Re: [asa] Natural Agents - Cause and Effect, Non-Natural Agents

From: Ted Davis <>
Date: Tue Apr 14 2009 - 12:25:34 EDT

Gregory writes at the start of his post:

“The MN position appears to be something of a gentlemen's agreement to speak only of Nature, permitting some, under their breath, to think of Nature as God's creation, even the manifestation of His Will.” – Bill
Yes, this is the atmosphere in which MN as a particular concept duo in history arose, emerged; was invented. Those who claim MN has been used as a principle for hundreds or thousands of years are in love with retro-diction; they thrive on anachronism. They are being unscientific to suggest this. It is their personal brand of historiography.


Ted comments:

Gregory, your comments about retrodiction and anachronism are not accurate. There are many appeals to MN, though not by that precise term (the term was not in use before the 20th century), all the way back to the presocratics. Christian natural philosophers are among the most notable proponents, including the great Robert Boyle, whose fondness for what we now call ID was no less notable. In an exchange he had with the Jesuit natural philosopher Francis Line, Boyle all but endorsed MN. Take a look at this passage from an essay I published a couple of years ago and see what you think, Gregory:

Boyle’s advocacy of the mechanical philosophy had definite implications for his philosophy of science, especially his view of what constitutes a legitimate scientific explanation. Above all, he argued, one ought not to invoke divine omnipotence in natural philosophy. What he wrote against the Jesuit philosopher Francis Line is instructive here. In trying to explain the expansion of fixed quantities of air without employing void spaces between atoms, Line had proposed that God could give atoms a ‘virtual extension’, causing the atoms to expand and fill thousands of times more space without creating empty spaces between them. Thereby he believed he could preserve the Aristotelian principle that ‘nature abhors a vacuum.’ Such a thing was possible by God’s absolute power, Line argued, and therefore it had to be consistent with the nature of matter. ‘None is more willing to acknowledge and venerate Divine Omnipotence’ than I am, Boyle replied. He continued !
 as follows:
        "But, not now to dispute of a power that I am more willing to adore then question, I say, that our Controversie is not what God can do, but about what can be done by Natural Agents, not elevated above the sphere of Nature. For though God can both create and annihilate, yet Nature can do neither: and in the judgment of true Philosophers I suppose our Hypothesis would need no other advantage to make it be preferred before our Adversaries, then that in ours things are explicated by the ordinary course of Nature, whereas in the other recourse must be had to miracles."

That pretty much sums it up, Gregory, esp the final sentence. I could show you similar passages in other Christian natural philosophers, going back to the Parisian arts masters of the high middle ages, but this single, very clear example should be sufficient to show that MN has been in use for very long time, even though that term is of recent origin.


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Received on Tue Apr 14 12:26:30 2009

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