Intelligent design, AT philosophy, and growing rice on the moon
February 12, 2015 § 16 Comments
I’ve always been – and still remain – puzzled by the hostility that contemporary Aristotlean-Thomist philosophers exhibit toward so-called ‘intelligent design’ theory. In the comments to an old post by my former blog colleague Ed Feser at What’s Wrong with the World, the possibility of cultivating living things from nonliving – not actually living – materials in the laboratory was addressed by the commenter Brandon:
Both Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas lived in times when spontaneous generation was considered not only possible but common; they thought nature itself created organisms “from non-living raw materials using electrical, mechanical, and chemical processes” — well, electrical would not have been on their list — every single day. That human beings can do the same thing would no more surprise them than that farmers can grow seeds into plants; and thus, naturally, there’s nothing in either of their approaches to nature that rules it out. What it would show is that there is some underlying intrinsic and natural facility for certain things to come together under certain conditions so as to be alive; and art can, of course, take advantage of such natural powers — there’s probably no natural capabilities human art can’t take advantage of, in fact. But, of course, precisely what is required by the hypothetical scenario is that exactly the same natural capabilities be involved in the laboratory case as in nature: what is done in the laboratory is, ex hypothesi, not the building of an artificial simulacrum but the cultivation of a natural organism by selectively accelerating/decelerating/encouraging/discouraging, etc., various processes by which natural organisms already can come about (whether they would actually do so rarely or for the most part makes no difference to the principle).
Basically, as long as the potentialities are there in the actually non-living matter, it isn’t a priori impossible to synthesize life from non-life in the lab. Stated that way it is pretty difficult to disagree: if the potentialities for X aren’t in the raw materials, we can’t build X from those raw materials. My read on it at the time was as follows:
If I understand Brandon’s comment … properly, an A-T philosopher who does not think it impossible to assemble life in a lab [Me today: if this is understood to be a priori impossible, it follows that the philosophy which asserts this a priori impossibility is in principle empirically falsifiable] can distinguish between Creator and Cultivator, if you will; and what ID is attempting to show is that a Cultivator was required to kick-start life. Life as we know it is empirically incapable of kick-starting without, not only a Creator, but a Cultivator. Nothing wrong with that, especially if it is true, and it does create stumbling blocks for the modern materialist.
This subject came up again in the comments to my recent post the other day.
It seems to me that the probabilistic arguments made by ID theorists like Michael Behe, which address the ‘whether they would actually do so rarely’ pivot in Brandon’s parenthetical – whatever one may think of those probabilistic arguments as an empirical matter – should be no more controversial to the AT philosopher than the observation that in order to grow rice on the moon, intelligent agency is required.
So why they be hatin?