Christians against ID, Part 3

[See Part 1 here; Part 2 here.]

By coincidence, I came across a couple passages in the Summa which seem relevant to this topic, though not directly addressing it:

“For we must take into consideration the difference between a particular agent, that presupposes something and produces something else, and the universal agent, who produces the whole. The particular agent produces the form, and presupposes the matter; and hence it is necessary that it introduce the form in due proportion into a suitable matter. And so it is reasonable to say that it introduces the form into such matter, and not into another, on account of the different kinds of matter. But it does not seem reasonable to say so of God Who produces form and matter together, whereas it is considered reasonable to say of Him that He produces matter fitting to the form and to the end.”

 ST I, Q. 46, A. 1.

He talks about a particular agent and the universal agent. As I understand it, the universal agent is God, who creates everything: He creates the whole context in which everything happens. The particular agent (a watchmaker?) makes something by thinking of a form, and then looking around for suitable preexisting matter into which to introduce the form.

He says that God is not like this. Rather, God produces both form and matter, and makes the matter “fitting to the form and to the end” – i.e., he creates matter which is suitable to the formal and final causes that he has in mind.

This points up the manner in which God is not like a watchmaker, who thinks up a complex mechanism and makes it out of preexisting stuff, but makes the stuff to suit the thing he has thought up. Thus, God thought us up and then set about creating a universe in which we might come into existence.

But does the ID theorist necessarily disagree with this? Would he not agree that God created the natural processes through which matter evolved, specifically because he wanted exactly that type of matter into which to introduce the forms that he had in mind?

In which case, the process would go like this: God creates the singularity which exploded at the Big Bang, and fine-tunes it such that the matter we’re made of evolves just the way he wants it. But once that process is finished, once he has the matter in hand, he then takes the preexisting matter and forms it into the organisms we see around us, including ourselves (since it is believed that this cannot happen via “natural processes”). So God is both the watchmaker and the creator of the matter of which the watch is made.

The problem, it seems to me, is this idea of breaking up God’s creative process into two separate processes, one of which works through natural causes, and the other of which does not. For me it just seems far more intuitively correct, that God would create us through one continuous process. Continue reading

Christians against ID, Part 2

[See Part I here.]

This topic came to my mind recently because I’m taking an Astronomy course at my local community college. In this course I learned that shortly after the Big Bang (that is, relatively shortly), there were only three elements: Hydrogen, helium and a small amount of lithium. These elements eventually started condensing and forming into galaxies and stars. It was through the life cycles of stars that the heavier elements developed, such as the ones we and our planet are made of. Our sun is not a first-generation star but was formed from the materials left over from prior generations of stars.

This got me thinking: The very matter that we and our planet are made of is a product of evolution of a sort, the evolution of matter from lighter elements to heavier ones through natural processes over billions of years. ID itself doesn’t dispute this.

But isn’t the evolution of the matter we’re made of, part of the process of making us?

It struck me that if God started the process that way, why wouldn’t he finish it that way? I think he would have used one continuous process, rather than starting with one process and finishing with another. I definitely think he could create us with one continuous process using natural means. Why not? Would it be too hard for him to figure out how to set up the universe, to fine-tune it, so to speak, in just such a way that you and I would eventually result? Too hard for an omnipotent God of infinite intelligence, who constantly holds every atom in existence simultaneously?

William Lane Craig (The Great) argues for the fine-tuning of the universe as evidence for God’s existence:

“For example, a change in the strength of the atomic weak force by only one part in 10^100 would have prevented a life-permitting universe. The cosmological constant which drives the inflation of the universe and is responsible for the recently discovered acceleration of the universe’s expansion is inexplicably fine-tuned to around one part in 10^120. Roger Penrose of Oxford University has calculated that the odds of the Big Bang’s low entropy condition existing by chance are on the order of one out of 10^10(123). Penrose comments, ‘I cannot even recall seeing anything else in physics whose accuracy is known to approach, even remotely, a figure like one part in 10^10(123).’ And it’s not just each constant or quantity that must be exquisitely finely-tuned; their ratios to one another must be also finely-tuned. So improbability is multiplied by improbability by improbability until our minds are reeling in incomprehensible numbers.”

So the universe is fine-tuned for life. Again ID proponents don’t deny this. In fact, they love it since it points to a Designer. So … why not take the fine-tuning argument to its logical conclusion? Could not the cosmos be so fine-tuned that, not only is life possible, but that it positively must have arisen? And in the forms God intended?

Again, why not?

Christians against Intelligent Design

I was an Intelligent Design enthusiast at one time, but my ardor was cooled a bit when I learned that some Catholic, Thomistic philosophers whom I respect, namely Edward Feser and Francis Beckwith, hold no truck with it. This surprised me when I first heard it, and I couldn’t imagine what the problem might be.

Feser has written numerous blog posts on the topic, and Beckwith a couple of articles as well. Even after reading these articles, I can’t say I fully grasp the problem they have with ID. But I thought I would make an effort to express it in my own words, in the hope that it will help me to get my head around it. And maybe some reader will be kind enough to correct me where I’m wrong and fill in any blanks that I leave.

The issue seems to revolve around the difference between a substance and an artifact in Aristotelian/Thomistic (A-T) philosphy. A substance is something that occurs in nature, whereas an artifact is something that is made by man (or another intelligent creature, although we don’t know of any others). The illustration that Feser uses is the liana vines which Tarzan uses to swing from tree to tree; and a hammock which Tarzan makes out of those vines. The former is a substance, the latter is an artifact.

An artifact has its form imposed on it from outside, whereas a substance possesses its form intrinsically.

Another way of looking at it, is to consider the four causes of an object: Material, efficient, formal and final. In the case of an artifact, the efficient, formal and final causes are imposed by the artisan. He decides what form the artifact will take (formal cause) and what its purpose is (final cause), and of course, shapes, forms or assembles the artifact (efficient cause). The material cause is the natural substance of which it is made, which in the case of Tarzan’s hammock is the liana vine.

Whereas in the case of a natural substance, the formal and final causes are intrinsic to itself. They are “built-in” to the thing as part of its nature, and not imposed by an external artisan.

The question arises, aren’t the formal and final causes of a natural substance imposed on the substance by God, and therefore “from without”?

This is one place where I’m not sure what Feser’s argument would be. But I’ll take a stab at it.

It’s true that God is the ultimate source of a substance’s formal and final causes. But he gives a thing its formal and final causes by creating its nature in the first place.

So, what’s the problem (the ID proponent asks)? Creating natures is what we’re talking about. ID doesn’t deny that the eye, for example, is a part of an animal’s nature. All it argues is that the eye could not have arrived at its present form through purely natural causes.

Ah, but see there: “It could not have arrived at its form through natural causes.” This implies that something besides nature is responsible for its form. But the AT guy just said that its form is intrinsic to its nature. Its form is intrinsic to its nature (AT), yet nature could not be responsible for its form (ID). I suspect, though I’m having trouble expressing it, that herein lies the conflict. Or at least one point of conflict.

Another way to express the conflict (I’m hoping these will all meet up eventually) is that ID treats natural substances as though they were artifacts, and God as an artificer rather than a creator. This is because ID purports to be a testable scientific hypothesis, accepting and working within the ground rules of science.

The ground rules of science (as far as I understand them) call for people to look for nothing but natural, by which is meant material and efficient, causes. Formal and final causes are ruled out.

ID accepts this and therefore treats a substance as though it only has material and efficient causes. It then treats God as though he is the efficient cause of the substance’s form. What this implies (I think) is that God is treated as a tinkerer, someone who takes material causes, or in other words matter, and forms or assembles it — from outside — into complicated machines which are then capable of living.

But here again is where I start to feel lost. I don’t think ID theorists are arguing that God assembles each and every substance “by hand”. I think they’re only saying that he designs them, and once designed he incorporates their design into their nature, such that they can reproduce and pass it on to their offspring. This design-cum-nature then becomes their formal cause, does it not?

Clearly I’m missing something, though not for lack of trying.

Let me be clear that I’m not arguing against or in favor of either side, but just trying to understand the A-T arguments against ID. If anyone can clarify any of this for me, it would be much appreciated!