression that they are still learning things about philosophy and theology and the doctrine of creation, and are interested in hearing other perspectives on these subjects, from people who have read different books and have had different teachers, rather than portraying themselves as the Suarez and Bellarmine of modern-day Catholicism, upholding the true doctrine against error, it would help a great deal. Their didactic stance rubs ID people the wrong way, because ID people are generally more Socratic in temperament, skeptical and open, and dislike being pushed into accepting any argument, whether Darwinian, TE, or Thomist, on the basis of authority, grand tradition, or the tacit claim that so-and-so must be incapable of error on any subject on which he has published a book.

    T.

  40. 40
    allanius says:

    Right, so here’s why this stuff mattered to Plato and Aristotle—or to Augustine (Calvin) and Thomas. It was not, for them, some kind of abstract debate over what sort of belief system is correct. The belief systems they proposed—or rather the ontological methods—were personal.

    The God you are all talking about—the God of the philosophers and philosopher-theologians—is intellect in his essence. By a set of curious chances, this conception of God can be made to fit like a glove to two very different kinds of personalities. One is what Hegel called the “unhappy consciousness.” These are the Idealists, whose natural, personal unrest leads them down the path of negation.

    Why is this personal unhappiness of theirs relevant to philosophy and its conception of God? For the simple reason that the resistance they feel to present being is analogous to the capacity for resistance (to matter) found in intellect. That is, they are naturally inclined to equate their own resistance—their unhappiness—with God and his “holiness.” Since resistance is a nugatory power, equating it with God leads to pure negation. It leads to the idea, made most famous by Plato, that embodied existence, supposedly some sort of combination of intellect and matter, is utterly depraved and without intrinsic value, and must be annihilated in order to obtain the ideal of pure intellect.

    So speaks the soul that is restless in the extreme. Opposition comes from those who are more conservative by nature. For whatever reason, they do not feel as unhappy and alienated from present being as the idealists, the radicals and lovers of negation. To put this in Christian terms, they believe that nature is “very good’; that it has intrinsic value and can be used to give substance to abstractions about the good. They are rather attached to present being, feel it has value, and want to preserve that value against what they view as the dangerous radicalism of the idealists.

    As it happens, intellect furnishes them with a means of expressing their conservatism—the notion of pure action. They (Aristotle) claim to have overcome the annihilating effects of Idealism by conceiving of being as a ratio of intellectual and material causes. Intellect is not a force of pure negation or resistance to embodied existence, in their view, but somehow initiates and willingly enters into a ratio of itself and matter—which they call “pure act.” Of course the limitation of this view is that it has the effect of drawing God into being and depriving him of his holiness. Nature, in effect, becomes God.

    Nothing has changed, as this thread demonstrates. Idealists are still drawn to negation, and there is a troubling strain of this in ID, for example in the kind of theology that equates the fall with the loss of all goodness and value in nature. Meanwhile those of a more conservative mindset are still drawn to the notion of pure action. They see Aristotle’s solution as an adequate and necessary response to Idealism. They still feel the need, like Uzzah perhaps, to defend the honor of nature against the depredations of dualism, which defensiveness can be seen in some of the “neo-Thomists,” as noted here.

    All of this bitterness comes from philosophy and its equation of God with intellect. It cannot be overcome because intellect itself is divided in its notions of “the good” between pure negation and pure action, and this dividedness fits the radical and conservative mindsets perfectly. Of course there is another way…

  41. 41
    nullasalus says:

    Thomas Cudworth,

    So I would appreciate it if you would provide passages from Aristotle and Aquinas, with your commentary added, to show me where you are getting these equations.

    Let’s look at the fifth way itself to start with.

    “The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world. We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end. Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.”

    The regular patterns and effects of natural bodies implying direction by God, Aquinas is saying, itself constitutes proof of God and teleology. Or at least that seems like an extremely plausible reading. Likewise he’s not singling out living things, or complex things here – simply the regular results of natural bodies. (I also recall, but cannot quickly find, the claim given that “chance” implies “order” – and it’s this order, Aquinas argues, that proves God. The stock example is of a farmer plowing a field and happening upon treasure – the finding of treasure is a chance event, but the other activities involved are not.)

    That isn’t to say final causes are “nothing but” regular results of mundane things. But they are at least that by Aquinas.

    But a complete separation of the science from the philosophy? I don’t believe it can be done. Take the “four causes”? Is that science, or metaphysics?

    If you’re saying that neither Aquinas nor Aristotle had these clean, crisp categories of “science” here and “metaphysics” there, I’d probably agree with you. But I also don’t think that matters much for our purposes, nor would I think that Thomists themselves would treat those categories the way many modern people do (thinking of science as utterly free-floating, and you simply graft the metaphysics on as needed, or vice versa.) If you want to put it in combined terms: Newton was right about numerous things, even if he was wrong (or at least in conflict with modern scientific views) on particulars. Likewise, Aristotle may have been overturned on the orbits of planets – but not on the four causes, or the laws of logic.

    Is the simplicity, unicity, ubiquity, etc. of God more important to Beckwith and Feser than God’s active involvement, his harsh judgments, his humanlike responses (grief, anger, repentance, jealousy, in some cases apparent learning from observation rather than knowing all in advance), his seeming overridings of human free will, etc.? Why is so much Biblical data simply left out of their account?

    I don’t want to speak for them – I hope I’m not giving the impression of doing so now, as opposed to voicing what I take from their writings – but I suppose two replies could be this: First, because they view the old philosophical arguments about classical theism as not only important, but in this modern world neglected (or worse, mangled). Second, because while they are Christians, they are not Christian apologists and aren’t trying to be. Feser at the very least admits explicitly that “The Last Superstition” is not a work of strictly Christian apologetics, and if the arguments in TLS work, they prove a God that could well be the God of Christianity, Islam, Neo-Platonism, Aristotle, etc.

    I suppose one could make the argument of “Why is ID obsessed with such – in an ultimate sense – minutae, like protein folding, and bacterial flagella, what natural selection can do? What does any of this have to do with salvation?” And one very fair response would be, “It may be indirectly related, but it’s still important, and worst of all most people have a botched view of these things that cause trouble for their religious views down the road.”

  42. 42
    Mung says:

    And explain not by citing the authority of Feser, but by citing passages of Aristotle and Aquinas, and providing a competent academic exegesis of them.

    Here’s where I have to bow out.

    😀

  43. 43
    Mung says:

    So how important is the physics?

    Unfortunately, most of the prevailing descriptions of quantum theory tend to emphasize puzzles and paradoxes in a way that makes philosophers, theologians, and even non-physicist scientists leery of actually using in any deep way the profound changes in our understanding of human beings in nature wrought by the quantum revolution. Yet, properly presented, quantum mechanics is thoroughly in line with our deep human intuitions. It is the 300 years of indoctrination with basically false ideas about how nature works that now makes puzzling a process that is completely in line with normal human intuition.

    Henry Stapp. Minds and values in the quantum universe. In Information and the Nature of Reality.

    So I read this just now, and had to ask myself, is ID based upon “basically false ideas about how nature works”?

  44. 44
    Mung says:

    Feser regularly writes as if he is a professor teaching a particularly thick group of students with no natural talent for metaphysics…

    Maybe that’s why I like his stuff!

  45. 45
    Mung says:

    Continuing from Minds and values in the quantum universe:

    The quantum structure is easily understood if we follow Heisenberg’s idea of introducing the Aristotelian idea of potentia. A potentia, in Heisenberg’s words, is an ‘objective tendency’ for some event to happen. Everything falls neatly in place if we assert – or simply recognize – that the quantum state of a system specifies the ‘objective tendency’ for a quantum event to happen, where a quantum event is the occurrence of some particular outcome of some particular action performed upon the system. In short, the quantum state is best conceived in principle exactly as it is conceived in actual practice, namely as a compendium of the objective tendencies for the appearances of the various physically possible outcomes of the various physically possible probing actions. Once the action to be performed upon the system is selected, the objective tendencies are expressed as probabilities assigned to the various alternative possible outcomes of that chosen action.

    If one accepts as fundamental this Aristotelian idea of potentia – of objective tendencies – then the whole scheme of things becomes intuitively understandable. There is nothing intrinsically incomprehensible about the idea of ‘tendencies’. Indeed, we build our lives upon this concept. However, three centuries of false thinking has brought many physicists and philosophers to expect and desire an understanding of nature in which everything is completely predetermined in terms of the physically described aspects of nature alone. Contemporary physics violates that classical ideal.

  46. 46
    Mung says:

    This quote brings out an important distinction:

    In order to make the choices required to achieve his goals, a man needs the constant, automatized awareness of the principle which the anti-concept “duty” has all but obliterated in his mind: the principle of causality—specifically, of Aristotelian final causation (which, in fact, applies only to a conscious being), i.e., the process by which an end determines the means, i.e., the process of choosing a goal and taking the actions necessary to achieve it.
    Final Causation — Ayn Rand Lexicon

    IOW, the way I understand it, a “final cause” is not inherent in the thing itself. And this is why in the view of Aquinas, in the case of non-conscious entities, they lead to God.

  47. 47
    Timaeus says:

    Mung @ 43:

    The difference between quantum physics and Newtonian physics doesn’t come into play where ID is concerned. ID is concerned about the organization of biological structures, which are all at the superatomic level. We aren’t dealing with stuff on the subatomic level of the electron or the radioactive nucleus, where quantum effects can be considerable.

    The question is whether random-with-respect-to-outcome mutations (and random-with-respect-to-outcome lateral gene transfers, etc.), filtered by natural selection, can produce the integrated complex structures that we see in the time given by the fossil record. If it appears that they cannot, then design is the best explanation for the integrated complexity of the structures. Quantum theory has nothing to do with it.

    (By the way, I know an ID proponent who has a Ph.D. in theoretical physics, and talks with ease about the writings of Hawking, etc.; he obviously doesn’t think that modern developments in the view of nature have invalidated ID arguments.)

    Regarding your comments in @45, while I don’t belittle the possible application of Aristotelian insights in modern physics, I think it’s fair to say that modern physicists are generally much closer to Platonism than to Aristotelianism. And of course, modern science’s success generally has been due to its shift towards a “Platonic” mathematical approach to nature, and away from the older, mainly qualitative Aristotelian approach. God geometrizes; God does calculus. God as mathematician is of course very much in line with ID thinking.

    T.

  48. 48
    Mr. Green says:

    Thomas Cudworth: You are arguing that because objects tend to be attracted to each other, there must be final causes; you are arguing that because electrons behave the way they do, there must be final causes. But this is only true with a vacuous definition of final causation. If final causation can explain everything, it can explain nothing.

    I don’t see how “ends” are any more vacuous than “charge”. Charges are attracted to (or repel) one another, therefore there must be such a thing as electromagnetic charge. “Final cause” is just the common name for tendencies like electromagnetism, gravity, etc. To allude to NullaSalus’s points (which I appreciate), Aristotle’s physics could be all wrong but his metaphysics right, just as his (meta)physics could be wrong but his logic right. The physics depends on the metaphysics depends on the logic, but not the other way around. In any case, modern science certainly does rely on the concept of certain things having certain fixed tendencies or behaviours in this sense.

    Why do electrons behave the way that they do? Modern physics would explain that in terms of phenomena such as “charge.” Does the existence of “charge” prove the existence of final cause as Aristotle and Aquinas understood it? How so? Do explain. And explain not by citing the authority of Feser, but by citing passages of Aristotle and Aquinas, and providing a competent academic exegesis of them.

    “Charge” and “gravitation” are just particular cases of final causality. Citing Feser would be appropriate here, since his claims are under discussion, but I take it there’s no disagreement that he interprets final causes this way. Whether Feser is a trustworthy interpreter of Aristotle and Aquinas is a different question (I’ve found no reason to distrust him), but here are a couple of passages that are directly relevant:
    Physics II, 8: Aristotle discusses final causes, and deals explicitly with the question of whether inanimate objects act for ends (and not merely by, say, efficient causality, as the rain evaporates and cools, without regard to any end of watering crops). But things that happen regularly — that “we do not ascribe to chance or mere coincidence” — are the signs of nature’s acting for the given specific end. “But when an event takes place always or for the most part, it is not incidental or by chance. In natural products the sequence is invariable, if there is no impediment.”
    ST 1a2ae, Q1 a2: Aquinas considers whether only rational creatures act for an end. Nothing changes without a tendency to some end, “For if the agent were not determinate to some particular effect, it would not do one thing rather than another: consequently in order that it produce a determinate effect, it must, of necessity, be determined to some certain one, which has the nature of an end.”

    Our modern conceptions of charge, gravity, etc. certainly fit this description. Charge or mass determine that an object will behave in a specific and fixed way (e.g. attracted towards another mass or repelled from a like charge).

    Thomas’s Five Ways don’t get one anywhere near the Biblical God. They get one to the God of the philosophers, not the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. […] The point is that neither watchmaker analogies (like Paley’s) nor abstract metaphysical arguments (like Aquinas’s) can adequately express the reality of the Biblical God.

    Thomists would be the first to insist that nothing can “adequately” express the reality of God. But there is a crucial difference between the Ultimate Watchmaker and the God of the philosophers: the Superwatchmaker could, in principle, be Odin or Plato’s Demiurge (if they existed), whereas the classical God could only be Yahweh, and Yahweh could be only the classical God. It’s not just that philosophy points to some superbeing, and the Bible points to some superbeing, and so if you accept both you obviously identify them with each other; rather, Yahweh has to be the being described by classical theism (there’s no possibility, even hypothetically, that one could be created by the other, say, or that one could exist without the other). In this regard, Thomism (or other classical philosophies) will not encompass all the Scriptural aspects that are important (any more than doing biology or doing the laundry will), but they will also never contradict anything Biblical. On the other hand, if all you’re starting with is a Superwatchmaker, you can get into heresy without ever drawing any invalid conclusion about said superbeing.

    That, I think, is where Feser objects to such a line of argument. You can of course supplement your argument with additional philosophy, such as traditional arguments for God, to try to prevent heretical extrapolations, but Feser would reply, why not start with those better arguments in the first place? And that is where I think a useful response lies: it is valid to see what metaphysical implications follow from [scientific] ID regardless of how much they can or cannot prove; but what the limits are should be clearly and precisely laid out. If it is claimed that such lines of thought can be used pragmatically to at least get people to start thinking about more rigorous philosophy, then that needs to be carefully delineated as well. As long as these points are conflated or presented sloppily, it’s fair enough for Feser to complain, qua philosopher, about the sloppiness.

  49. 49
    Thomas Cudworth says:

    Mr. Green (48):

    I thank you for your substantial and pertinent remarks.

    Regarding Feser, I want to make it clear that I am not trying to wage a war against him or his overall thought. I haven’t read his books, which I’m sure contain much that is of value. I think I would endorse a good deal of his criticism of modern philosophy. In raising my objections, I’m concerned only with statements he has made in his blogs and in his comments to readers on his site, regarding the allegedly inadequate theology of Paley and of ID proponents.

    To take your last point first, it seems to me that you are representing Feser’s argument as much milder than it is. You make out as if Feser is saying that a “watchmaker” argument for God is, while perhaps not heretical in itself, the sort of argument that could lead the philosophically careless to a heretical theology, and that therefore Christians are better off with the Thomist sort of argument for God’s existence than with the Paleyan sort. But I have seen statements on Feser’s site that are considerably stronger than that. He has indicated that the Paleyan line of argument not just potentially but by logical necessity leads one to an incorrect notion of God, and therefore that Paleyan arguments are not just potentially but inherently dangerous to orthodox belief. Put crudely, the drawing of Paleyan design inferences, no matter how carefully hedged about with qualifications, is dangerous to one’s theological health. I do not agree with Feser about this, nor do other ID proponents, including ID proponents such as Vincent Torley who are Thomists.

    I agree with you that in principle, design arguments of a Paleyan sort do not necessarily indicate a Christian God. They could indicate a Demiurge or some other non-Christian conception of deity. But ID proponents have never claimed that design arguments can get one to a Christian God. They have claimed only that design arguments can refute explanations of origins that are rooted in chance, and can make the conclusion of a superintending mind the most rational explanation for the world we experience. How such a minimalist claim, which sets only a lower bound to the nature of God (he is at least a designer) but sets no upper bound (he can be all that “classic theism” claims he is), is *inherently* theologically wrong or misguided, is beyond me.

    On your earlier points: I do not know whether Feser interprets “charge” and “gravity” as examples of final causality or not. I certainly would reject this extension of the notion of final causality to include such things. It indicates a massive confusion between a science centered on *substances* (ousia) which are directed to *ends* (telos) and a science centered on *bodies* which are subject to *natural laws*. It conflates Aristotelian and modern science and makes mock of the efforts of Descartes etc. to break from Aristotelian science and in particular from final causality.

    I have looked at the passage of Aristotle which you cite. I now understand the basis of your claim. However, this passage is problematic in a number of ways. To do a proper analysis of it (paying careful attention to Aristotle’s fluctuating and not always consistent use of Greek terms) would take up more than one graduate seminar period. Let me mention just one of many problems. Aristotle starts off by talking about “necessity”. Then he brings in the notion of chance, via the notion of coincidence. Eventually necessity drops out of sight, and he is comparing chance or coincidence with action done “for the sake of” something (interestingly enough, in the context of a quasi-Darwinian theory of origins). He then indicates that, if one is forced to choose between two possible causes of regular behavior in nature, chance and end-directed tendency, and one has eliminated chance, one must conclude that regularity in nature establishes end-directedness (amusingly, a simplified version of Dembski’s design filter). But why is one forced to choose between two options, when in fact, a third option is available: necessity? Aristotle started the passage taking necessity seriously, but by the end it has dropped out of sight. Does he think that he has disposed of it by disposing of chance/coincidence? If so, he is mistaken.

    Necessity is a different kind of cause, neither chance, nor end-directed tendency. (Note that Dembski outdoes Aristotle in clarity and precision, on this point at least, by giving necessity a well-defined place in his filter.) And it was a modern version of necessity — what came to be called the laws of nature — upon which modern science (at least, up to the time of quantum theory) was based. So one does not need end-directedness (telos, to hou heneka) in order to account for regularity in nature. Aristotle’s inference from regularity in nature to end-directed behavior, at least in this passage, is illegitimate. And to the extent that Aquinas follows Aristotle on this — which in the Five Ways he appears to do — Aquinas’s conclusion is equally illegitimate.

    I want to make it clear that I am not opposed to arguments which show that there is end-directed behavior in nature. I am no modern anti-teleologist, determined to purge nature of final causes. Quite the opposite. But I will not accept invalid arguments for end-directed behavior. And Aristotle’s argument for end-directed behavior, in the passage you cite, is simply invalid. It does not take into account the possibility of impersonal natural laws which cause objects to move, not toward some end, but simply under compulsion.

    Of course, one can ask why such mathematical laws should exist, and from there try to arrive at a creative mind which governs the universe. I find this a very good line of argument. But that is not what Aristotle was about. He did not think in terms of natural laws. He thought in terms of substances (ousiai, entitities), directed to their natural ends, natural ends which were substance-specific and therefore not generalizable into laws applying to all bodies as such. Thus, I find the suggestion by some commenters here — that Aristotle was really talking about what modern science is talking about, but using different terminology — to be unsubstantiated.

  50. 50
    nullasalus says:

    Thomas Cudworth,

    Just to jump in here…

    It conflates Aristotelian and modern science and makes mock of the efforts of Descartes etc. to break from Aristotelian science and in particular from final causality.

    I’m not sure what you’re saying here. If you’re accusing Feser and company of taking modern science and reinterpreting it through an Aristotilean lens, I suspect the response on their part would be a shrug and their saying, “Guilty.” Their stance is that the findings of modern science aren’t in conflict with A-T metaphysics, even if A-Ts would treat the data and theories in a different way from, say… Cartesians, or materialists, or.. etc.

    In other words, what’s going on here isn’t “conflating”, as if looking at modern science with an A-T understanding was accidental. That seems to be very intentional.

    It does not take into account the possibility of impersonal natural laws which cause objects to move, not toward some end, but simply under compulsion.

    And on the flipside, the person advocating impersonal natural laws does not take into account the possibility of substances directed by a telos.

    I don’t think Feser, or any other A-T proponent, operates with the understanding that there are no rival metaphysical schools. They’d argue that ultimately those schools are simply wrong, or inferior, and that thus the A-T metaphysic should be preferred.

    A good example would be the various interpretations of quantum mechanics. There may be one or two very popular, even historically adhered to, interpretations. But I don’t think those who subscribe to (say) the Copenhagen Interpretation are going to think their commitment is very damaged when someone pipes up with “However, there’s also the Bohmian interpretation.” Their reply will likely be, “Yes, there it is. Here’s what it can account for, and here’s why we consider it to ultimately be wrong.” It’s not like they think Copenhagen is the only idea on offer.

    Thus, I find the suggestion by some commenters here — that Aristotle was really talking about what modern science is talking about, but using different terminology — to be unsubstantiated.

    I’m not sure that’s what people here are claiming. (Really, one complaint Feser has is the tendency to view the ancient greeks through a modern lens, where Aristotle becomes a proto-Functionalist and Plato is just a Cartesian Dualist, etc.) The impression I get is that A-T proponents contend that their metaphysic is the superior one for understanding a variety of topics – the mind, matter, the findings of science, and so on.

    It’s not that they aren’t aware of competition, as if A-T is “the only game in town”. They just think their competitors are mistaken.

  51. 51
    StephenB says:

    —Mr. Green: “Whether Feser is a trustworthy interpreter of Aristotle and Aquinas is a different question (I’ve found no reason to distrust him)…..

    Keep in mind that Feser presents not one but two false arguments, each of which conveniently provides cover for and reinforces the other.

    False argument [A]

    ID precludes the possibility that life could be the result of intrinsic causality. (Not true) Fact: ID has no problem with intrinsic causality

    False argument [B]

    Thomistic philosophy requires that all life be the product of intrinsic causality (also not true). Fact: Aquinas argued that Adam and Eve were the product of extrinsic finality. Aquinas only argued that God CAN create through intrinsic causality, not that HE MUST.

    Neither false claim alone would be sufficient to make Thomism inconsistent with ID. Thomism properly understood could be reconciled with ID even if ID DID rule out intrinsic causality, which it doesn’t; ID, properly understood, could be reconciled with Thomism even if Thomism DID require intrinsic causality, which it doesn’t.

    In other words, Feser can make his claims [ID is incompatible with Thomism] seem plausible only by committing a double blunder, misunderstanding both his own philosophy and the one he presumes to criticize. The problem with his A-T philosophy is that it contains too much A and not enough T.

  52. 52
    Mr. Green says:

    StephenB: False argument [A] ID precludes the possibility that life could be the result of intrinsic causality. (Not true) Fact: ID has no problem with intrinsic causality

    What do you mean by “ID”? ID in a scientific sense certainly does not, and scientifically is not incompatible with Thomism. Feser never said it was. If you mean ID-philosophy, then any philosophical foundation that denies intrinsic ends (like a mechanistic approach) obviously does preclude it. And if you start from, say, a Thomistic approach, then you’ve got a different kind of argument.

    False argument [B] Thomistic philosophy requires that all life be the product of intrinsic causality (also not true). Fact: Aquinas argued that Adam and Eve were the product of extrinsic finality. Aquinas only argued that God CAN create through intrinsic causality, not that HE MUST.

    I don’t know what you mean by “product”. For Thomists, all living organisms possess intrinsic final causes, up to and including Adam and Eve. Otherwise they would be machines, not living organisms. Any version of ID that denies that is clearly at odds with Thomism; and if you accept the intrinsic finality, then you basically end up at the Fifth Way. Either way, Feser is hardly “blundering”.

  53. 53
    Mr. Green says:

    Thomas Cudworth: You make out as if Feser is saying that a “watchmaker” argument for God is, while perhaps not heretical in itself, the sort of argument that could lead the philosophically careless to a heretical theology, and that therefore Christians are better off with the Thomist sort of argument for God’s existence than with the Paleyan sort. […] But ID proponents have never claimed that design arguments can get one to a Christian God. They have claimed only that design arguments can refute explanations of origins that are rooted in chance

    You’re right, I think my account was too mild. According to Feser, it’s not merely that one “might” go wrong with the Superwatchmaker, but that given a mechanistic-type metaphysics (which is whence Superdesigners typically spring), one is guaranteed to go wrong. Mechanism yields not just the possibility of a deist-god, but the inevitability — because the very nature of a mechanist world is one that exists on its own (after God winds it up, perhaps), and so is fundamentally at odds with the transcendent sustaining God. To claim that the “mechanical” world happened, as a matter of historical fact, to have been created by the classical God is something Feser rejects, because if classical theology is right, there is no such as a “mechanical world”, not even one that in fact happened to be created by God.

    On the other hand, if you grant Thomistic philosophy, with the classical God and fundamentally teleological cosmos, then refuting “chance” in this way doesn’t make a lot of sense: a Thomistic world doesn’t have “chance” (in the relevant sense) in the first place, so there’s nothing left to refute. Now I guess you could argue that, having established the existence of the classical creator God, we can also establish the weaker conclusion that “something” must have designed the cosmos, but it doesn’t seem a very interesting conclusion given what must precede it. (I don’t want to put words into Feser’s mouth, but I myself do not see a problem with this — just no advantage to it either.)

    But why is one forced to choose between two options [chance and directedness], when in fact, a third option is available: necessity? Aristotle started the passage taking necessity seriously, but by the end it has dropped out of sight. Does he think that he has disposed of it by disposing of chance/coincidence?

    I don’t think necessity has dropped out — I think Aristotle considers it equivalent to directedness. The fact that he doesn’t continue to draw out a separate thread about necessity in this context indicates that he thinks he is still talking about it. (And yes, Feser does interpret charge/etc. to be final causes.) The point is not that Aristotle anticipated “natural laws” in the same sense as modern science, but that his metaphysical background (in particular, the four causes) can be naturally applied to describe modern science. (It’s certainly debatable what Aristotle or Thomas would say about science, or whether Feser is actually some kind of neo-Thomist, but it seems exceedingly reasonable to me to suppose that either of them would fit modern physics into their philosophies this way.) Given a “law” of gravity, according to which any mass uncontingently and in a fixed way is disposed to attract and be attracted to another mass, how could that not be described as “natural things tend to determinate ends. They do not fulfill their natural needs by chance, since they would not do so always or for the most part, but rarely, which is the domain of chance.” (SCG I, ch44 q7)

    A-T descriptions of final causality do not depict the “end” in question as the achieving of some sort of external function, or something by means of which something else can occur. The fact that the mass or charge starts here and then moves to there is sufficient to qualify: the end is “moving from here to there”. (Given how much physics we know, we can be more precise as to the direction, acceleration, and so on — in particular, modern science has mathematically precise descriptions to specify the end of how the masses will behave.) Again, the point is not that there are two things, end-directedness and lawful-necessity, and one is brought in to explain the other; instead, natural laws simply are end-directedness. We can certainly subdivide these final causes (e.g. inanimate gravity vs. the carpenter’s conscious purpose), and maybe that distinction is useful, or more useful than Aquinas or Aristotle thought; but sometimes that distinction will not necessarily be relevant.

    I don’t see how any of this is a problem for science. I’m no expert on the historical details of the development of the scientific method, but there are obviously many issues involved: Aristotelian metaphysics, Aristotelian physics, various misunderstandings of both, deference to Aristotle’s claims, and so on. One critical issue is the conception of creation (as you referred to), the accepting that the terrestrial and celestial worlds are not opposites, the one the domain of chaos, the other the domain of mathematical perfection: understanding that the whole cosmos is a good creation of God means that math can apply as much down here as to heavenly bodies — but that doesn’t entail rejecting Aristotelian metaphysics, or certainly not as much of it as fits into Thomism. Also critical was the method, the actual approach to doing science, which is neutral in many ways to metaphysical interpretations in which it can be situated. Again, nothing in Thomism contradicts anything about the scientific method.

  54. 54
    vjtorley says:

    Mr. Green (#53)

    I’d like to address your statement:

    Mechanism yields not just the possibility of a deist-god, but the inevitability — because the very nature of a mechanist world is one that exists on its own (after God winds it up, perhaps), and so is fundamentally at odds with the transcendent sustaining God.

    You appear to be laboring under the misconception that ID proponents have dispensed with all but two of Aristotle’s four causes: efficient and material causes. Wrong. We’re very big on formal causes. What distinguishes us from Thomist philosophers is our insistence that:

    (i) the forms that we find in Nature can take us to Nature’s Creator, just as surely as the intrinsic finality that exists in Nature;

    (ii) form cannot be reduced or boiled down to finality; both are vital for understanding the “whatness” of a thing.

    The charge of mechanism would be justified only if forms were envisaged as being imposed on a preexisting subject, with a nature of its own. I have already shown in a recent post of mine that ID does not conceive of the design of life in this fashion, and that a living thing’s being designed is perfectly compatible with it having built-in, goal-directed processes that terminate in and benefit the living thing itself (i.e. immanent final causation, in Aristotelian terminology). I’d like to quote a brief passage:

    Dembski is not saying that when the form of a designed object is imposed on a pre-existing object, that object retains its nature. Rather, he is simply saying that the form of a designed object is conferred on it from outside. This form could be an accidental form (e.g. the shape of a statue, or the structure of a ship). In these cases, the raw materials (stone and wood respectively) upon which the form is imposed undergo no change of nature. Alternatively, the form might be a substantial form, giving the object a new nature. That would be a more radical act of design, but it would still be a perfectly legitimate example of design, since the form is conferred from outside by an intelligent agent… In this radical act of transformation, nothing from the old object would remain except for the “prime matter” underlying the change. From the perspective of the “prime matter”, the powers of the new object would be imposed from outside. However, since the powers of the new object arise from its new nature (which includes its new substantial form), these powers would still be natural to the object itself.

    As regards the design of the universe itself (i.e. the fine-tuning of the laws of Nature), once again, ID does not conceive of the laws as being imposed on some pre-existing “stuff” or matter, which is capable of existing without God. As far as scientists can tell, laws make up the very “warp and woof” of the universe; it is impossible to conceive of there being any universe in their absence. Consequently, whatever is responsible for the laws of Nature is also responsible for its very being.

    The difference between the A-T approach and the ID approach is that the former focuses on the directedness of laws in order to infer a Creator; whereas the latter focuses on the high degree of specificity of these laws in order to infer a Designer of Nature. Both paths – finality and form – arrive at the same terminus.

    I would like to add that one needs to be careful when arguing from the Thomistic premise that “natural things tend to determinate ends.” For the crucial question is: are these ends future ends, or merely currently existing ones? Feser’s argument for an Intelligent Creator assumes that things have a “future-directedness” about them, when they are obeying the laws of Nature. Only such a Being could direct mindless objects towards distant future goals, of which they know nothing. Future ends would certainly warrant Feser’s inference to an intelligent Creator; but currently existing ends would not.

    In case “currently existing ends” sounds like an oxymoron to you, try replacing the word “end” with “disposition” or “tendency”, and you’ll see my point. Salt dissolving in water does not have any future-directed tendencies.

  55. 55
    StephenB says:

    —Mr. Green: “What do you mean by “ID”?”

    By ID I mean the scientific paradigms used to analyze or patterns in nature and draw inferences to design [“Irreducible complexity, Specified Complexity, Counterflow etc].

    —“ID in a scientific sense certainly does not, and scientifically is not incompatible with Thomism. Feser never said it was.”

    Feser’s has criticized ID’s “arguments,” all of which are scientific. In fact, good science confirms good philosophy, even though its methods are different and its conclusions are provisional.

    –“If you mean ID-philosophy, then any philosophical foundation that denies intrinsic ends (like a mechanistic approach) obviously does preclude it.”

    ID doesn’t deny intrinsic ends.

    —“And if you start from, say, a Thomistic approach, then you’ve got a different kind of argument.”

    Different does not mean incompatible. Thomas’ second way, for example, is different from the Big Bang theory, that doesn’t make the the two arguments incompatible. Quite the contrary. They complement one another.

    —“I don’t know what you mean by “product”. For Thomists, all living organisms possess intrinsic final causes, up to and including Adam and Eve.”

    ID doesn’t deny that living organisms possess instrinsic final causes. You seem to have missed the point of my example. According to Feser, Aquinas would have insisted that all living things CAME INTO EXISTENCE as a result of intrinsic final causes. Obviously, that interpretation of Aquinas is false since St. Thomas attributed the coming into existence of Adam and Eve to an EXTRINSIC cause. Again, recall my earlier comment: St. Thomas taught that God CAN create through intrinsic causes, not that he MUST or that he always DID. By claiming otherwise, Feser is simply putting words in Aquinas’ mouth that should not be there.

    —Otherwise they would be machines, not living organisms.”

    Again, ID does not deny intrinsic causality.

    —Any version of ID that denies that is clearly at odds with Thomism; and if you accept the intrinsic finality, then you basically end up at the Fifth Way.”

    ID does not deny that living things are organisms.

    —“Either way, Feser is hardly “blundering”.

    Feser is blundering because he speaks with apodictic certainly on matters about which he is, in fact, wrong.

  56. 56
    StephenB says:

    @55 should read: “By ID I mean the scientific paradigms used to analyze or [measure] patterns in nature for the purpose of detecting design.”

  57. 57
    Mung says:

    VJT @54

    Aristotle’s four causes: efficient and material causes. We’re very big on formal causes.

    I’ve hinted at this elsewhere, pointing out the potential connection between form and information.

    What if ID were phrased differently, as the argument that material and efficient causes are insufficeint in themselves to explain the natural world, and that another cause is needed.

    What if they referend to this additional needed cause as “the formal cause (or the informational cause, or even just information)” rather than “an intelligent cause” or “an intelligent designer”?

    Would ID still be science?

    What would they call us then?

    Isn’t each of the Five Ways in some way connected to the four causus? Does the Fourth Way map to the Formal Cause?

    The Four Causes

  58. 58
  59. 59
    Mr. Green says:

    StephenB: Feser’s has criticized ID’s “arguments,” all of which are scientific.

    He’s criticised the actual equations? Please show me where he attacks the science. I’ve never seen Feser discuss anything but philosophical interpretations of ID.

    According to Feser, Aquinas would have insisted that all living things CAME INTO EXISTENCE as a result of intrinsic final causes.

    No, he’s never said that. You’re quite right that such an interpretation of Aquinas would be obviously false, and in fact Feser has commented on that very point.

    Feser is blundering because he speaks with apodictic certainly on matters about which he is, in fact, wrong.

    I think rather that you seem to have misunderstood him.

  60. 60
    Thomas Cudworth says:

    Mr. Green:

    Thanks for your further reply. I think we are now understanding each other, and have moved somewhat closer together. I want to wrap this up, so let me make a few final points:

    I am glad you agree with me about Feser’s statement regarding mechanism and the wrong kind of God.

    Now, on Aristotle. You write:

    “I don’t think necessity has dropped out — I think Aristotle considers it equivalent to directedness. The fact that he doesn’t continue to draw out a separate thread about necessity in this context indicates that he thinks he is still talking about it.”

    I agree that this would explain his procedure in the passage we are discussing. But my point (aside from my complaint about unclear writing on Aristotle’s part) is that, if that *is* Aristotle’s meaning, Aristotle is wrong. There is no *need* to interpret gravity, charge, etc. in terms of any intrinsic finality. They can be interpreted as external compulsions.

    Now, you go on to say:

    (And yes, Feser does interpret charge/etc. to be final causes.)

    I won’t deny that this is Feser’s meaning, since it does seem consistent with what he says about the electron “orbiting” the atom. But of course I’m questioning the propriety of this.

    “The point is not that Aristotle anticipated “natural laws” in the same sense as modern science, but that his metaphysical background (in particular, the four causes) can be naturally applied to describe modern science.”

    Understood, but again, I think this would be an act of desperation, by someone determined to hang onto both Aristotle and modern science.

    You write:

    “Given a “law” of gravity, according to which any mass uncontingently and in a fixed way is disposed to attract and be attracted to another mass, how could that not be described as ‘natural things tend to determinate ends.'”

    Easily. You just recognize that in Aristotelian thought, the “determinate ends” are substance-specific (ousia-specific), whereas in modern physics the natural tendencies of matter have nothing to do with the properties of the particular ousia or entity. They belong to “matter as such” or “body as such.” It is because Aristotle has not fully understood the notion of “body as such” and that all substances, *qua* bodies, may have natural tendencies that have nothing to do with the natural ends (intrinsic finality) they have *qua* substances (entities), that he makes the illegitimate jump that he makes in this passage.

    In Aristotle’s thought, intrinsic finality (which is what Feser is championing, as opposed to extrinsic finality) belongs to a thing in virtue of the specific kind of thing that it is. A dog, a cat, a cactus, a rock, each has a different telos or intrinsic finality. Modern science, and indeed modern philosophy, denies this. Of course modern science can recognize that cat embryos have a natural tendency to become cats, and in that sense can agree with Aristotle, but Aristotle applies that kind of thinking even to inanimate objects, and that’s what creates the huge gulf between Aristotle and modern thinking. In modern thinking, the rock, when it falls, or the planet, when it orbits, or the electron, when it is attracted, is behaving as a body under compulsion, not as a particular kind of entity striving to attain an end. Intrinsic finality is a useless conception for inanimate objects in modern thought. I don’t see how it can be rescued, without doing violence to the original Aristotelian context, in which expressions such as *telos* and *to tou heneka* have senses which are ill-suited to the project of modern science.

    I’m not of course denying that one can think of the whole system of nature as revealed in modern science — governed by the four fundamental forces, as displaying some sort of purposive intent. But in thinking that way I’m not thinking as an Aristotelian, but as a design theorist. I see what looks like a brilliant design which allows the whole complex universe — from molecules to man — to be generated from four simple forces. This is certainly teleological reasoning, but it has nothing to do with the ends or intrinsic finality of particular natural things. It implies a form of extrinsic finality. God as it were designed natural forces so that they would by virtue of their own power assemble the universe. Thus, God does not literally put together parts to make a machine, but rather creates a natural world which is itself creative. Admittedly this is different from what Paley had in mind, because it is a much more subtle notion of design, and not so narrowly tied to biological examples. But it’s equally different from what Aristotle had in mind.

    I’ll close with one more point, and then you can have the last word. The problem with Thomists is that they, like Aquinas, start from the presupposition that Aristotle constitutes a body of internally consistent thought, which just has to be adjusted a bit (get rid of that error about the eternity of the world, etc.) to be harmonized with Christian thought. But specialists in Greek philosophy (who unlike Aquinas can read Aristotle in the original language, and who have in addition a much superior understanding of the Greek philosophical context in which Aristotle wrote) know that Aristotle’s thought is riddled with internal tensions, and they constantly debate what he means and whether or not his thought on a number of questions is finally coherent. I would recommend to you, and to Feser, Sedley’s book, *Creationism and its Critics in Antiquity*. It gives an idea of just how difficult it is to come up with a fully consistent interpretation of Aristotle’s understanding of nature. The internal tensions over Aristotle’s use of the “craft” analogy in nature are particularly revealing; Aristotle is no Paleyan, yet his thinking in some sense cannot escape the craft analogy which Feser is condemning. Thomism tends to smooth over all such difficulties. Thus, it is oblivious to the difficulty I’m raising about Aquinas’s argument in the Fifth Way. It appears that one of Aquinas’s crucial premises there is trustworthy only if one turns a blind eye to the very difficulty in Aristotle that I’ve been discussing.

    By the way, we discussed many of these issues in depth on this site, last year. See the 18 April 2010 thread:

    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ult-on-id/

  61. 61
    Mr. Green says:

    VJ Torley: What distinguishes us from Thomist philosophers is our insistence that:
    (i) the forms that we find in Nature can take us to Nature’s Creator, just as surely as the intrinsic finality that exists in Nature;
    (ii) form cannot be reduced or boiled down to finality; both are vital for understanding the “whatness” of a thing.

    But I don’t imagine a Thomist could disagree with either point. It’s not that ID per se dispenses with formal and final causes, but “mechanistic” philosophies do, and ID is typically presented in mechanistic terms. Now, if we start from an A-T position, then some things can be mechanisms (externally-imposed form) and some can be organisms (intrinsically). But then specificity is irrelevant; as soon as you have laws (final causes), then no matter how simple, they point directly to God via the Fifth Way. Now if you want to argue from form rather than finality, a parallel argument applies: only God can unite a form with prime matter, so again what exactly the form is does not come into it.

    Future ends would certainly warrant Feser’s inference to an intelligent Creator; but currently existing ends would not.

    “Currently existing end” doesn’t sound like an oxymoron to me, in that something could have finality even if it existed for only a single instant of time; also a timeless intelligence having an intended goal. In fact, I’m not sure the future plays a part, strictly speaking, although it’s obviously a natural way to imagine a final cause at work (a mass falling and coming to rest on the ground, or salt molecules coming apart in water). A rock sitting motionless on the ground without change is still subject to the forces of gravity and electromagnetism, or, equivalently, to the final ends of gravitation and electromagnetism. So I’m not sure what distinction you want to make.

  62. 62
    Mung says:

    It’s not that ID per se dispenses with formal and final causes, but “mechanistic” philosophies do, and ID is typically presented in mechanistic terms.
    I think this is the crux of the matter.

    How does ID manage to qualify as science without embracing the mechanistic philosophy of science?

  63. 63
    StephenB says:

    —Mr. Green: “He’s criticised the actual equations? Please show me where he attacks the science. I’ve never seen Feser discuss anything but philosophical interpretations of ID.”

    To be sure, Feser does not characterize ID’s approach as bad science. Indeed, for some strange reason, he appears not to care much one way or the other either about the validity of its methods or the soundness of its conclusions. He does, though, criticiize the ID approach on the grounds that it assumes a completely mechanistic universe. Such is not the case. Further, as Jay Richards points out, “mechanistic” means different things to different people and Feser does not sort any of this out.

    —“No, he’s never said that. You’re quite right that such an interpretation of Aquinas would be obviously false, and in fact Feser has commented on that very point.”

    Feser writes this:

    “The point is rather that for A-T, the way God creates a natural substance is not to be understood on the model of a shipbuilder or sculptor who takes pre-existing bits of matter and rearranges them to serve an end they have no tendency otherwise to serve.”

    I think that Feser’s phrase “the way God creates” coupled with the phrase, “is not to be understood” can be safely interpreted to mean that God, as Creator, does not assume the role of an artistic shipbuilder. Thus, when St. Thomas indicates that God did create Adam and Eve in exactly that way, he is leaving a door open that Feser has closed in his name. Feser is here misunderstanding Aquinas in a very serious way, and much of his criticism of the ID paradigms is based on this misunderstanding. Never mind the fact that Feser also misunderstands ID on its own, as I pointed out in the first paragraph.

    Only someone who misuderstands both views at the same time could fall into the error of believing that Thomism and ID are incompatible. As I pointed out earlier…

    “Neither false claim alone would be sufficient to make Thomism inconsistent with ID. Thomism properly understood could be reconciled with ID even if ID DID rule out intrinsic causality, which it doesn’t; ID, properly understood, could be reconciled with Thomism even if Thomism DID require intrinsic causality, which it doesn’t.”

  64. 64
    vjtorley says:

    Mr. Green (#61)

    Thank you for your post. You write:

    It’s not that ID per se dispenses with formal and final causes, but “mechanistic” philosophies do, and ID is typically presented in mechanistic terms.

    It would be impossible to explicate the concept of complex specified information without some appeal to formal causes. If you look at David Abel’s papers on information (see for instance here and here ) you will see that he carefully delineates Functional Sequence Complexity (FSC) from mere Random Sequence Complexity (RSC) as well as Ordered Sequence Complexity (OSC), and provides a mathematical measure for Functional Sequence Complexity – which is something you cannot do for finality as such. Science requires rigorous quantification, or otherwise it degenerates into woolly-minded hand-waving and speculation.

    What the ID movement is basically saying to the scientific community is that the origin of the forms we see in living things remains an unexplained mystery, and that a designing Intelligence is the only explanation in principle which is capable of accounting for life. Ditto for the specificity of the cosmos as a whole.

    You argue that Thomists embrace an argument from form as well:

    Now if you want to argue from form rather than finality, a parallel argument applies: only God can unite a form with prime matter, so again what exactly the form is does not come into it.

    But this kind of argument only shows that material entities possessing a form require something to keep this form united to prime matter. It does not show that this “something” must be intelligent. This is the argumentative gap that ID attempts to plug.

    Finally, in response to my earlier point about final causes directed at currently existing ends, you write:

    “Currently existing end” doesn’t sound like an oxymoron to me, in that something could have finality even if it existed for only a single instant of time …
    A rock sitting motionless on the ground without change is still subject to the forces of gravity and electromagnetism, or, equivalently, to the final ends of gravitation and electromagnetism. So I’m not sure what distinction you want to make.

    My point is that if the goal is already present and not distant, then intelligence is not required to reach it. Feser’s exposition of Aquinas’ Fifth Way makes it quite clear that he invokes an Intelligence to explain the fact that things have future-directed tendencies, towards goals which do not yet exist. As he puts it in The Last Superstition (p. 115):

    One of the raps against final causation is that it seems clearly to entail that a thing can produce an effect even before that thing exists. Hence to say that an oak tree is the final cause of an acorn seems to entail that the oak tree – which doesn’t yet exist – in some sense causes the acorn to go through every state it passes through as it grows into an oak, since the oak is the “goal” or natural end of the acorn. But how can this be? Well, consider those cases where goal-directedness is associated with consciousness, viz. in us. A builder builds a house; he is a cause that generates a specific kind of effect. But the reason he is able to do this is that the effect, the house, exists as an idea in his intellect before it exists in reality. That is precisely how the not-yet-existent house can serve as a final cause – by means of its form or essence existing in someone’s intellect, if not (yet) in reality. And that seems clearly to be the only way something not yet existent in reality can exist in any other sense at all, and thus have any effects at all: that is, if it exists in an intellect. (Bold emphases mine – VJT.)

    Thus the assumption that the intrinsic ends towards which things tend are in the future, and as yet non-existent, is absolutely vital to Feser’s argument. Without it, his whole argument for an Intelligence directing Nature collapses.

    But if the ends we find in Nature are not distant, future ends, but currently existing ones (as you yourself concede in the cases of gravity and electromagnetism) then the inference to an Intelligence is unwarranted.

    To be sure, it would still remain very odd that things have tendencies at all – even tendencies directed towards currently existing ends. Things behave in accordance with rules (the laws of Nature). Rules, it seems, can only be created by a Mind. But that’s a very different argument from Feser’s; it’s more like a transcendentalist argument. In brief: you have to either accept that things genuinely obey rules or norms (which are by definition the product of a mind), or else you have to deny the existence of any norms in Nature – in which case, what grounds can you possibly have for believing that the sun will rise tomorrow (the old problem of induction)?

  65. 65
    Mung says:

    I think that Feser’s phrase “the way God creates” coupled with the phrase, “is not to be understood” can be safely interpreted to mean that God, as Creator, does not assume the role of an artistic shipbuilder.

    But I’m willing to wager you think it means something other than what Feser intends it to mean.

    Let me see if I can develop an analogy, no matter how poor or incomplete.

    Say I take a hunk of ice and carve a sculpture.

    Now say I take some cubes of ice, and use them to cool my drink.

    Is there a difference?

  66. 66
    Mung says:

    hi VJT,

    Doesn’t Feser also argue that you cannot have a formal cause without a final cause?

    My view of the mechanistic philosophy (and for all I know I could be way off, I’m just offering this for discussion) is that it rejects formal and final causes and attempt to reduce all explanations to material and efficient causes.

    Now it seems to me that for ID to distinguish itself from the mechanistic philosophy it would need to assert formal and/or final causes. And if I am right above, asserting one is as good as asserting the other.

    As such, how can ID be scientific unless one makes the case that science must once again admit formal and final causes?

  67. 67
    Mung says:

    Alastair Noble, director of the Centre for Intelligent Design, said if the message of the research was that students should have more opportunity to assess the scientific evidence for the various positions around origins, no one would disagree with that.

    He said the study’s definition of intelligent design was inaccurate and over-simplistic, although he was not surprised by the high levels of awareness of intelligent design – unlike evolution, it was intuitive and “a non-dogmatic, non-religious position which attempts to account for the sophistication we find in natural and living systems in terms of mind, as well as matter and energy”.
    ENV

    What does it mean to account for something in terms of mind? Is it a mind which resorts solely to material and efficient causes?

  68. 68
    StephenB says:

    —Mung: “But I’m willing to wager you think it means something other than what Feser intends it to mean.”

    It might help if you tell me what you think Feser means with the quote in question, how that differs from my interpretation of what he means, and why he brought it up in the context of his claim that Thomism is incompatible with Intelligent Design.

  69. 69
    Mung says:

    It might help if you tell me what you think Feser means with the quote in question, how that differs from my interpretation of what he means, and why he brought it up in the context of his claim that Thomism is incompatible with Intelligent Design.

    I that HERE in the post you quoted from.

    If you don’t understand or see any difference just say so. But don’t pretend like I didn’t address it.

  70. 70
    vjtorley says:

    Mung (#66)

    Thank you for your post. Just to be clear: when I speak of formal causes, I don’t mean that forms go round making things happen, as if they could push things around or something. Only efficient causes make things happen. What I mean is that in order to understand Nature properly, we need to understand the forms that we find in things, and that grasping the different kinds of materials and the causal agents we find in the world will not enable us to do that. The sceintific community is still resisting this conclusion – hence their futile attempt to “dumb down” specified complexity into either Shannon complexity or ordered sequence complexity.

    I would also agree that formal and final causes are inseparable. But I would add that in order to be able to infer an intelligent Creator, a grasp of form is even more important than a grasp of finality, as it reveals something that is unambiguously the product of intelligence.

  71. 71
    StephenB says:

    —Mung: “If you don’t understand or see any difference just say so. But don’t pretend like I didn’t address it.”

    Your link didn’t take, so, no, I still don’t know what difference you are referring to. I am ready to give your point a fair hearing, but I cannot do that until I know what it is.

  72. 72
    StephenB says:

    Mung @69, if your point is that sculpting with ice is different from the phenomenon of ice melting I would certainly agree. However, I don’t understand how that plays in to my comment.

  73. 73
    Mung says:

    Hi StephenB,

    So following my analogy, however poor it may be, if we see an ice sculpture we infer the existence of a sculptor. An artist, an architect. Someone who has taken ice and formed it into something it would not otherwise appear as.

    And this is exactly the same sort of argument used by ID, is it not?

    It appears that Feser argues that God is not like the ice sculptor.

    You seem to take the Genesis account literally, as if God created a sculpture out of clay and then breathed life into it. I don’t interpret the text that way, and I doubt Feser would either, so I don’t see how talking about that would advance the discussion.

    The point is rather that for A-T, the way God creates a natural substance is not to be understood on the model of a shipbuilder or sculptor who takes pre-existing bits of matter and rearranges them to serve an end they have no tendency otherwise to serve.

    Now take the ice in drink part of my analogy. Here I have not given the ice a form it would not normally take.

    In both cases though, I have used it to my own ends (telos). This is, I think, Feser’s point wrt God’s creation of natural substances.

    Is the quote you provided from his blog? He tells us how God’s activity is not to be understood, I’d like to see what he offers as the alternative.

    But using ice to cool another substance is I think as close as you can come to an analogy. Both the ice and the substance are doing what comes naturally to them. I’m just taking advantage of that fact to accomplish my own ends.

    Hope this in some small way helps.

    Cheers

  74. 74
    Mung says:

    vjtorley @70

    I pretty much agree with everything you wrote.

    …when I speak of formal causes, I don’t mean that forms go round making things happen, as if they could push things around or something.

    Sorry if I gave the impression that you did. 🙂

    Only efficient causes make things happen.

    I am very interested in the whole question of causation and explanation. Bought a bunch of books which now just take up space on my shelves (and in my Kindle). 😉

    What do you mean by the text I quoted? In what sense do final causes not make things happen?

    In order for a final cause to be actualized, there must be an efficient cause?

    Bring to mind the old means, motive, opportunity.

    The final cause is the motive (why), the efficient cause is the means (how). Science only cares about the how, as if you can even have a how without a why.

    when I speak of formal causes, I don’t mean that forms go round making things happen

    No, but something causes the form. Something is going around making forms happen.

    The IRS?

  75. 75
    StephenB says:

    —Mung: “It appears that Feser argues that God is not like the ice sculptor.”

    Yes, that’s right.

    —“You seem to take the Genesis account literally, as if God created a sculpture out of clay and then breathed life into it.”

    I am not discussing Genesis at all. The issue on the table is the compatibility of Aquinas and ID. Feser says that, according to Aquinas, God does NOT create as a sculptor and his philosophy of nature is, THEREFORE, incompatible with ID. He is wrong about that because Aquinas says that God CAN and DOES create as a sculptor. Therefore, Aquinas and ID cannot be characterized as being incompatible on that basis.

    Cheers

  76. 76
    StephenB says:

    —Mung: “But using ice to cool another substance is I think as close as you can come to an analogy. Both the ice and the substance are doing what comes naturally to them. I’m just taking advantage of that fact to accomplish my own ends.”

    I like your analogy.

  77. 77
    vjtorley says:

    Mung (#74)

    Thank you for your post. Regarding the origin of forms, I would say that they need to be produced by an adequate efficient cause. Certainly for the complex forms found in the biological realm, the only adequate efficient cause is an intelligent being, acting for an end (i.e. a final cause). Thus both an efficient and a final cause are required.

    Regarding the relationship between final and efficient causes: when I wrote that only efficient causes make things happen, I meant that only efficient causes act on objects. That’s what an efficient cause is. However, I would also agree that the regular patterns of action we observe in the natural world – i.e. the laws of nature – presuppose the existence of a Mind, acting for some end, or final cause.

  78. 78
    Mung says:

    For those of you who have a copy of The Nature of Nature, Ernan McMullin briefly discusses the Protestant/Catholic divide in Chapter 3, Section 2.

    Can one find support for QMN1 [Qualified Methodological Naturalism: Version One] on the side of theology? Here one finds a significant difference between two great traditions in Christian theology, a difference that may help, to some small extent at least, to explain why ID finds so much more support on the side of evangelical Christians than on that of Catholics. In the Thomist tradition, which has done much to shape Catholic theology, a modified version of the Aristotelian notion of nature is fundamental to an understanding of the world around us. …

    In the tradition of Reformed theology, the Thomist conception of nature, with its Aristotelian antecedents, is suspect. Echoing the nominalist criticisms of the fourteenth century, that conception is held to compromise the freedom of the Creator. It imposes too strong a constraint on that freedom…

    Hah. So it does all come down to theology. 😉

  79. 79
    StephenB says:

    Mung, I am not clear on how your latest entry ties in to the subject of Feser’s misapplication of Thomism.

  80. 80
    Mung says:

    I’ll say it again. I’m not an apologist for Feser.

    I’m just trying to understand the debate and I find that history and context can help in that regard.

    Maybe they misunderstand us, maybe we misunderstand them. Perhaps there are hidden sources of misunderstanding.

    Perhaps my conception of nature is wrong. Perhaps theirs is to. If theirs is wrong does it make mine right? Perhaps my conception of God is wrong. Perhaps theirs is to. If theirs is wrong does it make mine right?

    I try to keep an open mind.

  81. 81
    Mung says:

    Are we to God as computers are to us? Are we artifacts of His creation?

    I find an answer of “yes” to be repugnant and I also believe that having such a view of God (and nature) could indeed lead to serious theological issues, both in our understanding of nature and in our understanding of God.

    Is this the point that Feser is trying to make? If so, I think it’s quite a valid issue to raise.

  82. 82
    vjtorley says:

    Mung (#81)

    I entirely agree that the computer analogy for created things is inadequate. Let me add that Thomists are right to insist that an artifact (a collection of parts mechanically configured for a particular function) is qualitatively different from a living thing (a substance whose parts work in concert for the good of the whole). ID proponents don’t claim that living things are like artifacts; rather, artifacts are a pale imitation of living things. “Then why invoke them at all, if they’re so different?” one might ask. Because living things are fiendishly difficult to understand, being in a category of their own, and because artifacts are about the nearest analogy to living things – and a very poor analogy at that – that our feeble minds can actually grasp. What both artifacts and living things have in common, though, is that complexity is one of their defining features. Because Thomists define living things in purely finalistic terms, they imagine that a simple life-form is possible. What ID proponents are saying is that in this universe, at least, it’s not. This brief post explains why:

    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....darwinist/

    That’s why we’re so sure that no scientific discovery will ever falsify ID. Producing life forms is a difficult task, because the ratio of functional configurations to non-functional configurations is astronomically low, even with proteins. Hence, finding a path-way that leads to life is like searching for a needle in a haystack.

    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....lying-the-
    predictions-proposed-by-jonathan-m-and-others/

    May I suggest that the real point at issue between Thomism and ID is the relationship between form and finality, and whether life can be defined in purely finalistic terms. Thomists hold that final causes are logically primary, and determine all other causes (formal causes included): form follows function. ID proponents differ on this vital point; we consider that the complexity of a living thing’s form cannot be boiled own or reduced to its final cause (as if one could, in principle, reverse-engineer the structure of a living thing simply be grasping its telos). Both form and finality are essential, irreducible and complementary features of a living thing.

    The real difference between ID and Thomism isn’t over mechanism; it’s about form.

  83. 83
    Mung says:

    The real difference between ID and Thomism isn’t over mechanism; it’s about form.

    vjt, you’ve whetted my appetite for more! I love this sort of debate. I thank you and everyone else in this thread for their contribution.

    Would you say that neither the Thomist nor the ID theorist thinks that material and efficient causes provide a sufficient explanation of form?

    Can ID be expressed in those terms?

    Isn’t it also the case that form is not restricted to “simple” forms or “complex” forms?

    Every form must be specified.

    So how can ID say that this simple form x does not provide any indication of ID, while this complex form y does?

    From what I have read, it seems to me that mechanism is vital to the differences between the two camps. Feser is obviously opposed to “the mechanical philosophy” and apparently thinks that ID buys into that same philosophy to make it’s case.

    I know you’ve indicated an intention to address the “five ways”, but I’d personally prefer to see them one at a time. (Small brain.)

  84. 84
    Mr. Green says:

    StephenB: I think that Feser’s phrase “the way God creates” coupled with the phrase, “is not to be understood” can be safely interpreted to mean that God, as Creator, does not assume the role of an artistic shipbuilder. Thus, when St. Thomas indicates that God did create Adam and Eve in exactly that way, he is leaving a door open that Feser has closed in his name.

    I don’t know where you got that idea. Aquinas does sometimes compare God to a builder, but only indirectly, and not in this context. He certainly did not believe that God “built” Adam like a ship.

  85. 85
    Mr. Green says:

    VJ Torley: But this kind of argument only shows that material entities possessing a form require something to keep this form united to prime matter. It does not show that this “something” must be intelligent. This is the argumentative gap that ID attempts to plug.

    Except for a Thomist, that something must be intelligent, because only God fits the bill. But even apart from that, wouldn’t the origin of any form have to be a mind, unless the object existed forever?

    But if the ends we find in Nature are not distant, future ends, but currently existing ones (as you yourself concede in the cases of gravity and electromagnetism) then the inference to an Intelligence is unwarranted.

    I think I see what you mean: forms exist either in matter or in a mind; a future form does not exist in matter (yet!), so it must exist in a mind, an intelligence. But a currently existing form can just be there in matter. I’m not sure that that works for final causes, though, even when “presently” directed. Isn’t the point of being “directed” that it points to something outside itself (even if not something in the future, exactly)? I’ll have to think about that more.

    Because Thomists define living things in purely finalistic terms, they imagine that a simple life-form is possible. What ID proponents are saying is that in this universe, at least, it’s not.

    I think that’s an interesting point. Of course, in some sense Thomists aren’t interested in “this” universe, that is, they’re interested not in our physics, but in metaphysics (which applies to all universes). Certainly that will affect the types of arguments on either side.

  86. 86
    Mr. Green says:

    Mung: As such, how can ID be scientific unless one makes the case that science must once again admit formal and final causes?

    Well, it can be scientific as long as you use the scientific method when you’re doing it. I would argue that the scientific method implicitly entails formal and final causes, but doing science and what one thinks one is doing, or claims to be doing, is a different question.

    Are we to God as computers are to us? Are we artifacts of His creation? […] Is this the point that Feser is trying to make? If so, I think it’s quite a valid issue to raise.

    Yes, for Feser/Aquinas, living beings are different from artifacts not just in degree but in kind. (I was going to mention that you could in principle have an organism that was simpler than a machine, but Vincent Torley beat me to it). And certainly in Thomistic terms, the difference has important ramifications. From Feser’s most recent post:

    If natural objects are “artifacts,” then they have no immanent final causality or teleology.  And if they have no immanent final causality or teleology, then they are not compounds of act and potency (since potency presupposes immanent final causality), and there is no basis for arguing from their existence to God as their Purely Actual cause.  If they have no substantial forms, then the soul is not the substantial form of the body, and the interaction problem looms (along with its materialist sequel).  If natural objects have no substantial forms or immanent teleology, then human beings (who are natural objects) have no substantial forms or immanent teleology, and the metaphysical foundations of classical natural law theory are undermined.

    Phew!

  87. 87
    StephenB says:

    —Mr. Green”

    —“I don’t know where you got that idea. Aquinas does sometimes compare God to a builder, but only indirectly, and not in this context. He certainly did not believe that God “built” Adam like a ship.”

    Aristotle’s analogy of the shipbuilder is meant to differentiate the phenomenon of an artist at work from the phenomenon of nature at work. According to Feser, Aquinas taught that God does NOT create directly as an artist, that is, as a shipbuilder [using extrinsic causality] and DOES create by letting created nature do the work indirectly [using intrinsic causality]–and in no other way.

    By contrast, Aquinas taught that God DOES create as an artist [like a shipbuilder] as is evident in the fact that He created Adam and Eve directly in finished form, which means that He WAS using extrinsic causality, and was NOT using intrinsic causality which, according to Feser, is the ONLY way God creates.

  88. 88
    Thomas Cudworth says:

    Mr. Green, you wrote:

    “Aquinas does sometimes compare God to a builder, but only indirectly, and not in this context. He certainly did not believe that God “built” Adam like a ship.”

    Nor, to the best of my knowledge, did Paley; and nor, to the best of my knowledge, do most ID proponents.

    It seems to me that this discussion about the difference between organisms and artifacts is irrelevant in the context of comparing ID and Thomism. Nobody denies that there are crucial differences between organisms and artifacts.

    However, organisms and artifacts have something very striking in common: in both, well-coordinated parts function together to accomplish an evident end.

    From this similarity springs the question over which ID people differ from Dawkins & Co.: Does the coordination of the parts of organisms to accomplish an end — like the coordination of the parts of an artifact to accomplish an end — arise out of intelligent design? Or does it arise out of a combination of blind chance and blind necessity, which turned indifferent atoms into exquisitely complex and well-functioning organisms by a series of cosmic freaks?

    What ID people are saying to Feser is that both Aquinas and Paley/ID people believe that the coordination arose out of intelligent design, not out of blind chance alone, blind necessity alone, or any combination of the two. And since Feser does not appear to disagree that there is design in organisms and that God is responsible for the design, what are ID people and Feser fighting about?

  89. 89
    Mung says:

    However, organisms and artifacts have something very striking in common: in both, well-coordinated parts function together to accomplish an evident end.

    Yes, but there is also in this exact same phenomenon a profound difference in what the evident end consists of and in this respect organisms and artifacts are not at all analogous.

  90. 90
    Thomas Cudworth says:

    Mung (89):

    You wrote:

    “there is also in this exact same phenomenon a profound difference in what the evident end consists of and in this respect organisms and artifacts are not at all analogous.”

    What is the profound difference you are speaking of? If one examines the anatomy of a bat, one sees an arrangement of parts which facilitates flight; if one examines the structure of an airplane, one sees an arrangement of parts which facilitates flight. To the common understanding, the “evident end” is in both cases the same, i.e., flight.

    We know in the case of the airplane that the arrangement of the parts is due to design. Is this also the case regarding the arrangement of parts of the bat? Darwin said no; Mayr, Dobzhansky, etc. said no; Gould said no; Ayala says no; Dawkins and his friends say no; ID says yes. And Aquinas says? And Feser says? And Mung says?

  91. 91
    Mr. Green says:

    StephenB: By contrast, Aquinas taught that God DOES create as an artist [like a shipbuilder] as is evident in the fact that He created Adam and Eve directly in finished form, which means that He WAS using extrinsic causality, and was NOT using intrinsic causality which, according to Feser, is the ONLY way God creates.

    Extrinsic or intrinsic causality are not means of creation, they are [part of] what is being created. The distinction is relevant not to “how” God creates something (creation proper is always ex nihilo), but to the kind of thing being created, or being generated according to some natural means. Whether Adam and Eve were created “directly” or in “finished form” tells us nothing per se about whether they are organic or mechanical, as Feser has explained many times.

  92. 92
    Mr. Green says:

    Thomas Cudworth — Thanks for your responses.

    There is no *need* to interpret gravity, charge, etc. in terms of any intrinsic finality. They can be interpreted as external compulsions.

    Well, there’s only a “need” to the extent that one is trying to formulate an Aristotelian/Thomistic position. Maybe there is a different position that works as well, although I tend to suspect that any systems that genuinely work will be more or less the same thing in different words. In fact, “external compulsions” still sounds kinda like a paraphrase of “final cause” to me. Feser is certainly not Aristotelian in a “pure” original sense (which I’m happy to concede never really existed in the first place), but is an intellectual descendant — closer to Aristotle in many ways (not all) than modern competitors. But if even the updated offshoots of Aristotle are simply wrong, then all the more reason why ID must be incompatible. (Of course from my side, I get a bit of a sense of desperation to reject Aristotle!)

    What ID people are saying to Feser is that both Aquinas and Paley/ID people believe that the coordination arose out of intelligent design, not out of blind chance alone, blind necessity alone, or any combination of the two. And since Feser does not appear to disagree that there is design in organisms and that God is responsible for the design, what are ID people and Feser fighting about?

    Certainly, there is agreement in the broad sense that God is the “author” of life, that design requires intelligence, and so on. But ID is making claims more specific than that. It’s not the general conclusions that are in the problem, but the principles invoked to reach them. Above, you also said, “It [thinking of nature as displaying intent] implies a form of extrinsic finality”. Thomists don’t accept that — so again, whichever side is wrong, it can’t be compatible with the side that’s right. Given the centrality of final causality to Thomism, rejecting it in any sense can have far-ranging implications — as in my quotation from Feser to Mung, a seemingly harmless equating of organism to machine ends up wreaking havoc with the human mind and morality. Now, is there is a possible interpretation of ID that would be acceptable to both sides? Something that adheres to Thomistic principles but bears a close enough family resemblance to still be called “ID”? Perhaps, but I don’t think anybody’s managed to formulate it that way yet.

  93. 93
    Proponentist says:

    St. Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologica (On the Government of Things in General (q 103, article 1):

    Certain ancient philosophers denied the government of the world, saying that all things happened by chance. But such an opinion can be refuted as impossible in two ways.

    First, by observation of things themselves: for … the unfailing order we observe in things is a sign of their being governed; for instance, if we enter a well-ordered house we gather therefrom the intention of him that put it in order, as Tullius says (De Nat. Deorum ii), quoting Aristotle [Cleanthes].

    That’s the fine-tuning, ID argument.

    An anti-ID Catholic, Stephen Barr explains things this way (in his book Modern Physics, Ancient Faith):

    the Latin Christian writer Minucius Felix near the beginning of the third century [states]:

    ”If upon entering some home you saw that everything there was well-tended, neat, and decorative, you would believe that some master was in charge of it, and that he himself was superior to those good things. So too in the home of this world, when you see providence, order, and law in the heavens and on earth, believe there is a Lord and Author of the universe, more beautiful than the stars themselves and the various parts of the whole world.”

    … The old Argument from Design is based on the commonsense idea that if something is arranged then somebody arranged it. The reasonableness of this idea can be seen from an everyday example. If one were to enter a hall and find hundreds of folding chairs neatly set up in evenly spaced ranks and files, one would feel quite justified in inferring that someone had arranged the chairs that way.One can imagine, however, that a person might object to this obvious inference, and suggest instead that the chairs are merely obeying some Law of Chairs although often in a secret or hidden way. When we see situations that appear haphazard, or things that appear amorphous, automatically or spontaneously “arranging themselves” into orderly patterns, what we find in every case is that what appeared to be amorphous or haphazard actually had a great deal of order already built into it.

    Oops! He’s supposed to be arguing against ID and not giving examples that support it. 🙂

    If one uses the “commonsense” approach to the “Old Argument from Design”, it’s clear that observations of the coordination, structure and complex-specified functionality found in nature reveal the presence of design and therefore intelligence.

    Thomist philospher, Fr. James A. McWilliams in his Catholic college textbook Cosmology (p. 16-17)
    explains it:

    Teleology is order in activity, and is therefore called dynamic order. But there is also the order of structure. Structural order ; is the harmonious arrangement of diverse integral parts in one pattern or configuration … It is true that structure is often suitable for useful activity, still it can be recognized without our knowing its utility. Hence, structural order, apart from dynamic order, furnishes independent evidence for intelligence.

  94. 94
    Mung says:

    To the common understanding, the “evident end” is in both cases the same, i.e., flight.

    But to the end of whom?

    The airplane, clearly, does not have it’s “evident end” in and of itself. We don’t see airplanes out there flying themselves too often.

    Who, or what, is flying those bats around, and is that the reason they are capable of flying? Because someone wanted to create something they could fly in?

    To be honest, I didn’t even like the way that came out. We speak of bats flying, not being flown. We speak of airplanes flying, but we don’t mean it in the same way. Airplanes do not fly, they are flown.

    So their “evident end” is not so clearly the same. To me, the evident end of the airplane is “to be flown,” or “to allow a person to simulate the activity of flying,” which comes naturally to neither man nor plane.

  95. 95
    Thomas Cudworth says:

    Mr. Green (91 and 92):

    Re your answer to StephenB in 91:

    I agree with you that we have to be careful not to mix up two different questions:

    1. How God created things;
    2. The natures of the various things that God created.

    Regarding the first point — whether God created things directly out of nothing, or by adding parts in the fashion of a mechanic, or via a gradual evolutionary process, I think that perhaps what StephenB and others here are concerned about is that Aquinas is very clear that man and the higher animals were created directly, and not through any gradual evolutionary process, and that the Thomists who are criticizing ID and allowing for the possible truth of Darwinian evolution are evading this point.

    However, I agree with you that the second point is more fundamental from a philosophical point of view. And yes, organisms are different from machines. Nonetheless, both have parts arranged in a complex manner to perform definite ends. Therefore, it is appropriate to speak of both in terms of design.

    This conclusion is further reinforced when we compare an organism with, say, a stalactite. Does a stalactite exhibit design? No, because there is no arrangement of parts to serve a definite end; its shape is determined by geological forces, i.e., by necessity, not reason.

    The problem, then, is that in distinguishing between natural and artifical objects, as Feser and Beckwith rightly want to do, we run up against the very real empirical fact that organisms, which are natural objects, are in crucial ways more like mechanisms than they are like other natural objects. How can any philosophy of nature simply brush this important fact aside?

    Regarding 92, I’m not against Aristotle per se; rather, I’m critical of Aquinas’s appropriation of Aristotle, and of Feser’s appropriation of both. I think that “Aristotelianism-Thomism” is a very unstable amalgam comprising two very different views of nature and God. I think pure Aristotelianism has more inner coherence, though I do not exempt even pure Aristotelianism from criticism.

    Finally, I don’t claim that ID insights are completely compatible with Aquinas or with Aristotle. My claim has never been more than that Aquinas has some important agreements over the fact of design in the universe and the source of the design in the mind of God.

    As for the claim that ID implies a mechanistic metaphysics that is incompatible with Thomism, I deny it, but even if it were true, it would not matter to me, as I do not regard Thomism as the standard of truth in either philosophy or theology. I respect Aquinas very highly, as one of the West’s greatest theologians and thinkers and teachers; but in the final analysis, he is a theologian, not a prophet, and his opinions are all fallible. He could not read Greek and did not have anywhere near the historical grasp of Greek philosophical thinking that we have today. He could not read Hebrew and did not have anywhere near the grasp of Hebrew poetics and the historical background of the Bible that we have today. I think that Thomists have always done Aquinas a disservice by placing a halo of divine wisdom around every word he wrote. No theologian can bear the weight of reverence that they have loaded upon St. Thomas. He should be treated as one of many voices in the philosophical and theological conversations of the West. One of the wisest voices, to be sure, but not the gold standard by which all the other voices are to be judged.

  96. 96
    Thomas Cudworth says:

    Mung (94):

    Everything you say about airplanes and bats is true, and the distinctions you make are important in various contexts, but none of them affects my point. The point is that you would not hesitate for one second to infer than an airplane was an intelligently designed object. Would you hesitate to infer that a bat was intelligently designed?

    If so, why? And if not, I would wager that your inference follows ID lines, or at least Paleyan lines. So where are we disagreeing? If Feser and Thomas would both say “Yes, bats are intelligently designed to fly,” then ID people would be quite happy to leave Feser and Thomas unmolested and to refrain from all attacks upon them.

    You, like Feser, appear to be overly intellectualizing a relatively simple matter. Dawkins says that the design of the bat’s body is only apparent design; blind natural forces have simulated the effects of design. ID says that the design of the bat’s body is real design; a real mind has determined that the bat should fly, and has arranged things so that it will have the right combination of working parts to do so. ID people believe that Thomas Aquinas agrees with them about this. They believe that Aquinas believed in real design, not apparent design. So again, where do you stand? Where does Feser stand? Is the design of the bat real or only apparent?

  97. 97
    StephenB says:

    —Mr. Green: “Extrinsic or intrinsic causality are not means of creation, they are [part of] what is being created. The distinction is relevant not to “how” God creates something (creation proper is always ex nihilo), but to the kind of thing being created, or being generated according to some natural means. Whether Adam and Eve were created “directly” or in “finished form” tells us nothing per se about whether they are organic or mechanical, as Feser has explained many times.”

    Feser’s explanation is not informed by a proper understanding of Intelligent Design, an unfortunate fact that causes him to strain at gnats and swallow camels. To be sure, organic living things have inherent tendencies, and, to be sure, they are not mere mechanical things, but the decisive question for ID science is this: What was the origin of those inherent tendencies.

    Indeed, we can, in that same spirit, appeal to the Thomistic vocabulary, by inquiring about the origins of an organism’s final causality, a quality which ID in no way disputes. The answer, to which Aquinas and ID would both agree is that a designer created the first life, complete with its final causality–an act that must come from the OUTSIDE of an organism and not from the INSIDE.

    Organisms possess final causality because they were designed that way from the outside. That is precisely what ID science addresses: the coming-to-be of the first living things. So all of this heavy handed talk about the unbridgable gap between organisms and artifacts is both unwise and irrelevant. Aquinas and ID are compatible because there is nothing in either world view that would contradict the other.

  98. 98
    StephenB says:

    In keeping with my last point, I also have to say that Feser seems to misunderstand the nature of science, which analyzes selective chunks of reality and brackets out other chunks of reality for the sake of rigor. When a chemist studies inorganic chemistry, he is not turning his back on the reality of organisms. When a neuroscientist studies brain activity, he is not necessarily denying that minds exist. When a doctor examines design patterns in his patient’s blood sample, he is not dismissing the presence of an eternal soul that was made for God. When a researcher isolates variables in order to identify causes, he does not commit to the philosophy that nothing else is real except for those variables.

    In like fashion, when ID scientists observe that certain features in nature function like machines, such as a bacterial flagellum, or that other features operate like a factory, such as the inside of a human cell, they are not saying that nature is a machine or a factory and nothing else, much less are they saying that the organisms of which they are a part, have no intrinsic final causality.

  99. 99
    Mung says:

    You, like Feser, appear to be overly intellectualizing a relatively simple matter.

    I’m going to take that as a compliment 🙂

    I never thought I’d see the day when I was accused of over-intellectualizing.

    So again, where do you stand? Where does Feser stand? Is the design of the bat real or only apparent?

    It’s certainly real.

  100. 100
    OmneVivumExVivo says:

    I think that Feser’s problem with ID is that it gives too much ground to the “mechanistic cum materialistic worldview.” (his words, from his book The Last Superstition, one of the best books I’ve ever read) On a Thomistic view of the universe, God is actively enabling the universe to exist and change. God is Pure Actuality, the Prime Mover. Events that take place due to chance and physical law only take place because God enables them to. Every change in the universe can ultimately be traced back to God, not by a train of temporal cause and effect via the big bang singularity, but by an immediate hierarchy of causes, where each cause is simultaneous with its effect. On this view, the distinction between “Natural causes” and “Intelligent causes” is blurred. Intelligent Design theorists usually adopt a more modern version of philosophy, where the universe has a sort of “existential inertia,” and where changes can go on without God’s assistance. On Feser’s view, this gives far too much ground to the atheists. And in my opinion, he’s right.

    However, the problem can be easily resolved by using Aquinas’s Five Ways to prove the existence of God (what they were meant to do), and using Intelligent Design as a scientific theory (what it is meant to do). If we were trying to prove the existence of God using the complexity of living things, Feser would be right. We’re giving away too much ground. But Behe isn’t Paley. Where Paley attempts to argue from science to metaphysics, from science to the existence of God, Behe argues from science to science, from science to the existence of an intelligent designer. Now, ID can be interpreted in terms of the Fifth Way, but ID and the Fifth Way have distinct objectives. If we let philosophical proofs be philosophical proofs, and let scientific hypotheses be scientific hypotheses, no problems arise.

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