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.