Intelligent Design

Aquinas and Intelligent Design

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For reasons beyond my comprehension, there is a significantly large (or at least loud) group of Thomists (followers of Thomas Aquinas) who reject Intelligent Design, allegedly on Thomistic grounds. I recently came across an old paper that addresses most of the criticisms of ID raised by Thomists that I have heard. Anyway, I had thought of writing a similar paper, but, voila, someone else already did it!

St. Thomas Aquinas on Intelligent Design

10 Replies to “Aquinas and Intelligent Design

  1. 1
    bill cole says:

    This is a very interesting paper. The objections seem to be intentionally discrediting and not logical. Why do Catholics fear ID?

  2. 2
    bornagain77 says:

    Of related note, it was very refreshing to see Aquinas being used properly, to devastating effect I might add, by Dr. Michael Egnor in his recent debate with atheist Matt Dillahunty:

    The Divine Hiddenness Argument Against God’s Existence = Nonsense – Michael Egnor -Oct. 4, 2021
    Excerpt: We will set aside Scriptural revelation and personal experience (given that atheists like Dillahunty discount these anyway) and consider the ways in which God shows Himself in nature (i.e., the ten ways that God’s existence can be known that I listed during my debate with Dillahunty. Here are three excellent references for the details of these various arguments: Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide, (Edward Feser), Five Proofs of the Existence of God (Edward Feser), and Letters to an Atheist (Peter Kreeft).
    These and other works cover evidence such as Aquinas’ First Way (by change in nature), Aquinas’ Second Way (by cause in nature), Aquinas’ Third Way (by contingent existence), Aquinas’ Fourth Way (by degrees of perfection), and Aquinas’ Fifth Way (by design in nature) as well as the Thomistic argument from existence, the Neoplatonic argument (from the order of things), the Augustinian argument (from abstract objects), the rationalist argument (from the principal of sufficient reason), and the argument for Moral Law (from the reality of objective moral obligation).
    Each of these proofs of God’s existence is revealed to us through our intellect.
    Is the information that God provides in these ways sufficient to convince a reasonable person of His existence? Consider the ten ways that simple everyday experience provides inexhaustible evidence for His existence:
    Every change in nature proves His existence. Every cause in nature proves His existence. Everything that exists in nature proves His existence. Every degree of perfection in nature proves His existence. Every manifestation of natural design proves His existence. Every realization of possibility in nature proves His existence. Every manifestation of organization in nature proves His existence. Every abstract concept proves His existence. Every reason for anything in nature proves His existence. And every twinge of human conscience proves His existence.
    Natural science provides massive evidence for His existence as well. The Big Bang — i.e., the creation of the universe from nothing in an immense primordial flash of light — is a remarkable confirmation of the beginning of the book of Genesis. Astrophysicists have discovered dozens of physical forces and properties in the universe that must have very specific values to permit human life — and of course these forces and properties do have exactly the values necessary for our existence (as if Someone rigged physics just for us). The DNA in living things is an actual code — in every meaningful sense like a computer code with letters and words, grammar and phrases, sentences and punctuation. And life forms’ intracellular metabolism is run by an astonishingly intricate and elegant system of biological nanotechnology.
    So my question to Dillahunty and to other atheists who endorse the Divine Hiddenness argument against God’s existence is this: What is it about God’s existence that you still consider hidden?

    As I said when I first read that passage by Dr. Egnor, I imagine seeing Dr. Egnor doing a ‘pen drop’ and then walking off the stage after he wrote that particular passage.

    Mic drop

    Supplemental notes:

    2) We can know God by His effects in the world — this kind of knowledge is provided by the classical arguments for God’s existence such as Aquinas’ Five Ways, the Rationalist Proof, the Neoplatonist Proof, the Aristotelian Proof, the Proof from Moral Law, etc. All of these proofs entail the systematic study of the effects in nature that point to God. [See “ten proofs of God’s existence” for a brief explanation of each proof.]

  3. 3
    johnnyb says:

    The real reason I think that Thomists don’t like ID is that it is, indeed, a direct attack on at least some people who are not doing their job as “experts” correctly. The goal of Thomists, I think, has been, as much as possible, to state that, “I’m not going to tell you how to do your job, I’m just going to point out that God is required.” ID rubs Thomists the wrong way because we are saying, “your lack of causal imagination has actually caused you to misunderstand your own job.” That’s a more direct attack than Thomists are really comfortable with, and that seems to be the real reason they don’t like ID. Additionally, making such an attack requires stepping out of their offices and actually getting to know a technical field from the inside. Generally, I’ve found that theologians generally don’t like to do that *at all*. So, saying that ID is invalid (a) means that they don’t have to make the confrontational step of calling out people who aren’t doing their job, (b) don’t have to actually step in to another field, and (c) don’t look like cowards for avoiding this. I think part of the issue with (b) is that they are scared to death of being wrong. As long as they can maintain philosophical separation, they can use the excuse “you don’t understand our field sufficiently” in order to cover for any errors. If they actually step onto the field of biology, that excuse goes away immediately.

    I find the social aspects of the ID controversy extremely fascinating (and at times depressing).

  4. 4
    Querius says:


    Having read the goals and perspectives of the founders of ID, I think ID is widely misunderstood.

    Intelligent Design is a PARADIGM, the presumption of purpose that permeates all structures at every scale in living organisms. As such, it’s demonstrably more efficient in the advancement of science than the Darwinistic presumption of random purposeless that hides behind ignorance and deep time. ID makes NO claims and attempts no correlation with the source of that intelligence and design.

    In contrast, Creationism is the belief that God created everything and it is not subject to the scientific method. It is based on trust, not test tubes.

    Science accepts no shortcuts and within the domain of science, one is committed to following the scientific method where it leads, but realizing that science is always changing and never finished, so we can’t be smug. We also know and accept that not all Truth is in reach of Science, including many of the things that are the most precious in our lives.


  5. 5
    johnnyb says:

    Querius – I almost agree with you. ID isn’t about a *presumption* of purpose, but a *recognition* of purpose as a causal category. I go into deeper explanation here:

    Intelligent Design Is Not What Most People Think It Is

  6. 6
    bill cole says:

    I find the social aspects of the ID controversy extremely fascinating (and at times depressing).

    The field is so misrepresented by its ideological opponents. Whats disturbing is the inference is very useful for both science. philosophy and theology. In science it allows an observation to be analyzed as a possible limit to what the scientific method can evaluate. In philosophy it adds evidence to Aquatints arguments, in theology it makes sense of the story of Job and his tour of the universe with God.

  7. 7
    chuckdarwin says:

    I think Thomists avoid ID for three reasons. First, they don’t need it; ID adds nothing to Aquinian thought. Second, Thomism is deep, reflective and quiet, quite the opposite of the ID movement which takes delight in creating teapot tempests on an almost daily basis. Finally, the ID movement is decidedly evangelical in a peculiarly aggressive and confrontational way, which most serious Catholics (and Thomists) find offense.

  8. 8
    Querius says:

    Johnnyb @5,

    Querius – I almost agree with you. ID isn’t about a *presumption* of purpose, but a *recognition* of purpose as a causal category. I go into deeper explanation here:

    Great paper!

    Ok, I’m having trouble parsing “recognition of purpose as a causal category.” Here’s why:

    A. (recognition of purpose) (as a causal category)
    B. (recognition of )(purpose as a causal category)

    A. “Recognition of purpose” is more ambitious than “the presumption of purpose” in an unknown structure or chemical cycle (or code for that matter) because we assert that we recognize purpose without being able to specify the purpose. I’m reminded of when someone here once corrected me when I asserted that finding three stones stacked in a desert indicated intelligent intervention, with a reference to a study that showed even two stacked stones in a desert would be sufficient. Our recognizing a purpose then results in perhaps causing further investigation?

    B. “Purpose as a causal category” tells me that out of all categories, one of them is causal, and that purpose is its defining quality. This makes me want to think that purpose itself is a causal agent, or at least in some cases. Purpose in code ultimately and indirectly results in changed states in variables as a result of running the code.

    Then, I’m also trying to unpack this statement:

    Intelligent Design, at its core, says that agency is a distinct causal category in the world.

    Ok, so ID as a paradigm asserts that at least some causes in the world are due to an intelligent agent, an unspecified being such as a human, a space alien, or perhaps God. Right?

    I especially liked the section “Intelligent Design in Biology.”


  9. 9
    Querius says:

    Bill Cole @6,
    Exactly! Nicely described and expanded.

    If we assume that Job was the inarticulate ravings of a Bronze-Age goat herder, we will completely miss the profound issues and wisdom in that account.


  10. 10
    johnnyb says:

    Querius –

    My main point was that we can’t just presume that any given X has purpose – we have to discover it. However, we have to recognize that “purpose” or “agency” is in fact a type of cause in its own right (though limited by other types of causes as well). In my mind at least, the structure of causation is like this:

    1) Laws of physics present constraints on causation, but does not definitively choose any particular state, only limits the range of allowable ones
    2) Agency essentially pushes the particular states of physics (or its probabilities) towards desired outcomes (tied in some unknown way to bodies)
    3) The remainder of state determination is picked up by randomness (or possibly God)

    “so ID as a paradigm asserts that at least some causes in the world are due to an intelligent agent, an unspecified being such as a human, a space alien, or perhaps God. Right?”

    Correct. Or, at bare minimum, agency is at least a sufficiently-understood concept that if it weren’t true, design detection would consistently fail. However, I think that one could make the case that being able to even think about agency in such a way implies its existence.

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