Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Thomism versus the design argument

Defenders of “Intelligent Design” theory sometimes accuse their Thomist critics of overstating the differences between Aquinas and William Paley.  As we have seen before, their use of Aquinas’s texts is highly dubious.  Passages are ripped from context and the general metaphysical assumptions that inform Aquinas’s thinking, and which would rule out the readings the ID theorist would like to give the texts, are ignored.  This is not surprising given the ad hoc character of so much ID argumentation.  More surprising is Marie George’s strange article about me in the most recent issue of Philosophia Christi.  George, like me, is both an Aristotelian-Thomistic (A-T) philosopher and a critic of ID.  Yet she too objects to my dissociating Aquinas’s Fifth Way from Paley’s design argument.  Why?

That is hard to say.  For George concedes that any A-T philosopher must insist on a distinction between natural substances and artifacts insofar as “the parts of natural things are inherently ordered to their ends, whereas the parts of artificial things are ordered by us (and by certain other animals) to ends that they have no tendency to realize.”  Indeed, she acknowledges that “it would be incoherent to model natural substances on artifacts in a way that would ignore this difference.”  She also allows that there is a crucial difference between a mere craftsman and God insofar as “the craftsman does not give an artifact its nature, but harnesses the natural tendencies of natural things to his end, whereas God… gives things their natures in virtue of which they tend to their ends.”  And she grants that “it may well be that Paley had mechanistic tendencies.”  In other words, George more or less concedes that Aquinas’s argument and Paley’s differ in just the ways I and other Thomists have always said they do.

So what exactly is her problem with what I have said?  The closest we get to an answer is George’s suggestion that on my view, the way God makes natural things “must be other than [by] employing intelligence.”  This is bizarre.  I have, of course, never said or implied any such thing.  Indeed, I devote many pages of both The Last Superstition and Aquinas to defending the Fifth Way as a demonstration of the existence of a divine ordering intelligence.  No one denies that both Aquinas and Paley argue for an intelligent cause of the order in the world.  What A-T philosophers (other than George) object to is the way Paley argues for this conclusion (a way which is incompatible with A-T metaphysics) and the anthropomorphic construal of “intelligence” implicit in his position (which is incompatible with classical theism).  I have addressed these issues at length in a series of posts, to which the interested reader is directed.

There are many other problems with George’s article, which I address in a forthcoming reply.  For now let us note just how eccentric her view is, as is the view of ID defenders who think they can assimilate Aquinas’s Fifth Way to the “design argument” put forward by the likes of Paley, Newton, Boyle, and other early modern writers who were keen on putting natural theology on a new, non-Aristotelian foundation.  Here, in no particular order, are some passages on the subject from various twentieth-century writers on Thomism:

Maurice Holloway, S. J., An Introduction to Natural Theology, pp. 146-47:

We should be careful not to confuse the fifth way of St. Thomas Aquinas, which argues from the existence of order in the universe to the existence of an infinite intelligence, with Paley’s argument from design.  In the latter’s argument the universe is seen as a complicated and intricate machine… [and he] reasons, by way of analogy, to the existence of a divine watchmaker, or supreme architect of the universe.  This argument from design, as given by Paley and unfortunately repeated in many books on Christian apologetics, does not prove the existence of God.  An architect of the universe would have to be a very clever being, but he would not have to be God…  Many of the objections directed against what some writers believe is the fifth way of St. Thomas are really directed against the watchmaker of Paley.  St. Thomas’s proof is entirely different.  It is grounded in the metaphysics of finality…

Etienne Gilson, God and Philosophy, p. 142:

Simple-minded metaphysicians have unwillingly led agnostics to believe that the God of natural theology was the “watchmaker” of Voltaire, or the “carpenter” of cheap apologetics…. Being men, we can affirm God only on anthropomorphic grounds, but this does not oblige us to posit Him as an anthropomorphic God.

John Wippel, The Metaphysical Thought of Thomas Aquinas, p. 480:

While the fifth way is sometimes confused with an argument based on order and design and the need for a supreme designer, Thomas’s text makes it clear that he really has in mind an argument based on final causality in nature.

Joseph Owens, An Elementary Christian Metaphysics, p. 349:

This argument [the Fifth Way] is clearly not the argument from design, made notorious by Paley… Paley’s argument is only an analogy, a probable argument.  It is not a metaphysical demonstration… Paley merely multiplies instances upon instances of design in nature in order to drive home the impression… that a designer is required.  The starting point of St. Thomas’s fifth way, on the other hand, is not that things show design, but rather that something is being done to them, namely, that they are being directed to an end by an efficient cause.

Joseph Owens, “Aquinas and the Five Ways,” in St. Thomas Aquinas on the Existence of God, pp. 136-37:

The “fifth way”… is hardly the one from design that has been made notorious by Kant and Paley.  The presence of design in the universe is not the operative feature.  It is rather the directing according to design, for this directing has to come ultimately from an immobile and self-necessary principle.  In reply to the objection that agents less than God could ultimately account for the directing, Aquinas answers: “But all things mobile and capable of failing have to be accounted for by a first principle that is immobile and that is necessary by reason of its own nature, as has been shown” (ST, I, 2, 3, ad 2m).

Fr. Ronald Knox, Broadcast Minds, pp. 52 and 222:

The whole traditional theology of Europe presupposes the Five Proofs [of Aquinas], or some modification of them, as the basis of belief in God, and does not appeal for a moment to any revelation, in Scripture or out of it, for the purpose.  Which makes it all the more extraordinary that Professor Huxley, in demolishing the whole edifice of theism, makes no reference to the Five Proofs, and shows no consciousness that they have ever been urged.  He has heard of Paley, apparently, and makes fun of his argument from design, with a confidence which would be better justified if the champions of natural selection had managed to get rid of adaptation altogether; and it is presumably from the same author that he gets the deistic notions stigmatized on the following page… But when he characterizes the God of Deism, the Winder-up of a mechanical universe, as “much more shadowy, far, and remote than the God of the Middle Ages”, I wonder whether he has the slightest idea what he is talking about?  Certainly his acquaintance with St. Thomas can hardly be intimate.

[Langdon-Davies’s] disproof of the existence of God labours, even more signally than Professor Huxley’s, from an ignorance of the proofs.  Not only is he unaware, like Professor Huxley, that there is a five-fold proof of the existence of God traditional in the Christian Church… He concentrates on the three feeble arguments that are known to him; that from experience, that from design (in the manner of Paley), and that from the inerrancy of Scripture!

Herman Reith, The Metaphysics of St. Thomas Aquinas, p. 198:

[The Fifth Way] is strictly metaphysical and is not limited to the examples given by St. Thomas.  It is based upon the principle of final causality that is as universal in its application as the principle of identity.  It is sometimes interpreted as the proof from order and design in the universe, taken in the physical sense in which the regularity of movement of the parts of the universe is emphasized.  In this conception God’s role is that of a giant watchmaker who has put things together in such a way that one must recognize it as the work of a superior intelligence.

The danger in such a simplification of the proof is that the examples used and the interpretation given them prevents the argument from rising to the metaphysical level where it belongs.  To insist on examples from astronomy, biology, or any other physical science is grist for the mill of the mechanist.  For him the natural causes hold enough of an explanation.  Until the argument rises above the order of the physical universe, it cannot conclude to anything more than the existence of some kind of intelligence and power with which we have not yet become acquainted.  Future investigation might conceivably reveal that there are powers of intelligence in the universe that we now have no evidence for.

R. P. Phillips, Modern Thomistic Philosophy, Volume II, p. 290:

[The Fifth Way] proceeds from the ordered multiplicity of the world to an ordering intelligence.  Whether we are to call it the argument from design depends on what is meant by that name, for it certainly is not the same as that which is often associated with the name of Paley.

John F. McCormick, S. J., Scholastic Metaphysics, Part II: Natural Theology, p. 75:

The teleological argument [is] not an argument from analogy… It is true that the argument has at times been presented in the form of a mere analogy, as in Paley’s example of the watch… But the proof is quite independent of this analogy.

Cardinal Mercier, “Natural Theology or Theodicy” in Cardinal Mercier, et al., A Manual of Modern Scholastic Philosophy, Volume II, pp. 53-54:

The proof we have just developed [i.e. the Thomistic argument from order] is not merely an argument from analogy.  If some are inclined to think so, the reason is to be found in the faulty exposition given of this proof by certain authors.  They argue that we judge the intellectual capacity of our fellow-men by the adaptation of the means they choose to their ends, that order or adaptation is an indication of intelligence; that the universe manifests supreme order; therefore, etc.  Argument of this kind need cause no misgiving… Our argument is based not on analogy but on the principle of sufficient reason…

[O]ther arguments which are not infrequently brought forward… [to the effect] that life has had a commencement on the earth; that a simple intrinsic evolution of matter is not capable of accounting for vegetable life in the first place, and then for sensitive life and still less for intellectual life… These and kindred considerations of a scientific nature… by themselves they have no cogency unless supported by the philosophical, metaphysical argument which demonstrates that this principle of explanation taken to its last analysis must be pure Actuality, necessary Being, first Cause, subsistent Perfection, and highest Intelligence.

Henri Renard, S.J., The Philosophy of God, p. 48:

With St. Thomas, even if there were only one finite nature, we could argue to and prove with metaphysical certitude the existence of a being that is its own end… With these authors, on the contrary, such is not the case.  They argue, not from the appetite of a nature, but from the admirable complexity of the created world… Just as, they reason, the complexity of a watch demands a watchmaker gifted with some intelligence, just as the order of the city demands some capable policemen, just as the skyscraper supposes some architect or other, so a fortiori does this marvelous order of the world postulate a God.

This is an impressive argument and quite satisfying to a certain type of mind.  We should like to state, however, (1) that it is by no means the Fifth Way of St. Thomas; (2) that, while we are willing to grant that this argument establishes a God who is a super-watchmaker, a super-policeman, a super-architect, we cannot help but wonder whether such a super-being is its own end, because it is its own “To Be” or, in other words, whether such a being is God.

Christopher F. J. Martin, Thomas Aquinas: God and Explanations, pp. 180-82:

One of the things that has happened between Aquinas and ourselves has been the growth of a general disbelief in explanation in terms of what things are for [i.e. final causes].  This is partly the result of a failure to understand what it is to explain something in terms of what it’s for, and partly the result of the rather curious psychological phenomenon of the near-universal acceptance of what is really a rather poor argument for the existence of God, the argument from design.

The argument from design had its heyday between the time of Newton and the time of Darwin, say, a time in which most people apparently came to see the world as a minutely designed piece of craftsmanship, like a clock.  It is no coincidence that the most famous presentation of the argument from design actually compares the world to a clock: it is known by the name of Paley’s watch…

The Being whose existence is revealed to us by the argument from design is not God but the Great Architect of the Deists and Freemasons, an impostor disguised as God, a stern, kindly, and immensely clever old English gentleman, equipped with apron, trowel, square and compasses. Blake has a famous picture of this figure to be seen on the walls of a thousand student bedrooms during the nineteen-seventies: the strong wind which is apparently blowing in the picture has blown away the apron, trowel and set-square but left him his beard and compasses. Ironies of history have meant that this picture of Blake’s is often taken to be a picture of God the Creator, while in fact Blake drew it as a picture of Urizen, a being who shares some of the attributes of the Great Architect and some of those of Satan.

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. In no less lapidary Latin, Aquinas said "Vult ergo Deus hoc esse propter hoc; sed non propter hoc vult hoc". In definitely unlapidary English we could say: The set-up, A-for-the-sake-of-B is something that God wants; but it is not that God wants B and for that reason wants A. We know that the set-up A-for-the-sake-of-B is something that God wants, because it is something that exists, and everything that exists, exists because of God’s will. But it is simply profane to think that you can infer from that the unfathomable secrets of the inside of God’s mind and will. Acorns for the sake of oak trees, to repeat an example of Geach’s, are definitely something that God wants, since that is the way things are. But it is not that God has any special desire for oak trees (as the Great Architect might), and for that reason finds himself obliged to fiddle about with acorns. If God wants oak-trees, he can have them, zap! You want oak trees, you got ’em. "Let there be oak trees", by inference, is one of the things said on the third day of creation, and oak trees are made. There is no suggestion that acorns have to come first: indeed, the suggestion is quite the other way around. To "which came first, the acorn or the oak?" it looks as if the answer is quite definitely "the oak". In any case, what’s so special about oak trees that God should have to fiddle around with acorns to make them? God is mysterious: the whole objection to the great architect is that we know him all too well, since he is one of us. Whatever God is, God is not one of us: a sobering thought for those who use "one of us" as their highest term of approbation.

The argument from design fails, then, because [as Martin argues earlier in the book] it is an argument from ignorance, because it confuses the final and efficient modes of explanation, and because even if it succeeded it would not prove the existence of God but of some Masonic impostor. But like other bad arguments, its defeat and death has left it to wander the world like a ghost, oppressing the spirits of those who are looking for other and better arguments.

And for good measure, here’s one more passage, this time from a non-Thomist.  See if you can guess who it is:

Throughout the Christian era, theologians have argued that nature exhibits features which nature itself cannot explain but which instead require an intelligence beyond nature… Aquinas’s fifth proof for the existence of God is perhaps the best known of these.

With the rise of modern science in the seventeenth century, design arguments took a mechanical turn.  The mechanical philosophy that was prevalent at the birth of modern science viewed the world as an assemblage of material particles interacting by mechanical forces.  Within this view, design was construed as externally imposed form on preexisting inert matter.  Paradoxically, the very clockwork universe that early mechanical philosophers like Robert Boyle (1627-1691) used to buttress design in nature was in the end probably more responsible than anything for undermining design in nature.  Boyle (in 1686) advocated the mechanical philosophy because he saw it as refuting the immanent teleology of Aristotle and the Stoics, for whom design arose as a natural outworking of natural processes…

Over the subsequent centuries, however, what remained was the mechanical philosophy and what fell away was the need to invoke miracles or God as designer.  Henceforth, purely mechanical processes could do all the design work for which Aristotle and the Stoics had required an immanent natural teleology and for which Boyle and the British natural theologians required God…

The British natural theologians of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, starting with Robert Boyle and John Ray (1627-1705) and culminating in the natural theology of William Paley (1743-1805), looked to biological systems for convincing evidence that a designer had acted in the physical world… For many [this] was the traditional Christian God, but for others it was a deistic God, who had created the world but played no ongoing role in governing it.

Note that this author, in a matter-of-fact way, makes a number of points that Thomists have emphasized when criticizing Paley and other defenders of the “design argument” – that the argument differs from arguments like Aquinas’s in assuming a “mechanical” conception of nature, that what is essential to this mechanical conception is an anti-Aristotelian view of formal causes and teleology as “externally imposed” rather than “immanent,” that this approach gives us at best a “deistic god” who need not play any “ongoing role” in governing the world, and that at worst it leads inadvertently to atheism.  So, who is the author?  Why, none other than ID theorist William A. Dembski, in his book The Design Revolution, at pp. 66-67.  ID theorists who want to assimilate Paley and Aquinas might want to have a word with their friend Bill first, before complaining to us Thomists.

We’ll come back to Dembski.  It is worth noting first, though – while we’re on the subject of ID – that in none of the passages from the Thomists cited above is Paley criticized on Darwinian grounds.  None of these authors say “We’ve now got a perfectly good evolutionary explanation of biological phenomena of the kind Paley appeals to, so his defenders need to get with the times.”  Indeed, as the alert reader will have noticed, Fr. Knox even avers that “the champions of natural selection [have not] managed to get rid of adaptation altogether.”  Yet he still dismisses Paley’s argument as “feeble,” “deistic,” and not worthy to be counted even as a “modification” of any of the arguments he regards as the presupposition of “the whole traditional theology of Europe”!  And at least the Neo-Scholastics among the authors cited above would by no means issue a blank check to Darwinian naturalists.  While they are willing to allow evolutionary explanations a fairly wide scope, they insist that such explanations have limits, and that these limits are metaphysical and absolute, not empirical and evidential.  They would agree, for instance, that there can in principle be no explanation of the origin of the human intellect in naturalistic terms, and thus no explanation in Darwinian terms, for reasons of the sort I’ve discussed many times.  And as I’ve discussed in an earlier post, there are also metaphysical constraints that A-T insists would have to be met by any possible account of the origin of life, and they are not constraints any naturalist could accept. 

The issues are complicated and A-T philosophers disagree over the details.  The point is that the A-T critique of Paley and of ID theory simply has nothing essentially to do with Darwinism one way or the other.  Some A-T critics of ID and of Paley have emphasized the compatibility of A-T and evolution and some have not, but that just isn’t what the debate is fundamentally about.  Even if it turned out that there was no truth whatsoever to Darwinian or other evolutionary accounts of biological phenomena, this would not affect the A-T critique of Paley and ID theory in the least

This point cannot be emphasized too greatly.  ID defenders sometimes claim that Thomist criticism of ID and of Paley rests on too uncritical an acceptance of the empirical and conceptual claims of Darwinians.  For instance, Logan Paul Gage makes this charge in a recent piece in Touchstone.  I am one of the Thomists Gage criticizes, but it is hard to believe Gage has carefully read anything I’ve written on this topic.  For one thing, my own criticisms of ID and of Paley have made little reference to Darwinism; that the A-T critique of ID has nothing essentially to do with either accepting or rejecting Darwinism is something I’ve emphasized consistently and repeatedly.  For another thing, Gage’s specific comments on my own work show that he has entirely missed the point I have been making.  For he tells us, as if it conflicted with my position, that “there’s certainly nothing anti-Thomistic in distinguishing between a generic argument for design and an argument for God’s existence—even if the former might provide evidence for the latter.”

I hear this sort of thing constantly, and it is – like the Darwinism red herring – getting very, very tiresome.  “Gee whiz, Ed, what’s wrong with an argument for a designer, even if it is only a probabilistic argument and doesn’t tell us everything about the designer’s nature?”  I don’t know why so many ID enthusiasts seem to have such difficulty understanding what they read.  Sometimes I wonder whether dyslexia might be contagious, and that it is transmitted via Discovery Institute fund-raising letters.  Really, how many times do I have to say it?  At least one more time, it seems, so here goes: The Thomist’s problem with the arguments of Paley and ID theory is not – NOT (See that?  It says “not”) – that they are merely probabilistic, or that they don’t get you all the way to the God of classical theism.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  The problem with these arguments is rather that they don’t get you even one millimeter toward the God of classical theism, and indeed they get you positively away from the God of classical theism. 

This is the point Martin is making in the passage cited above when he says that Paley’s “designer” is really just the god of Deists and Freemasons and not the true God; the point Renard is making when he says that a mere “super-architect” is not its own “To Be” (i.e. its essence and existence are not identical) and thus is not God; the point Reith is making when he says that merely asking for an explanation of certain specific regularities will never get you outside the physical order of things to the metaphysical order, but merely to some as yet unknown super-intelligence within the physical order (and hence of necessity non-divine); the point Mercier is making when he says that merely “scientific” considerations have “no cogency” in an argument for theism apart from “metaphysical” considerations which alone can take us outside the realm of act and potency to that which is “pure Actuality”; the point Gilson is making when he says that the “watchmaker” or “craftsman” of “cheap apologetics” commits us to an objectionable “anthropomorphism”; and the point Owens is making when he says that only what is “self-necessary” and “immobile” could possibly be that which directs all things to their ends.  (The reason is that anything less than what is Pure Actuality would have some potential or potency, and since potential is always potential for some end, we would need to appeal to yet some other intelligent cause which directs this potential to its end, and thus wouldn’t truly have arrived at a supreme intelligence.  See Aquinas for the full story.)

It is a point I have made over and over and over again, though many of my critics refuse to address it.  My objection to Paley and to ID theory has consistently been that, given:

(a) their eschewal, even if only “for the sake of argument,” of immanent formal and final causes and thus of the classical metaphysical apparatus associated with them (such as the act/potency distinction), and

(b) their univocal application of predicates both to God and to human designers (as opposed to “analogous” predication, in the Thomistic sense of the term),

these approaches lock us within the natural order and cannot in principle get us beyond it.  In particular, they cannot in principle get us to a “designer” that is anything but one creature among others, even if a grand and remote one.  In short, they get us to paganism, and thus away from classical theism.  (Again, see the posts linked to above, especially this one, this one, and this one.)  If you disagree with this claim, fine, but please, please stop pretending that the issue has anything to do with Darwinism, or anything to do with an unreasonable refusal to consider merely probabilistic arguments for God’s existence.

This brings us back to Dembski.  For like other ID defenders, he sometimes insists – for example, at pp. 64-65 of The Design Revolution – that whereas “Paley’s business was natural theology” ID theory has “much more modest” ambitions in that it merely “seeks to identify signs of intelligence to generate scientific insights” and “attaches no significance to questions such as… whether the designer actually exists or what the attributes of that designer are.”  Indeed, he even allows (at p. 188) that any “designer” ID theory points to could in principle be an extraterrestrial rather than God.  So, it might seem that A-T objections to Paley are irrelevant to ID theory.  In particular, it might seem that the ID theorist could say “Fine, so our methods don’t lead us to the God of classical theism any more than Paley’s do, but we weren’t trying to do that in the first place.”

Except that by pages 148-49 of the same book Dembski is telling us that:

The idea that nature is a closed system of natural causes and that natural causes provide a complete account of everything that occurs in nature is deeply entrenched in the West… The theory of intelligent design challenges… that misconception by pointing to phenomena in nature that nature is in principle incapable of accounting for strictly in terms of natural causes, namely, phenomena that exhibit specified complexity.

and immediately after floating the “extraterrestrial” hypothesis he immediately tells us that it would merely generate a regress, since any “embodied intelligence” would itself require explanation.  So, according to Dembski, ID theory leads to a non-embodied designer outside the natural order.  Moreover, Dembski tells us in his book Intelligent Design that ID theory is, among other things, “a way of understanding divine action” (p. 13) which shows that “God’s design is… accessible to scientific inquiry” (p. 17) and that “science and theology… provid[e] epistemic support for each other’s claims” (p. 18).  But how exactly is all that supposed to differ from a design argument? 

The answer is that it doesn’t.  True, Dembski claims to have a method for detecting “design” that is better than Paley’s – that’s where all the stuff about “specified complexity” comes in – but that is irrelevant to the specific point at issue here, which is that however else it differs from Paley, ID theory shares with his design argument features (a) and (b) above, and is therefore, at least with respect to its theological significance, simply incompatible with Thomism. 

As I have said many times, it is its eschewal of immanent final causality that makes ID theory “mechanistic” in the specific sense of “mechanism” that A-T philosophers object to; and as we saw here and here, Dembski himself essentially acknowledges that ID is “mechanistic” in that sense.  (Those who want to reconcile ID and A-T should at least try to understand what A-T philosophers mean when they attribute an objectionably “mechanistic” view of nature to ID theory – as Anne Barbeau Gardiner, who criticized my position in a recent piece, shows no evidence whatsoever of doing.)

At this point, of course, ID defenders will remind us that “mechanism” is adopted by ID only in a “for the sake of argument” way.  And I will remind them that this is irrelevant to the point at issue.  Suppose that, investigating a crime, you say: “Let’s suppose just for purposes of our investigation that the murderer was someone who would have been captured on this surveillance camera.”  Then you have by virtue of this constraint necessarily limited yourself to potential suspects in the vicinity of the camera, and will be unable to identify the murderer if so happens that he was not in the vicinity.  Similarly, if you start with a conception of natural substances as “artifacts” of a certain kind – as you are bound to do if you reject immanent formal and final causes, for reasons I’ve discussed here and here – then you are going to conceive of the “designer’s” activity on the model of a human tinkerer, a cosmic Thomas Edison who does something comparable to taking pre-existing bits of matter and rearranging them to make a kind of machine.  And that just isn’t the way God creates, either for A-T or for classical theism more generally.  It is the way a pagan demiurge “creates” things; that is to say, it isn’t true creation at all (in the classical theist sense) but merely one super-intelligent and super-powerful but ultimately merely natural entity generating another, less intelligent and powerful one.  

Saying “But I’m only supposing this for the sake of argument” doesn’t help in the least.  That’s like saying “But I’m only supposing for the sake of argument that the murderer must have shown up on this surveillance camera.”  So long as you make that supposition – whether for the sake of argument or otherwise is irrelevant – you will never consider suspects who were not in the vicinity of the camera, and so your investigation will never get you even one inch closer to the actual murderer if indeed he was someone who was out of camera range.  Similarly, so long as you insist (for whatever reason) on treating natural substances as if they were a kind of artifact, and on predicating attributes of both the world’s “designer” and of human designers in a univocal way, you will never (from an A-T point of view, anyway) get even one inch closer to the God of classical theism, because you will necessarily be describing the “designer” in a way that not merely falls short of, but is positively inconsistent with, classical theism.  (Again, interested readers are referred to my earlier posts on this subject for a fuller discussion.)

In summary, then:

1. That Aquinas’s position is incompatible with Paley-style design arguments (and thus, by implication, with ID theory) is a long-standing and widely shared judgment within the Thomistic tradition, and follows from Thomism’s basic metaphysical and theological commitments.

2. The dispute between Thomism on the one hand and Paley (and ID theory) on the other has nothing essentially to do one way or the other with Darwinism.  That is a separate issue.  Whether you accept Darwinism or reject it, the Thomistic objection to Paley and to ID theory stands.

3. The dispute also has nothing essentially to do with whether one prefers demonstrative arguments to probabilistic ones, or with the question of whether this or that argument tells you everything about God’s nature.  It is true that the Fifth Way is intended to be a metaphysical demonstration and (at least when the basic thrust of the argument is followed out consistently) leads us to a conception of God as Pure Actuality (from which the other divine attributes can be deduced); while design arguments are typically merely probabilistic, and do not tell us much about God’s nature.  But that by itself is not a problem, and it is not the reason why Thomists object to Paley and to ID theory.

4. The dispute also has nothing to do with whether or not ID theorists might have important things to say about how to detect design within the natural order, or whether they’ve made significant criticisms of this or that Darwinian account of this or that biological phenomenon.  That is also a separate issue.  A Thomist may or may not regard ID as bad science.  The point I am making here is that ID is, from a Thomistic point of view, bad philosophy and bad theology

It seems to me that many of those who take umbrage at Thomist criticism of Paley and of ID unthinkingly treat all such criticism as if it were a sell-out to secularists and loudmouth Darwinists like Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne.  But the enemy of your enemy is not always your friend.  And ID theory is not the friend of Thomism.  It is the friend of the 17th century modernist philosophy and theology that unseated Thomism and Scholastic philosophy in general, just one more riff on the long parade of philosophical error that began with Descartes, Locke, and Co. and continues to this day.  Those who want to marry A-T and ID should worry less about the “culture wars” and more about philosophical and theological rigor and coherence – the only sure way to win the “culture wars” in the long run in any case.  They should also heed St. Thomas’s warning not to “bring forward reasons [for their convictions] that are not cogent” which merely “give occasion to unbelievers to laugh” (ST I.46.2).

119 comments:

Anonymous said...

Awe, keep Human Ape around, teach him tricks.

Here boy, fetch..., sit. Good.

Now someone teach him some manners and tell him it is OK, it is not his fault he had such a traumatic childhood and smoking weed and abusing drugs and alcohol are no way to learn new tricks. Bad boy.

MMc said...

In one class we were discussing Paley and his watch and watchmaker.

One of my students asked "Does the Divine "watchmaker" ever take back the world for repairs, like a human watchmaker does?"

Anonymous said...

Anon: was there a comment we didn't have the chance to see?

Edward Feser said...

Anon 2,

Yes, there was one completely worthless comment by a troll, followed by several comments about how worthless the troll's comment was. Not worth the pixels, so I deleted the whole thread.

Please don't feed the trolls, people.

TheOFloinn said...

There is a bit of bait-and-switch, too: the equivocation of ID-the-theory with whether the universe was created by the intent (design) of an intelligent being. (And also, as you note, confusing creation with trans-form-ation.)

My understanding is that Thomas argued from the lawful workings of nature while the watchmakerites argue from the failure of nature to work right in certain odd corners of the universe. But this would mean that the work of the creator was not entirely up to snuff, and he has to do patches and work-arounds; like the man who invents a perpetual motion machine but has to give it a spin now and then.

BenYachov said...

A Thomistic contra Paley smack down is much more entertaining.

John Farrell said...

Sometimes I wonder whether dyslexia might be contagious, and that it is transmitted via Discovery Institute fund-raising letters.

Quote of the week, Ed. Maybe even of the month!

Leroy Lamar III said...

There is one sense in which I think the ID theorists' argument may work. It wouldn't work as an argument for God's existence, but it could work as an argument against Darwinism. Basically the ID theorist could say that even a mechanical universe cannot get you what Darwin wants to get you. I know Dembski as alluded to this tact, but he doesn't embrace it whole-heartedly.

Edward Feser said...

TOF,

Yes, Newton's god, who has to step in now and again to keep the solar system from whirling apart, is a good example.

John,

Speaking of dyslexia, I hear ID also provides scientific evidence for the existence of dog.

Leroy,

As I've noted before, a wise naturalist could accept that and just say (as Chomsky and McGinn do) "Fine, so there are lots of things we haven't accounted for, and maybe can never account for, given the limitations facing any mind molded by the contingent forces of natural selection. That's just what we should expect given the truth of naturalism!"

This is why it is foolish for Dembski to say things like "Naturalism is the disease, ID is the cure" etc. A sophisticated naturalist need not be troubled by ID in the least.

Maolsheachlann said...

I don't understand how intelligent design in the ID sense would be different from a miracle. A miracle is a kind of bypassing of the usual operations of nature, and yet it it attests to God-- not to some kind of sorcerer or Urizen. You may not be able to reach the God of classical theism from a miraculous cure of Parkinson's disease, and yet God doesn't disdain to act in this way.

I still don't understand why Dembski's contention that ID doesn't say where design isn't, but where it is, is invalid. I accept I may be hopelessly obtuse though. I'm not especially interested in the quarrel of Darwinism and ID, either.

Tim L said...

Dr. Feser,
Would a Thomist agree with someone like Simon Conway Morris? His beliefs in evolution but the directionality of evolution - showing that their is purpose?

From your discussions on the topic I have drifted away from intelligent design in the sense of God as one who tinkers after the fact with the created order.

Tim L said...

One more comment -
Before becoming a Catholic I used to think that Catholics just liked being difficult on the matter:
Too afraid to agree with the Evangelicals about Special Creation or strong Intelligent Design.

I'd speak to a priest who seemed to defend evolution. And I thought this was only because you guys wanted to be accepted in mainstream (a failure of nerve, a lack of backbone)....
I see the truth of the matter much clearer now.

Bobby Bambino said...

I would be interested in hearing the distinction between ID and a miracle that Maolsheachlann asks about too. I'm sure there is a good distinction, but I just don't understand the metaphysics well enough yet to be able to articulate it on my own. Thanks.

Mr. Green said...

"In short, they get us to paganism, and thus away from classical theism." 

But that's only away from classical theism if it was already your starting point. If you're starting from, say, atheism, paganism is likely a step closer to the truth. (The exact ordering may depend on one's existing beliefs and background, I suppose.) The argument: "Either Yahweh or Zeus exists. Zeus does not exist. Therefore Yahweh exists." is perfectly valid; indeed, it's a sound argument. It's not a profound argument, but in practical terms, it may be much more useful in a particular situation than the most lofty classical system.

Similarly, if somebody accepts: (1) Life can be explained only by God or physics or aliens or Zeus/Odin/etc.; and (2) Aliens and Zeus/Odin/etc. do not exist; and if you can establish that (3) Mechanistic physics does not explain life; then you will in fact have moved that person many millimetres towards classical theism. It may not be the philosophically pure path, but that shouldn't stop anyone from using a perfectly true argument.

(I think this is related to Maolsheachlann's point: theological extrapolations from ID will not get you the Five Ways; but if true, it's going to get you something, just as a miraculous cure does.)

Mr. Green said...

TheOFloinn: But this would mean that the work of the creator was not entirely up to snuff, and he has to do patches and work-around

But that's not quite right either: the fact that you need to wind your watch periodically doesn't mean it's broken. In fact, it was designed specifically to be wound periodically. If God decides to make history such that the script calls for Him to perform miracles sometimes, that's entirely His prerogative.

If a given theory claims that certain principles apply across a certain domain, and you can show that in fact there is something in that domain that does not fit those principles, then that's an entirely valid way to disprove the theory.

Brandon said...

A miracle is a kind of bypassing of the usual operations of nature, and yet it it attests to God-- not to some kind of sorcerer or Urizen. You may not be able to reach the God of classical theism from a miraculous cure of Parkinson's disease, and yet God doesn't disdain to act in this way.

I'm not really sure I understand this reasoning. Miracles attest to God by definition; nothing is accounted a miracle in the proper sense unless it has been identified as a wonderful event, suitable as a sign, that can reasonably be said to be beyond the natural power of any secondary cause that was actually involved, and thus is the effect of the direct action of God; and typically the basis for this is that it would seem to indicate omnipotence, omniscience, or some other such uniquely divine attribute in its cause. Wonderful or amazing things on their own (miracles in a broad sense) don't attest to God, at least in any special sense beyond the sense in which everything natural that exists attests to God (i.e., as their ultimate efficient and final cause). Either way you can and (if consistent) do reach classical theism, even if only probabilistically.

Maolsheachlann said...

Thanks for that, Brandon. I'm still confused though, because when you say:

"Miracles attest to God by definition; nothing is accounted a miracle in the proper sense unless it has been identified as a wonderful event, suitable as a sign, that can reasonably be said to be beyond the natural power of any secondary cause that was actually involved, and thus is the effect of the direct action of God; and typically the basis for this is that it would seem to indicate omnipotence, omniscience, or some other such uniquely divine attribute in its cause."

But isn't this what the ID people are trying to demonstrate (much of the time, anyway); that life could never have originated by "the natural power of any secondary cause that was involved"?

I've been reading Dr. Feser's posts for a long time now and (without wanting to sound too much like a fanboy)I nearly always find his arguments decisive, insofar as I understand them. This is the only case where I'm completely lost.

Crude said...

Ed,

A short comment for now. I understand a lot of your criticisms of ID, certainly from a Thomist standpoint. But you say this:

This is why it is foolish for Dembski to say things like "Naturalism is the disease, ID is the cure" etc. A sophisticated naturalist need not be troubled by ID in the least.

I have a very simple challenge in response to this.

Name one living sophisticated naturalist.

And by that I mean, name one self-identified naturalist who has commented on ID to the effect of, "Sure, in theory ID may lead us to scientifically infer that the cell / life / our universe was designed by some intelligent agent. But even if this were true, this wouldn't be a threat to naturalism at all. It would be entirely consistent with naturalism, in fact."

I think that's a fair challenge given your quoted claim. In fact, I think if your claim can be adequately supported, ID proponents - oddly enough - would be elated. Really, one of the most popular arguments against ID is that science must adhere to methodological naturalism. If I read you right, you're saying it does exactly that regardless of its truth or falsity.

I admit, my suspicion is that if there are any naturalists like that around anymore, they are very few in number. I'd love to be corrected on this point. That said, I think if you struggle to find a naturalist who fits the bill, you would have to admit ID has something of a point. Troubling all those "unsophisticated naturalists" would add some weight to that "fore the sake of argument" claim.

TheOFloinn said...

"nothing is accounted a miracle in the proper sense unless it has been identified as a wonderful event, suitable as a sign..."

But isn't this what the ID people are trying to demonstrate

In what way is the hemoglobin cascade a "sign"? What moral message does it convey? We don't yet know the secondary causes is hardly a moral lamppost.

Maolsheachlann said...

That's a good point. I guess I didn't realise a miracle required a moral message.

Brandon said...

Crude,

I think you've misread Ed; he gives the particular sense in which he meant "A sophisticated naturalist need not be troubled by ID in the least" in the paragraph immediately prior to the one you quote, and gives two names for example; the claim in context wasn't an unrestricted claim, as you are taking it, but a response to a particular suggestion by Leroy.

Also, it seems clear that Ed is talking about metaphysical naturalism, not methodological naturalism.

Brandon said...

Maolsheachlann,

In addition to TOF's point (on a Thomistic view, the message associated with a miracle need not be moral in a strict sense, but would have to have something to do with divine covenant, Christ, or the Church, and so would have to be moral in a broad sense of the term), I was primarily suggesting that the reason miracles attest to God is that the inferences involved in identifying something as a miracle are set up to admit only phenomena that in their context can be seen to be (at least probably) attesting direct divine action; and thus they are designed to distinguish God as primary cause and other things as secondary causes, and eliminate the latter. But ID theorists are not doing this at all; by their own repeated admission their inferences don't make a distinction between primary and secondary causes and therefore don't eliminate the latter. Therefore, even at the most optimistic, the results of ID only attest to God (depending on exactly how one takes it to be relevant to theological discussion) in the generic sense that everything does, or (as Ed suggests) attests to God as if he weren't significantly different from a secondary cause, which is at best metaphorical and at worst outright wrong. The identification of miracles by its very nature leads to direct action by God (omnipotent, omniscient, etc.) or to nothing at all; but ID is not like this. So the two seem to be in a very different boat.

Maolsheachlann said...

So you are saying God acts immediately rather than through secondary causes in a miracle, and ID proponents don't make this distinction, thus separating the intelligence at work in ID from the omnipotence at work in a miracle? I guess I understand that.

Crude said...

Brandon,

the claim in context wasn't an unrestricted claim, as you are taking it, but a response to a particular suggestion by Leroy.

But Ed has made this claim before, such as in The Greek atomists and the god of Paley: Which, if ID theory ever gained wide acceptance, would simply become the naturalism of the modern naturalists. Darwinism will have been defeated, but a redefined naturalism will bop along unscathed. The last laugh will belong to Democritus rather than Dembski. Then many will say bitterly, in the wake of their Pyrrhic victory: “Even the naturalists believe, and tremble not at all.”

What's more, Chomsky and McGinn don't work as examples here. ID's claim isn't merely that this or that theory is inadequate - it's a claim that inferring intelligence as an explanation for this or that part of the natural world is both reasonable and scientific. Being untroubled with the idea that there will remain mysteries not explainable by scientific theory is not being untroubled by ID, much less a hypothetically accepted and 'correct' ID.

Now, I don't doubt that someone could call themselves a naturalist while accepting ID, in theory - it's not that I think that's impossible in principle. (Really, I can imagine a full-blown materialist calling himself a theist too.) But the impression I get from Ed's writings on this subject is that ID - even granting its success! - does not challenge people's naturalism whatsoever, so long as they are 'sophisticated naturalists'.

So, I'd like to know of a living sophisticated naturalist. I admit, it's kind of a "gotcha" - but I really think it's a fair question given the context. I'm a big fan of Ed's writing after all (Just grabbed Aquinas, and on his past recommendation, Pure), but I still feel something is wrong with his ID response. That encapsulates a lot of my worry.

Also, it seems clear that Ed is talking about metaphysical naturalism, not methodological naturalism.

Of course, but if ID is entirely compatible with metaphysical naturalism - and I think that's strongly suggested by Ed - then what case is left against ID on the 'methodological naturalism' front? The only reasonable one I could see is something like "ID goes beyond methodological naturalism, and entails or implies metaphysical naturalism", which I admit I'd really enjoy seeing as an argument against ID.

Daniel Smith said...

I agree that Thomas' Fifth Way is distinct and different from Paley's design argument. Of that there can be no doubt. Where I take issue is with the proposition that life is not "artifactual". I think Aquinas thought of life as artifactual because of the way he describes the formation of man from "the slime of the earth".

Aquinas says this: "An effect may be said to pre-exist in the causal virtues of creatures, in two ways. First, both in active and in passive potentiality, so that not only can it be produced out of pre-existing matter, but also that some pre-existing creature can produce it. Secondly, in passive potentiality only; that is, that out of pre-existing matter it can be produced by God. In this sense, according to Augustine, the human body pre-existed in the previous work in their causal virtues."

This passage says to me that the pre-existing matter - the "slime of the earth" - had the "passive potential" of "the human body" in it as "an effect" and that "out of pre-existing matter" it (the first human body) was "produced by God". Thus "the human body pre-existed in the previous work" (the slime of the earth) in its "causal virtues". In other words, God formed man - not ex nihilo - but artifactually - out of pre-existing matter.

This "passive potential" then was built into the elements of the earth but (according to Aquinas) only God could actualize it. This then makes life a miracle and the ID argument; essentially right - though they approach it from a completely wrong-headed direction IMO.

Anonymous said...

UD has a comment:
http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/heresy-hunter/

Bilbo said...

Getting back to Maolsheachlann's original point, if God can directly intervene to perform a miracle, why can't He directly intervent to create life? Whether or not it is a "sign" to us seems to be entirely irrelevant to the question of whether or not God can do it.

TheOFloinn said...

if God can directly intervene to perform a miracle, why can't He directly intervent to create life? Whether or not it is a "sign" to us seems to be entirely irrelevant to the question of whether or not God can do it.

William of Conches
[They say] "We do not know how this is, but we know that God can do it." You poor fools! God can make a cow out of a tree, but has He ever done so? Therefore show some reason why a thing is so, or cease to hold that it is so.

Brandon said...

Crude,

I don't see the relevance of your supplementary quotation; the point there was both purely hypothetical and also in context restricted. Here, Chomsky and McGinn were specifically raised as names relevant to the point Ed was actually addressing in the above comment, which was Leroy's suggestion that ID could still serve the purely negative function of raising puzzles that Darwinism (or naturalism) couldn't solve: the point being that there are naturalists (like Chomsky and McGinn) who have no problem accepting both Darwinism (or naturalism) and the position that there are still puzzles left open, indeed, puzzles that may never be resolvable.

There's no contradiction in holding that a position consistent with metaphysical naturalism is associated with an inquiry or inferences that are inconsistent with methodological naturalism. Indeed, there are bound to be many such things; UFO abductions and at least some paranormal phenomena are consistent with metaphysical naturalism, but this doesn't rule out the possibility that many ufological investigations or many forms of paranormal research violate principles of methodological naturalism. Despite the homonymy, the two are very different, and need not have any particular connection with each other.

Brandon said...

Bilbo said:

Getting back to Maolsheachlann's original point, if God can directly intervene to perform a miracle, why can't He directly intervent to create life? Whether or not it is a "sign" to us seems to be entirely irrelevant to the question of whether or not God can do it.

Of course God can do it; He's omnipotent. He therefore can do anything noncontradictory. But precisely because of this, what God can do is irrelevant to the discussion (the William of Conches point noted by TOF above); God can do so many things, infinitely many things, that the real question is what we can know about what He actually has done, and how. This is about the structure of inquiry, and this is the real point of the discussion. Also, ID isn't the claim that God directly intervened to create life, as ID theorists repeatedly tell us; it is entirely possible to hold that this is precisely what God did without getting anywhere near intelligent design theory.

The 'sign' point was addressing a specific point in Maolsheachlann's original question, namely, what makes miracles attest to God in a way that the conclusions of ID, if assumed true, would not.

Crude said...

Brandon,

I don't see the relevance of your supplementary quotation

Well, I think it's clear. Ed has said more than once that ID - even if it were successful as a project (and that project would include inferring design in nature) - would not put a dent in naturalism, nor would it trouble naturalists. If I've misunderstood Ed, I'm sure he'll tell me. But really, the ball's in his court, not mine or yours, at this point.

Hopefully he'll have the time to answer. (Though if not, no complaints here, of course. The guy always has so many people jumping at him for answers.)

Despite the homonymy, the two are very different, and need not have any particular connection with each other.

No, they do 'need have a particular connection with each other'. The 'naturalism' in both is more than mere homonymy - there are important ideas in common.

As for aliens, this remains: If it were previously argued that alien abductions and paranormal phenomena must be considered in violation of methodological naturalism because such things are supernatural (and thus outside the scope of methodological naturalism for that reason), then accepting the claim that such things are naturalistic would remove the previous argument from consideration.

Not to mention, it's not clear to me how investigating 'paranormal phenomena and alien abductions' would be "inconsistent with methodological naturalism". In conflict with some reasonable and standard practices of science, maybe, but that's not the same as violating MN. You can do some bad science without violating MN. (Heck, you can do some bad science while adhering strictly to MN.)

Alan Fox said...

He therefore can do anything noncontradictory.

If he's omnipotent, why do you need to restrict him to non-contradictory actions.

Alan Fox said...

...sell-out to secularists and loudmouth Darwinists like Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne.

"Loudmouth Darwinists?"

Their views are popular and widely promulgated, but I have not noticed their personal style of delivery is at any greater volume than Ed Feser.

Anonymous said...

Their views are popular and widely promulgated, but I have not noticed their personal style of delivery is at any greater volume than Ed Feser.

Alan Fox, atheist apologist, at your service ladies and gentlemen.

Anyone who doesn't notice the gulf of difference in personal style between Feser and Coyne & Dawkins is a liar or an idiot. Take your pick.

Mr. Green said...

Alan Fox: I have not noticed their personal style of delivery is at any greater volume than Ed Feser.

Then you haven't noticed many of the things they've come out with. (I don't blame you; I try to ignore them myself.) But just so you know, "loudmouth" is a colloquial English expression that refers to someone whose volume exceeds his knowledge or abilities, rather than an absolute measure in decibels.

Ricky "The Hitman" Hatton said...

To Alan Fox;
Alan, I've gone to Telicthoughts for many years. I don't necessarily agree with their posts on ID but I find the blog one of the better ones (at least up until a couple of years ago when Guts, Krauze, Mike Gene & Joy were posting regularly).
Out of all of the loud mouths and blow hards that have been on that board since 2004 I find it interesting that you are one of the 9 that have ever been banned from the forum.
That says something about you... and it's not a good thing.

Mr. Green said...

Daniel Smith proposed: In other words, God formed man - not ex nihilo - but artifactually - out of pre-existing matter. This "passive potential" then was built into the elements of the earth but (according to Aquinas) only God could actualize it.

But isn't that the very distinction between artifactual or not — whether it takes God to do it. So the creation (or nigh-creation?) of man was not completely ex nihilo, but nor was it an act of "building" a man, the way we might build a watch. In the former case, God had to create at least the soul from nothing; and then He had to join it to the (pre-existing) matter. When we build a machine, all the ingredients are pre-existing, but more than that, the watch operates according to the operation of its parts. (It's reducible in that scientific sense.) We take advantage of the parts' being able to work together, that is, of the scientific ability of all the different natures involved to complement each other in certain ways that combine to function like the pseudo-nature of "acting like a watch", "acting for the purpose of telling time". Whereas when God creates something, it really has that nature, it isn't just piggy-backing on the natures of its parts.

Now, what I'm not sure of is how we know where to draw the line — does a rock have its own nature, or is it merely a bunch of molecules stuck together (where the molecules are the real substances)? The fact that the material world works as though composites are merely the sum of their parts makes the dividing lines seem somewhat arbitrary. I think this is where Scotus would say that the rock and the molecules are all substances in their own right. But for Aquinas, you can only be one substance at a time, and so Adam's human nature replaced any slime-nature that his matter may have had, and thus there's no artificing.

Brandon said...

No, they do 'need have a particular connection with each other'. The 'naturalism' in both is more than mere homonymy - there are important ideas in common.

It is certainly true that there is more than mere homonymy; but there are no important ideas in common. Rather, the two are connected by analogy and oblique association. That is, methodological naturalism is 'naturalism' in the sense that it is a methodology that stays entirely within the bounds of what metaphysical naturalism would find acceptable. But they are completely different things. They are not even in the same philosophical domain, nor do they as positions serve the same philosophical purpose: metaphysical naturalism is about what really exists (and doesn't), while methodological naturalism is a about constraints on how one rationally discovers things (at least for a particular field). The one is about what is real, the other is about what's best for us to do in systematic inquiry. It is possible to be a methodological naturalist about some field, or even about every field, without being a metaphysical naturalist; and it is possible to be a metaphysical naturalist without being committed to methodological naturalism. They can be connected, but there is no particular connection always found between them -- one might as well say the practice of giving people the benefit of the doubt is always connected with the position that no one does anything bad. One of the slippery bits of nonsense regularly committed by New Atheists is sliding between metaphysical naturalism and methodological naturalism as if they were intimately related; I'm surprised to find you so easily taken in by it.

Alan Fox said...

Then you haven't noticed many of the things they've come out with. (I don't blame you; I try to ignore them myself.) But just so you know, "loudmouth" is a colloquial English expression that refers to someone whose volume exceeds his knowledge or abilities, rather than an absolute measure in decibels.

That's better as an ad hominem?. Thanks for the clarification. I really see little difference in insults directed at perceived intellectual opponents betyween herez and Coyne's blog.

Diego said...

http://www.olavodecarvalho.org/english/texts/miracle_en.html

What is a miracle?

Diego said...

The complete link:

http://www.olavodecarvalho.org/english/texts/
miracle_en.html

Bilbo said...

TheOFloinn said...

"William of Conches
[They say] "We do not know how this is, but we know that God can do it." You poor fools! God can make a cow out of a tree, but has He ever done so? Therefore show some reason why a thing is so, or cease to hold that it is so.
"

Thanks, OFloinn. You agree that God could have interevened in the universe and created life, contra Feser. Is there some reason to think that He has done so? ID believes there is good evidence that somebody has done so. If life is more than a machine, then that somebody must be God.

Bilbo said...

Brandon: "Of course God can do it; He's omnipotent. He therefore can do anything noncontradictory. "

Good. You also disagree with Feser.

"...the real question is what we can know about what He actually has done, and how. This is about the structure of inquiry, and this is the real point of the discussion."

Agreed. But Feser would rule out this inquiry from the start, based on his understanding of Thomist theology.

"Also, ID isn't the claim that God directly intervened to create life, as ID theorists repeatedly tell us; it is entirely possible to hold that this is precisely what God did without getting anywhere near intelligent design theory."

Yes, some ID proponents think it is possible that God could infuse the Big Bang with enough information that would result in the formation of life. Certainly in a deterministic universe. Not a stochastic one.

Alan Fox said...

Yes, some ID proponents think it is possible that God could infuse the Big Bang with enough information that would result in the formation of life. Certainly in a deterministic universe. Not a stochastic one.

Why not a stochastic one? God's omnipotent, right? So why cannot God just influence those apparently stochastic events to produce the right outcome to bring about the desired result. Here's atheist scientists thinking mutations are random - but God is secretly calling the shots. How would we know?

TheOFloinn said...

Alan Fox
If he's omnipotent, why do you need to restrict him to non-contradictory actions.

Because if the terms are in contradiction the locution does not describe anything even potentially in being. A "married bachelor," for existence, can only be materially real by equivocating on the terms.

Alan Fox
That's better as an ad hominem?

Actually, the statement in question was not an ad hominem. Ad hom. does not mean to insult. It means to argue that the proposition should be accepted or rejected based on the personal characteristics of the other. An example would be: "X must be true because Richard Dawkins is an eminent biologist."

Bilbo
You agree that God could have interevened in the universe and created life, contra Feser. ... ID believes there is good evidence that somebody has done so.

But their argument is that some things are so unlikely to have come from the Darwinian struggle for existence that they must have been due to an intelligent designer. They have repeatedly claimed that this designer might be super-alien creatures from another universe, or some other demiurgical character. But the fact that one scientific theory fails to account for X does not exclude other potential scientific theories.

And in particular, it overlooks the other fact, that it is the sheer lawfulness of the universe that argues for the existence of a designer. One doesn't need the improbable for which a physico-chemical explanation might be discovered next decade, even if a biological explanation is not. The probable will do quite nicely. As Einstein once commented (in a letter to M.Solvine) the fact that the universe is ordered at all, and ordered outside of any order imposed by human thought, is quite miraculous in itself.

Crude said...

Brandon,

One of the slippery bits of nonsense regularly committed by New Atheists is sliding between metaphysical naturalism and methodological naturalism as if they were intimately related; I'm surprised to find you so easily taken in by it.

"Taken in by it"? Not at all. In fact I find methodological naturalism to be nonsense insofar as the science question goes (and I think it's blurry even on the metaphysics question) - but that's a whole other argument. But the 'violation of MN' claim has been one popular argument against ID, and insofar as some people find it persuasive, I'm willing to assume it for the sake of argument and check it for consistency.

In this case, I'm pointing out that if one claims a naturalist can accept ID - even a hypothetically successful ID that really does infer design in nature - and do so without any threat to their naturalism, then ID by their lights is not violating methodological naturalism. Now, it could be 'non-science' or 'bad science' on other grounds. I already granted that. But the point is, if ID is entirely consistent with metaphysical naturalism, then it's not going to violate methodological naturalism.

If someone tells me, "No, a given idea can be completely consistent with metaphysical naturalism, yet at odds with methodological naturalism," I'm going to ask them what methodological naturalism is in their view. My impression is the only way to claim such an idea would still be at odds with methodological naturalism is to inflate MN to cover things that have nothing to do with what one would reasonably expect methodological naturalism to cover. Such that, say.. a scientist who's discovered to have not followed proper beaker cleaning procedures before performing his experiments "violated methodological naturalism."

Alan Fox said...

...to argue that the proposition should be accepted or rejected based on the personal characteristics of the other.

Indeed. I was allowing that Dr
Feser was arguing that Coyne and Dawkins' arguments should be given less weight because they are "loudmouths". I hadn't presumed to consider he was just gratuitously insulting them.

Alan Fox said...

Because if the terms are in contradiction the locution does not describe anything even potentially in being. A "married bachelor," for existence, can only be materially real by equivocating on the terms.

So is God omnipotent or not?

TheOFloinn said...

Alan Fox
So is God omnipotent or not?

TOF
The term means "all power-full," that is, "full of all powers." This is because as "First Cause" he is the source of all powers seen in the world, whether electromagnetism or human reason; and being the source of all powers must contain in himself something analogous to those powers. Hence, "full of all powers."

You probably imagine that it means a super-dude in a spandex suit and a cape. But this is like imagining the designer in terms of an engineer at a drafting table, rather than in the older meaning of "design" as "intention."

So, of course, "omnipotent" -and if you know Latin, that term may be more meaningful -- but that does not include word-play in the English language.

Alan Fox said...

You probably imagine that it means a super-dude in a spandex suit and a cape.

Do I? I never realised!

Getting back to the point If God is omnipotent, why can't he influence the outcome of apparently stochastic events.

Daniel Smith said...

Mr. Green: "But isn't that the very distinction between artifactual or not — whether it takes God to do it."

I don't think that's the dividing line - No. Most ID proponents believe that it takes God to make life.

"But for Aquinas, you can only be one substance at a time, and so Adam's human nature replaced any slime-nature that his matter may have had, and thus there's no artificing."

Aquinas said that God actualized the passive potential of the earthly elements in order to form man. He doesn't say that God replaced one nature with another. In fact he specifically says that "the human body pre-existed in the previous work in their causal virtues".

TheOFloinn said...

Alan Fox
If God is omnipotent, why can't he influence the outcome of apparently stochastic events.


Now you seem to assert that God is just another efficient cause among other efficient causes. I know of no reason why he cannot work through chance every bit as much as cause, although chance is only an illusion due to insufficient causal knowledge.

But there is a world of difference between saying:
a) "God can cause unlikely events to occur."
and
b) "Unlikely events are evidence of God (Intelligent Designer)."

Since unlikely events might also occur due to the workings of secondary causes within the world, they are not, ipso facto, evidence of a creator. But the natural, secondary causes (e.g., natural selection, electromagnetism, covalent bonding, etc.) themselves are the work of the creator.

Anonymous said...

TOF surely in God not being able to perform contradictions the issue is the same as with stochaistic events. Not everything is known about existence and probably not everything can be known, at least for humans and at least on the empirical/mathematical/philosophical levels. As such events which may appear to us to be contradictory may not be. Are we then not limiting God artificially though our own limited knowledge and intellect? Thanks for your comments about this. :-)

Mr. Green said...

Daniel Smith: I don't think that's the dividing line [between artifactual or not] - No. Most ID proponents believe that it takes God to make life.


I would expect so (though philosophically, how many believe that an angel could have done it, it just so happens that as a matter of historical fact, it was God?). The question is, do they think that (in Thomistic terms) God "built" life, like a machine? If I understand aright, a mechanism for Aquinas does not have its own nature — it's merely a conglomeration of things that do. Adam, on the other hand, does have his own nature. He couldn't even be a (God-built) robot, because has a human soul, which God had to create, and which is his form. (Now I wonder, could God build a robot-chicken, say? Something that looks and acts like an organism but doesn't have its own form? That seems strange, but I don't know what would rule it out.)


He doesn't say that God replaced one nature with another.

Well, a man isn't slime, so the slime-nature must have been replaced. (Or, perhaps, it co-existed along with the human nature, but again, Aquinas didn't accept co-existing natures.) The "nature" of a watch is multiple natures because really a watch is multiple substances; it's not a substance in itself. Adam is a substance, so he has his own nature; in many ways it acts like slime (it reflects light, it has mass, etc., etc.), but not because it has the slime's nature, but simply because human nature has some of the same powers as any other matter.

TheOFloinn said...

As such events which may appear to us to be contradictory may not be.

That A and not-A cannot be simultaneously is not a lack of human knowledge. A "married bachelor" is not an impossibility because we don't know how to do it. It is an impossibility by nature. Similarly, that there are true sentences in any discourse strong enough to support first-order logic which cannot be proven within the discourse is not a statement that "we don't know how to prove it yet," but rather a rigorous proof that there is no proof for some statements.

Amending my previous comment about randomness: in addition to ignorance, it may also be due to the intersection of two or more causal lines, each cause in which is known.

Bilbo said...

Alan: "So why cannot God just influence those apparently stochastic events to produce the right outcome to bring about the desired result."

In which case they are not really stochastic.

Bilbo said...

TOF: "But the fact that one scientific theory fails to account for X does not exclude other potential scientific theories."

True.

"And in particular, it overlooks the other fact, that it is the sheer lawfulness of the universe that argues for the existence of a designer."

It doesn't "overlook" it. Atheists can and do argue that we just don't know why the universe is lawful, yet. So improbability of life is another argument that they must add to their list of not knowing the answer, yet.

Meanwhile, you are criticizing ID on grounds that Feser has given up.

From Feser's OP: "It is true that the Fifth Way is intended to be a metaphysical demonstration and (at least when the basic thrust of the argument is followed out consistently) leads us to a conception of God as Pure Actuality (from which the other divine attributes can be deduced); while design arguments are typically merely probabilistic, and do not tell us much about God’s nature. But that by itself is not a problem, and it is not the reason why Thomists object to Paley and to ID theory."

So, TOF, you are rejecting ID for reasons that Feser says are "not a problem." As far as I can tell, the only problem Feser has is that ID would make God look like a "tinkerer." To which I would reply, so what's wrong with tinkering? I, a philosopher of all thumbs, deeply envy tinkerers their ability to design and create. It is no accident that when God chose to incarnate Himself, He did so as a tinkerer.

Alan Fox said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alan Fox said...

In which case they are not really stochastic.

Well, exactly, Bilbo. God works through natural causes. Or not, depending on your personal beliefs. But now there's no need to argue about the science. As far as science is concerned it's stochastic... but you know better. Coyne's happy; you're happy. what's wrong with that?

Anonymous said...

TOF, thanks for your response.

In the case of a married bachelor we are one hundred percent sure of the definitions or natures of both bachelor and 'married' but in the case of existence there may be things which are beyond our knowledge.

dguller said...

Quick question, and this may not be relevant to the discussion so far, but I've finished TLS and am reading Aquinas. Excellent books, by the way, and even though I disagree with much of them, I can honestly say that Aquinas was a giant amongst thinkers.

My question is whether Aristotle and Aquinas would consider a star a living thing. After all, stars have self-generated motion and processes, which fits the definition of "living" for A&A, right?

Daniel Smith said...

Mr Green: "a mechanism for Aquinas does not have its own nature — it's merely a conglomeration of things that do. Adam, on the other hand, does have his own nature."

Actually a "mechanism" has the form of a "mechanism" (to my mind anyway). It may be an artificial form - made by man - but it is a form nonetheless.

Everything else must be that way too. If a hair falls out of my head, is that hair "me"? Or is it merely a part of me - having its own form and existence yet also being a part of my form and existence?

I think the latter.

It seems to me that to argue otherwise would lead one to the logical end that either A) only the basic elements of matter have form and any conglomeration of matter is a mechanism, or B) only large conglomerations have form and constituent parts do not. The former leading to materialism, the latter having as its logical end only "the universe" with form and all of its constituent parts (including us) - not.

Neither can be right (IMO).

"Well, a man isn't slime, so the slime-nature must have been replaced."

"Dust you are and to dust you shall return."

The "slime-nature" is not replaced according to Aquinas. The "slime" - more specifically the elements of the earth - have in themselves the "passive potential" to become a living being - but only God can actualize that potential. That's what Thomas actually said.

In that sense, God combines the forms of the elements in such a way as to make life - which has its own form.

Jime said...

As an "outsider" in regards to Thomism and ID, I'll summarize the point of disagreement as far I understand it:

Aquinas' fifth way assume a immanent teleology which is radically at variance with ID's mechanistic conception of nature.

This implies that if Aquinas' metaphysics is right, ID's metaphysics is false and hence a non-starter (for the same reason, the reserve also would be true; if ID is true, Aquinas' metaphysics is false and the fifth way would be a non-starter).

The theological implication is this: Aquinas'fifth way leads to the God of the classical theism, while the "designer" of ID doesn't lead to such God.

So, Christians shouldn't use the design argument as an argument for the Christian God's existence.

This is as I understand the essential of the Thomism vs. ID debate.

Now, I have a question: Is essential to ID a mechanistic conception of nature? (Note that I'm not saking if Paley or most contemporary ID's defenders assume a mechanistical conception of nature; what I'm asking is whether such mechanistic view is ESSENTIAL to ID)

Why couldn't the God of classical theism to create a teleological world as Thomists think AND additionally, in specific domains and for specific purposes (like the fine tuning of the universe or a biology directed for the creation of humans) also to impose "from outside" a form of specified complexity which conforms to an independently given patter (which is Demski's criteria for ID)?

I see no reason to think that God (being omnipotent) cannot do that.

Particularly, assuming immanent teleology, I see no reason to think that God (which is a spiritual person) cannot decide to act in certain cases like an external designer or architect (e.g. in the case of the Universe' fine tuning) imposing such design wholly from "outside".

Granted, Thomists will reply that in such case, the design argument doesn't prove the full divine attributes of the designer. But this is besides the point, since most arguments of contemporary natural theology don't pretend to prove all of God's attributes as understood by classical theism. Most of such arguments provesome of God's attributes.

Thomists will reply that such design argument is not only incomplete to prove God's existence, but that it leads to a God wholly different than the God of classical theism. But this objection assumes that the God of classical theism is incapable of acting like an external designer (which impose from outside certain forms of specified complexity for specific divine purposes like the creation of human beings) IN ADDITION to the existence of immanent teleology in nature (which is the basic premise of Aquinas' fifth way).

The objection assumes that God is caught in a dilemma: or he creates through immanent teleology; or he creates through the external imposition of intelligence over a purely mechanistic nature. (I don't see any reson to think this dilemma is a true one, specially to God)

In conclusion, I think intelligent design is not per se incompatible with Thomism; which is incompatible with Thomism are the metaphysical premises that as a matter of contigent (historical) fact, most ID's defeders (like Paley) have taken for granted; but such premises are not essential to ID; and therefore ID is not essentially incompatible with Aquinas' immanent teleology.

Just an outsider's opinion.

Jime said...

I wrote a comment here about this entry, but I couldn't post it here.

I wrote the comment as a entry in my blog:

http://subversivethinking.blogspot.com/2011/03/edward-feser-thomism-and-intelligent.html

Bilbo said...

Alan:

"God works through natural causes. Or not, depending on your personal beliefs."

My personal belief is that sometimes God does, and sometimes He doesn't, and we may or may not be able to identify when He has done which.

"But now there's no need to argue about the science."

Yes, but where's the fun in that?

"As far as science is concerned it's stochastic... but you know better."

I know better than science? Of course. ;)

" Coyne's happy; you're happy. what's wrong with that?"

But I'm happier when I can make Coyne unhappy. :)

Mr. Green said...

Daniel Smith: Actually a "mechanism" has the form of a "mechanism" (to my mind anyway). It may be an artificial form - made by man - but it is a form nonetheless.

Ah, yes, but not all forms are substantial. That is where the difference lies. Certain natural processes work to produce new substances (such as when any animals reproduce to generate a new animal); other natural process do not produce new substances, but merely apply accidental forms to existing substances (such as assembling the parts of a watch). In other words, what makes something either a substance or an artifact is not how it's made, but whether it has a single substantial form (plus possible accidental forms on top of that), or whether it has only accidental forms by which separate substances interoperate. Adam is not a co-operating conglomeration of separate slimy substances, but in Thomistic terms a single substance, which makes him not an artifact, no matter by what process he came to be.

The "slime-nature" is not replaced according to Aquinas.

It certainly is, for "only the first form which comes to matter is substantial, whereas all those that come later are accidental." The dust of the earth has the potential to become a living being because a human body can be made out of the same atoms that make up dust or slime. Once it becomes a human body, though, it has one substantial form (the soul) and any number of accidental forms (such as those for having hair or not, etc.).

Now Scotus believed that a man had multiple forms: one for being a corporeal body, one for being an animal, one for being human, and so on. So for him, Adam would have continued to possess the original form of dust with his other forms added on top of that. (At least that's how I understand it.) But Aquinas quite emphatically rejects that view, which is why I say the slime-nature gets replaced. ("12. It must be said that the body, before it receives a soul, has some form; however, that form does not remain when the soul comes.")

I do think your points about only the fundamental elements being substances or else the whole universe being a single substance are good ones. I have to admit which things are "substances" seems somewhat arbitrary to me — is it just up to God to pick certain things He wants to be substances, and give them the appropriate forms? I can't see anything stopping God from creating the one-substance-universe, or from creating a world wherein everything except elementary particles is a "mechanism". (In fact, that would give us a reductionistic, mechanistic world rather like the modern view.) Of course, such worlds could not contain human beings (no human substance = no rational soul), nor even animals or vegetables, though it could contain "mechanical" things that looked and acted just like animals and vegetables.

BenYachov said...

@dguller
>My question is whether Aristotle and Aquinas would consider a star a living thing. After all, stars have self-generated motion and processes, which fits the definition of "living" for A&A, right?

You know what? That is a good question. Regardless if God exists or not?

Of course heck if I have an answer to it. I just don't know.

dguller said...

Ben:

Thanks.

I've finished TLS and Aquinas, and have marked a number of questions that I have. That was just one that I wanted a quick answer to, because it just seemed odd to me.

Here's another one about forms. Hydrogen has the form of a hydrogen atom. Helium has the form of a helium atom. However, hydrogen is just a single proton, and helium is just two protons. So, if you have a single proton, then you have hydrogen, and if you add a second proton, then you have helium.

My question is, does the form of hydrogen get knocked off the single proton once a second proton is added, and then the form of helium is inserted? At what point does the one form replace the other? Is there an intermediate form, a quasi-hydrogen-helium form there instead?

dguller said...

Ben:

Here’s another way to look at my question.

You start with a hydrogen atom, which is just a single proton. You then introduce another proton heading towards that hydrogen atom. Initially, there is a great deal of resistance, because both protons are positively charged, but if enough energy is added, then the two protons are bonded into a helium atom. At the start of this process there were two hydrogen atoms, which means two bits of matter with the form of hydrogen. By the end of the process, you have one bit of matter with the form of helium.

My question is: what happened to the forms? Did one form get displaced by another? What about the intermediary stage where the two atoms have just overcome the resistance and are on the verge of uniting into a single nucleus? Is it still two hydrogen atoms or a single helium atom, or is it some intermediary form of a pseudo-quasi-hydrogen-helium form?

Isn’t it easier to just say that two separate protons became fused to become a single nucleus with two protons inside it? Why even bring in form-talk at all, especially if a form is supposed to be an independently existing essence that exists either in matter or in an intellect, which fundamentally means the divine intellect, and which can be shared between things, because it is a thing, too?

TheOFloinn said...

dguller
...does the form of hydrogen get knocked off the single proton once a second proton is added, and then the form of helium is inserted?

I believe there are neutrons and electrons that are also involved. A single proton is an alpha particle, not a hydrogen atom.

But form does not get "knocked off" or "added," as if it were a substance in its own right. That was the Cartesian error that permeates modern thinking. If you took a lump of clay molded into the form of a sphere and worked it into the form of a cube, it would cease to be a sphere and begin to be a cube. The same thing happens to a hydrogen atom if you add another proton, etc. [This is done in the hearts of stars.] It would cease to be a hydrogen atom and begin to be a helium atom.

For inanimate beings the form just is the number and arrangement of its matter/parts. For animate objects there is more to it.

I think the term "substance" has been misused. Substance is being, and being is the hylomorphic union of matter and form. As William Wallace puts it:

Substance, then, is the first category, and substance is unique in that it exists in itself. The remaining nine categories share in common that they are predicamental accidents and exist in another, that is, not by themselves but in a substance. Thus substance is what is most basic and independent in existence. It "stands under" (sub-stans) and sustains accidents in their being and itself is a source of activity.

The first idea we gain of a substance is our very self. Each of us is a substance. I am aware that I now am, and have been, the same being over the entire course of my life. All of my accidents have changed, and yet I have remained the same. And I easily recognize that you are substances too, and so are plants and animals, and stones and minerals, and the various chemical elements.


He writes also:

[It is] the organization or formal arrangement of these components [protons, neutrons, electrons], and not the components themselves, [that] makes sodium be what it is. This arrangement occurs in nature and is not an artificial form, like the shape of a chair imposed on pieces of wood that [otherwise] maintain their own identity. None of the electrons in the sodium atom acts simply as an electron. Rather, each functions as a part of sodium. The form that is known and that is modeled in the Bohr-Sommerfeld atom is clearly a natural form, a unifying form that confers a new substantial identity on the parts that make up the composite."

[[There is a discussion of substance, form, etc. here: http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c02001.htm
You can toggle to successive lectures using the >> at the bottom of the page.]]

TheOFloinn said...

So, are stars "substantial"? Or are they more like sand dunes: heaps shaped by outside forces?

Stars are composed primarily of hydrogen. The amount of hydrogen is large enough that their gravitational powers compress them toward a center of gravity. It is this "crush" that fuses hydrogen into helium. But fusion releases energy, which pushes the heap of hydrogen apart. Once the core hydrogen has been "burned," gravity takes over, the star collapses a bit, and this reignites the fusion, forming lithium from the helium and hydrogen. The star exists so long as the radiative pressure to expand indefinitely is in balance with the gravitational impulse to collapse forever.

So the question is: do the hydrogen atoms which comprise a star act as hydrogen atoms, or do they act as part of a star?

I'm inclined to say that stars are substances, if only because we recognize them as such. But they are not animate substances.

TheOFloinn said...

My question is: what happened to the forms?

What happens to your lap when you stand up? What happens to the sphere when you deflate a basketball?
+ + +
What about the intermediary stage?

That is called "the intension and remission of forms." When an apple changes accidental form from "green" to "red," there is a phase when it "begins to be" red and when it "ceases to be green." (There may not even be a first or last moment, since they are half-open sets.)
+ + +
Why even bring in form-talk at all?

Because form is what makes a thing what it is. Sodium and chlorine behave differently because they have different forms, not because they have different matter. Protons, neutrons, and electrons are the same for both. In "salt," they even share an electron! Note that in the compound, sodium and chlorine cease to be flammable metal and poisonous gas and become tasty salt. Because they now participate in a different form of matter.
+ + +
especially if a form is supposed to be an independently existing essence

Ah, but it is not supposed to be so. When you see a basketball, do you say "I see a mass of rubber and a sphere? Without a substantive form, a thing would not even be, at all. Try to imagine a triangle without "three-sidedness." If it were not three-sided, it would not be a triangle.

A substance is the union of matter and form. You may be confused because the form is the intelligible aspect of a thing. (Most "materialists" aren't.)

dguller said...

TOF:

>> I'm inclined to say that stars are substances, if only because we recognize them as such. But they are not animate substances.

I am inclined to agree, too, that they are substances. My question is why they should not be considered to be alive, because they seem to meet the criteria laid down by A&A for a living substance, i.e. self-generated activity of some sort. And if they do meet criteria as a living substance, then what does that say about A&A’s definition of “living” to begin with?

dguller said...

TOF:

>> What happens to your lap when you stand up? What happens to the sphere when you deflate a basketball?

Right. In ordinary language, it makes no sense to say what I am saying, but we are not talking about ordinary language, but the specific language of Aristotelian metaphysics. In that language, it does appear to make sense to say that the form of X disappeared and was replaced by the form of Y, because this statement is analogous to one thing being replaced by another thing. It is this tendency to reify forms that I find disturbing.

>> That is called "the intension and remission of forms." When an apple changes accidental form from "green" to "red," there is a phase when it "begins to be" red and when it "ceases to be green." (There may not even be a first or last moment, since they are half-open sets.)

First, I am not talking about a change of accidental properties, but essential ones, i.e. an atom of hydrogen becoming an atom of helium.

Second, I still want to know what happened to the forms during that transition. Forms are supposed to be useful, because the SAME FORM is present in both a substance in the world and in our intellect. That is how we can have knowledge at all. This would imply that it is some independent THING that has made an imprint of some kind both on a material entity and upon our intellect. This language is fraught with paradox and confusion, I believe.

>> Because form is what makes a thing what it is. Sodium and chlorine behave differently because they have different forms, not because they have different matter. Protons, neutrons, and electrons are the same for both. In "salt," they even share an electron! Note that in the compound, sodium and chlorine cease to be flammable metal and poisonous gas and become tasty salt. Because they now participate in a different form of matter.

First, what is “matter” on this conception? I understand matter to be made up of subatomic particles and their even smaller components, i.e. quarks and so on.

Second, when you say that they have a different “form of matter”, I can understand this, but only as a different composition of the parts of matter into new configurations and relationships. That is all there is to it. Why add talk of forms at all, because it does not appear to add anything.

>> Ah, but it is not supposed to be so. When you see a basketball, do you say "I see a mass of rubber and a sphere? Without a substantive form, a thing would not even be, at all. Try to imagine a triangle without "three-sidedness." If it were not three-sided, it would not be a triangle.

Why not just say that a triangle has three sides as part of its definition? Why do you have to bring talk about forms into it at all? I feel like a form is akin to a cookie-cutter that makes imprints upon the intellect and upon matter, and that is how we can know anything about the world at all. It is all based upon a particular analogy, and part of that analogy is that the cookie-cutter must be real before the intellect or matter in order to make the imprint at all.

>> A substance is the union of matter and form. You may be confused because the form is the intelligible aspect of a thing. (Most "materialists" aren't.)

I thought the form is the ESSENCE of the thing. Are all essences intelligible? Is it not possible for some essential aspects of reality to be hidden from our powers of cognition and perception? Or are you saying that they just have to be intelligible by something, i.e. God? And doesn’t that bring in a God to fill a gap?

Mr. Green said...

Dguller: This would imply that it is some independent THING that has made an imprint of some kind both on a material entity and upon our intellect.

A form isn't some extra "thing" that comes along and imprints anything. The cookie-cutter analogy is all wrong, because the cookie-cutter is independent and completely separate from the cookies. The form is the shape left behind by the cookie-cutter — not the moulding of the cutter itself which comes up to the cookie, does something to it, and then moves away again. The form doesn't do anything to make the shape, it just is the shape (hence its name). You're right, the cookie-cutter is an extraneous third enitity, which is why on the correct analogy, there is no cutter at all.

The difficulty comes in trying to imagine forms, because imagination is about sense-perception, and only material things are sensible in that way, so we try to imagine some sort of "form-ghost" floating around like a translucent cookie-cutter. But since a form considered by itself has no matter, it cannot be imagined. It can only be understood, purely intellectually or abstractly, which is of course what we do when we understand or reason about concepts like "roundness".


Second, when you say that they have a different “form of matter”, I can understand this, but only as a different composition of the parts of matter into new configurations and relationships. That is all there is to it.


That is all there is. Forms don't add anything extra, but they are there — there is a shape, a structure, a configuration, so if we're going to talk about stuff, we need to call it something. This is just the language that has developed. All sorts of contemporary philosophy about "emergence" and "non-reductive" and "information theory" is starting to rediscover the same ideas with new terms. But there's nothing wrong with the old terms (coming from millennia-old Greek, they might feel a bit unusual to modern sensibilities... but get familiar with them, and they'll feel much more comfortable, of course!).

"Forms" aren't meant to be mysterious or weird. It's just some technical terminology so philosophers can talk precisely about something that is obvious and common-sensical: that a round thing here and a round thing there are both round, they both have "roundness", and roundness is the same wherever it may be found. Forms are definitions in the literal sense of de-fining, de-limiting, demarcating the boundaries on what something is. (What they aren't is definitions in the nominalist sense — the problem with saying that forms are just words is that the terminology we use has to be terms for something real, or else it wouldn't be describing reality, it would just be fiction. But a round pie and a round pie-plate are really both round, so that "roundness" itself must be something real, no matter what you call it. Similarly, if you understand that the pie is round, it must be the same roundness "in" your mind, or else you wouldn't actually be understanding the same reality. The form is simply whatever it is about reality that is that same thing.)

TheOFloinn said...

@dguller

An animate substance has an minimum four powers:
1. Metabolism
2. Homeostasis
3. Reproduction
4. Growth/development

If you can demonstrate that a star possesses these powers, you will have demonstrated that stars are at least vegetables.

You are not allowed to use analogies or equivocations. That a mechanical process may resemble an animate process does not make them the same sort of process. So far as I know, stars do not eat, digest, or excrete. What equilibrium they maintain (say, between gravitation and radiation pressure) is not due to their own efforts, but to universal physics. But feel free. That is, their activity is not so much "self-generated" as it is simply a response to universal forces molding it.

TheOFloinn said...

First, what is “matter” on this conception? I understand matter to be made up of subatomic particles and their even smaller components, i.e. quarks and so on.

Those are particular forms of matter. Matter is what a thing is made of; form is what makes it that thing. As such, the matter of water is the H2O molecule. The matter of the molecule is the hydrogen and oxygen atoms. The matter of the atom is the proton, neutron, and electron. The matter of the proton is the quarks. Quarks, too, must be made of matter, since they come in a variety of kinds: top, bottom, up, down, charming, etc. They therefore have distinguishing features, and therefore are composed of parts. A novel has a subject matter and a narrative form. An argument is about the matter couched in a form. The matter in a legal case may require a material witness in court, etc. etc. The distinction leads us to formal logic and material logic, and hence to formal and material fallacies.

The great mathematical physicist Poincare once said that a pile of brick is not a house, and a pile of facts is not a science. They must be arranged in a particular form.

Prime matter (hule prote) is the basic substrate of everything. It is the principle of potency. It could be anything, just as the bricks could be constructed into any of a variety of structures. It is form that makes it actually something: a house or a wall. The scientific theory is the form given to a pile of scientific facts.
+ + +
Second, when you say that they have a different “form of matter”, I can understand this, but only as a different composition of the parts of matter into new configurations and relationships. That is all there is to it. Why add talk of forms at all, because it does not appear to add anything.

In a way, you have already said something about the form, except you called it the definition. However, all you have said is that this form defines this term. To consider the form as form can lead to deeper understanding of the thing, as when Bohr first imagined the form of atoms, and Sommerfield modified that form with ellipses, and later still spin was added to the form. Realizing that compounds were formed by sharing valence electrons opened our knowledge of chemistry.
+ + +
Why not just say that a triangle has three sides as part of its definition?

We do. "Plane geometric figure" is the matter. "Three-sided" is the form. Together, a "three-sided plane geometric figure" is a triangle. It's the matter that is less comprehended. We can (and do) discuss three-sidedness in purely abstract terms.
+ + +
I feel like a form is akin to a cookie-cutter that makes imprints upon the intellect and upon matter,

Only if you are a Platonist, I suppose. But in A-T, the forms do not exist as substances in their own right.

BTW, why do Late Moderns say "I feel like..." rather than "I think that...."

dguller said...

Mr Green:

Thanks. That helped. I guess I just have to get used to the terminology.

Bilbo said...

Mr Green: "In other words, what makes something either a substance or an artifact is not how it's made, but whether it has a single substantial form (plus possible accidental forms on top of that), or whether it has only accidental forms by which separate substances interoperate."

If I understand this statement, and if Mr. Green correctly represents the Thomist view, then ID is at least theoretically consistent with Thomism.

dguller said...

TOF:

>> You are not allowed to use analogies or equivocations. That a mechanical process may resemble an animate process does not make them the same sort of process. So far as I know, stars do not eat, digest, or excrete. What equilibrium they maintain (say, between gravitation and radiation pressure) is not due to their own efforts, but to universal physics. But feel free. That is, their activity is not so much "self-generated" as it is simply a response to universal forces molding it.

I fail to see the distinction between the internal processes that occur within a star that sustain its existence versus the internal processes that occur within a plant that sustains its existence. To cite the fact that the internal processes of the former are just due to physical laws affecting the behavior of atomic particles is just not sufficient, I think. One could say the same about the metabolic and homeostatic processes that sustain a plant. They are all physical processes that are internal, which makes them different from a rock or block of ice, for example, which are fairly static internally, and change happens from an outside force.

Of course, this would all be irrelevant if A&A’s definition of “life” was not just self-sustaining activity. Certainly, if they also said that these other features (1) to (4) were necessary, then that would adequately answer my question. I just thought that their definition was unnecessarily broad, as far as I understood it in Feser’s Aquinas book. I’ll look it up when I get home to see if I misread it, as appears to be the case.

dguller said...

TOF:

Another interesting question is whether a computer program, or some other artificial entity, that exhibits (1) to (4) would be considered alive. Any thoughts?

dguller said...

TOF:

Another question I have is why life cannot be derived from non-life. DNA is not alive, and neither is RNA, proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, and so on, but they can be combined to form a cell, which is certainly alive, meeting your criteria of metabolism, homeostasis, reproduction, and growth/development.

Would A&A object to this?

TheOFloinn said...

@dguller

This diagram may help. In it, PM stands for prime matter and NF for natural form.
http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/WAW0009.GIF

In this diagram of the inorganic form, the form is shown as a sort of "field." The abbreviations are: EF (electromagnetic force), GF (gravitational force), WF (weak force), and SF (strong/nuclear force).
http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/WAW0013.GIF

This diagram shows the powers of the animate form for vegetative being. Since all plants are made of chemicals, the form for plants subsumes and incorporates the inanimate form, above. The abbreviations: homeostasis control (HC), metabolism control (MC), developmental power (DP), and reproductive power (RP).
http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/WAW0018.GIF
To that can then be added the animal or sensitive form and the human or rational form.

dguller said...

TOF:

From Feser’s Aquinas:

“From the Aristotelian point of view, the answer is that ‘life is essentially that by which anything has power to move itself’” (p. 134).

“A living thing is just the sort of thing whose activities spring from within” (p. 134).

“It is immanent teleology or finality that is definitive of life” (p. 135).

That is where I got my idea about a star being alive from.

Alan Fox said...

Bilbo:

But I'm happier when I can make Coyne unhappy. :)

In a free and open society you have to grant the right to others to to express their opinion as freely as you expect to express yours.

Don't you agree?

Daniel Smith said...

Mr Green: "Adam is not a co-operating conglomeration of separate slimy substances, but in Thomistic terms a single substance, which makes him not an artifact, no matter by what process he came to be."

I don't know that ID makes any distinction about forms and substances though. ID basically says that God (or "an intelligence"... puke!) is required for there to be life. On this point (at least), so long as it is God and not some lesser being, Thomas appears to be in agreement.

TheOFloinn said...

ID basically says that God (or "an intelligence"... puke!) is required for there to be life. On this point (at least), so long as it is God and not some lesser being, Thomas appears to be in agreement.

But ID is not simply the belief that there is a creator God. That is religion, and we've been in on it for a long time. ID is a supposed scientific theory which holds that certain kinds of complexity are so unlikely that they must be the direct action of a superbeing.

It is precisely this with which the Thomist takes up issue. (In fact, a statistician might take up issue, too.) The equation of nature with artifact was the obsession of the mechanist/materialists. It was why Newton thought that God would have to intervene periodically to keep the planetary orbits "tuned up."

The mechanistic view, informed by artifactual thinking because it has banished telos and essences [natures] from its thinking, can come up with no reason why natural parts should work together than that they were compelled to do so by an outside agency.

What Paley should have recognized in the watch was not its "design" but its "artificiality." Unlike a living organism, which builds itself, the parts of a watch must be put together by a watchmaker.

When Thomas compared nature to art, he did so by saying that nature was an art "as if" the shipbuilder could give to the wood the power to form itself into a ship. Which was precisely Augustine's observation when he pointed out that God commanded "the earth" to bring forth the living kinds, and "the earth" did so.

To conflate ID with the simple belief in a creator God is a form of bait-and-switch. It's like proving that Mars has two moons by pointing to a passage in Gulliver's Travels, or proving that the sun is in the center because fire is nobler than earth. The conclusions may be correct; but the proofs are bogus.

Mr. Green said...

Jime concluded: which is incompatible with Thomism are the metaphysical premises that as a matter of contingent (historical) fact, most ID's defenders (like Paley) have taken for granted; but such premises are not essential to ID; and therefore ID is not essentially incompatible with Aquinas' immanent teleology.

Indeed; and as Prof. Feser has said many times, ID qua science is entirely compatible with Thomism, it's just certain philosophical approaches which aren't. There are also various ID claims that are not Thomistic in the sense that they are not strict philosophical deductions from first principles, but such practical or pragmatic arguments are not incompatible with Thomism, really; they just aren't Thomism. (Most of what we do all day does not count as "engaging in Thomistic philosophy", but that doesn't make it wrong.)

Unfortunately, there is far too much knee-jerk reacting around the issue. If a Thomist (who presumably believes Thomism is true) says "ID is not compatible with Thomism", then some people conclude that that means "ID is false" which means "Evolution wasn't designed" which means "God didn't do it" (or He's not fully in control, or doesn't care, or whatever). [Don't ask me how a Thomist of all people is supposed to believe such things.] Of course, I can understand a lot of this reaction when you consider how dishonestly ID is attacked a lot of the time. It shouldn't affect rational arguments, but humans are emotional beings, after all. Also, ID folks do themselves a great disservice by often being very sloppy about when they're doing science, when they're doing philosophy, what kind of philosophy they're doing, whether they're giving a casual, pragmatic argument, or a rigorous deduction, etc.

There isn't a dilemma about God's creating organically vs. mechanistically, though: both organisms and mechanisms are teleological (one intrinsically, the other extrinsically), and both have tendencies to behave in a way that is according to their nature or their compound-externally-imposed-arrangement. A watch is likely to do certain watchy-things just as a chicken is likely to do certain chickeny-things, and if we can come up with a scientific description of those things, then we can [in theory] calculate how likely a watch/chicken/etc. is to act in a certain way.

Mr. Green said...

Bilbo: If I understand this statement, and if Mr. Green correctly represents the Thomist view, then ID is at least theoretically consistent with Thomism.

Again, depends what you mean by "ID". If you're referring to the scientific idea of being able to determine empirically whether something is likely to have happened by chance or not, then yes, it's 100% compatible. (As Prof. Feser has said many times.) The philosophical outworkings of that idea will be more or less compatible depending on exactly what conclusions you're trying to draw, and whether they are expressed in a Thomistic framework (or how easily they can be "translated" to a Thomistic framework).

Mr. Green said...

TheOFloinn‬: ID is a supposed scientific theory which holds that certain kinds of complexity are so unlikely that they must be the direct action of a superbeing.

No, it holds that certain complexity is so unlikely that it must be an action. The "superbeing" is superfluous. And it doesn't even have to be direct (depending what you mean by that). It just has to be not chance. If I deal out a deck of cards in exact order, ID theory can tell you that I stacked the deck. No miracles, no superbeings, no gaps — just that I must have done something to the deck. (Now when we're talking about the origins of life on earth, obviously I wasn't the one who stacked that deck, nor you, so most people are going to conclude it was something more esoteric. But that gets into the philosophical implications, not the (supposed) scientific theory itself.)

When Thomas compared nature to art, he did so by saying that nature was an art "as if" the shipbuilder could give to the wood the power to form itself into a ship.

But we can do that. We have computers and robots, we can design mechanisms that build themselves. The difference is that no matter how clever the mechanism, it will still be a machine, whereas the organism will be a substance. Artificiality is not useful here (esp. from the scientific point of view, which cannot see "substantial forms"; it measures only the effects).

The issue ID (science) has with Darwinian (unguided) evolution is not that the modern view is unable to explain why natural parts should work together, except by some outside agency. The whole problem is that the natural parts do work together, just not in the way that Darwinian evolution requires! The claim is that precisely because we can measure the natural way for those natural parts to work, we can tell that they would not produce the desired results by chance. They would naturally produce the desired results if the deck was stacked, though.

TheOFloinn said...

If a Thomist ... says "ID is not compatible with Thomism", then some people conclude that that means "ID is false" which means "Evolution wasn't designed" which means "God didn't do it" ....

This is part of the confusion between the specific crypto-scientific claim called "ID" and the more generic claim that the world functions as the result of God's intentions. Since there is something in God analogous to intellect and since "design" = "intention", this latter may also be called "Intelligent Design." It just isn't the same thing.

Under Thomas' "Fifth Way," Darwin's Theory, to the extent that it correctly describes the regularities of the world, is better evidence for God than some as-of-today inexplicable bit of detail.
+ + +
whether something is likely to have happened by chance or not

Nothing happens "by chance," because "chance" is not a cause. It is in this context the equivalent to saying "we don't know the cause" or else "there are many small causes operating simultaneously, no one of which dominates the system." It's a sort of shorthand for ignorance.
+ + +
The claim is that precisely because we can measure the natural way for those natural parts to work, we can tell that they would not produce the desired results by chance

But can they do so by their nature? The "chance" approach implicitly assumes the mechanistic fallacy: that there is no reason why A might combine with B and so it "must" be happenstance that brought them together.

As we learn more and more about the inward workings of genes, we realize that Dawkins and Behe and the rest are working from a model of the gene that is nearly 100 years old. There are mechanisms within the genes themselves that work toward changes being massive and sudden, not tiny and incremental, as Darwin had supposed. This means the probabilities of all sorts of unlikely events may not be as unlikely as 1920s-thinking supposes.

Bilbo said...

Alan: "In a free and open society you have to grant the right to others to to express their opinion as freely as you expect to express yours.
Don't you agree?
"

Yes, though I might draw the line at protests at funerals. That whacko church group seems to be crossing into a region of unacceptable behavior.

Bilbo said...

TOF: "The mechanistic view, informed by artifactual thinking because it has banished telos and essences [natures] from its thinking, can come up with no reason why natural parts should work together than that they were compelled to do so by an outside agency."

Not true. Mechanism can explain much about how the universe took its present form, based on its natural parts.

" Unlike a living organism, which builds itself, the parts of a watch must be put together by a watchmaker."

But this is exactly what is at issue. Can the non-living parts build themselves into a living organism? The evidence appears to be against it.

Daniel Smith said...

The O'Flinn:

What does Thomas mean then, when speaking of the formation of the human body, (and by implication all of Life), he says that "passive potentiality" can only be actualized by God?

Isn't that kinda the same thing as ID saying that only God can make life?

I looked for more instances where Aquinas talks about passive potentiality, but didn't find much to clarify his meaning.

Here's the quote from Aquinas again:

"An effect may be said to pre-exist in the causal virtues of creatures, in two ways. First, both in active and in passive potentiality, so that not only can it be produced out of pre-existing matter, but also that some pre-existing creature can produce it. Secondly, in passive potentiality only; that is, that out of pre-existing matter it can be produced by God. In this sense, according to Augustine, the human body pre-existed in the previous work in their causal virtues."

Daniel Smith said...

Woops!
Should be "TheOFloinn‬"

Daniel Smith said...

Also my post should have included this quote from TheOFloinn at the beginning:

"Unlike a living organism, which builds itself, the parts of a watch must be put together by a watchmaker."

Sheesh!!!

Jime said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jime said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jime said...

Indeed; and as Prof. Feser has said many times, ID qua science is entirely compatible with Thomism, it's just certain philosophical approaches which aren't

Exactly, Mr. Green.

The implication then is that ID (which pretends to be an essentially scientific hypothesis, not a philosophical position per se) is not incompatible with Thomism.

Note that in the case of an externally imposed design (like a clock), the material cause and physical parts of such clock (atoms, molecules, platic, metal,etc.) have itself, according to Thomists, a final causality (certain potentialities to be actualized).

But such immanent teleological fact doesn't preclude the possibility that an externally imposed design (caused by human beings) ALSO exist. (In the case of the clock, the design has as specific purpose an human one: to enable us to know time).

If human beings can impose external design on a inmmanent teleological world in order to get certain purposes, then a fortiori God can do it too for divine purposes (like the creation of human beings, the coming of Jesus Christ or the spiritual evolution of us).

This is why I consider the ID vs. Thomist debate an essentially superficial and irrelevant one. What's important is the philosophical assumptions behind the positions, and this can be discussed independently of ID.

Thomists criticizes ID by non-essential reasons (namely, the fact that ID's defenders, like mainstream philosophy in general, don't recognize immanent final causality and hence Aquinas' metaphysics), but given that ID is not essentially anti-teleological in the Thomistic sense (only accidentally so, that is, for historical reasons), then the debate is largely an irrelevant, superficial and misleading one in this sense.

BenYachov said...

Is ID compatible with Thomism? That is could God freely choose to supernaturally artifice certain life forms directly rather then threw secondary natural processes(like Evolution & Natural Selection). Sure He could. Just why would he want too?

God could have created a bunch of atoms ex nihilo then from then build a fertilized egg cell from the ground up in my mother's womb with half the genetic material resembling my Father's DNA the other half my Mother's.

However it is similar to believe the Hockey game wasn't on that night one thing lead to another then nine months later in April of 68 I was born.

There is simply no need to oppose evolution on religious grounds or the idea natural selection renders God irrelevant.

TheOFloinn said...

Every age has its own fascinations, and usually concludes "Now, at long last, we no longer need God!" The ultra-Darwinians are not the first, nor will they be the last. Natural selection no more obviates God than do Maxwell's Equations. (And the latter are more scientifically founded.) Before electromagnetism, the laws of mechanics were supposed to have eliminated the need for God; hence, Laplace's famous reply to Napoleon.

Even earlier still, in the autumn of Late Antiquity, St. Macrina, on her deathbed, rebutted the then-current proposition that clever automatons crafted for the emperor demonstrated that God was not needed. So it would seem that it is the conclusion that is constant across the ages and only the "proof" that changes.

Bilbo said...

Ben: "That is could God freely choose to supernaturally artifice certain life forms directly rather then threw secondary natural processes(like Evolution & Natural Selection). Sure He could. Just why would he want too?"

Perhaps secondary natural processes were not capable of doing it? Or not doing in the time frame that God wanted?

TheOFloinn said...

Perhaps secondary natural processes were not capable of doing it? Or not doing in the time frame that God wanted?

And God looked upon all that He had created and saw that it was good.

Except for not being up to the job.

And running too slow.

And...

Daniel Smith said...

I'm noticing that no one wants to talk about Aquinas' distinction between active and passive potentiality.

Have I hit a nerve?

Or is everyone as confused as I am about it?

TheOFloinn said...

I'm noticing that no one wants to talk about Aquinas' distinction between active and passive potentiality. Have I hit a nerve?

Couldn't say. I hit [enter], but apparently the post vanished into cyber space.

The quote you offered came from a question in which Thomas was arguing for direct divine constriction of the human body from the mud. I don't think anyone defends that today. Aquinas himself stated that
since Holy Scripture can be explained in a multiplicity of senses, one should adhere to a particular explanation, only in such measure as to be ready to abandon it, if it be proved with certainty to be false; lest Holy Scripture be exposed to the ridicule of unbelievers, and obstacles be placed to their believing.
- Aquinas, ST I.68.1


However, in an earlier Question, he had asked whether anything new could have been created after the seven days. He answered:
Nothing entirely new was afterwards made by God, but all things subsequently made had in a sense been made before in the work of the six days. Some things, indeed, had a pre-existed materially, as the rib from the side of Adam out of which God formed Eve; whilst others existed not only in matter but also in their causes, as those individual creatures that are now generated existed in the first of their kind. Species, also, that are new, if any such appear, existed beforehand in various active powers; so that animals, and perhaps even new species of animals, are produced by putrefaction by the power which the stars and elements received at the beginning.
--ST I.73.1.rep 3


Keep in mind the business about pre-existing in the causal powers created in the beginning. This would be like the word CAT pre-existing in the word CUT, given some sort of natural power of vowel-shifting. Or like a subsequent species pre-existing in the genome of a prior species, given some sort of natural power of gene-shifting. Note that he has never seen or heard of a new species coming into being, but he is confident that it would be due to powers given to nature at the beginning.

Now, to the other quote:
An effect may be said to pre-exist in the causal virtues of creatures, in two ways.

First, both in active and in passive potentiality, so that not only can it be produced out of pre-existing matter, but also that some pre-existing creature can produce it.

Secondly, in passive potentiality only; that is, that out of pre-existing matter it can be produced by God. In this sense, according to Augustine, the human body pre-existed in the previous work in their causal powers.
--ST I.91.2.rep4


That is: in active potentiality a creature, say a dogbear is potentially a dog [and potentially a bear] and the creature gives birth to a sport who is rather more doggish than bearish. Since all animals are alike in their essential powers, nothing new is created. It is only rearranged.

Here is where Aquinas may have had a problem. Having never seen chimps or gorillas, let alone Neanderthal fossils, he had never seen anything sufficiently like a man to suppose that the human body could have been produced from active potency. That the specifically human powers of reason are a direct product of God has been doctrine for a long time. The matter had the potency for reason - presumably in the form of a complex brain, etc. - but could not actualize it, since a cause cannot give what it does not have. Thus, while the dogbear has sight and mobility and perception and emotion, and so has no difficulty causing this in its more doggish offspring, reason must come from an entity that is already reasonable in at least an allegorical sense.

That's the best I can do.

Tony said...

Bilbo: Perhaps secondary natural processes were not capable of doing it? Or not doing in the time frame that God wanted?

TOF: And God looked upon all that He had created and saw that it was good.
Except for not being up to the job.


There are some kinds of acts that secondary agents in principle cannot do, of their own nature. For example, a secondary agent cannot forgive sin against God, only God Himself can do such a thing.

One of those things that a secondary agent cannot accomplish is bringing forth a spiritual immortal soul capable of, called, and destined to be united intimately with God in perfect knowledge and love. Such a soul can only be brought forth DIRECTLY by Divinity Itself. For, the agent cause must itself possess the act with which he informs the nature of the being he forms, which nature is specified by the end intended. And no secondary cause can possess the Beatific Vision by nature: it consists in God Himself inhabiting the mind and being to the mind in the same relation as a concept is to the mind when the mind know the concept. No secondary agent, being the mere recipient of the Beatific Vision, can fashion the nature of man so as to be capable of being destined for the Beatific Vision. That intrinsically takes the infinite power of God - power that is like to the inherently supernatural effect, an effect that is above every created nature.

TheOFloinn said...

There are some kinds of acts that secondary agents in principle cannot do

Except that ID is not addressing the beatific vision, the implantation of the rational soul, or the forgiveness of sins.

It addresses the rearrangement of matter from one configuration to another.

The idea that God must be cited -- excuse me: an intelligent designer -- for such things as a flagellum or a hemoglobin cascade, but not for a stone or a zebra is rather absurd. What it means is that the IDer, in principle, is surrendering God's power to something called Nature, EXCEPT for a handful of improbable exceptions. In 5, 50, or 500 years when the exceptions are rationally explained, there goes the basis for their belief. Meanwhile, Thomists marvel at the creative power of God expressed in the very order of the universe, whether Maxwell's equations or Darwin's suppositions, "from quark to quasar," as the saying runs.

But I must beg off now. Dr. F is undoubtedly growing weary of my responding all the time. I'm a freaking amateur, anyway. My profession is that of statistician (which is why arguments from probability never impress me.)

Mr. Green said...

BenYachov: There is simply no need to oppose evolution on religious grounds or the idea natural selection renders God irrelevant.

That sounds like an ID slogan!

TheOFloinn: And God looked upon all that He had created and saw that it was good. Except for not being up to the job.

Oh, so you're agreeing with Bilbo that God must have done it some other way?!
Interestingly, St. Macrina's argument sounds rather IDish — if a result doesn't happen spontaneously, it must be artifice, which is the action of a mind. But I don't think the current model of the gene is "100 years old"; that's where all the "coding" and "information" stuff comes in. Certainly that means there's more going on than just "reducing it all to physics", but I don't know if you're suggesting that biology will end discovering something that goes against physics, or leaves a gap.

Daniel Smith: I'm noticing that no one wants to talk about Aquinas' distinction between active and passive potentiality.

Well, I'm not sure. Perhaps he simply means that an active potential is like water's ability to turn into steam; it has that potential, and a creature can come along and effect that change (by heating it). On the other hand, dust has a passive potential to become a human body because the matter involved can logically be the same matter making up a human body, but nothing in the dust lends itself to being so (re)formed — God can do it, but a creature can't, because there's no natural power or end that leads to such a change.

That make sense to me, because different creatures can do different things (we can do things a vegetable can't, and an angel can do things we can't), so so an active potential depends on the nature of the thing being brought to that potential and the nature of the creature so bringing it. God has no limitations, so he doesn't need anything active to work with; but there needs to be at least a passive potential insofar as the change is not impossible (e.g. a square does not have even the passive potential to be a circle).

Mr. Green said...

TheOFloinn: The idea that God must be cited -- excuse me: an intelligent designer -- for such things as a flagellum or a hemoglobin cascade, but not for a stone or a zebra is rather absurd.

Of course it is. But how God's power is expressed will not be the same because a stone is not the same as a flagellum is not the same as a zebra. A peculiar attitude seems to be provoked by ID, but I don't understand why; it's not as though one had to choose between Thomism or biology or something. The ID question is a perfectly reasonable one, and it's worth finding out the answer, even if that answer turns out to be negative. (If ID didn't show that a flagellum was "exceptional", it's not like Michael Behe will suddenly become an atheist.) No one group has a monopoly on marvelling at God's power.

My profession is that of statistician (which is why arguments from probability never impress me.)

I don't follow. If we're playing cards, and every time I shuffle, I end up with four aces, your response is hardly going to be, "Oh well, the odds of that particular hand are the same as any other possible hand!"

Bilbo said...

TOF: "And God looked upon all that He had created and saw that it was good.
Except for not being up to the job.
And running too slow.
And...
"

An assumption is being made here that God wanted the initial creation to be able to bring about life. Why couldn't it be that God wanted the initial creation to bring about the materials to make life and the conditions in which life could survive?

Bilbo said...

TOF: "The idea that God must be cited -- excuse me: an intelligent designer -- for such things as a flagellum or a hemoglobin cascade, but not for a stone or a zebra is rather absurd. What it means is that the IDer, in principle, is surrendering God's power to something called Nature, EXCEPT for a handful of improbable exceptions."

Incorrect view of ID. ID says that we have positive evidence of design for certain features of life. It does not say that other features of the universe are not designed, or that there is no evidence that they were designed.


"In 5, 50, or 500 years when the exceptions are rationally explained, there goes the basis for their belief."

Regarding the origin of life, that's very unlikely to happen, even in 1,000,000,000 years.

"Meanwhile, Thomists marvel at the creative power of God expressed in the very order of the universe, whether Maxwell's equations or Darwin's suppositions, "from quark to quasar," as the saying runs."

So do we IDers.

Test said...

"A peculiar attitude seems to be provoked by ID, but I don't understand why."

The animosity directed at ID from Thomists baffles me, it really does. Granted, this is coming from someone who is sympathetic to ID, but not really an advocate per se.

TheOFloinn

I'm a long time reader of your blog (since that Hypatia piece, which was awesome!), and I find myself agreeing with you on just about everything, but your position here is irritating, to put it bluntly.

"In 5, 50, or 500 years when the exceptions are rationally explained, there goes the basis for their belief."

By exceptions (which are disputably major hang-ups) I assume you mean gaps in the fossil records, the questionable causal power of NS+RM, lacking of proper transitional pathways etc. If evolution science were to adequately address these issues, I get the impression ID proponents would be more than happy to yield to such discoveries (I've read such statements over at uncommondescent.com not infrequently).

This also sounds a good deal like when materialists plead to us that, given enough time, we'll be able to explain the mind-body interaction completely in terms of physics or something. They say "give as another 100 years and we'll be able demonstrate the absurdity of dualism" or some such nonsense. The underlying assumption being that the evidence will fall on the side of Darwinist explanatory mechanisms through some quantum leap in the biological sciences...maybe - but you have no way of knowing this. That is, I find presumptions of what we will know to be unconvincing, especially in matters as transitional as science - induction and all that (especially as pertains to OOL).

"Meanwhile, Thomists marvel at the creative power of God expressed in the very order of the universe, whether Maxwell's equations or Darwin's suppositions, "from quark to quasar," as the saying runs."

Where did you get the impression that ID advocates believe differently? I'm genuinely curious: have you read any literature/papers from leading ID proponents (Dembski, Marks, Behe etc.)? If so, what do you think of the scientific validity of such works? Thanks!

Daniel Smith said...

TheOFloinn: "The quote you offered came from a question in which Thomas was arguing for direct divine constriction of the human body from the mud. I don't think anyone defends that today."

First, thanks for taking the time to address my question.

I realize that Aquinas was talking about the human body in this case, but I think there may be good reason to assume that this active/passive potentiality distinction applies to human artifacts vs life in a broader sense.

Things with active potentiality can be assembled or molded into something else by a "creature" (to use Thomas' word.) Parts of a watch have the active potential to be assembled into a working watch. Paint and canvas have the active potential to become a painting.

Life, on the other hand, cannot be assembled from the elements of the earth by creatures. The elements of the earth do not have that active potential but only have the passive potential to become life. It requires the power of God to turn dirt into life.

Now, I'm not talking about one species evolving into another. I'm only talking about abiogenesis here.

That's the way I prefer to read Aquinas on this subject. I think he may be on to something and - if ID would equate "designer" with "God" - the two schools of thought might agree on this one point.

Daniel Smith said...

Tony: "There are some kinds of acts that secondary agents in principle cannot do, of their own nature. For example, a secondary agent cannot forgive sin against God, only God Himself can do such a thing.

"One of those things that a secondary agent cannot accomplish is bringing forth a spiritual immortal soul capable of, called, and destined to be united intimately with God in perfect knowledge and love."

Perhaps also, no secondary agent can produce a living soul (form) from non-living elements. This would be in agreement with Thomas' active/passive potential distinction.

Bilbo said...

Hi Daniel,

Here's my question: If God created the universe with the idea that eventually it would produce the materials needed that He would then use to create life, is life an additional property that is not inherent in those materials? If it is an additional property, and only God can bestow it, then I agree that only God could design living organisms. But would life being an additional property be a problem for A/Ters?

If it is not an additional property, then it's not clear to me that a non-divine designer couldn't design living organisms as well.

Daniel Smith said...

Bilbo: "is life an additional property that is not inherent in those materials?"

I think that is what Aquinas was saying.

"But would life being an additional property be a problem for A/Ters?"

It kinda seems that way - though I'm not sure why.

Bilbo said...

But would life being an additional property be a problem for A/Ters?"

Daniel: "It kinda seems that way - though I'm not sure why."

I think because the Aristotelian view (unlike the Platonic) is that properties do not exist independently of things, but are an inherent part of them. So once the things exist, no extra property needs to be added to them to be what they are. So if all the parts of a living organism are in place, there should be a living organism.

It seems that one way around this is to say that every living organism has an additional part called a soul, so that even if all the physical parts are there, unless there is a soul, there is no living organism.

I don't know enough of A/T philosophy to know if this fits in. Perhaps you know.

Daniel Smith said...

Bilbo: "I don't know enough of A/T philosophy to know if this fits in. Perhaps you know."

I'm fairly new to A/T philosophy Bilbo, so I can't really answer that with any authority either.

I will say, however, that your description is more consistent with scripture. God first formed man out of dust (assembled all the parts), then breathed life into his nostrils.

So scripture seems to say that the assemblage of parts is NOT enough. I'll have to look up Aquinas' interpretation of that passage.

I miss you over at Telic Thoughts BTW. Are you gone for good? (I hope not!)

Bilbo said...

I don't know if Thomists will think it any good, but I have written My First Thomistic Argument.