Secret agency, man

February 15, 2015 § 66 Comments

I haven’t written much on the “Intelligent Design versus Aristotlean-Thomism” debate since I became bored out of my mind by it several years ago.  But recently I’ve taken it up again, if only out of a sense of masochism.  (In reality it was probably because David Oderberg’s book Real Essentialism ended up synced to my newish Kindle Voyage, one thing leading to another — such is the whimsy of life).

The criticism of evolutionary “theory” which goes by the name “intelligent design”, the tip of the spear of which was Michael Behe’s book Darwin’s Black Box, has been subject to consistent and vocal attack by Aristotlean-Thomist critics over the past half decade or so.  (It should be said that I have no idea how representative this cadre of vocal critics is of AT in general). This criticism depends crucially on the AT distinction between artifacts and natural objects, the latter which (on the AT metaphysical account) have substantial forms and the former which have merely accidental forms.

All of that can be stipulated without in any way giving rise to a legitimate criticism of Michael Behe’s inference to intelligent agency from the data of microbiology.  (There may be plenty of legitimate criticisms; but the AT criticism based on the natural-artifactual distinction isn’t one of them).

Here philosopher and author Edward Feser clarifies his contentions about art versus cultivation in a fairly recent post:

… the distinction Aristotle is getting at here is really the distinction between substantial form and accidental form, and whether something came about through human interference or not is at the end of the day a secondary issue. For there are man-made things that have substantial forms and are thus “natural” in the relevant sense (e.g. new breeds of dog, water synthesized in a lab) and there are things that are not man-made but rather the result of natural processes that are nevertheless not “natural” in the relevant sense but have only an accidental rather than substantial form (e.g. a random pile of stones or dirt, qua pile, that has formed at the bottom of a hill). The usual cases of things with merely accidental forms are man-made, though, so that we tend (wrongly) to regard the man-made as per se “unnatural,” and the usual cases of objects that occur apart from human action are “natural” in the sense of having a substantial form, so that we tend (wrongly) to assimilate what is “natural” in the sense of occurring apart from human action to what is “natural” in the sense of having a substantial form or intrinsic principle of operation.

Whatever one thinks of the distinction between art and cultivation, it is simple enough to reframe Michael Behe’s design inference in a way such that the AT objection collapses on itself and goes away.

Suppose a living thing is found and examined, and it is determined that it is statistically ludicrous to suggest that this living thing occurred in unaided nature: the evidence clearly shows it to be the result of genetic engineering or tinkering by intelligent agents. Think of an apple tree which produces apples with “GMO Red Delicious, by the Secret Agent” embedded in the DNA of the apple. Or a tree that produces chairs. Or a bacteria that eats oil spills.

We may not know who the intelligent agents happen to be: that might remain hidden, a secret.  But nevertheless we can tell, as a forensic matter, that they exist(ed) and must have tinkered.

The ID guys observe this ‘signature in the cell’ and infer that the (efficient) causes of the apple tree must include the actions of an intelligent agent.  Just as the regular rows of corn in a farm imply a farmer, the signature in the cell implies a signer.

Now we can grant that the ID guys didn’t go out of their way to learn everything about AT metaphysics before studying microbiology, and pre-frame their writing on the design inference – its facticity as deduced from empirical evidence – in such a way as to avoid getting AT knickers in a twist.

But whose job is it to interpret factual claims through the lens of AT metaphysics? Is that the job of empirical fact finders, or is that really the job of AT metaphysicians?

ID (whatever one thinks of its veracity or plausibility as an empirical matter) is first and foremost a factual claim: a claim that the observed properties of life cannot be explained by (the efficient causes of) chance and the laws of physics, and that therefore, as a forensic inference, life could not be here absent the intervention of intelligent agency — not (necessarily), it is true, the creation ex nihilo of God, but the ordinary agency that slams us in the face with a hammer every time we observe human beings make choices.

When confronted with this factual claim, AT metaphysicians have two intellectually honest choices qua AT metaphysicians: they can dispute the factual claim, or they can go to work explaining how the factual claim is explicable through the lens of AT metaphysics.

The vocal AT critics of ID have done neither of these two things.

There were times when I thought they were disputing the factual claim. That can’t be the case though, because if it were the case they would be admitting the empirical falsifiability of their metaphysics.

And they certainly have not attempted to explain the empirical factual claim through the lens of AT metaphysics.  Instead they have spent enormous energy arguing that ID is incompatible with AT.

So my conclusion is that they’ve spent years of attack dog articles avoiding the central issue and changing the subject.

§ 66 Responses to Secret agency, man

  • […] Source: Zippy Catholic […]

  • wdydfae says:

    Whatever differences emerge in discourse, I love these titles!

  • Bryce Laliberte says:

    I think the AT objection to the claim that living forms are, at some point, the result of divine efficient cause has to do with preserving the divine final cause. If there is, at some point, the necessity of introducing a divine efficient cause then this removes the explanatory power of divine final cause.

    It also introduces the problem of whether non-organic and extra-organic forms also require this intervention of divine efficient cause. Why should organic forms, and not also physical and rational forms, require the suspension of otherwise naturally occurring efficient causes in order to obtain their final cause in God?

  • Zippy says:

    Bryce Laliberte:

    If there is, at some point, the necessity of introducing a divine efficient cause then this removes the explanatory power of divine final cause.

    I agree that there are a number of ways that (we touched on this in one of the comment threads) empirical evidence of agency (in the chain of efficient causes) makes their story a ‘harder sell’ to modern people.

    Denying the facticity of efficient-cause agency because it makes AT (final causality, substantial vs accidental forms, etc) a harder sell is self defeating though, because if AT denies a priori the facticity of efficient-cause agency as an empirically true causal component in living things, it follows that AT is empirically falsifiable.

  • jf12 says:

    re: “it follows that AT is empirically falsifiable.”

    Thou sayest.

  • Mike T says:

    One need not take Genesis absolutely literally to realize that Genesis says one way or another than man came into existence directly by God taking some sort of action that intentionally made man. There was no accident or God merely providing the materials and man arising through processes of nature. If you deny that by the Lord’s hand, the world was made and populated, you’ve denied a very important chunk of essential doctrine.

  • Lydia says:

    “Why should organic forms, and not also physical and rational forms, require the suspension of otherwise naturally occurring efficient causes in order to obtain their final cause in God?”

    If I may interject, I find this question puzzling. Suppose that we grant all of the different causal categories, here.

    Now, suppose that I argue that some given entity or type of entity looks like it _did_ originate by the “suspension of otherwise naturally occurring efficient causes” and also that it looks like the one who brought that about was God. Just suppose as an example.

    Am I, if I make that assertion, stating that this is required “in order” for this entity to “obtain its final cause in God”? No, I’m just saying that this is *in fact* how it looks. Presumably that’s what the children of Israel thought about the manna in the wilderness, right? I mean, nobody was saying, “Gee, we have to postulate that this manna was made and put here by God by special divine action, or else the manna cannot find its final cause in God.” *That* wasn’t why they thought the manna came about as a miracle from God!

    Now, similarly, if it looks like, say, the first appearance of the blood-clotting cascade required special divine action, one doesn’t have to be hypothesizing this because otherwise animals with blood-clotting cascades couldn’t “obtain their final cause in God.” One is saying it because, gosh darn it, *that’s what seems to have happened*.

    As to why one might say this about animals with blood-clotting cascades and not about the formation of some random rock cliff in the Utah desert, presumably one says it in the former case and not in the latter case because, taking all evidence into account, naturally occurring efficient causes appear in fact to be the best explanation of the rock cliff in Utah but not of the blood clotting cascade!

    If one is interested in maintaining the continued importance of the divine final cause, then presumably one will do so by way of a philosophical argument which is in no way undermined by the postulation of a divine efficient cause at some point in the world’s history. I would assume that AT theorists don’t think that the Israelite’s belief that God performed a miracle to give them manna creates a problem for AT theory!

  • Zippy says:

    Lydia:

    I think the AT philosopher would say that artifacts qua artifacts do not have substantial forms and thus strictly speaking do not have final causes at all[1]. The components of artifacts have final causes, but not the artifacts themselves. So the AT philosopher would (I think) deny that artifacts find their final cause in God, because they don’t have a final cause at all. And this is precisely what gets them all worked up over analogies to artifacts.

    But that isn’t a problem under my reframing of Behe’s design inference (as a contention about a matter of forensic fact), because living things (even ones we’ve ‘cultivated’ in the lab which would never appear ‘on their own’) do have substantial forms and thus final causes. The big issue, as far as I can tell, is that analogizing to artifacts creates ambiguity between what sorts of things have substantial forms and what do not. Well, fine then: change the analogy to the cultivation of living things which would not exist without the (proximate, efficient cause) intervention of an intelligent agent — seedless oranges or what have you — and that objection evaporates.

    [1] A lot more could be said here, but the point of the OP is that unless I’ve misunderstood something – always a possibility – the other things which could be said are moot.

  • Lydia says:

    I think what you’ve done (modified plant examples) is a very good shot, Zippy, and I’d be happy if it would actually convince someone with an AT view to stop blocking the evidence here. An interesting thing there is that the example works for the AT philosopher only if he is _less_ bothered by something like language found in a biological entity (“GMO Red Delicious, by the Secret Agent”) than by something like mechanical contrivance found in a biological entity. Now, either of these is clearly designed because it is the kind of thing that we ourselves know that intelligent agents do. E.g. Intelligent agents make codes and language. Intelligent agents make machines. In other words, your “Made by the Secret Agent” example still relies on a comparison to known artifacts.

    Obviously, that doesn’t bother me in the slightest! But it seems to me that it either should bother the AT person, if he’s being consistent in his objections to ID, because you are still using a comparison to an artifact to pump the intuition, or else he should abandon his objection to parallel comparisons to cellular machines. After all, a person arguing for ID isn’t saying that the biological entities *aren’t* organic because they contain “cellular machines,” just as you are not saying that the genetically modified apples *aren’t* organic, even though they contain cellular language.

    So there’s a sense in which your really good example of the apples will work psychologically to help an AT theorist only if he sort of doesn’t notice that you’re doing something very similar to those who make a comparison to cellular machines.

  • Zippy says:

    Lydia:

    …because you are still using a comparison to an artifact to pump the intuition…

    I am specifically not using a comparison to an ‘artifact’ as that term is understood by the AT philosopher. My citation of Ed in the OP makes this clear:

    … the distinction Aristotle is getting at here is really the distinction between substantial form and accidental form, and whether something came about through human interference or not is at the end of the day a secondary issue. For there are man-made things that have substantial forms and are thus “natural” in the relevant sense (e.g. new breeds of dog, water synthesized in a lab) …

    (Emphasis mine).

  • Lydia says:

    I just meant a comparison to *other* things that contain language–books, road signs, blog posts, etc. I mean, the encoded phrase, “GMO Red Delicious, by Secret Agent” is readable and points to design because it’s language, and we recognize language and recognize it as made by agents because we see it elsewhere in things like books, etc., that are artifacts.

  • Zippy says:

    Lydia:

    I mean, the encoded phrase, “GMO Red Delicious, by Secret Agent” is readable and points to design because it’s language, and we recognize language and recognize it as made by agents because we see it elsewhere in things like books, etc., that are artifacts.

    Right, but as Ed says in the cited post, that isn’t what distinguishes a substantial form from an accidental form.

    Look at it this way: Ed basically states outright that whether the object’s existence depends – as a matter of historical contingency – on agency (as proximate efficient cause) and is known to depend on agency (as etc) is orthogonal to whether the object has a substantial form.

    Some things that depend on agency in precisely this manner have substantial forms; some don’t. That’s right from the horse’s mouth.

    He has basically conceded that AT has nothing really to say about the central contention of ID (whatever it may have to say about metaphysical interpretations of that central contention by particular individuals or ‘schools’).

    So why all the articles on how ID is supposedly incompatible with AT? Why wasn’t the subject of those articles more along the lines of how ID factual claims could be interpreted through the lens of AT metaphysics? Is it the job of everyman to interpret factual claims through the lens of AT metaphysics, or is that the job of AT philosophers?

  • Lydia says:

    Right, so I think we are agreeing that in that case he also shouldn’t freak out over comparisons to machines. I mean, if something can be truly organic, on the AT view, while also having language in its DNA (as your Secret Agent example shows), then something can also be truly organic while having a protein-built outboard motor for its locomotion (as does the bacterial flagellum). The fact that something is *recognizable* as agent-made because it contains structures that we can legitimately *compare* to artifacts should be a problem for both or for neither for the AT theorist. Since the apples with the Secret Agent message in their DNA would have a substantial form on the AT view, the bacterium with the organic outboard motor would also have a substantial form on the AT view, so there should be no problem with our comparing the flagellum to a machine.

    It would be mildly interesting to see which direction they would go. Would they say that the GMO Secret Agent apples are _not_ recognized as agent-made because of an analogy between the code in their DNA and human language in artifacts? Or would they say that talking about language found in organic things is fine but that for some reason talking about biological machine parts or machines in organic things is not fine?

  • Zippy says:

    Maybe what happened is that the AT guys compared Behe to Paley, didn’t bother to actually understand the former, and got lost in their own comparison. Paley could have observed branded cattle instead of a watch, I suppose – but it is true that Paley’s analogy is weakened from the AT perspective by the fact that genetic engineering did not exist.

    In short, a too-strict comparison of Paley to Behe ignores the opening of the “Black Box”. AT guys look at Behe, think “Paley redux”, and get out their paint-by-numbers objections to Paley. And in doing so, they completely miss the point.

  • jf12 says:

    It seems a tautology to me that a theist must either be a Deist, or believe God continues to intervene. If He was personally involved in creating as the Bible says (Psalm 19:1 among many examples), then His unchanging personality is still actively involved (Psa 104:2, Heb 1:3).

  • Zippy says:

    jf12:
    AT sees creation as a continuous (or perhaps timeless) act: it is going on at all times, from our perspective, and so is not the “set it and forget it” of deism. But neither is it the efficient-cause agency of a watchmaker / miracle worker. And I agree that deism/tinkerer does not exhaust conceivable possibilities.

  • Ed says:

    Zippy, I wonder if you read Ed Feser’s post on your exact scenario:

    In the combox of my recent post comparing the New Atheism and ID theory to different players in a game of Where’s Waldo?, a reader wrote:

    One can run a reductio against the claim that we cannot detect design or infer transcendent intelligence through natural processes. Were we to find, imprinted in every human cell, the phrase “Made by Yahweh” there is only one thing we can reasonably conclude.

    I like this example, because it is simple, clear, and illustrative of confusions of the sort that are rife in discussions of ID. Presumably we are all supposed to regard it as obvious that if this weird event were to occur, the “one thing we can reasonably conclude” is that a “transcendent intelligence,” indeed Yahweh himself, had put his “signature in the cell” (with apologies to Stephen Meyer — whose own views I am not addressing here, by the way).

    (http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com.br/2014/07/signature-in-cell.html).

    (if this was one of the posts you were responding to, I’m sorry for bothering you)

    Ed (not Feser)

  • jf12 says:

    re: “But neither is it the efficient-cause agency of a watchmaker / miracle worker.”

    Ok. In my childishness I believe when God personally intervenes it is because He personally cares to. Is an ATist that committed to their artifactual distinctions (whose taxonomy was invented by man, I would remind) that the existence of artifacts of God would be denied? If so, that would account for whatever ID antipathy, since an IDist would be happy to flip something over and find a “Made by God” sticker.

  • Lydia says:

    Ed’s response to that scenario is connected to his *heavy* commitment to the idea that we *must* do his kind of natural theology *first* in order for any probabilistic arguments even to be relevant to a given audience. He actually believes that the atheist would be not unreasonable to conclude all manner of bizarre things (he gives some examples in the post that the other Ed links) if he hadn’t already been convinced that God exists. These examples include the atheist’s believing in his own massive cognitive malfunction.

    What Ed is pushing here is sometimes known as the classical approach to apologetics. Insofar as it is a rigid approach (as it is in Ed’s case) rather than a mere matter of expedience or tactics for helping some particular audience, it is based on a simple mistake in probability theory. This mistake is not unique to Ed Feser but is typical of those who advocate the classical apologetics approach. Tim and I have addressed this mistake in our published work, and I have addressed it in blog posts. Here is one of those posts.

    http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2014/05/there_are_no_slippery_prior_pr.html

  • jf12 says:

    @Lydia, nice article regarding apologetics.
    re: “Here is an important point: The strength of the evidence can often be seen by looking at the lengths to which the skeptic must go to explain away that evidence rather than taking seriously the hypothesis that springs to mind.”

    To me, the fulfillment of prophecy in Jesus is astonishingly miraculous. It *has* to be the most persuasive evidence to anyone who sees it that way. But, I concede, such considerations are best appreciated in faith by someone who already believes.

  • Lydia says:

    Historically, you might be surprised by how many people have been convinced by the argument from prophecy. Jews, especially! There are examples in Acts (Apollos, for example). And they certainly would have been approaching the claims *for Jesus* with a somewhat skeptical eye, not in faith, even though they already believed in God.

    In any event, I have no problem with the *psychological* claim that *for some people* it is most helpful to do Feser-style natural theology first. I have known personally a skeptic convinced by a different method, but there may be many who would find Ed’s preferred method most helpful.

    In terms of actual epistemology, though, order doesn’t matter. A person who looks at the empirical evidence for intelligent design *should* have his naturalism shaken, even if he doesn’t in fact respond in that way. I was and am very frustrated by Feser’s implication that, in a sense, such a person *shouldn’t* have his naturalism shaken, that it’s epistemically okay or legitimate for such a person to be intransigent because, allegedly, the person who brings up ID evidence is “doing it wrong” in some heavy epistemic sense by not doing natural theology first.

    That last paragraph is just me ranting, though. Not ranting at anyone in this thread. 🙂

  • jf12 says:

    re: “In terms of actual epistemology, though, order doesn’t matter.”

    True enough, even in terms of actual soteriology! For example, there appears to be a typical ordering in “he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” But for some people it can be more important for them to see the rewards of seeking Him first and foremost, before faith enables the rest. “Lifestyle evangelism” is an example.

  • Zippy says:

    Ed (not Feser),

    Thanks for pointing that out. I was actually serious in the OP: I haven’t really followed the discussion since my back and forth with Ed Feser at W4 and here several years ago, and my abortive attempt to read Oderberg. Reading philosophy is dense and difficult work, and after too many times thinking to myself “well, that is probably wrong, but lets see where it leads” I get frustrated and put it down.

    I think I have reached the conclusion that “such and such is an object which was designed by an intelligent agent” is not considered by AT philosophers to be a real, objective fact about the world — so that is why they intransigently refuse to stipulate such facts and explain them through the lens of their philosophy. More on this in a moment.

    Lydia:

    I have no problem with the *psychological* claim that *for some people* it is most helpful to do Feser-style natural theology first.

    It is interesting that you would say that, because I think (though perhaps this is another blind alley) I am starting to see what is going on here.

    The AT folks are always going on about their commitments to metaphysical realism or real essentialism. But from where I sit they are realists when it suits them and anti-realists when it doesn’t. When I read what they say I see (with my Platonism showing) them denying the reality of all sorts of things that I am certain are real.

    Mathematics is notoriously a problem for Aristotleans, since they have to somehow deny the reality of the zoo of abstract mathematical kinds with no instances in physical objects, while affirming the reality of mathematical kinds which are instantiated in physical objects; but that isn’t where it stops. They are also anti-realist about all sorts of obviously real things.

    In particular they are committed to anti-realism when it comes to artifacts: artifacts to them truly are not real things in themselves. AT (of this sort — again I am not in a position to judge how representative this is of AT in general, and it certainly seems to be in direct conflict with the thought of St. Thomas on certain points) anti-realism extends to anything and everything produced by human beings making choices also. Qua artifact these things are just collections of accidents which acquire any “meaning” – and it is a merely psychological meaning, not a real objective meaning – in and through human psychology.

    So that’s why, no matter what concrete examples are provided as a reductio, it has to be asserted and reasserted that determining the meaning of artifacts is nothing but a matter of the psychology of human observers. Artifacts truly are not at all real, to the (this kind of) AT philosopher. They are merely projections of human psychology onto intrinsically meaningless piles of accidents.

    Now I would probably not have a problem with an ontology that said that art is real and has a meaning which transcends the artist, but that it is different in kind from natural objects. At least that seems OK as a starting point: artifacts may be essentially different from natural kinds, but they are ‘real enough’ that there exist cases (there would only need to be one case) in which we can easily (and universally) tell the difference, objectively, between an artifact and a random pile of stones, without adverting to human psychology.

    I can only explain what has happened in the clash between (this kind of) AT and ID (as a factual claim) by concluding that AT is actually radically anti-realist, despite its claims to real essentialism. If an artifact – any artifact – is conceded to be objectively distinguishable from a random and meaningless pile of accidents, that pulls the string and there goes the whole sweater. AT in effect denies that the kind of fact which Behe asserts is capable of being an objective fact at all.

    Of course from my point of view that is just a reductio ad absurdam of (that kind of) AT philosophy. Something inside the puzzle box needs to be re-worked. But it makes sense that those committed to radical anti-realism about artifacts would make increasingly absurd claims about the unreality of particular examples of artifacts: would assert a radical incapacity to make any objective judgement of their artifacthood.

  • Lydia says:

    I definitely think there is a degraded view of artifacts/machines going on here.

    Another thing to be folded in is the all-or-nothing aspect of teleology. As best as I can understand Ed, if something has teleology, it has it, and that ‘s it. No degrees involved. So a rock has teleology just as much as and in the same sense as a cell has teleology.

    This leads (for obvious reasons) to epistemological egalitarianism. On such a view, it *cannot* be the case that a cell or living creature provides *more* evidence than a rock does for believing in an Agent who planned the thing and produced it to a certain end. They all have the same kind and the same amount of teleology, so they must all have the same type and degree of argumentative force. That type and degree of argumentative force is, as I understand Ed, as a _deductive_ and _necessary_ argument for God as the present sustainer of the inherent teleology of both the cell and the rock. And that’s it. No other argument or type of argument has any “room” to arise from noticing means-end adequation in living creatures.

  • Zippy says:

    I wrote:

    Now I would probably not have a problem with an ontology that said that art is real and has a meaning which transcends the artist, but that it is different in kind from natural objects.

    This is more or less where I thought the Aristotleans must be coming from, which is why I was puzzled that the discussion even continues: that it can’t end by stipulating that, sure, Behe may have found objective evidence for agency in the “black box”, but that is of course not creation ex nihilo: at best it is evidence for a miracle. Only a radical anti-realism when it comes to artifacts explains why the discussion doesn’t end with a handshake right there. Under a radical anti-realism when it comes to artifacts, it isn’t possible to objectively determine (or even to objectively judge the likelihood) that such and such is a flying machine: its flying machineness is merely a projection of human psychology onto an intrinsically meaningless object.

  • Zippy says:

    Lydia:

    As best as I can understand Ed, if something has teleology, it has it, and that ‘s it.

    Stipulating a categorical distinction wouldn’t imply that it isn’t easier to determine in some cases rather than others.

  • Lydia says:

    Yes, that is correct, it wouldn’t necessarily imply that. However, if you add some more stuff in, you do get something like that conclusion. What has to be added is *something to the effect that* the argument from teleology is always intrinsically a deductive, a priori, metaphysical argument. Such a deductive argument will always have the same force–100%. Therefore, any argument that depends on probability must be the wrong kind of argument or must be misunderstanding teleology or must have some fundamental flaw.

  • jf12 says:

    re: pseudo-random piles of stones

    Louis L’Amour, in I think The Lonesome Gods most memorably but a couple of other places, mentioned discovering a significance of a stone pile that was deliberately meant to look sort of random. Some Amerindian tribes evidently left markers like this, for waypoints and boundaries and other purposes, which would be fully readable only by intended recipients.

  • Zippy says:

    Lydia:

    What has to be added is *something to the effect that* the argument from teleology is always intrinsically a deductive, a priori, metaphysical argument. Such a deductive argument will always have the same force–100%. Therefore, any argument that depends on probability must be the wrong kind of argument or must be misunderstanding teleology or must have some fundamental flaw.

    It would be one thing to insist that a deductive argument yielding certainty that T, for some real [property, mode, specie, genera, category, flavor – pick the least offensive term for telos] of real things T, must exist for all real instances T. (I would still likely have a problem with it — regular readers can guess what problem specifically).

    But to insist that every other argument (inductive, intuition pump, appeal to probabilities) which convinces someone that T (given that T is true) is necessarily invalid is just crazy talk, if that is in fact the position. This “God only makes one kind of argument” business sounds suspiciously similar to the “God only acts in one way” business.

  • Zippy says:

    And even so in getting into teleology we are well beyond the scope of the OP, since we stipulate that the ID factual claim to have forensically determined agency means ‘agency’ in the ordinary everyday sense which we cannot avoid seeing when human beings (including ourselves) do things on purpose.

    I’d be fine if the AT argument was just that Behe’s factual claim is not tantamount to a factual claim to have forensically discovered God. That’s true enough, and I’m pretty sure Behe says so himself. (It has been a long time since I read DBB).

    Agency isn’t (necessarily) God: if it were, then “this page would not be here if it were not for the actions of intelligent agents” would be equivalent to “God typed everything on this page”.

  • jf12 says:

    re: God made us to show forth His goodness etc.

    It is doctrinal that not just Man but also “The world was made for the glory of God.” cf Revelation 4:11

  • Zippy says:

    Which leads me back around to what I said earlier: I think AT (of this sort) has to deny that Behe’s factual claim is a factual claim at all, because tsoAT is anti-realist about artifacts. There just is no way to (ever in any case whatsoever) objectively differentiate (even probabilistically) between artifacts and random collections of accidents, because there is no real distinction between them at all: the difference is just purely psychological.

  • jf12 says:

    re: forensic analyses

    A title of some post could be Proclaiming The God-spoor.

  • jf12 says:

    Each thing, artifact or not, says, one way or another, “I Am”, and therefore at a minimum serves the purpose of reflecting the aspect of God’s self-existence. A God-artifact, I guess, primarily serves an additional (?) purpose of better reflecting a communicative aspect (“declare”, “sheweth”, “manifest”, etc.) i.e. His reaching out.

  • If I understand Dr. Feser’s bone of contention, he would say something like (keeping in mind I’m not him) “Well, duh, if ALL ID people are claiming is that we can see design in the universe, of COURSE AT people don’t disagree with that. But in reality they almost always try to draw out more than that one basic conclusion.”

  • Zippy says:

    Malcolm:
    He never conceded the validity of Behe’s factual contention in our discussions. Do you have a link to somewhere where he unequivocally does so?

  • Lydia says:

    Malcolm, I’m interested in this phrase, which you suggest might be attributed to Ed Feser: “But in reality they almost always try to draw out more than that one basic conclusion.” Now, what sort of “more” do you think he might be objecting to, there? Might the “more” be that God _made_ the design in the universe? Perhaps even in some special sense _deliberately made_ it? If so, can you see how extremely odd it is that a Christian would _object_ to someone’s drawing such a “further conclusion”?

  • Zippy says:

    It is back to the ‘miracle problem’: nobody has proposed a deductive, categorical way of telling the difference between a bona fide miracle and the actions of a ‘secret agent’ (human, alien, demon). Miracles, like artifacts, must have (on the AT account) a ‘merely psychological’ meaning to human beings rather than intrinsic meaning. Miracles are as unreal as artifacts — merely collections of objectively meaningless accidents.

    Tell that to Lazarus.

  • Lydia says:

    I’m pretty sure Malcolm or anyone can find quotes in which Ed will make a brief reference to the bacterial flagellum or some other details, but it is always _so_ brief that it shows a failure to have actually _attended_ to those details and also sounds extremely dismissive. This is because of the explicit denial that the details matter. For example, here is an instance of the “all or nothing teleology, the argument is always of the same strength” claim. Again and again he’ll acknowledge the existence of the flagellum but strongly reject the idea that any of its details matter to any important or interesting argument:

    “Complexity is also not to the point vis-a-vis the bacterial flagellum. What an A-T theorist sees when he looks at the bacterial flagellum is just another, dime-a-dozen example of organic parts united toward a common end — the good of the organism — as a final cause. You could just as well focus on a toenail, because what matters is end-directedness, not complexity. To go on and on about the outboard motor stuff is like going on and on about how many pixels it took to make up an image of some smiley face drawing, in order to prove it was made by an artist. The number or complexity is in both cases quite obviously beside the point — that it is a drawing at all, even a very simple one, is what matters in the one case (number of pixels be damned) and that it is an irreducible organic whole at all (number and arrangement of parts be damned) is what matters in the other case.”

    Or there is this quotation:

    “everyone wants to keep going on about (say) how machine-like the bacterial flagellum is, or how attractive Paley-style arguments are to the man on the street, or how ID really ticks off atheists, or some other irrelevancy.”

    So the machine-like nature of some biological structure is an “irrelevancy.”

    Here is another place where he pretty clearly indicates (he’s said this elsewhere) that the _only_ type of argument for special divine involvement that an AT theorist of his stripe could allow would be one based on broad metaphysical types–e.g., the transition from non-life to simple plant life. He is comfortable with _that_ as a possible argument for direct design (and has said so elsewhere) because it is a metaphysical rather than a probabilistic argument. But he continues to insist that the specifics and complexity of specific biological things and systems is and must be irrelevant from his point of view. So in that sense he is denying what I believe Zippy is referring to as the facticity of the specially designed-like nature of _particular_ complex types of entities.

    “So, where did they come from? Well, if plant life, construed very broadly as that which carries out only the functions associated with nutrition, growth, and reproduction, is (as A-T theorists held traditionally) irreducible to inorganic processes — because organic wholes (substances where the parts ore inherently ordered toward the good of the whole) are irreducible to inorganic processes — then it’s hard to see how you’re going to get from non-life to even simple plant life. And that leads to an argument for special creation. But notice that it doesn’t have anything to do with complexity. A gigantic random pile of envelopes might be extremely complex and a certain microorganism extremely simple, but it’s the latter that requires a special explanation, because of the inherent ordering of its parts (however simple) to the good of the whole. Things like the bacterial flagellum are more complex, but it isn’t their complexity per se which, form an A-T point of view, might lead to an argument for special creation. It’s rather what it has in common with simpler biological structures that does so.

    So, in short, the answer is that complexity is just irrelevant.”

  • Zippy says:

    “Lazarus schmazarus. The plausibility of a man spontaneously rising from the dead by natural causes is beside the point. Ho hum. From an AT perspective a man is just a man, no more notable than a rock or a toenail”.

    If that kind of asshattery is where AT leads, that just discredits AT.

  • Zippy says:

    More irenically, any philosophy of reality which cannot account for – and goes on and on for years in numerous articles and arguments dismissing and downplaying – the difference between a working 747 and a disarrayed junkyard as a real, objective, significant difference, is, manifestly, an inadequate philosophy of reality.

    The dispute has indeed brought a fundamental inadequacy to the surface: and the location of that inadequacy is clearly in (this kind of) AT philosophy. A philosophy which cannot account for inferences to ordinary agency from objects (in clear-cut cases) as a real and significant distinction is a philosophy which cannot account for significant parts of reality: parts of reality which hit us in the face with a hammer every day. This kind of ‘realism’ is no realism at all, since it apparently stands or falls on intransigent refusal to treat artifacts and agency as every bit as objectively real as waterfalls and gravity.

  • Lydia says:

    I truly believe that part of it is the idea that “creation is different.” Or at least that creation is *almost always* different. One sees this in my dialogue in the other thread with Bill M. One see it in the Tkacz article to which Bill M. linked. One sees it in a lot of (usually but not always Catholic) objections to ID. And one sees it in Ed’s arguments. Not that these are all identical, but they are argumentative cousins.

    Creation and individual miracles are apparently to be kept sharply distinct. Creation is either God’s calling something out of nothing at the very outset or else God’s continually sustaining Providence which continually acts as a Cause of all that is other than Himself.

    Historical miracles, on the other hand, occur (so goes this type of view) within a clearly religious context, after human history has begun, and among people who are somehow “prepared” to view them as miraculous.

    Unlike some others, Ed is prepared to make some limited exceptions to this rule. He has suggested that the origin of life, the origin of animals, and the origin of man might be the three exceptions, because those appear to him to require a miraculous act for purely metaphysical reasons.

    But other than that, creation is just not supposed to be the place where miracles occur. Creation is supposed to be different.

    I find this inclination to separate creation and miracles extremely hard to have the slightest sympathy with.

  • Zippy says:

    Ed is also attacking a straw man when he says:

    A gigantic random pile of envelopes might be extremely complex and a certain microorganism extremely simple, …

    (I’d like to see this ‘extremely simple’ microorganism though, especially since the AT guys have denied that viruses are organisms).

    Behe’s factual claim was never that complexity in itself is evidence of agency (which we can take to mean artifact-or-miracle, since we don’t have criteria for distinguishing between the two). Anyone who actually thinks that is really not paying any attention at all.

    Behe’s criteria for design is irreduceable complexity – built into ‘irreduceable’ is (and he makes this quite explicit for anyone who actually knows how to read) goal-directedness. A smashed mousetrap or pile of stones can be just as complex as a working mousetrap.

    Things like the bacterial flagellum are more complex, but it isn’t their complexity per se …

    No kidding. But what scarecrow ever claimed that ‘complexity per se’ was all by itself evidence of agency (where we understand agency to mean artifact-or-miracle)?

    What we see here again is not a flaw in Behe’s actual non-straw-man factual contention (which there may be, of course — it is just that the AT criticism doesn’t manage to point one out).

    What we see here is the incapacity of (this kind of) AT to account for reality as we find it.

  • Zippy says:

    Lydia:

    Historical miracles, on the other hand, occur (so goes this type of view) within a clearly religious context, after human history has begun, and among people who are somehow “prepared” to view them as miraculous.

    Anti-realism, again. If you start to think of AT as metaphysically idealist when it comes to artifacts and miracles, it makes sense that they would be incapable of dealing with artifacts and miracles as actual things in objective reality, with real distinctions from other things.

  • Lydia says:

    I must admit that, though I’m always disagreeing in probabilistic detail with Bill Dembski’s way of casting his “specification” notion, it sure makes a convenient shorthand. What is evidence for design is not complexity per se but specified complexity–meaning (as I would put it) complexity for which directed processes provide higher-than-average probability.

    In fact, I think that sometimes we tend to lump these two ideas together when talking about complexity. That is why I would find it strange even to say that a pile of envelopes is “complex.” My first reaction is, “No it isn’t! It’s just a random pile of envelopes.”

    But I realize that that reaction belies the fact that I’m folding into “complexity” the idea of order or apparent means-to-end directedness.

  • I’m digging through comments of articles, so here’s one. I’ll have to look around for more.:

    Are ID theory and an Aristotelian-Thomistic approach incompatible? That depends on what one means by “ID theory.” If one means simply “being critical of Darwinism,” then, no, of course there is no incompatibility. Nor is the use of probabilistic arguments per se incompatible with A-T. From my POV there are two main problems, though: First, ID theorists seem happy to take for granted a mechanistic approach to nature and want to argue on those terms. No A-T theorist can accept that. Second, the way ID theory tends to model the concept of a “designer” does not sit well with classical theism. And especially when coupled with a mechanistic view of nature — which implies a certain view about how God is related to nature — the result is arguably positively incompatible with classical theism and tends instead in the direction of what is sometimes called “theistic personalism” — something else which no A-T philosopher can accept. I intend to write up a post on this latter topic soon.

    So I think what he’s saying is that he doesn’t even want to accept a *theoretically* for-the-sake-of-argument mechanistic view of nature.

  • Zippy says:

    Weaponized nihilism. Or, in this case, selective idealism.

  • Lydia says:

    Malcolm, here’s the thing, though: All one needs is to believe in is the miraculous. If one believes that, then one has a category into which to put “God’s connection to nature” in deliberately designing particular biological entities.

    I’m not saying that a miracle is the only way God *could* do it or that I know for certain that front-loading is impossible. But I am saying that a concept of the miraculous is _sufficient_ if one wants a category of “How God is related to nature” to answer the question, “How is God supposed to have produced the entities to which ID points?”

    That would do it.

    Now, Ed believes in miracles. I know that he does. So why does ID have to presuppose a wrong view about “how God is related to nature” (from his perspective)? He, as an AT theorist, could use his concept of a miracle and say, “Ah, so when the first creature with a bacterial flagellum came into existence, God brought that about by a miracle–possibly to make the whole thing or possibly to introduce new genetic information.”

    As a Christian, Ed believes that God introduced manna into the wilderness and that Jesus made additional bread and fish to feed the five thousand, to name only two of many instances. If his categories can accommodate those events metaphysically there is *no reason whatsoever* why his categories cannot metaphysically accommodate God’s introducing a bacterium with a flagellum into nature. None. There is no reason why postulating that God has done so (which most ID theorists shy away from doing anyway, but I don’t) requires a “wrong concept of God.”

    But again, it’s this poorly argued idea that the creation of biological things has to be different from historical miracles.

  • Zippy says:

    “Accept a mechanistic view of nature” seems to mean (at least selectively, when it is being deployed as a criticism of ID) accepting a real (not reduceable to mere psychology) distinction between artifacts/miracles and random piles of junk; between the deliberate acts of intelligent agents (in general, not necessarily God or angels) and the ordinary course of nature distinct from these deliberate acts.

    If the distinction between random piles of junk and artifacts/miracles is a real distinction and not merely psychological projection on the part of particular persons, then detecting this kind of agency in the genesis of living things – as an objective assessment of facts about reality – is both possible and profoundly interesting. (Again how well this has actually been done by particular theorists and experimentalists is another matter entirely).

    If AT philosophy rejects the very possibility of this kind of fact finding, it follows that AT philosophy is empirically falsifiable – it cannot explain and is rationally incompatible with (e.g.) Behe’s finding of fact. If AT philosophy concludes, more equivocally, “OK on the finding of fact, but nothing to see here, move along” it follows that the AT account of reality is profoundly inadequate.

    That is why the response of Feser and other AT philosophers to ID has done tremendous damage to the credibility of (at least their brand of) AT — objectively, not merely as a matter of opinion or subjective persuasion — because it demonstrates, objectively, a huge hole in their ontological account of reality.

  • Man, I’d kill to have Dr. Feser here in the comments. Not because I think he’d easily refute what you’re saying, but the opposite reason – I think what would emerge from the back and forth would be fascinating.

  • jf12 says:

    re: “If AT philosophy rejects the very possibility of this kind of fact finding, it follows that AT philosophy is empirically falsifiable”

    I cannot understand why anyone would be so wedded to a model of reality. It repulses me like a [redacted].

  • Zippy says:

    jf12:

    I cannot understand why anyone would be so wedded to a model of reality.

    As I understand it, as immediate realists AT philosophers do not really think of their ontology as a ‘model’.

    I in fact agree with a great deal of what they have to say — far more than with modern idealist and subjectivist crazies. Heck, if push came to shove there are probably more radical differences between my and Lydia’s metaphysics than between mine and Ed’s.

    But Hamlet’s admonishment of Horatio applies here, when something is wrong it is wrong, and the back and forth on this subject has convinced me that either artifacts have substantial forms or the two-tiered ‘accidental form / substantial form’ partitioning of reality – which lumps deliberately made things and accidental piles of junk into the same ontological category – is radically inadequate.

    It isn’t that (modern) AT philosophy is too realist though. It is that it isn’t realist enough. Artifice/miracle isn’t just psychological projection onto accidental junk piles. It is objective forensic/historical fact, and is as knowable/inscrutable as any other everyday mystery.

  • jf12 says:

    re: radical differences

    I could be wrong, but …
    Being an immediate realist cannot protect one’s reasoning about perceptions from being merely reasoning. For example, the accidental/substantial near-partitioning does seem to be a fairly useful model, exactly to the extent that it reflects parts of reality (and/or perceptions of reality). For another example, the living/nonliving near-partitioning does seem to be a fairly useful model, exactly to the extent that it reflects parts of reality (and/or perceptions of reality). But in both examples the boundary between partition compartments is NOT empirically infinitesimal, and every assertion to the contrary is eminently falsifiable.

    To me it is blatantly head-in-sand denialism to say things like “Viruses aren’t alive, because otherwise our model gets messed up.”

  • Zippy says:

    jf12:

    Being an immediate realist cannot protect one’s reasoning about perceptions from being merely reasoning.

    That is really just post cartesian question-begging though. If (as e.g. Gilson argues with some persuasiveness) that entire idealist approach always ultimately collapses under its own contradictions, you have to start with different assumptions. Once you hit the reductio you’ve got to decide which of your original premises gets the axe.

    But whatever one thinks of that, it is widely divergent from the topic of the post. My point was just that, even if you don’t agree with the perspective of an immediate realist, you haven’t even grasped his perspective when you think of his ontology as a ‘model of reality’ — because that isn’t how he thinks of it. From an immediate realist’s perspective he is wedded to reality, not to a mere ‘model of reality’.

  • jf12 says:

    re: “you haven’t even grasped his perspective when you think of his ontology as a ‘model of reality’ — because that isn’t how he thinks of it.”
    +
    re: “But in both examples the boundary between partition compartments is NOT empirically infinitesimal, and every assertion to the contrary is eminently falsifiable.”

    As soon as he projects his ontology onto the viewing-screen of reality, I can sit in the theater seat and criticize its TRVTH empirically.

  • Zippy says:

    jf12:

    As soon as he projects his ontology onto the viewing-screen of reality, I can sit in the theater seat and criticize its TRVTH empirically.

    With whatever respect is due, that is the sort of statement that makes me think “this guy should probably do more reading and less talking”. And FWIW, although I do try to take some care that I know what I am talking about (or issue appropriate warnings), I’m sure plenty of folks read what I write and have the same thought.

  • jf12 says:

    re: same thought

    If we’re worried about stepping on someone’s ontological toes, then we could focus first on the psychological reasons for someone’s being wedded to the fetish of an infinitesimal boundary between living and nonliving.

  • jf12 says:

    “In the beginning, God made such a sharp division between living things and nonliving things that He decided to ensure we would notice by the sharp division in the order of creation.”

    Uh, no. On the third Day, after doing some mineralogy and hydrology, He made the minerals sprout grass etc. Then on the fourth Day, He made some more nonliving things.

  • jf12 says:

    Assertions about what reality ought to look like are exactly as anti-useful as assertions about what the Bible ought to say.

  • Lydia says:

    Malcolm, have you read my most recent exchange with Ed from last year? Also, of course, we hashed all this out at great length in past years, so you can read all of those exchanges as well. Be it noted that I have knocked myself out here to represent his views with scrupulous fairness, even noting differences between him and other critics of ID in the last couple of comments.

    http://lydiaswebpage.blogspot.com/2014/05/things-god-can-do-to-reveal-himself.html

  • jf12 says:

    @Lydia, re: “There is no hermetic seal that separates evidence for God’s existence from evidence for God’s actions.”

    Correct.

  • Thank you for the links. I think you’re doing a fine job representing him, by the way.

  • Lydia says:

    I’m glad to hear that Malcolm, as I know that is often a point of contention when discussing Ed’s views.

  • It’s admittedly rather difficult sometimes. Not because Dr. Feser is hard to understand, but the opposite. He is VERY clear and direct. Thus, if you are trying to present his views third person there is inevitably going to be a little garbling, just because he is so clear himself.

  • Lydia says:

    Welll, I have great affection (genuinely) for Ed and hate to make him angry, but I do think he is overly inclined to assert, and to think, that others have misrepresented him when they have not actually done so. That is just my opinion, speaking as someone who has worked very hard at this.

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