Intelligent Design

St. Thomas Aquinas and his Fifteen Smoking Guns (A five-part reply to Professor Tkacz)

Spread the love


For some time now, I’ve been threatening to publish an expose of the pretentious claims of self-styled “Thomists” who have argued that Intelligent Design is completely at odds with St. Thomas Aquinas’ philosophy. Well, this is it. The Big One. Get ready, and hold on to your hats.

In today’s post, I’m going to comprehensively rebut a paper by a leading “Thomistic” critic of Intelligent Design, who contends that Thomists have nothing to fear from the scientific claims of Darwinism. I’m going to show that this ID critic actually contradicts what St. Thomas Aquinas wrote on the topic of origins, on no less than fifteen specific points (yes, fifteen!), which I shall call Aquinas’ “fifteen smoking guns.” I think my readers will agree with me that a “Thomist” who contradicts his master (St. Thomas Aquinas) on no less than fifteen substantive points can hardly be considered a true Thomist.

One of the smoking guns (number 10) will be of special interest to UD readers, as it reveals an Intelligent Design-style argument in the writings of Aquinas himself!

In this post, I’ve decided to take on Professor Michael Tkacz, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Gonzaga University. A few years ago, he gave a talk entitled, Thomas Aquinas vs. The Intelligent Designers: What is God’s Finger Doing in My Pre-Biotic Soup? to the Gonzaga Socratic Club, which has been made available as a paper on the Internet. In 2008, a slightly modified version of Professor Tkacz’s paper was published as an article entitled, Aquinas vs. Intelligent Design, in the journal This Rock. I’ll be commenting on both Professor Tkacz’s original talk and his article for “This Rock.”

I’ve divided my reply to Professor Tkacz into five major parts. Part One deals with Aquinas and Darwinism. My aim is to demonstrate conclusively that the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas are fundamentally incompatible with Darwinism. I’m going to list fifteen statements (or theses) which summarize what Aquinas taught on the creation of the cosmos and the origin of living things. I will also show that Professor Tkacz disagrees with every one of these statements, and I’ll explain why no card-carrying Darwinist could agree with these statements either.

In Part Two, I shall argue that there are four key features of Aquinas’ philosophy which are totally at odds with Darwinism. You can’t be a Thomist and a Darwinist, of any stripe.

In Part Three, I aim to show that Aquinas’ views on the interpretation of the Bible would have been enough to prevent him from becoming a Darwinist, even if he had had no objections to Darwinism in principle.

Part Four will specifically address the arguments put forward against Intelligent Design in Professor Tkacz’s paper. This part could be called my “reply proper” to Professor Tkacz. In this part, after making some general comments about the paper, I’ll demonstrate that it misrepresents Intelligent Design in four major ways. After that, I’ll identify what I see as five major flaws in Professor Tkacz’s paper.

In Part Five, I’ll argue that Intelligent Design fulfils a vital theological role: it elucidates what it means to say that God (the Necessary Being) is intelligent, and also how we can know that God is intelligent. Finally, I’ll conclude with a discussion of the real reason why some people don’t like Intelligent Design. The answer, I shall argue, is that they have a deficient concept of beauty.

Also, in my reply to Professor Tkacz, I’m going to open not one, but seven theological cans of worms.

Continue reading Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

32 Replies to “St. Thomas Aquinas and his Fifteen Smoking Guns (A five-part reply to Professor Tkacz)

  1. 1
    Upright BiPed says:

    I’m glad to see you back VJ. I look forward to reading through your work.

  2. 2
    Oramus says:

    I was wondering what happened to Dr. Torely.

    Dr. Torley, I am glad you took up the challenge to put paid to the notion that Aquinas would have no argument with Darwin.

    Can’t wait to dig in.

  3. 3
    CannuckianYankee says:

    VJ,

    I’m very much looking forward to reading your essays. So this is what you’ve been up to these last several months. Way to go.

  4. 4
    GilDodgen says:

    vj,

    I always enjoy your posts, because they are consistently infused with erudition, thoughtfulness, and substantive insight.

    The mystery is that Darwinists consistently display the exact opposite, while proclaiming that their intellectual, philosophical, and other wisdom trumps all else.

    They talk about “definitions of science” (as though this has anything to do with finding the truth), and proclaim that any challenge to the ridiculous proposition that random errors produced the most sophisticated computer program ever invented (in biology) represents a threat to science — and other such transparent nonsense.

    At some point one must ask: Where did such obvious idiocy and blindness to self-evident truth come from, and why do some people cling to it, when the nihilistic implications of this falsehood are so clear, and so destructive to the human soul?

  5. 5
    vjtorley says:

    Upright Biped, Oramus, CannuckianYankee and GilDodgen,

    Thank you very much for your kind words. I hope you enjoy reading the post over the next few days. It took me quite a bit longer to write than I thought it would, as I had to do quite a bit of digging and delving, as well as careful re-reading of Aquinas and Tkacz, to see that I’d understood them both properly. As you can imagine, I have a lot of sleep to catch up on, so I guess tomorrow will be a fairly quiet day for me. Anyway, thank you all for welcoming me back. I can promise you all that there will be more posts soon – but I can assure you they’ll be much shorter!

    Ciao,

    Vincent

  6. 6
    gingoro says:

    vj could you please point me at exactly where you have defined precisely what you mean by Darwinism. I have scanned your document and a definition eludes me. If you have not provided your definition of Darwinism could you please do so. People seem to have many different definitions of what Darwinism is. My own definition involves:
    1.An assertion that the neo Darwinist synthesis is the complete story of the development of life as we know it, from the first living cells to modern mankind. Of course a few minor tweaks are to be expected as knowledge increases but nothing radical.
    2.That the chance elements in the development of life as we know it has occurred strictly by pure chance and the natural laws/constants/initian conditions as we perceive them. No direction by God is allowable or necessary. By chance I do not mean chance as it may appear to us but chance beyond God’s knowledge or control.
    Dave W

  7. 7
    Aleta says:

    Is there “chance beyond God’s knowledge or control”? How could that be?

  8. 8
    gpuccio says:

    Aleta:

    I doubt chance is ever “beyond God’s knowledge”, but it could well be “beyond God’s control”, because God very simply needs not control everything, even of everything works through laws willed by Him.

    Chance is chance. It can be recognized, in a sense, because it obeys definite laws: the laws of probability. Even if the absolute definition of chance is philosophically and scientifically difficult, anyone who has been throwing a coin long enough has some idea of what it means.

    ID is all about the fact that some events in natural history defy the laws of probability: therefore, they cannot be explained by chance, as they usually are.

    I suppose that God is aware of things which happen by chance. But maybe He only controls them through His laws of probability.

    But pseudo-random results which indeed defy the laws of probability are all another matter!

  9. 9
    gpuccio says:

    vj:

    your work seems to be really remarkable. Thanks. I will read it with great attention.

  10. 10
    CannuckianYankee says:

    Gingoro,

    I think your 2nd definition details the Darwinist synthesis in your 1st definition, so I think the 2nd is simply more detail on the 1st. Combine them together and you have a pretty good definition of Darwinism.

  11. 11
    Eric Holloway says:

    Dr. Torley, excellent article, and I look forward to reading it in greater depth. I have one nitpicky point on SG #15:

    “Now, if this distinction between the being of something and its operation is correct, then nature and her operations are autonomous in the sense that nature operates according to the way she is, not because something outside of her is acting on her.”

    I believe Professor Tkacz is technically correct here. Aquinas says in I.106.5:

    “Some have understood God to work in every agent in such a way that no created power has any effect in things, but that God alone is the ultimate cause of everything wrought; for instance, that it is not fire that gives heat, but God in the fire, and so forth. But this is impossible….We must therefore understand that God works in things in such a manner that things have their proper operation.”

    However, in a broader sense you are right. God has purposefully designed everything to fulfill a specific function down to the smallest detail. So, Neo-Darwinism in its purposelessness is incompatible with Thomism.

  12. 12
    Peter says:

    Excellent work Dr Torley,

    Being a Catholic and an ID proponent I am frustrated by the rejection of ID by Catholics. It seems to me it has nothing to do with the reasoning, but an attempt to a) support the perceived view of the Pope, b) to gain cred among the academic elite, and c) put down competing Christian competitors. They think that by appearing credible to the academic elite it will be easier to convert people to their faith. They are very mistaken. They are shooting themselves in the foot by getting in bed with the atheists. This is far easier for them then to do than the right thing which is to assess evolution critically.

  13. 13
    vjtorley says:

    Gingoro,

    Thank you for your post. I mean by Darwinism what Jerry Coyne means by it: “There is only one going theory of evolution, and it is this: organisms evolved gradually over time and split into different species, and the main engine of evolutionary change was natural selection.” He goes on to add: “Like all species, man is a product of both chance and lawfulness. Coyne’s definition of the theory of evolution is deliberately designed to circumvent the need for the “supernatural,” when explaining the origin of species.

    Coyne does a brilliant job of explaining why God and Darwinism don’t mix, in a post where he tears to shreds the “sophisticated theology” of Christian apologist John Haught, who claims that evolution is God’s drama. I’ll leave it for you to read; it’s absolutely priceless.

    In an interview in 2007, Coyne articulated his belief that the scientific understanding of the world is incompatible with the supernatural: “We don’t reject the supernatural merely because we have an overweening philosophical commitment to materialism; we reject it because entertaining the supernatural has never helped us understand the natural world.”

    I have to say that he’s flat out wrong here. Belief in the supernatural can motivate scientists to look for order where atheists would expect to find none. In this context, I’d refer Coyne to an online biographical sketch of Kepler’s life, by Ann Lamont. I’ll just quote a few paragraphs:

    Kepler strongly believed that ‘The world of nature, the world of man, the world of God—all three fit together.’ In particular, Kepler reasoned that because the universe was designed by an intelligent Creator, it should function according to some logical pattern. To him, the idea of a chaotic universe was inconsistent with God’s wisdom. In contrast, many other scientists had given up searching for a simple logical pattern…

    The idea that the paths of the planets must be either circles or combinations of circles was almost universally accepted in Kepler’s time. However, Kepler found that even complex combinations of circles simply did not work…

    [L]ater, Kepler established his third principle of planetary motion, which mathematically related the time a planet takes to complete an orbit of the sun and the average distance of that planet away from the sun. This principle was published in Harmony of the Worlds in 1619. In this book, Kepler also praised God, saying, ‘Great is God our Lord, great is His power and there is no end to His wisdom.’

    Kepler’s Christian faith had led him to a pattern of thinking which had eventually enabled him to solve the riddle of planetary motion where so many other scientists had given up trying. Kepler had sought and found a simple logical pattern for planetary motion which reflected God’s wisdom. As Kepler said: ‘We see how God, like a human architect, approached the founding of the world according to order and rule and measured everything in such a manner.’

    Coyne goes on to ask: “Where are faith’s testable predictions or falsifiable hypotheses about human origins?” Just off the top of my head, here are a few:

    (1) The unique human capacities (which Coyne himself acknowledges) for “language, art, music and science” all emerged at the same point in time, and humanity has undergone no fundamental cognitive changes since that point. Religion originated at the same point in time.

    (2) Human beings have always been capable of speech, and have always possessed a spoken language. Some of the other uniquely human capacities must have lain dormant for hundreds of thousands of years, however.

    (3) Humanity originated in a single geographical region.

    And for those who believe in a fairly literal reading of Genesis 2 and 3, here are a few “riskier” predictions that seem to follow from those chapters:

    (4) Human beings are descended from a single couple.

    (5) Pain in childbirth increased markedly in the hominid line, shortly after the appearance of the first human beings.

    (6) At the same point in time, human beings developed sweat glands all over their bodies.

    Coyne might disagree with all of the above, but they are at least predictions, and they all seem falsifiable. Indeed, Coyne would probably say that (4) has already been falsified, thanks to Ayala’s research. (Molecular genetics of speciation and human origins by F. J. Ayala, A. Escalante, C. O’Huigin, and J. Klein. In Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 91: 6787–6794.) What I’d say is that if you’re a philosophical naturalist, (4) would be extremely difficult to defend – but of course, I’m not. (4) would be conclusively falsified, however, if it turned out that humans are polyphyletic. Christianity would be falsified by that discovery, too. (Think: where would you situate the Fall? And how would you reinterpret statements like “Christ died for all human beings”?)

    Just a few thoughts. Hope that helps.

  14. 14
    Muramasa says:

    vjtorley @13

    Are not #1 and #2 in your example contradictory? You don’t specify what you mean by “other uniquely human capacities”, but would not some of those presumably require “fundamental cognitive changes”?

    And I am curious as to how the development of sweat glands (#6) relates to a testable prediction of faith.

  15. 15
    vjtorley says:

    Muramasa:

    Thank you for your post. #1 and #2 are not contradictory, because they both refer to the same point in time: the dawn of humanity. At that time, if you accept the Judeo-Christian account of the Creation and the Fall, human beings were capable of talking to God and to each other – and they never lost their capacity for speech after that.

    As for the other capacities (art, music and science), believers from a Christian background have traditionally taught that we have these capacities because each of us has a spiritual soul. Now, it may be that some human societies have lacked one or more of these things, but the ability to create them would always have been there, throughout human prehistory: on the religious world-view which I am describing, these were abilities that lay dormant within the human spirit, and all that was needed for them to spring up was the right combination of social and environmental conditions.

    As for #6, please see Genesis 3:19. You might also like to read this article .

  16. 16
    EndoplasmicMessenger says:

    Dr. Torley,

    I am also a Catholic and am very thankful for the obvious hard work you have put into this presentation. Have you alerted This Rock to its existence? I am very disappointed that Karl Keating would have taken such a one-sided position on the issue. Is there more background to the story of why This Rock published Dr. Tkacz’s article?

    I am still working through your discussion and noticed that you feel there is very little evidence for a world-wide flood. Scordova has previously spoken of Walt Brown in respectful terms. Are you familiar with his work? Might Aquinas have given it some consideration?

    I hope your work receives the wide recognition that it deserves.

  17. 17
    vjtorley says:

    EndoplasmicMessenger,

    Thank you for your comment. I am familiar with Walt Brown’s hydroplate theory, and I think he deserves credit for attempting to develop a genuinely scientific theory that reconciles Genesis with what scientists know about the Earth. However, I am hesitant to support his theory, for two major reasons:

    (1) he’s not a geologist, and as far as I am aware, no geologist supports his views; and

    (2) his hydroplate theory has been criticized on empirical grounds. See here. I have yet to see a satisfactory response.

    As regards the flood, I did find some (controversial) evidence (which I discuss in Part Three) of a comet collision with Earth 5,000 years ago, which would have produced worldwide mega-tsunamis wiping out most of the human race. The timing fits Noah’s flood, and it would have been worldwide in extent if not global. Some geologists are seriously considering this theory, and it doesn’t require any scientific laws to have been broken. That’s about the best I can do. I will be interested to see how it all pans out, and what the experts come up with.

    I haven’t contacted “The Rock” yet, but I think I might do so. In any case, I hope that at some future stage “The Rock” decides to alert readers to my work on Aquinas, as I think they deserve to hear both sides of the story. I don’t know why they decided to publish Professor Tkacz’s work; but that’s their prerogative.

    Thank you once again for your kind comments.

  18. 18
    bornagain77 says:

    Dr. Torley,

    I have stumbled across some other evidence that seems to add a fair amount of weight to a global flood (Though the dating is problematic for some of the evidence):

    scordova showed me this one:

    TABLE OF NATIONS (GENEALOGY OF MANKIND) by Tim Osterholm
    Excerpt: The fact is, that wherever its statements can be sufficiently tested, Genesis 10 of the Bible has been found completely accurate; resulting partly from linguistic studies, partly from archaeology, and, more recently still, from the findings of physical anthropologists, who are, to this day, recovering important clues to lines of migration in ancient historic times. As implied in verse 32 of Genesis 10, this Table includes everybody; meaning that so-called fossil man, primitive peoples (ancient and modern) and modern man are all derived from Noah’s three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.
    http://www.soundchristian.com/man/

    Tracing Your Ancestors Through History – Noah’s Descendants – video
    http://edinburghcreationgroup.org/ancestors.xml

    This following video, and article, are very interesting for they talk about the scientific evidence for a ‘genetic Adam’ and a ‘genetic Eve’, and how the evidence relates to Noah’s flood:

    Does human genetic evidence support Noah’s flood? – Fazale Rana – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4116168

    Book Review; Who Was Adam?: A Creation Model Approach to the Origin of Man:
    Excerpt: The Bible claims that there was a genetic bottleneck at the Genesis flood. Whereas all females can trace their ancestry back to Eve (through the three wives of Noah’s sons), all males trace their Y-chromosomes through Noah (through his three sons). This predicted discrepancy for molecular dates of mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosome data is actually seen in the scientific literature.
    http://www.godandscience.org/n.....05-09.html

    cont..

  19. 19
    bornagain77 says:

    cont,,

    The preceding really made me pause as to its strength of supporting evidence:

    The following video outlines some surprisingly strong geological evidence for a global flood that will make any honest person scratch their head in wonder after watching it:

    Startling Evidence That Noah’s Flood Really Happened – video
    http://video.google.com/videop.....1519871387

    The following video is very interesting for it shows a geological formation that is now known to have been formed by a catastrophic flood, yet Charles Darwin himself had ‘predicted’ the geological formation was formed ‘gradually’:

    Where Darwin Went Wrong – geology video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3darzVqzV2o

    his following secular article ‘honestly’ admits that ‘some big canyons’ were formed by catastrophic floods:

    Secular Geology Admits to Rapid Canyon Formation by Megafloods – June 21 2010
    Excerpt: “Our traditional view of deep river canyons, such as the Grand Canyon, is that they are carved slowly, as the regular flow and occasionally moderate rushing of rivers erodes rock over periods of millions of years.” Quoting Michael Lamb of Caltech, co-author of a paper in Nature Geoscience, the article said that such is not always the case: “We know that some big canyons have been cut by large catastrophic flood events during Earth’s history.”
    http://www.creationsafaris.com.....#20100621a

    The following article investigates eight anomalies of the Grand Canyon that strongly suggest rapid formation by a catastrophic flood of global proportions:

    Eight factual descriptions of the Grand Canyon
    http://www.canyonministries.co.....iew/31/54/

    Here is another anomaly of the Grand Canyon:

    Grand Canyon Sand Hails from Back East
    Excerpt: Sands from the Appalachians have found a tourist mecca in the arid Southwest, it seems. Two weeks ago it was reported that Utah’s Navajo sandstones came from the Appalachians, and now a geologist from Univ. of Arizona thinks the same for Grand Canyon sandstones, He bases his conclusion on radiometric dates of zircons in the sand which match those in Appalachia. This would require huge rivers bearing sand thousands of miles westward to Wyoming, “from whence winds blew it south into the dune fields” of Arizona. The resulting sand pile covered an area the size of the Kalahari desert. “I was very surprised by what we found,” said one of the geologists.
    http://www.creationsafaris.com/crev0903.htm#geo71

    This following article points to a global anomaly in sediment layers. A anomaly that would be expected from a global flood perspective:

    Ancient Earth Smackdown at Santa Fe Tells Global Story – August 2010
    Excerpt: “Geologist John Wesley Powell called this major gap in the geologic record, which is also seen in other parts of the world, the Great Unconformity.” Clicking on the link elaborates further: “The Great Unconformity is a geologic feature that exists across the world at a relatively consistent rock strata (or depth relative to sea-level).” Any unconformity worldwide in its extent would seem to require to a global catastrophe.
    http://www.creationsafaris.com.....#20100810a

    (this ‘global anomaly’ is exactly what we would expect to see, yet the dating of the catastrophe , as far as I know, is not yet known to accurate detail, indeed I know of no secular reference of ‘mass extinction’ to such a ancient global catastrophe for water covering the face earth even though there the anomaly ‘unconformity’ sits!):

    Here is a site that, though written from a Young Earth perspective, gives a fairly good overview of the many strange anomalies in the fossil record that point to an ancient global flood:

    The Fossil Record
    http://detectingdesign.com/fossilrecord.html

    Yet to be fair here is a paper outlining some fairly reasonable objections to a global flood i.e. where did the water come from? (of note: Dr. Ross has endured a fair amount of ‘mudslinging’ from other Christians for holding to the ‘local flood’ theory):

    Noah’s Flood: A Bird’s-Eye View – Hugh Ross
    http://www.reasons.org/astrono.....-article-1

  20. 20
    nullasalus says:

    VJTorley,

    I was hoping you could spare some time to clarify a discussion that’s going on in the comments section at Feser’s blog, under the ‘Classical Theism’ post. It’s being asserted that your definition of ID is such that it is necessarily metaphysical and theological. My view is that you see ID itself as neither (at least, not in the relevant ways), but that you think ID has sound application in questions of theology and metaphysics.

    So please weigh in if you have the time.

  21. 21
    Aleta says:

    In the opening post, vj wrote, “In Part Five, I’ll argue that Intelligent Design fulfils a vital theological role: it elucidates what it means to say that God (the Necessary Being) is intelligent, and also how we can know that God is intelligent.”

    Also, in the ID in Japan thread, he wrote,

    I imagine it will take several decades before the Japanese start to seriously grapple with the arguments for Intelligent Design, but in the meantime, there is a ray of hope. Ueno, in his lecture, writes that “the proportion of Christians in Japan always remains at a little less than 1 % of the total population”; but according to an article in The Japan Times dated 24 February 2009, the commonly quoted “1%” figure is derived from counting only those who have been baptized and are currently regular churchgoers – some 1 million people. The true number is much higher, according to a poll recently conducted by George Gallup: “Our study indicates that 4% of Japanese adults identify with Christianity.” Readers of Rodney Stark’s The Rise of Christianity will appreciate the significance of this figure: a critical threshold has been crossed. Let us see what it brings.

    It seems to me that vj is saying that ID as he conceives it is inextricably entangled with Christianity: the solution to getting the Japanese to understand the God-nature dictotomy upon which ID is built is to have more of them become Christian, and that ID plays an important role in Christian theology. I don’t see how one could say these things and also say that ID is neither metaphysical nor theological.

  22. 22
    vjtorley says:

    Aleta,

    Thank you for your post. In reply:

    (1) ID is compatible with a wide variety of metaphysical and theological views, but not with all.

    (2) As I point out in Part Four of my post, even among those that are ID-compatible, not all are ID-friendly. You can combine ID with a view that God does not “interfere” with Nature, for instance; but a world-view that leaves God free to manipulate Nature whenever He wishes is much more ID-friendly.

    (3) In my “ID in Japan?” post I asked readers for their opinion of the following proposition: the concept of Intelligent Design will only make sense to people growing up in an environment where monotheism – or at least, a God-Nature dichotomy – is part of the intellectual and cultural milieu, and where people feel free to question naturalism. I wrote:

    I’d like to ask my readers what they think about this. Do you agree or disagree?

    I was expressing my views very tentatively.

    (4) Over on the “ID in Japan?” thread, Zephyr, who is quite knowledgeable about Oriental religion, has argued that the Japanese culture is actually more ID-friendly than our own:

    I would if anything expect scientists in Japan and the East in general to be more sympathetic to ID than their Western colleagues precisely because their religious culture is not necessarily averse to it.

    Who knows? Maybe he’s right.

  23. 23
    vjtorley says:

    nullasalus,

    I’ve tried a few times to post a reply on Professor Feser’s blog, but I’ve been encountering technical problems. I’ll have to wait until I get home in a few hours. In the meantime, here is what I wanted to post, and I’d be much obliged if you can put it up:

    First, my post is in five parts. Readers may agree with my demonstration that Aquinas and Darwinism don’t mix (see Part Two especially, at http://www.angelfire.com/linux.....omas2.html ), while disagreeing with my comments about ID theology in Part Five.

    Second, I’ve seen no serious attempt to rebut the arguments I made in Parts One, Two and Three. Whatever you think of my views in Part Five, please read them. They’re devastating.

    Third, many ID thinkers would disagree with my views on theology and metaphysics.

    Fourth, I argued in Part Five that my “ID theology” predicts God would make the world in a way that shows unambiguously that it is the work of a Mind. That means that we have to look for something in Nature that is written in language – e.g. programs, which can only be written by a Programmer. Where I part company with Aquinas is that I claim that final causation alone cannot adequately characterize intelligence, and therefore its existence in Nature is insufficient to demonstrate that God is intelligent. Form as well as finality are required to characterize intelligence; hence the need for ID.

  24. 24
    allanius says:

    What the “neo-Thomists” apparently do not realize is that Darwin falls into the Platonic camp, not the Aristotelian. This may seem counterintuitive, since Darwin devised his origins story to exclude any transcendent creative influence. Darwin was not an Idealist of the classical type. But he was most certainly an idealist of the modern, nihilist type.

    All conceptions of value are divided between intellect and sense. This is unavoidable, since intellect is different from sense. Like Plato, some philosophers gravitate to pure intellect and valuations that are simple and appear to indicate transcendent value—idealists of one stripe or another. Others gravitate to synthetic descriptions of value, which typically involve an effort to identify some middle ground between intellect and sense.

    Darwin was in the former camp. There are four characteristics of the idealist. They are unhappy with present being; thus their notions of value exhibit a longing for transcendence. Because of this longing, they use intellect and its force of resistance to negate present values, which leads to nothingness. They love simple valuations and dislike synthetic valuations. And their notions of being are deterministic.

    Darwin exhibits all four. His unhappiness with present being is on display in his attitude toward the famous wasp: “I cannot persuade myself that a benificent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars.” Darwin uses the wasp as a synecdoche for all nature. Why, since not all nature resembles the wasp? We conclude that it was because the apparent brutality of the wasp reflected his own unhappiness with being.

    His longing for transcendence is seen in the characterization of Natural Selection as an ameliorative process. Darwin’s theory became the foundation of Modernism because it suggested that evolution was leading to improvements in being; eventually to a transcendent state of being. As a chastened SJ Gould pointed out, there is no good reason for making this optimistic assumption. The upward slope attributed by Darwin to evolution tells us more about his own transcendent longings than about nature itself.

    Second, Darwin’s theory is a negation of the varieties of experience. His Tree of Life is the Great Chain of Being turned upside-down, an idealized representation of being with examples carefully selected to support the theory of evolution. The negative, idealizing effects of Darwin’s theory are now becoming quite obvious through microbiology. No plausible tree can be constructed from observed fossils to the first cell. The size of the gaps indicates the nothingness caused by the theory, which indeed is an effect of all theories of value that rely on pure reason, starting with Idealism itself.

    Darwin’s love of simplicity should be self-evident from the previous example, but it is important to note that much of the appeal of his theory comes from simplicity for its own sake. Like the theories of Marx, Freud and Nietzsche, the other giants of our theory-loving age, Natural Selection is powerful in part because its sublime simplicity makes it easy to grasp. It appears to provide a highly accessible way of obtaining knowledge of nature. And this simplicity is especially appealing when it reflects the Zeitgeist, as Natural Selection did perfectly when nihilism was ascendent.

    Darwin was also a determinist, like Plato and all of his spiritual kin. This phenomenon of idealism is too complicated to describe here in detail, having (we believe) certain psychological causes in addition to methodological ones, but perhaps it will suffice to point out that pure theory leads to determinism through its resistance to contructs of being. The nihilism reflected in Natural Selection was a force of resistance to Hegel’s Absolute Idea, a construct of being and nothingness. Nihilism uses nothingness to negate this construct. “Being” is eliminated for the sake of a pure valuation.

    In the same way, Natural Selection was devised to negate the perceived influence of transcendent being in nature. It leads to determinism by eliminating being for the sake of pure nothingness, just as Idealism leads to determinism by negating constructs of form and matter for pure form. The end is determined by the purity of the form. Nature for its own sake must lead to purely determined ends because the nature of matter is fixed by its own limitations.

    What would Thomas have made of Darwin? Thomas believed in “God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth,” and would have been skeptical of Natural Selection to the extent that it conflicts with creedal Christianity. He would have disliked its nothingness. The ideal state to which Natural Selection was supposedly leading is nothing more than a negation of the limitations of present being. Natural Selection is a metaphor of values that cannot be presently described; as Thomas complained in another context, the methods of idealists always produce “nothing but metaphors.” He also would have disliked its determinism, being a champion of free will as an effect of grace.

    What would Thomas have made of ID? He of all people would have had no quarrel with the notion that nature was designed. But there are potential pitfalls of ID that might have concerned him. ID can be used in a purely negative fashion to point out the limitations of evolution theory. This is an effective rhetorical strategy against materialism, but negations are not the same thing as scientific valuations. Thomas probably would have encouraged ID theorists to look for a way of describing being that does not draw a bright line of nothingness between creature and Creator. He also would not have cottoned to the forays into Reformed theology seen among some in the ID camp, with its notion that the immanent is incapable of the transcendent and its determinism.

  25. 25
    StephenB says:

    VJTorley, I have been very busy lately, so I have not had much time to blog. Still, I would like to congratulate you on a remarkable effort that bears the fruit of painstaking research and hard thinking. A great many people owe you a debt of gratitude because you bring so many talents and skills to the table.

    For some time now, I have been troubled by a number of visible and influential Catholics who seek to impose on their Church, and fellow Christian believers, a Darwinist-like understanding of the relationship between religion and science. In effect, they seem to be saying that since God can create through secondary causes, it follows that God must create through secondary causes.

    They are, of course, entitled to believe that God’s handiwork in nature is not perceptible, but they are not entitled to define Christian apologetics that way or sell that idea in the name of St. Thomas Aquinas, who would have been scandalized by such a notion.

    In any case, I hope that your important and well-thought out contribution receives the widespread attention it deserves.

  26. 26
    Graham says:

    Smoking gun no. 4: The physical universe is an open system: without angels acting on it continually, the generation of new life on Earth would come to a complete stop

    Does anyone here believe this ?

  27. 27
    Timaeus says:

    Excellent work, VJ!

    I wonder if Francis Beckwith will take the time to carefully read your efforts. Last couple of times he dropped in here to engage in conversation about Thomism, he made a point of remarking on the wonderful training he had in Thomist metaphysics decades ago, but showed very little facility at detailed exposition of passages of Aquinas. I wonder how he will respond now that you have greatly amplified your argument with many more passages from Aquinas, carefully considered. Will he simply retrench into the standard shpiel about the greatness of Thomism and ID’s alleged confusion between metaphysical and scientific reasoning? Or will he actually acknowledge that you have looked at Thomas’s relevant texts more recently and more thoroughly than he has, and actually do some hard work to address your genuinely scholarly interpretation?

    Ditto for Feser. Will he stand on his “expertise” as the author of a book on Aquinas, and try to dismiss you as a non-specialist outsider, unqualified to comment? Or will he actually engage with your arguments, going over texts with you, discussing the Latin, etc.?

    I have the strong impression that Beckwith and Feser are both much more comfortable talking about Thom*ism* than about the actual text of Thomas Aquinas. I wonder just how deep their Latin and medieval scholarship goes. We’ll find out if and when they comment on your work. If they start out with condescending comments like “Aquinas’s thought is very subtle and difficult and one needs much training to grasp it,” we’ll know right away that they are going to argue from authority and dodge your massive textual research. But if they roll up their sleeves and start analyzing passages, right down to the vocabulary and syntax that Thomas uses, there may be hope that something can be learned from their responses.

    For myself, I greatly admire Thomas Aquinas but have little use for the fruity tones of the sanctuary that Thomists regularly employ when speaking about their Master, as if his thought is untouchable and anyone who disagrees with it, or even interprets it differently from they, is disrespectful or philosophically benighted. Your hard-boiled discussion will make it very hard for Feser and Beckwith to pull that number again.

    T.

  28. 28
    tgpeeler says:

    Dr. Torley, thanks so much for doing this research and putting it into a paper. I cannot wait to read it in detail and I hope to even understand a syllable or two.
    Best.

    p.s. I forwarded this link to the Director of the Center for Thomistic Studies at the University of St. Thomas here in Houston. They advertise themselves thus: “The Center for Thomistic Studies is the only graduate philosophy program in the United States uniquely focused on the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas.” Given that, I thought the Director would be most interested in this work of yours.

  29. 29
    vjtorley says:

    tgpeeler:

    Thank you very much for forwarding this link to the Director of the Center for Thomistic Studies at the University of St. Thomas. I am deeply grateful, and I’d be interested to hear what they think of my research.

    Timaeus:

    I share your curiosity as to how Professors Feser and Beckwith will respond. I’m sure they’ll consider their response very carefully. I’m happy to let them take their time – after all, I took seven months to write up my research on Aquinas and ID.

    Graham:

    None of us believes in Aquinas’ cosmology any more, but as I pointed out in my post (see the beginning of Part Two) that doesn’t mean we have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. If angels exist, they mus have some role in governing the cosmos. In the Appendix to Part Two, I speculate (and I would like to emphasize that word) as to what kind of role they might have.

  30. 30
    vjtorley says:

    StephenB

    Thank you very much for your kind words. I share your hope that this post will force a re-think of the “fashionable” view in certain Catholic circles, that God’s influence on Nature must be subtle and imperceptible.

    allanius:

    Thank you for your fascinating post. I had never thought of Darwin as a Platonic idealist, albeit an idealist of the modern, nihilist type. I was intrigued at the way you pulled the threads together in making your claim, and I think your advice for the ID movement is timely. Thank you.

  31. 31
    above says:

    I might not agree with all of what you said but I found your post very interesting allanius.

  32. 32
    Timaeus says:

    allanius:

    I’m past the point where I would expect you to reply to any of my comments, but in case it will be of benefit to any readers, I do want to register my objections to your post above:

    1. You often make strange applications of terms which make no sense to those of us who have spent a great deal of time studying philosophy.

    For example, what is “an idealist of the modern, nihilist type”? Idealism and nihilism are not a normal or even a stable combination. Care to give some examples of such modern nihilist idealists?

    And what do you mean by “their notions of being are deterministic”? I know what it means to have a deterministic notion of *nature*, or of *mind*; I don’t know what a deterministic notion of *being* might be.

    And what does this one mean?: “this simplicity is especially appealing when it reflects the Zeitgeist, as Natural Selection did perfectly when nihilism was ascendent.” Well, I know what “Zeitgeist” means, but I bet that many of the readers here will have to look up the term; and in any case, when was it that “nihilism was ascendent” and natural selection reflected this Zeitgeist? In Darwin’s day? Victorians were nihilist? Hardly. How about some names and dates and places to give content to this murky generalization?

    2. More generally, the quasi-Nietzschian language which pervades your article, while giving a theatrical air of grandeur to your writing, makes it quite often obscure. You would be better advised to write as Aquinas did, than as Nietzsche did. Clarity is more important in philosophy than an exalted poetic style.

    3. The main thesis is to me unsustainable. The fact (if it is a fact) that Darwin may have had a few views in common with idealists does not make him even an idealist, let alone a Platonist. And he has virtually nothing in common with Plato. The closest ancient analogue to Darwin’s view of things is Lucretius, who is almost the polar opposite of Plato.

    Of course, I’ve criticized your discussion of Plato and Platonism before. As someone who spent many years studying Plato, often in Greek, and teaching the Greek language, and teaching Plato in many different courses, I do find it frustrating when so many people on the internet make uninformed statements about Plato and Platonism, statements which they never back up with any passages from relevant texts. “Plato” and “Platonism” seem to have become words to conjure with, capable of meaning whatever a writer wants them to mean; and most people who use them seem to have picked up their ideas largely from hearsay, not from study of either the writings of Plato or the Platonic tradition.

    If I have misread you, and been unfair to you, allanius, I’d be glad to hear back from you with corrections; but in a way, you have yourself to blame, as you have not taken any of the previous opportunities to defend your views, when I’ve questioned you before.

    A genuine philosopher — as opposed to a mere “intellectual” who picks up ideas here and there from philosophy — is never afraid to defend his thesis in public. So I await your defense of your claims.

    T.

Leave a Reply