How about a Congregation for the Cause of Rationality?
April 14, 2010 § 39 Comments
I happen to be “intelligent design friendly,” in the sense that I don’t think Michael Behe and William Dembski are villians whose ideas are not just wrong but utterly without merit, ideas which ought to be purged from polite company. I am open to the possibility that intelligent agency, not merely randomness and fixed laws, might in fact have been causally involved with some of the actual stuff we find in the real world. I also happen to be rather “neo-Darwinism hostile,” in the sense that I am fully convinced that many of the mainstream claims about evolution which I was taught in my primary education are outright falsehoods resting more on hubris than on fact.
Keep in mind that, with what follows, I am mostly talking out of my hat when it comes to characterizing philosophical positions. I’m not a philosopher, and I don’t play one on TV. I’m just doing the best I can here to describe where various folks have drawn lines in the sand in actual conversations I’ve had recently.
Because of my own admitted biases I’ve long been puzzled by the hostility on the part of some Aristotlean-Thomist philosophers to ID. On the one hand, I agree that one cannot “prove the existence of God” from empirical data (because we can’t “prove” anything, in a univocal sense of the term “prove” meant by the criticism, from empirical data); and there will always be folks who overreach, grind their various axes, etc. On the other hand, why all the hostility, the per se opposition, to empirical investigation of origins which is open to the possibility of intelligent agency as a cause? In particular, why all the hostility toward ID without at the same time at least a corresponding hostility to neo-Darwinian empirical investigation which a priori rules out agency as a cause? Why what looks to me like implacable hostility to the notion that some of the claims of some of the ID guys might sometimes be, you know, true and stuff: significant and interesting, even?
I think I understand it at least superficially now, after some recent discussion. To a certain kind of Aristotlean (CKA), certain things simply must be the case if the world view is to hang together. For the present discussion two things are critical. First, a very specific understanding of the categorical difference between human made artifacts and natural objects does most of the heavy lifting. Second, when we correctly predicate attributes to God we are making analogies to things we know rather than setting up an equivalence: in particular, for our purposes here, God’s agency and human agency are very different sorts of things, though they are analogous.
I agree that there is a categorical difference between natural objects and artifacts, and I agree that Divine predicates are analogies. But I don’t agree with what some folks mean by that.
What it all boils down to, best as I can tell, is that for our CKA the emergence of life from non-living matter through intelligent agency – when we are unequivocal about “intelligent agency”, that is, we are not making an analogy – is impossible. Some might even go so far as to rule out the possibility of building a living organism from non-living materials in a laboratory setting. (Ahem). It seems to me that that particular understanding is actually subject to falsification should such a thing be accomplished; though it ought to be emphasized that not everyone agrees that A-T metaphysics makes the empirical prediction that life cannot even in principle be synthesized from non-life.
So for our CKA, a proposal to scientifically investigate the possibility that life on Earth as we actually find it emerged in part through the action of intelligent agency is literally a proposal to scientifically investigate a miracle. Certainly God is capable of miracles, because he is God; but to our CKA a ludicrously improbable event is not literally a miracle, whereas an act of agency prior to the existence of human agents is a miracle.
Keep in mind that a Christian CKA supposedly believes in miracles. However, scientifically investigating the forensic possibility that a miracle occurred is, it is supposed, an irrational and wrongheaded thing to do.
My take on that conclusion is that we’d better call these guys and let them know.