DenyseÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s post below (What did Hitler believe about evolution?) quoted Edward Oakes, a writer of great erudition for whom I have a tremendous amount of respect.Ã‚Â Although Oakes frequently sends me scrambling for my dictionary, I look forward to reading his articles and book reviews in First Things and his posts on First ThingsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ blog.Ã‚Â Because I respect Oakes and am in general agreement with his writings and his worldview, I am puzzled and troubled by his blithe acceptance of evolution and his vehement opposition to ID.Ã‚Â
For those interested in my response to Fr. OakesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ views on whether ID proponents confuse finality and design and primary and secondary causation, read on.
Some months ago I participated in a small group discussion of David BerlinskiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s February 2006 article in Commentary Magazine about the overwhelming difficulties faced by origin of life scientists (the article is here).Ã‚Â During the discussion Fr. Oakes defended the evolutionary perspective, which led me to ask him how he, as a Christian, can account for the ontological discontinuity between animals and humans on evolutionary grounds.Ã‚Â He astonished me by responding that he does not see any such ontological discontinuity.
When I saw DenyseÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s post I decided to read OakesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ interview at zenit.org to see if I could gain an insight into OakesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ thinking about evolution and his opposition to ID.Ã‚Â The articles are Evolution in the Eyes of the Church (Part 1) (here) and (Part 2) (here).Ã‚Â I came away confirmed in my views regarding OakesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ position and still bemused by his opposition to ID.
Before I get to OakesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ specific objections, I want to say a word about why he says he believes in evolution.Ã‚Â Oakes says:
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Defined in that way [i.e. as Ã¢â‚¬Ëœdescent with modificationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢], the theory of evolution claims that all life began about 3.5 billion years ago as a single-celled, self-replicating organism from which we are all descended.Ã‚Â Since everyone now reading this sentence once began his or her existence as a single-celled organism, I hardly see how such a theory can be regarded as inherently implausible . . .
Ã¢â‚¬Å“[If natural selection] is strictly defined, it simply means that only those organisms that reach reproductive age get to transmit their genes; and if those genes were somehow Ã¢â‚¬ËœresponsibleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ for helping that organism reach reproductive age, then that Ã¢â‚¬ËœhelpfulnessÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ will likely contribute to later success as well.Ã‚Â As with the doctrine that all life began as a single-celled organism, I hardly see how such an obvious insight can be regarded as controversial.Ã¢â‚¬Â
We have all heard evolutionists claim that ontogeny (the development of an individual organism) recapitulates phylogeny (the evolutionary history of the species), a concept with mounting evidentiary problems itself.Ã‚Â But until now I have never heard anyone suggest, as Oakes seems to be suggesting, that ontogeny is the same thing as phylogeny.Ã‚Â It seems that OakesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ argument has gone off the rails before it is fairly started.
Moreover, lest anyone believe that Oakes is advocating a Ã¢â‚¬Å“God helps evolution over the humpsÃ¢â‚¬Â version of theistic evolution, note that he accepts as Ã¢â‚¬Å“obviousÃ¢â‚¬Â and noncontroversial the operation of natural selection.
Turning now to OakesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ opposition to ID, he says:
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Q: What are your objections to the Intelligent Design movement?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Father Oakes: Primarily that ID advocates seem regularly to confuse finality with design.Ã‚Â Now because people only design things for a purpose, the two concepts are too often conflated. Ã‚Â But they are different . . . I also object to the way the ID Movement conflates the Thomistic distinction between primary and secondary causality.Ã‚Â The advocates of this movement claim that if it can be proved scientifically that God must intervene on occasion to get various species up and running, then this will throw the atheist Darwinians into a panicked rout.Ã‚Â I disagree. Ã‚Â My view is that, according to St. Thomas, secondary causality can be allowed full rein without threatening God’s providential oversight of the world.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Q: But aren’t you making God recede from the world, just as the deists did with their concept of the clockmaker God?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Father Oakes: Actually, no.Ã‚Â Remember that for Aquinas God’s primary causality does not refer to an initial moment of creation, after which secondary causality kicks in and runs things from then on out.Ã‚Â No, God must sustain the world in each moment of its existence.Ã‚Â God keeps the world in being because God is Ã¢â‚¬ËœHe Who Is.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ Ã‚Â God is Being itself; and because of God’s self-sufficient Being, the universe Ã¢â‚¬Ëœis,Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ albeit derivatively.Ã¢â‚¬Â
In this article I propose to demonstrate that it is Fr. Oakes, not the ID movement, that has failed to make proper distinctions regarding causation.
As readers of my posts know, my favorite WittgensteinÃ‚Â quote is, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.Ã¢â‚¬ÂÃ‚Â Much (if not most) confusion in intellectual inquiry results not from disagreement on principles, but from imprecise use of language.Ã‚Â Therefore, before addressing OakesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ comments, I will set forth a brief definition of the terms he uses.
Primary cause:Ã‚Â A Ã¢â‚¬Å“primary causeÃ¢â‚¬Â is a cause that is not dependent on any other cause.Ã‚Â In Thomism God is a primary cause of all effects because He is the Uncaused First Cause.
Secondary cause:Ã‚Â The term Ã¢â‚¬Å“secondary causeÃ¢â‚¬Â is used in contrast to primary cause.Ã‚Â A secondary cause may cause an effect but only because it was itself first caused.Ã‚Â A secondary cause exists by virtue of a prior cause.
Finality:Ã‚Â In Aristotelianism there are four separate aspects of Ã¢â‚¬Å“cause.Ã¢â‚¬ÂÃ‚Â These four causes are:Ã‚Â a material (material cause); something to act upon the material (efficient cause); the form taken by the effect (formal cause); and a purpose (final cause).Ã‚Â Thus Ã¢â‚¬Å“finalityÃ¢â‚¬Â or Ã¢â‚¬Å“final causeÃ¢â‚¬Â is the end (telos), the purpose, the reason a thing is done.
What then does Oakes mean when he says ID proponents confuse finality with design?Ã‚Â With respect to this question, Oakes quotes Etienne Gilson in From Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again.Ã‚Â Gilson contrasts an artist [i.e., a designer] with nature [the realm of finality].Ã‚Â Ã¢â‚¬Å“The manner in which nature operates escapes us.Ã‚Â Her finality is spontaneous.Ã¢â‚¬ÂÃ‚Â Nature is unlike the artist, who must learn and labor and strive to create.Ã‚Â Ã¢â‚¬Å“[Artists] only summon from afar the ever-ready forces of nature which fashion the tree and, through the tree, the fruit.Ã‚Â This is why Aristotle says that there is more purposefulness [finality, final cause], more good, and more beauty, in the works of nature than in those of art.Ã¢â‚¬Â
While the passage is rather obscure, I take it that Oakes is saying that ID goes astray because it confuses the beautiful, good and final acts of creation of nature with the clumsy efforts of a designer.Ã‚Â The problem with OakesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ contention is that he anthropomorphizes (gives human qualities to) nature and thereby attributes creative ability to an abstraction.Ã‚Â There is no such thing as Ã¢â‚¬Å“natureÃ¢â‚¬Â in the sense of an agent that causes trees to grow and, from the trees, fruit to be produced.Ã‚Â Nature is matter and energy and information.Ã‚Â A tree grows not because Ã¢â‚¬Å“natureÃ¢â‚¬Â causes it to grow.Ã‚Â It grows because matter combined with energy combined with the information in its DNA work together pursuant to physical laws to produce a result, i.e. a tree.Ã‚Â ID posits that the complexity of the tree and its subcomponents and the information content of its DNA are most reasonably explained by the act of an intelligent agent.Ã‚Â While ID does not speak to the issue, some people believe that intelligent agent is God.Ã‚Â ID is a scientific theory.Ã‚Â It does not address the essentially metaphysical Aristotelian concept of the finality of nature, much less confuse it with the act of an intelligent agent.
What does Oakes mean when he says ID conflates primary and secondary causes?Ã‚Â In Creation, Evolution, and Thomas Aquinas (see here), William E. Carroll expands on the Thomistic concepts Oakes only sketches in his article.Ã‚Â Carroll writes:
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It is important to recognize that divine causality and creaturely causality function at fundamentally different levels. Ã‚Â In the Summa contra Gentiles, Aquinas remarks that “the same effect is not attributed to a natural cause and to divine power in such a way that it is partly done by God, and partly by the natural agent; rather, it is wholly done by both, according to a different way, just as the same effect is wholly attributed to the instrument and also wholly to the principal agent.” Ã‚Â It is not the case of partial or co-causes with each contributing a separate element to produce the effect. Ã‚Â God, as Creator, transcends the order of created causes in such a way that He is their enabling origin. Ã‚Â Yet the “same God who transcends the created order is also intimately and immanently present within that order as upholding all causes in their causing, including the human will.” Ã‚Â For Aquinas Ã¢â‚¬Ëœthe differing metaphysical levels of primary and secondary causation require us to say that any created effect comes totally and immediately from God as the transcendent primary cause and totally and immediately from the creature as secondary cause.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢Ã¢â‚¬Â Quoting, Brian J. Shanley, O.P., Divine Causation and Human Freedom in Aquinas.
Carroll then writes, Ã¢â‚¬Å“One need not choose between a natural world understandable in terms of causes within it and an omnipotent Creator constantly causing this world to be.Ã‚Â Aquinas thinks that a world of necessary connections between causes and effects, connections which he thinks are the hallmarks of its intelligibility, does not mean that the world is not dependent upon God.Ã‚Â Necessity in nature is not a rival to the fundamentally different kind of necessity attributed to God.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Carroll then gets to the nub of his and Oakes objection to ID:Ã‚Â Ã¢â‚¬Å“To refer to [an external creator] mistakenly locates creation on the same metaphysical level as agency in this world, and makes divine causality [i.e., primary causality] a competitor with other forms of causality [i.e., secondary causality].Ã¢â‚¬ÂÃ‚Â
The first problem with CarrollÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s and OakesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ argument is that ID does not even consider primary as opposed to secondary causes, much less conflate them.Ã‚Â Carroll and Oakes seem to believe that ID is an essentially religious endeavor and that proponents of the theory mistakenly believe they must preserve a role for a creator God [a primary cause] to account for the complexity and diversity of living things.Ã‚Â ID proponents are mistaken, Oakes asserts, because, as Aquinas explained, even a comprehensive natural explanation [i.e., an explanation that relies solely on secondary causes] does not preclude a role for God.Ã‚Â That Oakes conceives of IDÃ‚Â inÃ‚Â essentially religious terms is made clear by the following sentence:Ã‚Â Ã¢â‚¬Å“The advocates of this movement claim that if it can be proved scientifically that God must intervene on occasion to get various species up and running, then this will throw the atheist Darwinians into a panicked rout.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Pace Carroll and Oakes, ID is not an essentially religious endeavor.Ã‚Â Instead, as explained above, it is a scientific theory that posits that the most reasonable explanation for the complexity and information content of living things is design by an intelligent agent.Ã‚Â The theory posits nothing about the purpose or nature of the agent.Ã‚Â Certainly some ID proponents believe the agent is or may be the God of the Bible, but that is not part of the theory.
The second problem withÃ‚Â Oakes’Ã‚Â position is that it isÃ‚Â nothing by a vacuous linguistic dodge.Ã‚Â From an epistemological point of view OakesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ position is indistinguishable from Blind Watchmaker Darwinism (BWD).Ã‚Â Both Oakes and Richard Dawkins assert that purely random material explanations are capable of accounting for the diversity and complexity of life.Ã‚Â The only difference is that Oakes leaves room for an undetectable God, so that Ã¢â‚¬Å“randomÃ¢â‚¬Â does not really mean Ã¢â‚¬Å“randomÃ¢â‚¬Â at all.Ã‚Â So Oakes is in the unenviable position of being at odds with the God of the Bible (who insists that His work is manifest), but also the scientific evidence, which simply does not support BWD.