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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R Hampton - #14903

May 24th 2010

Stephen C. Meyer, January 1, 1999

. . . barring an empirically unsupportable and theoretically incoherent commitment to the view that the laws of nature can create novel specified information, it is difficult to see what empirical content Lamoureux’s teleological evolution has or how it differs in substance from standard Neo-Darwinism with its denial of any evidence of actual, as opposed to merely apparent, design. To cite C. S. Peirce’s maxim “for a difference to be a difference, it must make a difference.”


Bilbo - #14913

May 24th 2010

Hi RH,

I’m a little confused what your point is.  And I’m not always sure I know what the DI’s point is.  My point is that science has left God out of the picture through truncated thinking.  Using the assumption that we can understand the universe by only considering efficient causation has “worked” for science.  It has worked so well that science has forgotten why it works.  It works because God has created the universe to work that way. 

Yes, we should consciously “inject” metaphysics into the science classroom.  Because we are already injecting it unconsciously and badly

And this is regardless of the truth or falsity of ID.


R Hampton - #14916

May 24th 2010

“Yes, we should consciously ‘inject’ metaphysics into the science classroom.  Because we are already injecting it unconsciously and badly”

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?). 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.

Furthermore, not mentioning God is not the same thing as denying God. Science can not prove nor disprove the existence of God - nor does it try to. You know that.  Not that metaphysics can either, but at least it provides room for people like you who feel the need to present a rational argument for God. In this respect, you are no different then the Atheists who are compelled to provide a definitive answer where none can be had. Thus ID, like atheism, buddhism, et al. belong properly in a course on philosophy. Everyone with a dog to race can get their time on the track.


Francis Beckwith - #14918

May 24th 2010

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.

That means that a game of checkers is science.

1946 called, they want their positivism back.


Gregory - #14936

May 25th 2010

Glad to hear a reference to positivism here. Some people speak of scientism and others of some kind of philosophicalism, as if philosophy were no longer all that relevant to these conversations.

But I’m not satisfied with Bilbo’s IDist understanding of A-STA formal cause. This requires some philosophical competence, which has not yet been displayed.

“science has left God out of the picture through truncated thinking.  Using the assumption that we can understand the universe by only considering efficient causation has “worked” for science.” - Bilbo

Why does efficient causality work for science? Should science ‘put God in’? Does Bilbo want a ‘scientific’ formal cause?

Dr. Beckwith has challenged ID with his neo-Thomistic (i.e. 21st century) views of science, philosophy & religion. He says that ID continues the Euro Enlightenment’s entreaties to mechanistic thinking.

Behe, among many other IDists, says: Organisms *are* mechanisms. He cites the *concept* of ‘molecular machines’ in his reperatoire. But ORGA and MECHA are in some ways opposites.

Or is it just a time to conflate them?


R Hampton - #14940

May 25th 2010

That means that a game of checkers is science.

You are correct. It’s part of a larger scope of mathematics called “game theory.”


unapologetic catholic - #14945

May 25th 2010

Three votes for checkers as science and three votes for ID as something other than science.  Sounds like agreement on the simple stuff.  Let’s move on to the more difficult issues.


Rich - #14958

May 25th 2010

R Hampton:

Mathematics is not natural science.  Francis Beckwith was referring to natural science.


Rich - #14959

May 25th 2010

Gregory:

Mechanism and organism both display the purposeful arrangement of parts, the adjustment of means to ends.  Aristotle understood this, which was why he so frequently compared them.  And for Aristotle “final cause” is not some lofty metaphysical notion disconnected from grubby physical arrangements like the organization of parts.  Without final causation, there would be no “end” which organizes the parts, and hence no organisms.  Final causes in Aristotle are part of physics, not just metaphysics.  Aquinas was a very good student of Aristotle, and I’m not convinced that the banishment of “final cause” to “metaphysics”, leaving “physics” entirely to “efficient causes” would meet with his approval.  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.  It is almost as if Beckwith is unconsciously adjusting Aquinas to accommodate the exhaustive claims for efficient cause made by modern science.


Jeffrey L Vaughn - #14998

May 25th 2010

Personally, I would think intelligent design would be every biologists primary interest.

Scientists Say First Artificial Living Cell Developed
http://www.rferl.org/content/Scientists_Say_Develop_First_Artificial_Living_Cell/2048909.html

The real advances in biology will come from intelligently designed applications such as this and the obvious extensions to this work, and even more so, the extensions no one today can imagine, but will soon be common place.  The advantage intelligent design has over evolution is “with writing new ‘computer software’ to create ‘new biological systems.’”

Blessings.


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.


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