Feser’s reply appears to bring us much closer together, though I am not sure, so I must probe a bit more.
First of all, let me clear some things out of the way:
1. No, I do not expect Feser to agree to bad arguments for a conclusion merely because he accepts the conclusion on other grounds.
2. Yes, I understand that Feser has allowed that God designed the world and that we can know that He has.
3. I have never argued or implied that living things are exactly like artifacts; I have argued only that the two have something in common, i.e., an orderly arrangement and co-operation of parts which effects a given function. And careful forms of design argument, whether the Paley-watchmaker argument or the Behe-irreducible complexity argument or the Dembski-probablistic argument, require no more similarity between artifacts and organisms than this. All of them maintain that the orderly arrangement and co-operation of parts would not have come about without a planning and/or supervising intelligence, and therefore that Dawkins, Dennett, etc., who believe that such things could have come about without such intelligence, are wrong.
As for the application of the argument to the existence of God — an application which, by the way, is not made by all ID proponents (Behe has expressly denied that such an application is central to his thought in a recent debate with Stephen Barr) — it extends only to God insofar as he is conceived of as intelligent, not to the whole range of characteristics imputed to God by “classic theism.” This of course does not rule out the conclusion that the God who is a designer is much more than a designer, but is also the God of classic theism, any more than finding a manuscript with notes on it and discerning that an intelligent musician wrote the manuscript rules out the possibility that the intelligent musician was in fact Mozart. ID arguments can be correct in identifying what they have the capability of identifying, without being capable of identifying everything that one might desire.
If on this last point, Feser should object that by limiting the argument to organisms, rather than to all natural objects, ID explains only part of creation, and hence has shortchanged God in a way that “Thomism-Aristotelianism” does not, it is easy to point out that the design argument has been extended by many thinkers “all the way down” to the fundamental units of matter and the fundamental laws and constants of the universe. Design arguments need not be limited to organic forms. They are potentially comprehensive of all of nature.
But now, let me come to the main question. I asked Feser whether his God, the Thomist-Aristotelian God, could have decided to make nature in such a way that human beings could infer his existence from the design features of nature. He has answered “Yes.” This is good; we have agreement (I think) in part. But Feser seems puzzled by my follow-up, question, i.e., what then is wrong with design arguments? He thinks that his previous answers about the difference between Thomist-Aristotelian thinking and mechanistic thinking should cover my question. But they don’t. Here is why:
If God really could have chosen to create a universe in which he would in time be known by the human intellect to exist (not as Christ, but as the designer of the laws and structures of the universe), then in such a case it follows that God intended for human beings to reason from a particular kind of order to the existence of a designer. God would hardly be offended at men for reasoning in exactly the way that he (in accord with my scenario) designed them to reason, and it would be incoherent to suppose that he would expressly design the universe and human reasoning so that they would reason to a wrong conception of Him (that would be like putting fake fossils into the ground to mislead scientists). Yet Feser still seems to insist that if men did reason in that way, they would infer an idea of God which is not merely incomplete but actually false in a very serious way. So what does Feser’s concession amount to? That his God could actually have willed into existence the kind of universe that would cause human beings to infer the wrong idea of Himself?
Something does not fit. If Feser is really granting that his God could have willed what I proposed, then he cannot think that the kind of design reasoning I am talking about would lead automatically to a false (as opposed to incomplete) picture of God. And if he still maintains that the picture of God arrived at by design theorists, Paley etc., would be inherently false, then he was wrong to answer “Yes” to my scenario.
So I give Feser the chance now either to retract his “Yes” to my scenario, in which case I suggest that we have such different conceptions of God that we cannot get any further, and should drop the subject, or to acknowledge that Paleyan and ID forms of argument can be carefully formulated in such a way as to lead to incomplete-but-partly-true rather than utterly false notions of God, in which case we will have reached all the agreement that I expect we will ever reach.