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A Response to Some Critics, Part 2

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May 22, 2010 Tags: Design

Today's entry was written by Francis Beckwith. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

A Response to Some Critics, Part 2

This is the final entry in a series by Francis Beckwith, the first of which can be found here. Closely related to these blogs is a Scholarly Essay entitled “Intelligent Design, Thomas Aquinas, and the Ubiquity of Final Causes.

In yesterday’s entry, I corrected some misleading comments made about my background. I also explained why certain Thomist philosophers see in Intelligent Design (ID) a philosophy of nature that is nearly indistinguishable from William Paley’s failed mechanistic understanding of the universe. Today I want to say more about Thomism and ID by addressing the charge that some of us do not take into consideration the central question of whether or not ID arguments are reasonable.

About the Intelligent Design Arguments

After reading my previous BioLogos entry, I can hear my friend Jay Richards asking, “What about the ID arguments, Frank? Doesn’t it matter if they work?” That’s more than a fair question. So, let me address it. Of course, it matters, but it depends on what you mean by “work.” And in the ID debate what counts as “work” is multilayered and not easily answered. Consider this basic and straightforward question, “Does Michael Behe’s argument for irreducible complexity in nature succeed?” Suppose the answer is “yes” insofar as it is rational for one to accept Behe’s argument to an intelligent agent cause from the irreducible complexity of the bacterial flagellum, and it is in that sense the ID argument “works.” But that’s not the end of the story.

Biologist Lynn Margulis, for example, has offered endosymbiotic theory1 as a non-neo-Darwinian evolutionary account that may explain irreducible complexity without requiring a design inference (as understood by Behe and Dembski). Other scientists have suggested something similar. Simon Conway Morris2 has argued that apparently irreducibly complex organisms are perfectly “natural” since the development of nature requires a goal-directness, a teleology if you will (though the biological sciences as sciences do not require final causes for theory-making3).

If, as some believe, either Margulis or Morris offers an account that can answer Behe’s concerns while at the same time supporting evolution, then the ID argument, in a sense, does not “work.” This is why former Discovery Institute vice president Mark Ryland writes in the New Catholic Encyclopedia:

Nothing of great philosophical or theological importance is at stake in whether or not material discontinuities or gaps exist in the secondary causes of cosmic and biological evolution. Although some extrinsic imposition of order like [Intelligent Design Theory] might be true, as far as scientific theories of evolution are concerned, teleological and structuralist interpretations of evolution—with their emphasis on intrinsic, purposive properties of nature—are closer to what natural philosophy would expect and predict.4

The Problem with Intelligent Design Arguments

Here’s the problem, as I see it: the ID advocate is assuming that an anomaly in the apparently seamless story of evolution is a necessary condition for a defeater to naturalism. But that assumption is mistaken, since it requires that we believe that efficient and material causality (not to mention evolution itself) are rivals to teleology in nature, which is the essence of the mechanistic view. This is why the ID advocate spends so much time protecting the non-seamlessness of nature by trying to find flaws in the works of thinkers like Margulis and Morris. Consider, for example, Dembski’s comments in his review of Morris’ book, Life’s Solution. In it Dembski lets the mechanistic cat out of the ID bag:

By refusing to allow that teleology can be scientifically tractable, Conway Morris remains squarely within the scientific mainstream. Yet, by making teleology a metaphysical addition to a science that otherwise is understandable entirely on materialistic principles, Conway Morris offers scientists merely a theological gloss on an otherwise thoroughly materialistic enterprise. Life’s Solution will no doubt comfort theistic evolutionists. But those without a stake in integrating faith and learning will see its theological project as an exercise in irrelevance, a view duly underwritten by Occam’s razor.5

But if ID does not assume a mechanistic view of nature, as some ID advocates claim, then why treat such accounts as defeaters to one’s project? (This is why Clive Hayden––another Uncommon Descent blogger—is mistaken when he claims that my definition of ID is arbitrary. As I hope I have made clear in my recent works on this matter, I see ID as distinct from other cases for natural teleology or non-naturalism in this respect: ID requires as a necessary condition that the story of evolution not be seamless).

In response to this sort of analysis, Richards says that ID supporters he privately contacted hold a variety of views on the nature of nature, and thus ID is not committed to one particular philosophy of nature. I have no doubt that his polling data are accurate. But what one claims to believe and what one can conceptually account for are two different things. It should be noted that Richards is presently working on a project in which he plans to sort out these and other issues relating to ID, Catholicism, Thomism, and the philosophy of nature. I look forward to reading this work when it is released.

Conclusion

Let me conclude by reminding readers on all sides of this debate a simple truth that we should never forget, one recently penned by my friend and fellow Catholic, Jay Richards: “[T]he issues at stake are subtle and complicated, and often involve translations into somewhat different `conceptual schemes’; so it’s hard to deal with them adequately in the drive-by fashion appropriate to the blogosphere.”

Can I get an “Amen”?

Notes

1. Lynn Sagan, "On the Origin of Mitosing cells,” Journal of Theoretical Biology 14.3 (1967): 255–274.

2. Simon Conway Morris, Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003)

3. This, by the way, is the view embraced by the great Catholic philosopher, Etienne Gilson:

[F]inalists…are constrained by the evidence of facts, which in the tradition and through the example of Aristotle they desire to make intelligible. As far as I know, they do not claim anymore that “scientific” evidence is on their side; the scientific description of ontogenesis and phylogenesis remains identically what it is without the need of going back to the first, transscientific principles of mechanism or finalism. Natural science neither destroys final causality nor establishes it. These two principles belong to the philosophy of the science of nature, to that which we have called its “wisdom.” What scientists, as scientists, can do to help clarify the problem of natural teleology is not to busy themselves with it. They are the most qualified of all to keep philosophizing about it, if they so desire; but it is then necessary that they agree to philosophize… Finalist philosophies are responsible to themselves; they do not involve themselves with science at all, and science, as such, has no cause to concern itself with them. (emphasis added)

(Etienne Gilson, From Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again: A Journey in Final Causality, Species and Evolution, trans. John Lyon [San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2009], 15–16, 133)

4. Mark Ryland, “Intelligent Design Theory,” in New Catholic Encyclopedia Supplement Vol. 1. ed., Robert L. Fastiggi (Detroit: Gale Publishing, 2009), 477.

5. William A. Dembski, “Everything that Rises Must Converge,” Books & Culture (Nov/Dec 2004): 42.


Francis Beckwith is Professor of Philosophy & Church-State Studies at Baylor University and is a prolific scholar of jurisprudence, the theory of law. His most recent book, Politics for Christians: Statescraft as Soulcraft, clarifies the confusion many Christians feel about how their faith should shape their involvement in the public square, particularly within politics.

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Francis Beckwith - #14999

May 25th 2010

Rich writes:

Yet this partitioning of the four causes, assigning some of them to “metaphysics” alone, seems to be the basis of Francis Beckwith’s rejection of ID reasoning.

Nope. All four causes are “metaphysical,” in the modern sense of the term as employed in contemporary philosophy. 

Too much time is wasted on categorizing. The question is whether it is reasonable for one to believe in final causes as intrinsic to organisms. If it is, then the next question is, “How, if it all, should final causes play a role in scientific theory making?” Perhaps, as Gilson has argued, no place at all. But that only means that science does not tell the whole story.


R Hampton - #15007

May 25th 2010

The language of the natural sciences is Mathematics because it is the study of logical reasoning and symbolic relationships, e.g. Isaac Newton used Mathematics to describe universal laws and so founded modern Physics. Game theory in particular has been used in extensively in Economics (free market and consumer behavior) and Biology (evolutionary fitness and sex ratio stability).


Bilbo - #15016

May 25th 2010

Frank:  Nope. All four causes are “metaphysical,” in the modern sense of the term as employed in contemporary philosophy.

Precisely!  Metaphysics is already part of science, no matter how much they deny it. 

RH: Precisely the attitude that make TE unacceptable to ID proponents (even though it isn’t a specific claim of ID, it just happens to be the universal position of its supporters - funny, don’t you think?).

This has nothing to do with the debate about ID. 

Science is the study of what can be objectively and repeatedly measured or tested, by anyone in the world regardless of their religious/philosophical background. In contrast, (a given) philosophy never can, nor never will, transcend religious/philosophical backgrounds.

Maybe if you had some background in philosophy you would realize the philosophical underpinnings of your definition of science.  We are assuming that there is something that can be objectively and repeatedly measured or tested.  What an incredible metaphysical assumption!  By what right do we make that assumption?


Bilbo - #15018

May 25th 2010

Jay Richards has just written a terrific essay on Mechanism and Thomist criticism of ID: 

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2010/05/on_mechanism_response_to_some.html#more


unapologetic catholic - #15047

May 25th 2010

“We are assuming that there is something that can be objectively and repeatedly measured or tested.”

No we make no such assumption.  It’s a working hypothesis only.  We actually go out and test it to see if it’s *still* gettting expected results.  As long as we actually get expected results then we have a stengthened suspicion that the hypothesis is an aproximation to the truth.  We don’t assume it’s true.

We have , for example, a working hypothesis that if you fall out of a plane you will quickly accelerate towards the ground at 9.8 meters per second squared until you hit the ground or until you reach terminal velocity. 

There is no metephysics involved.  Atheiists, dualists, realists, monists, nihilists and neo-scholastics will all fall at the same rate.

Now if you’re goging to go all Po Mo on us (What is reality?)  I think you’re beyond help, but I’ll bet you $10,000 that a Po-Mo will fall just like all the others.  Even though I make no assumptions, and yoru mileage may vary,  I do like my chances.


Gregory - #15062

May 25th 2010

I´m more interested to hear people talk about ´formal causes´ than about ´final causes.´ I agree fully with Beckwith about metaphysical causality. Science is limited & so is evolutionary theory.

However, once one looks at ´formal cause´ as the ´pattern´or ´definition´ of a res extensa, then the ideas/forms of the IDM actually start to make more sense. Nevertheless, I still do not like their language choice, i.e. going back to Darwin or Malthus & Paley, instead of to Whitehead or Bergson & Descartes.

Design-fetish - ugghh!! The idea that *both* organisms *&* mechanisms are ´designed´ (#14959) is highly problematic.

Philosophy, science & theology overlap with each other in significant ways. The key in these discussions to avoid animosity & quarreling is to speak of those ways that offer a kind of common ground.

I imagine that Beckwith agreed to partner with (i.e. accept money from) the DI due to issues of common ground. His thoughts about ID have changed over the years, as have mine. I´m willing to wait for the ´big ID scientific discovery´ that is promised. But I simply don´t see the world with the concept of ´design´ spectacles right now & doubt the need to do so.


Bilbo - #15063

May 25th 2010

Hi UC,

Now you’re assuming that because people falling out of airplanes have always been observed (when they have been measured) to fall at a certain acceleration rate, therefore any time someone falls out of an airplane they will always fall at that acceleration rate.

But this rests on the assumption of the uniformity of nature—that similar events will always have similar effects.  And this is another metaphysical assumption.  They just keep adding up.


R Hampton - #15068

May 25th 2010

But this rests on the assumption of the uniformity of nature—that similar events will always have similar effects.  And this is another metaphysical assumption.

Despite the protestations, nature is uniform; the supporting evidence is overwhelming. Moreover, metaphysical assumptions only concern ID proponents in regards to evolution, the rest of science is excused and/or unchallenged. Obviously the ‘metaphysical assumption’ is a tactic and not a true principle, but for the sake of argument let’s consider the concern genuine.

When Behe and Meyer assert that complex specified information (CSI) must originate from an intelligent agent, they do so under the assumption that the laws that govern the formation of proteins, DNA, and cells are the same today as they were a billion years ago. That is the premise on which they generate mathematical calculations of impossible odds. But if their assumption is wrong, and given a different set of laws CSI may have not needed an guiding intelligence. So the ‘metaphysical assumption’ is as damaging to ID as it is to Evolution.


Bilbo - #15093

May 25th 2010

Hi RH,

Your faith in the uniformity of nature is to be commended.  The “evidence” isn’t overwhelming.  We resuppose the uniformity of nature in order to do science.  Every time we find exceptions, we assume that we botched the experiment, or that there was some unaccounted for condition that affected the result, or that nature operates differently than we expected.

But meanwhile, all the tests we wish to perform will not guarantee that nature will act the same way tomorrow as it did today.  Our faith that it will act the same depends upon something far deeper than science.

And this has nothing to do with ID.  The problem of the uniformity of nature has been around since Hume.


R Hampton - #15101

May 25th 2010

Bilbo,
You used “the uniformity of nature” to question Evolution. It necessarily follows that if you consider ID to be a legitimate science, then you should be regard it with the same level of doubt, and speak against it with the same suspicion. But as we have seen, your consistent support of ID contradicts your principled attack of metaphysical assumptions.


unapologetic catholic - #15103

May 25th 2010

Hi Bilbo,

“Now you’re assuming that because people falling out of airplanes have always been observed (when they have been measured) to fall at a certain acceleration rate, therefore any time someone falls out of an airplane they will always fall at that acceleration rate.”

No I’m not ASSUMING that at all.

I’m extrapolating from past results and “learning from experience”  to make a prediction that the vast accumulation of data that gets to exactly the same result on every observed occurrence means that it is very likley that the same thing will happen again.  It’s true that the next person out of an airplane might go straight up!  I don’t think it’s very likely and I will predict that they will actually fall as described, but it’s not an assumption at all.  It’s experience often learned the hard way.

Those who think that it’s only an assumption that you will fall at a specifically measured rate don’t understand history.  The historical assumption was quite different.  Gallileo’s ball dropping off theTower of Pisa was a demonstration that assumptions are unreliable.


Rich - #15135

May 26th 2010

R Hampton (15068):

Your last suggestion makes no sense.  No neo-Darwinian or chemical evolutionary theorist believes that there was a different set of laws billions of years ago.  Therefore, Meyer and others are completely reasonable to base their argument on the assumption of present/past uniformity, and then show the implausibility of neo-Darwinian and chemical evolutionary hypotheses on that assumption.  It’s always good argumentative tactics to let your opponent define the playing field and the rules, and then *still* defeat him—as Meyer, Behe, etc. have done.  For if neo-Darwinism and chemical evolutionary theories are implausible even when naturalism and uniformity across time are granted, how much more implausible do they become if direct divine involvement is allowed as a real possibility?  For example, if the direct divine rearrangement of atoms is allowed as a possible hypothesis for the origin of the first cell, it’s more intrinsically plausible than any current version of chemical evolutionary theory.  It’s only by excluding this possibility that chemical evolutionary theory can gain a foothold, since the empirical evidence for it (at the moment, anyway) is so weak.


R Hampton - #15141

May 26th 2010

Rich,
Understand that my argument was made in direct opposition to Bilbo, who said;

“Maybe if you had some background in philosophy you would realize the philosophical underpinnings of your definition of science.  We are assuming that there is something that can be objectively and repeatedly measured or tested.  What an incredible metaphysical assumption!  By what right do we make that assumption?

So you agree with me (and disagree with Bilbo) by saying;

“No neo-Darwinian or chemical evolutionary theorist believes that there was a different set of laws billions of years ago. Therefore, Meyer and others are completely reasonable to base their argument on the assumption of present/past uniformity.”


Bilbo - #15251

May 26th 2010

Hi UC and RH,

My apologies.  It’s been so long since I read YEC literature that I forgot that bringing up the “uniformity of nature” issue is code for “nature acts differently now than it used to act, so evilution is false.”

So let me clear this up.  I accept the uniformity of nature (except for supernatural interventions).  I don’t think it acts differently now than it did in the distant past.  I’m not rying to question evolution based on that argumet.  And yes, ID depends upon the uniformity of nature as much as evolution does.

What I question is how we come to believe in the uniformity of nature.  It is not something that we arrive at through empirical investigation.  It is something we bring to our inestigation, and interpret our experiences accordingly.  If someone falls up from a plane, we will look for an explanation that fits in with our understanding of how nature operates.  Or we will revise our understanding of how nature operates.  But we won’t accept the view that nature is capricious and acts irrationally.


Bilbo - #15254

May 26th 2010

And that gets to the heart of my point.  Science depends on the belief that nature is rational.  We can investigate and understand it, or at least figure out how it operates.  Nature is a unity, with a finite number of principles by which it operates, and that we can discover.  And these principles don’t keep changing.  Or if they do, we can figure out how and why they do.

That’s a lot to assume.  And it’s not jut an extrapolation.  For an extrapolation assumes that it is reasonable to expect that things will continue in the same direction.

This is why the problem is deeper than the fact that science abandoned three of the four causes.  Because even the efficient cause, as Prof. Beckwith pointed out, is metaphysical.  We don’t “see” causes.  We only see conjoined events, and infer causes.  So we are doing metaphysics every time we do science.

cont.


Bilbo - #15255

May 26th 2010

cont.

I don’t object to Thomists or TEs.  I object to people like Coyne or Dawkins who think that science somehow disproves God.  Actually I laugh at them.  For when you realize ho much faith science must have in the unseen, theirs is truly a ridiculous position.


Rich - #15307

May 27th 2010

Bilbo:

I don’t object to *traditional* Thomists, or to theistic evolutionists in the abstract.

However, for the last ten years or more “TE” has generally connoted a group of people who are virulently against ID, while often remaining willfully ignorant of ID literature, and it has been associated with versions of Christian theology which are historically speaking heretical, even as the TEs have had the cheek to accuse IDers (who are much closer to traditional confessions and modes of Biblical interpretation) of heresy.

As for the Thomists, I never had any objection to them until recently, when they started launching aggressive attacks against ID, while sparing the theistic evolutionists any criticism whatsoever.  If someone can point me to an article where Thomists have indicated any flaws in TE theology, I would be very grateful.  Thomas Aquinas himself would have found *many* flaws in the theology of Ayala, MIller, etc., but when it comes to criticizing those guys, these new Thomists are button-lipped.  The double standard is so blatantly obvious that it demands an explanation.


unapologetic catholic - #15404

May 28th 2010

Hi Bilbo:

“What I question is how we come to believe in the uniformity of nature.  It is not something that we arrive at through empirical investigation.  It is something we bring to our inestigation, and interpret our experiences accordingly.”

I disagree.  We did get there through empirical investigation. 

Before we understodd weathre patterns we believed the weather was casued by fickle gods.  Before we understood germs we believed epidemics were erratic inflicitons from termpermental gods.  Before we understood plate tectonics, we believed earthquakes were divine retribution for imagined wrongs.  Only consisttnet observations over centuries eventually led us to grasp that nature might be predictable and understandable to human reason.  There’s noreason that nature has to be uniform.  It just appears to be htat way (and we could be wrong about that).


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