Intelligent Design

The Mind of the Designer

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The philosopher Edward Feser surely needs no introduction here. In today’s short post, I’d like to address, in a non-polemical fashion, one of Professor Feser’s longstanding objections to Intelligent Design: that it is tied to an anthropomorphic conception of the Designer’s Mind, because the intelligence it attributes to this Being is fundamentally no different to our own. Such a Being, argues Feser, could not possibly be the absolutely simple God of classical theism: it is, at best, a mere Demiurge.

Feser stated his argument succinctly in a 2014 post titled, Miracles, ID, and classical theism:

Paley and ID theory predicate attributes of God and of creatures univocally, whereas for Thomists these predications are to be understood analogously. The problem here is that in the view of Thomists, predicating intellect, power, etc. of God and creatures univocally — in exactly the same sense rather than analogously — implicitly makes of God a mere instance of a kind, and is thus incompatible with divine simplicity.

Feser subsequently elaborated his point in an exchange with philosopher Lydia McGrew last year, where he wrote:

If we make God an instance of a kind then he cannot be simple — he will fall under a genus and have a specific difference setting him apart from other things in the genus (to use the Scholastic jargon) — and in that case, being composite he also cannot be self-existent but will require an explanation in terms of something outside him. In which case he’s not really God at all, but just some big impressive invisible guy.

Feser added:

As I’ve said so often, what the classical theist is concerned about is that God not be regarded as an instance of a kind.

Feser’s argument can be more formally expressed in the following syllogism:

1. The term “intelligence,” when applied by ID proponents to the Intelligent Designer, has the same meaning as it does when applied to humans. (In Scholastic jargon, “intelligence” is applied univocally to the Designer and human beings.)

2. If “intelligence” has the same meaning when applied to the Designer as it does when applied to human beings, then two things follow:

(a) the Designer and human beings belong in a common category, or genus;

(b) the Designer must possess additional features which serve to differentiate HIM/Her/It from other intelligent beings – in other words, the Designer must be a particular species within the general category of “intelligent beings.”

3. Since the Designer’s nature is composed (as we have seen) of genus and species – i.e. of the general property of intelligence plus some specific property which differentiates its intelligence from ours, then its essence (or nature) cannot be absolutely simple (i.e. devoid of parts).

4. But the God of classical theism is absolutely simple.

5. Therefore the Being described by Intelligent Design theory cannot be the God of classical theism.

The flaw in the preceding argument, as I’ll argue below, is not premise 1, but premise 2(b).

Does “intelligence” have the same meaning when predicated of humans and the Designer?

Many readers might be inclined to dispute premise 1. After all, in The Design of Life: Discovering Signs of Intelligence in Biological Systems (Foundation for Thought and Ethics, Dallas, 2008), authors William A. Dembski and Jonathan Wells define intelligence broadly as “a type of cause, process or principle that is able to find, select, adapt, and implement the means needed to effectively bring about ends (or achieve goals or realize purposes)” (p. 315). According to this definition, “intelligence is about matching means to ends.” There is nothing in this definition which a Thomist could object to. In his famous Fifth Way, St. Thomas Aquinas describes God’s intelligence in terms of His ability to direct means towards their ends, when he concludes: “Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.”

To make matters even clearer, the definition of “Designer” in Dembski and Wells’ text, The Design of Life: Discovering Signs of Intelligence in Biological Systems (2008), utterly refutes Feser’s charge of anthropomorphism:

“Any intelligent agent that arranges material structures to accomplish a purpose. Whether this agent is personal or impersonal, conscious or unconscious, part of nature or beyond nature, active through miraculous interventions or through ordinary physical causes are all possibilities within the theory of INTELLIGENT DESIGN.” (p. 312)

Finally, in his recent work, Being As Communion: A Metaphysics of Information (Ashgate Publishing Co., 2014), Dr. William Dembski explicitly disavows Professor Feser’s claim that Intelligent Design is wedded to theistic personalism. “Intelligence,” he writes, “… need not merely refer to conscious personal agents like us, but can also refer to teleology quite generally” (p. 59). In a footnote (n. 29), Dembski adds that “intelligence” can refer to artificial intelligence (which lacks consciousness or personhood) and even localized sources of activity (which lack agency).

Thus in applying the term “intelligence” to the Designer of Nature, ID proponents can hardly be accused of predicating the term in a univocal fashion (i.e. in the same way) of the Designer and of human beings.

So far, so good; but the problem arises when we examine the criterion by which Intelligent Design theory scientifically identifies patterns in Nature which are the work of intelligence: namely, the presence of a specification, which is defined in The Design of Life: Discovering Signs of Intelligence in Biological Systems (2008) as a pattern which “exhibits low DESCRIPTIVE COMPLEXITY” – meaning that “the pattern itself is easily described” (p. 320). Descriptive complexity measures “the size of the minimum description needed to characterize a pattern” (p. 311).

Dembski gives an example in his 2005 essay, Specification: The Pattern That Signifies Intelligence. On page 18, he notes that the bacterial flagellum (a structure which Intelligent Design theorists commonly point to as having been designed) can be defined as a “bidirectional rotary motor-driven propeller,” and on page 16, he states that the descriptive complexity of a pattern T measures “the simplest way S [a semiotic agent, defined as an agent who is capable of using “a system of signs,” such as a human being – VJT] has of describing T.”

What this means is that on a practical level, the definition of “intelligence” is tied to that of language: the only patterns that a semiotic agent (such as a human being) is capable of scientifically identifying as being the product of intelligence are those which can be easily described in some language used by that agent. Thus the Designer is implicitly assumed to be capable of using some language which is either identical with, or which maps onto, the languages used by semiotic agents – for if it lacked this ability, then it would also lack the ability to reliably generate patterns containing specifications. Thus even though Dembski, in his essay, Specification: The Pattern That Signifies Intelligence, explicitly allows that a Designer may bring about these patterns “by means unfathomable to us” (p. 29), it seems that he cannot dispense with what I’ll call the language requirement: namely, that any scientifically detectable Designer must be linguistically competent, which in turn seems to suggest that He/She/It must be able to “think our thoughts.” And that sounds a lot like saying that the Designer must have a mind which is fundamentally like ours, only inconceivably grander – in other words, its intelligence is the same sort of thing as our own, only far, far greater.

This impression is reinforced when one examines the definition of design as a process, given in Dembski and Wells’ text, The Design of Life: Discovering Signs of Intelligence in Biological Systems (2008):

A four-part process by which a DESIGNER forms a designed object: (1) A designer conceives a purpose. (2) To accomplish that purpose, the designer forms a plan. (3) To execute that plan, the designer specifies building materials and assembly instructions. (4) The Designer or some surrogate applies the assembly instructions to the building materials. What emerges is a designed object. The designer is successful to the degree that the object fulfills the designer’s purpose. (p. 312) (Emphases mine – VJT.)

Feser would object to this characterization of God’s activity. In a 2009 post, he approvingly quotes the philosopher Christopher Martin, who contrasts the Great Architect of Paley’s design argument with the God of classical theism:

The Great Architect is not God because he is just someone like us but a lot older, cleverer and more skilful. He decides what he wants to do and therefore sets about doing the things he needs to do to achieve it. God is not like that. As Hobbes memorably said, “God hath no ends”: there is nothing that God is up to, nothing he needs to get done, nothing he needs to do to get things done. (Emphasis mine – VJT.)

For my part, I think Martin is being somewhat melodramatic in the point he is making here: after all, Genesis 2 depicts God as forming Adam from the dust of the earth, and as forming Eve from Adam’s side. (And I might add that St. Thomas Aquinas took these accounts quite literally – see here and here.) The question of whether God could have made Adam without using any dust is utterly beside the point; what matters is not what God could do, but what He chooses to do.

Perhaps Martin would reply that the real problem with likening God to an Architect is that the latter engages in discursive reasoning from premises (about the means he has available) to a conclusion (about the best way to achieve his ends). God, it might be said, is above such things – a view shared by many classical theists. But here, again, I think that the objector is making a mountain out of a molehill. It is indeed absurd to imagine that God has to engage in deliberation before He can know what the conclusion of an argument is, because He is of course outside time. However, I see no problem with saying that God (timelessly) knows some propositional truths [conclusions] on the basis of His knowing other truths [which serve as premises]. Would anyone, even Feser, want to assert that God “just knows” Pythagoras’ Theorem? Wouldn’t it make more sense to say that He timelessly deduces it from His understanding of what a triangle is? And if that be the case, then where is the problem in saying that God (timelessly) reasons that the best way to make Adam’s body from the dust of the earth is to arrange the particles of dust thus-and-so, and not in some other, less efficient way?

In any case, it seems to me that on at least two counts, the kind of intelligence that ID theorists attribute to the Designer of nature would strike Feser as anthropomorphic: first, it is language-bound, and second, it needs to resort to planning in order to achieve its ends. To sum up: I’m inclined to think that premise 1 of Feser’s argument (as I have reconstructed it) is correct. Where I think Feser goes wrong is in premise 2(b).

Genus and species: A thought experiment relating to prehistoric man

To see why premise 2(b) does not follow from premise 1, let’s imagine the following scenario. You’re a physical anthropologist living in the 22nd century, and by some extraordinary marvel of technology, scientists have succeeded in not only reconstructing the DNA of various species of prehistoric humans (who belong in the genus Homo), but in bringing them back to life. Imagine there’s an outdoor museum where live specimens of each human species stand on display, in a parade – including a willing volunteer from your own species, Homo sapiens. As you walk by and inspect each member of the parade, you notice that each individual is wearing a placard around his neck, identifying his species. Slowly, you walk past Homo habilis, Homo ergaster, Homo georgicus, Homo erectus, Homo antecessor, Homo heidelbergensis (who seems to be trying to say something to you), Homo neanderthalensis (ditto) and Homo sapiens (who gives you a friendly wink). But then you come to an individual who’s wearing a placard around his neck, titled Homo , and nothing more. The guy has a glint of intelligence in his eye, and on a sudden, wild impulse, you stop and ask him, “And what species, pray tell, do you belong to?” To your great astonishment he answers, “None. I’m just Homo – and that’s all I am.”

Clearly, the man’s reply in the foregoing scenario makes no sense. No individual can be just a member of the genus Homo; he must also belomng to some species within that genus. The reason is that the characteristics which define the genus Homo are essentially incomplete: they need to be fleshed out in more detail by the properties which define some species of that genus.

But now, instead of a parade of human beings, let’s imagine a parade of intelligent beings, starting with human beings (who are the lowest intelligent life-forms) and moving on up through advanced aliens (whose understanding is superior to our own), followed by incorporeal spirits such as angels, archangels, and so on. Each of these beings has an intellect of a different kind, which is constrained according to the specific nature it has. For instance, the human manner of understanding is constrained by the human brain (which doesn’t actually think, but which processes the information we receive from the outside world). And each angel’s mode of understanding is constrained by that angel’s form.

Now for the big question: could there be an intelligent agent who is simply intelligent, and nothing else? Such a Being would not have any specific form which constrains its manner of understanding. Its act of understanding would be wholly unconstrained, and its Nature would consist entirely of understanding (and its concomitant act of willing). Such a Being would thus belong to the genus of “intelligent agents,” without belonging to any species. Consequently, there would be no division within its Nature between genus and species, and therefore there would be nothing to prevent the Nature of such a Being from being altogether simple. In short: there would nothing to prevent us from identifying such a Being with the God of classical theism.

What I have been arguing here is that one of Feser’s longstanding objections to Intelligent Design – that it is tied to an anthropomorphic conception of the Designer’s Mind which is incompatible with the doctrine of Divine Simplicity – rests on a mistaken assumption: that anything which belongs to a genus must also belong to a species. For some generic attributes, such as intelligence, this assumption is not correct. Even if God possesses an intelligence which is fundamentally no different from ours that does not prevent Him from being altogether simple in His essence.

What do readers think?

POSTSCRIPT

One of my readers (Mung) has pointed out that the Dictionary of Scholastic Philosophy defines a genus not simply as a general category (as I have done in this post), but more precisely as “the sum of the constituent notes that are common to two or more species, abstracting from the specific differences,” which implies that no entity can be said to belong to a common genus unless it already belongs to some species.

If we adopt this definition of “genus,” then it is premise 2(a) of Feser’s argument which is mistaken, rather than 2(b). If “intelligence” means the same thing when predicated of both humans and the Intelligent Designer, then it follows that they belong to some common category. However, it does not follow that what they share in common has to be abstracted from specific differences, for all members of that category. In the case of human beings, their intelligence has to be abstracted from them; but in the case of the Designer, His intelligence does not need to be abstracted from Him, because that’s all there is to Him. Human beings have intelligence; but the Designer of Nature is intelligence.

I would like to thank Mung for the definition he provided from the Dictionary of Scholastic Philosophy.

31 Replies to “The Mind of the Designer

  1. 1
    StephenB says:

    The basic logic of Feser’s criticism fails. To say that God, as designer, produces specifically complex patterns that resemble the specifically complex patterns produced by human designers, is not to say that God’s intelligence is similar to human intelligence. In like fashion, to say that human designers produce specifically complex patterns that resemble the specifically complex patterns produced by animal designers is not to say that human intelligence is similar to animal intelligence.

  2. 2
    EvilSnack says:

    It’s really a straw man argument. There’s nothing about the idea that life on Earth shows evidence of design that necessitates any particular attribute of the designer except the capacity to execute the design.

  3. 3
    Mung says:

    What I have been arguing here is that one of Feser’s longstanding objections to Intelligent Design – that it is tied to an anthropomorphic conception of the Designer’s Mind which is incompatible with the doctrine of Divine Simplicity – rests on a mistaken assumption: that anything which belongs to a genus must also belong to a species. For some generic attributes, such as intelligence, this assumption is not correct. Even if God possesses an intelligence which is fundamentally no different from ours that does not prevent Him from being altogether simple in His essence.

    What do readers think?

    I think you’re equivocating between genus and generic.

    Dictionary of Scholastic Philosophy defines genus as follows:

    the sum of the constituent notes that are common to two or more species, abstracting from the specific differences.

    Genus is an abstraction, there is no genus without species.

  4. 4
    Sebestyen says:

    I think Feser should leave the thinking to the horses. They’ve got bigger heads…

    Sebestyen

  5. 5
    vjtorley says:

    Hi Mung,

    Thank you very much for quoting the definition of genus which is given in the Dictionary of Scholastic Philosophy. Using that definition, I would say that it is premise 2(a), rather then 2(b), of Feser’s argument (as reconstructed in this post), which is flawed. I have explained why in a new POSTSCRIPT to this post (see above).

  6. 6
    StephenB says:

    Would anyone, even Feser, want to assert that God “just knows” Pythagoras’ Theorem?

    Hi VJ, I really like your article. It was a joy to read. May I present a different point of view on one sub-section of your presentation?

    Although I reject Feser’s main argument, his notion that God “just knows” seems right to me. I can’t imagine that Truth itself would need to reason its way to truth. More likely, I think, Truth already knows every aspect of truth. From the standpoint of omniscience, it seems that such things as cause/effect, premise/conclusion would be immediately understood as parts of a unified whole. Indeed, I think that angels also have this power of intelligence in some limited way. Only humans, I would argue, must submit to a reasoning process by saying such things as “If A, then B.”

  7. 7
    mike1962 says:

    ” it is, at best, a mere Demiurge.”

    Mere? He/she/it would be a helluva lot smarter and vastly more powerful than I. I wish I could be a Demiurge! Maybe it’s a lotta fun.

    P.S. “divine simplicity” is overrated. Something that is transcendent cannot be described with the attribute “simple” or “complex”, for those words describe things within our universe, not transcendent things. The Ground of All being is neither simple nor complex. It is beyond such questions.

  8. 8
    Mung says:

    Thanks VJT.

    I think there may still be an issue though.

    Human beings have intelligence; but the Designer of Nature is intelligence.

    Well, God may be intelligence, but that does not follow from ID. The most that ID can say about any designer is that it has intelligence, not that it is intelligence.

    Humans have intelligence, and they have specific differences when it comes to intelligence, and from this may be able to arrive at the abstraction intelligence.

    But this is wholly and utterly different from intelligence when intelligence is predicated of God. To say otherwise is to commit a category error.

    And I think that’s the problem Feser has with ID.

    In my humble opinion.

  9. 9
    Popperian says:

    This seems like begging the question.

    Human intelligence, which is supposedly the empirical evidence and inference that ID is based on, is complex. Therefore, God cannot be the designer. What’s your solution?

    Now for the big question: could there be an intelligent agent who is simply intelligent, and nothing else?

    Claim that not all intelligence has to be complex?

    Ok, what if Intelligence isn’t complex? That is a conjecture for which you do not follow up with a proposed way criticize. Rather, you merely use it as a starting point to dismiss some other criticism. It’s unclear how this merely being logically possible, if even that, is a good starting point unless there is some different, necessary consequences for which we could answer “Yes” as opposed to “No” for which we could criticize.

    For example, what prevented Einstein’s theory of relatively from being an ad-hoc modification is that it had necessary consequences for the orbit of Mercury. Yet, I’ve seen no such consequences for “intelligent agent who is simply intelligent, and nothing else”. Why should we adopt that conjectured idea over some other idea? Because it evades some other criticism?

    IOW, this seems, at best, an ad-hoc modification. And, at worst, question begging.

    What I have been arguing here is that one of Feser’s longstanding objections to Intelligent Design – that it is tied to an anthropomorphic conception of the Designer’s Mind which is incompatible with the doctrine of Divine Simplicity – rests on a mistaken assumption: that anything which belongs to a genus must also belong to a species. For some generic attributes, such as intelligence, this assumption is not correct. Even if God possesses an intelligence which is fundamentally no different from ours that does not prevent Him from being altogether simple in His essence.

    But why should we think the attribute of intelligence any different? It merely “could be”? What problem does it solve other than how to avoid criticism? Again, that’s an ad-hoc modification at best.

    Second, the features of organisms are the result of a set of instructions which describe what transformations of raw materials should occur to bring them about when a copy is made. We might not understand exactly how those instructions interact with each other due the complex way they are mediated by other instructions, but it’s those instructions that bring about those particular features.

    IOW, the concrete biological features of organisms are the result of the kind of transformations that occur when the requisite knowledge is present there. So the origin of those features is the origin of those instructions. Right? That’s what needs to be explained.

    However, It’s unclear how “intelligent agent who is simply intelligent” actually does that since it is merely an authoritative source. Furthermore, when claiming such a designer created organisms, you’re also claiming it put that knowledge there in the process of creation. Where was this same knowledge before it was in the cells of biological organisms it supposedly created? In the case of a simple designer, you have the spontaneous creation of knowledge when the organism appeared. And if the knowledge was simply moved from one place (in the designer) to another (in the cell) how could the designer possess it yet not be complex?

    In either case, a designer that “just was”, complete with the knowledge of just the right instructions that would result in just the right features, already present, doesn’t serve an explanatory purpose. This is because one could more efficiently state that organisms “just appeared”, complete with just the right instructions that would result in just the right features, already present. No explanation is offered. In the case of creationism, the explanation is supernatural. In the case of ID, the designer is abstract and has no defined limitations so the explanation is absent. In all of these cases, it’s a bad explanation.

    Regardless, being “simply intelligent” is a specific case of the philosophical idea that knowledge comes from authoritative sources, and criticism of that philosophical idea is applicable without a specific bias against the supernatural. It’s irrational from an epistemological perspective.

  10. 10
    mugwump3 says:

    Seems many here, including Feser, are fashioning varied definitions of simple and complex. Can’t believe I’m saying this, but I would agree with Popperian if he’s making the charge that, in order for any complex specified information to be actualized both in coding and phenomenae, it must be potentiated in God. Where I disagree is that this definition of complexity versus the simplicity of God is not what composes classical theism at all. Popperian and Feser both are attacking a straw man. No one is claiming God is Forrest Gump.

    From my understanding of classical theistic definitions, God’s “simplicity” refers more to an unmuddied, a pure essence, an unconstrained existence. The dispute over whether simplicity means unnuanced, strict salt crystal pattern is a complete categorical error made by conveniently appropriating a different definition of complexity.

    The complexity of being sub-genus species is merely a complexity of description…quite simply of more sentences, boolean expressions used to separate and identify. Those are OUR interpretive and observational complexities.

    Iow, if all intelligence flowed downward pyramidally like a cosmic Plinko game where God and His simple intelligence was represented by the Hand releasing the balls and all the slots at the bottom represented the various degrees of intelligence described positionally, language would beget the complex description.

    I know this analogy is a bit wobbly…I’m seriously considering scrapping it right now, but my point is that God’s simplicity in classical theism is one of pure, un-Plinkoed (read unconstrained and unmodified) being….not that He’s simple as in free of grasping and potentiating complexities.

    Any of this make sense? Past this lurker’s bedtime!!!

    I would add , to further disagree with Feser and his ilk, that just by comparing the intelligence of the Designer to that of the designed is not to then place Designer and designed into a type with no more difference than of degree anymore than I would place univocally an object and it’s reflection in a puddle.

  11. 11
    Popperian says:

    @mugwump3

    The problem with assuming God isn’t simple is that he would be well adapted to serve the purpose of designing organisms and would therefore also exhibit the appearance of design. That is, God could not be varied significantly without reducing his ability to serve the purpose of designing organisms. Or are you suggesting he could?

    For example, if God designed angels, are they well adapted to serve the purpose that God intended? Could an angel be significantly modified and still serve the purpose that God intended? What prevents angels from make other angels unless God did *not* well adapt them to serve that purpose? This is where ideas like the supernatural simply fall down as God supposedly does something only he can do, yet it’s unclear what, if anything, could be done that doesn’t have unwanted implications. “That’s just what God must have wanted” is a bad explanation.

    On the other hand, if God is not well adapted, which would make him simple, It’s unclear what is special about God that allows him to play the explanatory role that people claim he plays, such as creating organisms. Can He be modified significantly and still serve the purpose of designing organisms just as well?

    Furthermore, the instructions actually used to convert raw materials into organisms are contained in organisms themselves. This is opposed to organisms spontaneously appearing out of thin air or rolling of assembly line like a car. In the case of automobile factories, instructions for how to build cars are mostly in the robots and people that build them. But this is not the case with the biosphere, as organism build themselves by adapting raw materials.

    So, the concept of willing organisms into existence really isn’t applicable. What makes organisms exhibit the features they do is the instructions (knowledge) they contain. That’s what needs to be explained. But a simple God implies that knowledge spontaneously appeared along with the organism when it was created. As such, It’s unclear how a simple God explains it when it is the instructions that make the key difference in the organism’s features.

    Nor is it clear how a well adapted God, who has always been well adopted for the purpose of designing organisms, is a good explanation as it merely involves taking instructions from one place (in God) and putting them in another (in organisms) No explanation for that knowledge is provided.

    And, again, being well adapted for a purpose is what it means to say something exhibits the appearance of design. At which point the question becomes, who designed God?

  12. 12
    PaV says:

    vjt:

    I didn’t read every word above; so, please take that into account.

    I think everything hinges on the notion of “personhood.” The qualities of “personhood” minimally involve intelligence, freedom, potency and emotions.

    Obviously, there can be gradations in each of these elements.

    For example, a ‘dog’ can have what we call a ‘personality.’ Does this mean the dog is a “person”? Of course not. It simply means that to the degree that the dog shares in the qualities of personhood—to some lesser degree than humans—it reacts to circumstances in such a way as to manifest intelligence, freedom, and, in particular, emotions.

    We, as humans, are fully “persons.” But, do we have the intelligence, freedom, emotions and power to the same degree as the three Divine Persons? No. Nevertheless, we are “persons.”

    AI (artificial intelligence) people, are trying to fashion robots and that move and interact with us just like other ‘person.’ Let’s say they succeed. Then the overlay of ‘person’ would exist on an entirely artificial (not natural) substrate.

    The “intelligence” in the robots would be our intelligence but simply programmed using code and processors–it would be an imperfect reflection of what we possess by nature.

    The idea I’m trying to get at is this: God is three “Persons” in “one” Divine Nature; we are “one” person in “one” human nature.

    Or, as you put it: same genus, different species.

  13. 13
    Popperian says:

    AI (artificial intelligence) people, are trying to fashion robots and that move and interact with us just like other ‘person.’ Let’s say they succeed. Then the overlay of ‘person’ would exist on an entirely artificial (not natural) substrate.

    The “intelligence” in the robots would be our intelligence but simply programmed using code and processors–it would be an imperfect reflection of what we possess by nature.

    If we create artificial intelligence that is genuinely general in scope, this implies it would create genuinely new explanations, not explanations that we have already programmed into it. IOW, a general artificial intelligence would be a person, like we are, because it too would be a universal explainer, like we are.

  14. 14
    PaV says:

    Popperian:

    That’s only true if we’re living in the “Matrix.” And we have no reason to think we are.

    I think the dreams of AI are overblown. We’re not “God.”

  15. 15
    Popperian says:

    PaV,

    You didn’t quote anything I wrote or explain why it’s only true if we’re all “living in the Matrix”. Care to elaborate?

  16. 16
    vjtorley says:

    Hi StephenB,

    I was very interested in the following comment of yours:

    Although I reject Feser’s main argument, his notion that God “just knows” seems right to me. I can’t imagine that Truth itself would need to reason its way to truth. More likely, I think, Truth already knows every aspect of truth. From the standpoint of omniscience, it seems that such things as cause/effect, premise/conclusion would be immediately understood as parts of a unified whole. Indeed, I think that angels also have this power of intelligence in some limited way. Only humans, I would argue, must submit to a reasoning process by saying such things as “If A, then B.”

    So, what you’re saying is that within the Mind of God (Who is Truth Itself), all truths are immediately inter-connected? I can (just) imagine how that might work for logical and mathematical truths, which are all necessary truths. However, I have a problem envisaging how this would work for contingent truths – particularly those relating to evil choices, freely made by God’s creatures. It is hard to see how these could form part of a unified whole, especially when they go against God’s Will.

    Regarding logical and mathematical truths, I think the question we need to ask is: are any of these truths more basic (or foundational) than others, or are all of them equally basic, so that from a God’s-eye perspective, any truth will connect you to any other? I may be wrong, but it seems to me that the definition of a right-angled triangle is more basic than the Pythagorean theorem, and that even from God’s viewpoint, knowing what a right-angled triangle is would logically precede knowing that the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides. What do you think?

  17. 17
    vjtorley says:

    Hi Mung,

    Thank you for your comment. You point out (correctly) that human intelligence is something humans merely possess, and you add that it “is wholly and utterly different from intelligence when intelligence is predicated of God. To say otherwise is to commit a category error.”

    Both God and human beings are able to choose appropriate means in order to realize some end, and are able to justify their choice in some sort of language. It seems to me, then, that they do belong in a common category: for instance, the category of purposive agents, or for that matter, the category of language users. To be sure, our ability to act is totally dependent on God’s act of sustaining us in being, but we do possess genuine libertarian freedom. Likewise, it is God Who enables our minds to function to that we are able to use language, but the language that we use is not language that He has chosen for us: we make that choice ourselves. I can’t see why it would be a mistake to put humans in the same category as God, on these two counts.

    And after all, doesn’t Scripture say that we are made in His image and likeness? How could that be if we didn’t belong in any common category with God?

  18. 18
    StephenB says:

    HI VJ

    Thanks for the thoughtful response. You ask if I am suggesting that all truths are immediately inter-connected within the mind of God. Well, it seems to me that all truths would simply be known, including the relationship between one truth and all others, both on a vertical and horizontal plane. God knows, for example, that theological knowledge is of a higher order than philosophical knowledge, which is of a higher order than scientific knowledge, but He also knows that information about social psychology overlaps with information about sociology, which in turn, overlaps with information about anthropology. I submit that God understands the big picture, all its parts, and where they fit, without needing to analyze those relationships.

    In terms of mathematical or logical truths, I think God would know the definition of a right triangle and the Pythagorean Theorem without deriving the latter from the former, just as He would know the connection between the law of non-contradiction and a syllogism. Put simply, I don’t think God needs to derive, infer, calculate, or deduce anything at all, I don’t think an omniscient God must depend on the knowledge (definition) of a triangle to know the Pythagorean Theorem. For out part, we have to build on basic truths to understand advanced truths, but I don’t think this is true of God.

    Would contingent truths, such as moral choices, involve that same kind of connectedness? I think that God, knowing all the moral choices that will ever be made, also knows the biological, psychodynamic, environmental, and spiritual factors that helped shape each choice, as well as their intermediate and final consequences–both for the individual and for the world. More importantly, I think God knows the type and degree of temptation involved in every evil choice and the amount of moral exertion needed to resist it. That is why He is qualified to judge us. He knows, all at once, how each moral choice, as a part, contributes to the human drama of salvation, as a whole. At least, that is my perspective. What do you think?

  19. 19
    Jon Garvey says:

    Vincent

    Aquinas, I think, sees God’s knowledge as one simple intuition, which is why he says that even contingent things are within his providence. “Freedom” in his system does not mean autonomy from God, even of evil agents – that’s a much more modern Renaissance/Enlightenment idea. He expounds this very fully in Q14 of the Summa.

    From another angle, the Reformers inherited divine simplicity and its sequelae and agreed with its logic. So the systematic theolgian Louis Berkhof could say:

    The knowledge of God may be defined as that perfection of God whereby He, in an entirely unique manner, knows Himself and all things possible and actual in one eternal and most simple act.

    He draws on such reasoning as that of the Westminster Confession, which says:

    In his sight all things are open and manifest [Heb 4.3]; his knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature [Rom. 9.33-34. Ps 147.5], so as nothing is to him contingent or uncertain [Acts 15.18, Ezek. 11.5]

  20. 20
    PaV says:

    Popperian:

    When you say: If we create artificial intelligence that is genuinely general in scope, this implies it would create genuinely new explanations, this supposes a kind of ‘autonomous’ intelligence. And, you perhaps go too far when you use the word “create.” We’re not “God.”

    As to the “Matrix”, I’ve thought about that a bit more. Actually, there we have human brains that are living in a simulated world. So, nothing was actually “created” except for auxiliary stimuli. Whereas the agents, truly androids, we’re portrayed as ‘robotic.’ They had a ‘mechanical’ tone to their voices, etc.

  21. 21
    vjtorley says:

    Hi mugwump3,

    Thank you for your interesting remarks. I hadn’t heard of the game of Plinko until I read your comment, but I think the analogy is a fruitful one.

    You are right in pointing out that the doctrine of Divine simplicity refers only to God’s being or essence. It does not refer to God’s (intellectual) operations. Hence there is no reason why God, in the act of freely choosing to create this world, could not entertain thoughts about various kinds of complex creatures. For instance, take the concept of a dog. I don’t think there’s anything simple about “dogginess,” even from a God’s-eye perspective. Someone might object that “dogginess” is complex if we focus on a dog’s form or structure, but simple if we consider a dog’s telos or finality. But not even the telos is simple: a dog’s end is multi-faceted, including such things as getting a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, reproducing after its kind, having a good social life, and so on. There doesn’t seem to be any simple concept which unites all of these things. So my preferred approach would be to say that God’s essence is altogether simple, but that His intellectual operations are as complex as the creatures He chooses to create. This would be a self-generated complexity.

    This is similar to what you wrote when you declared:

    Iow, if all intelligence flowed downward pyramidally like a cosmic Plinko game where God and His simple intelligence was represented by the Hand releasing the balls and all the slots at the bottom represented the various degrees of intelligence described positionally, language would beget the complex description.

    Thanks once again for your suggestions.

  22. 22
    vjtorley says:

    Hi PaV,

    Thank you very much for your thoughtful proposals. I agree with you that there are many different grades of intelligence, and that our intelligence is but a pale reflection of our Creator’s Intelligence. My point about genus vs. species was simply that whereas is a property that we possess, in God’s case, it is all that He is. We are intelligent animals, but in God’s case, there isn’t anything else which His Intelligence is compounded with. God is not intelligence plus X; He’s just Pure Intelligence.

    Angels are an interesting case. One might argue that they, too, are intelligences, but the difference is that their intellects are constrained by their forms, whereas God’s Intelligence is altogether unbounded.

    Finally, you are absolutely correct to point out that God is three Persons in one Divine Nature; whereas each of us is one person in one human nature. That’s why it would be quite wrong to say that God is a Person. God is a personal Being, but He’s not a person; He’s three persons.

  23. 23
    vjtorley says:

    Hi Jon Garvey,

    I would agree with you that if you envisage God’s relationship to His creation along the lines of an author’s relationship to his/her book, then you would end up with the theological position you described in your post above.

    If, on the other hand, you happen to believe humans possess libertarian free-will and if you construe God’s knowledge of our choice in Boethian terms, like that of a watcher on a high hill, as I do, then you will end up with a different picture. I discussed these issues at further length in a post of mine here (see especially questions 3 and 5 in the Appendix). Cheers.

  24. 24
    Mung says:

    mugwump3:

    …in order for any complex specified information to be actualized both in coding and phenomenae, it must be potentiated in God.

    You’ll need to try to be more precise, as God is fully actual. Otherwise he would nto be simple.

    And as VJT points out, this is why God cannot be a person.

  25. 25
    Mung says:

    PaV:

    We, as humans, are fully “persons.” But, do we have the intelligence, freedom, emotions and power to the same degree as the three Divine Persons? No.

    God does not posses some degree of these qualities, as if God posses maximal intelligence, maximal freedom, maximal emotion, and maximal power.

    God is not the most intelligent being.

    God is wholly other than His creation. It’s a matter of difference in kind, not one of difference in degree.

    Feserism 101.

  26. 26
    vjtorley says:

    Hi Stephen B,

    Thanks very much for your response. I appreciate your concern that if God’s knowledge of mathematical truths such as Pythagoras’ Theorem were derivative upon His knowledge of the concept of a right-angled triangle, God would be depending on something else in order to deduce this theorem. However, I would reply that God’s concept of a right-angled triangle is not something extrinsic to Himself: I think that even mathematical concepts are created by God and would not exist without Him. Hence God, in advancing from His knowledge of a right-angled triangle to the deduction of Pythagoras’ Theorem, is relying on no-one and nothing apart from Himself.

    Regarding God’s knowledge of our choices, you seem to be advocating a position akin to St. Robert Bellarmine’s theory of congruism, according to which theory according to which the efficacy of efficacious grace is due, at least in part, to the fact that the grace is given in circumstances favorable to (or congruous with) its operation – in other words, God knows my choices by knowing what I would do in circumstances X, Y and Z. For my part, I can’t help thinking that sounds like a version of psychological determinism, although Molinists in general would deny this. I’ve written more about Molinism in an earlier post of mine, here. I freely admit, however, that the subject of God’s foreknowledge is a very murky theological area, and for all I know, my opinions may be wildly wrong.

  27. 27
    Mung says:

    Hi Vincent,

    No doubt there is an entire Catholic teaching on the Imago Dei, but I’m not the one to say what it is. 🙂

    I’d need to study up.

  28. 28
    Jon Garvey says:

    vjtorley

    But Aquinas replies to the objection that operations of intelligence are exterior to God thus:

    Reply to Objection 1. To understand is not an operation proceeding out of the operator, but remaining in him.

    And he goes on with with various other arguments, as I mentioned in my post. I’m not sure how you hope to refute the Thomist argument of a Thomist philosopher like Feser by employing a model of divine simplicity, knowledge and free will alien to Thomas. Even I, as a tyro, can see a whole host of basic problems from a scholastic viewpoint in envisaging the Pure Act of God’s simple essence to operate complexly; and his intellect undergoing change by observation of other beings despite being free of all potentia.

    You set yourself up for having to argue a complete case for why Aquinas (and the body of Scholastics and others who concur with him, both Catholic and Protestant) erred in these matters, and after that you have to find a way of patching up the holes in his system that you’ve created.

    Which is fine, but only if you’re arguing from outside Thomism, rather than critiquing Feser’s application of it as a Thomist.

  29. 29
    StephenB says:

    Hi VJ,

    Thanks again for interacting with me on this very interesting question about the mind of God. For me, and I think for you, the two non-negotiables would be [a] God’s absolute and infinite foreknowledge and [b] man’s libertarian free will. So we have much in common on that score.

    Having said that, I still don’t think that God engages in any kind of a reasoning process since the very notion of intellectual movement from step a to step b would seem to constitute a limitation on omniscience. If, in your internal model, knowledge of the latter does not depend on knowledge of the former, then I don’t understand the point of moving from step a to step b at all. I will make the point from an ID perspective.

    When humans solve problems or address needs, they often arrange matter for a purpose—that is—they design things to meet the need. Typically, they go through a process that resembles scientific methodology: They define the need, consider alternative actions, anticipate future events, decide how to arrange the matter, test the arranged matter (product ) to find out how well it works, observe feedback from the test, and take new actions based on the feedback. All this uncertainty about the quality of the finished product brings out the limitations of finite human intelligence as compared to God’s infinite intelligence. God does not need to define problems, weigh alternatives, or test His ideas. He already knows exactly what will work and always takes the right action without making any calculations.

    Still, and here is where you and I come together, the design patterns produced by infinite intelligence and those produced by human intelligence do have something in common. With respect to Feser, then, I think the most important point is this: Granting arguendo that God’s mind is so superior to ours that we cannot use univocal language to compare even one aspect of Divine intelligence with even one aspect of human intelligence—which seems to be Feser’s extreme position and one that I do not agree with–the unassailable fact remains that all intelligence, human or Divine, finite or infinite, ordinary or profound, still leaves clues when it operates on matter.

    It seems undeniable, then, that Divinity and humanity, insofar as they both arrange matter for a purpose, and insofar as that these arrangements can often be detected, do have at least this one small thing in common. Feser’s claim, therefore, is manifestly wrong. If those patterns are there, then no philosophy of nature can change the evidence and there is no reason to discount it.

  30. 30
    StephenB says:

    On the question of God’s knowledge of our choices, it is not clear to me how actual grace could, in any way, compromise man’s free will. (As you know, grace is help from God to do something that we cannot do on our own power). So long as the individual upon whom that special grace is offered is capable of deciding whether or not he will cooperate with it, it would seem that there is no deterministic element involved. Just because God knows how someone will respond to His grace does not mean that He causes that response.

  31. 31
    RDFish says:

    Hi VJTorley,

    Again, you seem to be the only person here who appreciates the problems inherent in using “intelligence” to explain our observations of nature. When I bring up these points, Barry calls me an idiot and the rest of the gang fall over each other trying to deny my criticisms have any merit.

    I agree, of course, with Feser’s complaint that the notion of intelligence used in ID is implicitly anthropomorphic. And Feser is merely making theological arguments! Once we attempt to add scientific rigor to the discussion, it becomes perfectly clear that the word “intelligence” in the context of ID does not constitute any sort of explanation that can be scientifically evaluated. The mere term “intelligence” entails no specific attributes that, in the context of ID, can be empirically evaluated. In other words, ID is scientifically vacuous. The entire ID enterprise is an argument against evolutionary explanations – a so-called “positive” case for ID is non-existent, because the positive claims of ID are either anthropomorphic (and thus unsupportable), or so vague that they are scientifically meaningless.

    I have long remarked on the fact that Dembski himself has consistently denied that ID can validly conclude that the Designer was even conscious. Since ID cannot justify the inference to a conscious being, ID proponents ought to realize that anthropomorphic notions of what it means to have a mind simply don’t apply in the context of ID. But of course ID proponents (other then Dembski and a few others) refuse to admit this.

    ID cannot support the belief that the cause of life consciously desired that life existed, or that the cause of the universe (if that notion is even coherent) desired that the universe could support life. ID does not support the belief that this cause could consciously have chosen to not create the universe or life, or to have created them differently. ID does not support any beliefs whatsoever, only this single word, “intelligence”, that allows ID proponents to pretend that science supports theism.

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

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