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

From: Ted Davis <>
Date: Fri Apr 17 2009 - 16:41:01 EDT

Honestly, Gregory, I have not followed this thread from the beginning -- when I am out of town, as I have been for more than half of this calendar year, I do not usually read most posts to the ASA list, and when I get back I rarely have time to fix that omission. Any "victory" you are claiming is with that proviso. I picked up on your comments about the history of a concept that, IMO, has been in use by many (perhaps most) natural philosophers since the presocratic philosophers, and which Christian natural philosophers contributed to. You agree with my point about that, which is as far as I am able to go with any contributions to this thread.

If you are simply asking whether I can identify a non-natural agent that is not also supernatural, then of course the answer is simple: humans are non-natural agents in the sense meant by advocates of ID, when they ask people to identify such agents. However, in another sense I strongly suspect that most ID advocates believe that our agency is in a certain genuine sense "super-natural." Most ID advocates, I strongly suspect, believe that our intelligence is an aspect of a "soul" that is directly implanted by God into the developing person, and that "soul" probably does have a genuine "supernatural" quality to it. Boyle would have said so, I think that Moreland, Dembski, Behe, O'Leary, and lots of other ID folks would say so as well. I am certainly open to correction about this, Gregory, but I put that as a point for conversation. So, I'm not actually sure that I identified for you a non-natural agent that is not also at least partly "supernatural," insofar as many ID th!
 inkers are concerned. I say this not to duck your question, but to make a very honest and fair point about how most ID philosophers conceive of "agency." They may be quite right to think of it that way; that is a very different conversation for another time. The point here is, I think they do think of it that way, so their category of "non-natural" agency is not so sharply differentiated from "Supernatural" agency, in my analysis.

The term MN, incidentally, precedes by at least a few years the creation of the ID movement. I agree that is often used today as a foil to ID, by Christian scientists and others, but it was not invented with that in mind. According to Ron Numbers (see note 2 on page 320 of "When Science & Christianity Meet," ed. Numbers and David C. Lindberg), the term was used by Wheaton College philosopher Paul de Vries in a paper given at a conference in 1983, later published in 1988 in "Christian Scholar's Review." At that point (1983), ID wasn't even in the back of Phil Johnson's mind. Elsewhere on this list, Gregory, you can find in the archives a conversation we had about the first use of that term some time ago. I think that someone actually found some earlier uses, but I don't want to trust my memory too much.
I use MN myself (I can't endorse what anyone else might say about it) in much the way that Boyle did: science as science can't deal with the supernatural, and so it must be left to one side. As for design, IMO when we are talking about the design of "natural" objects such as the universe and living things, it's blatantly obvious to anyone and everyone that the only "designer" available to have done the job is God. Since divine action is beyond the ability of science to study, a theist such as Boyle or me can use MN with full intellectual and spiritual integrity: science as science is silent about God, and thus science as science can't deal with the design of the universe and life. I don't accept the label of "MN-theist," as you put it--the label is not only clumsy, it's contrived. But I do say what I just said here about the consistency of the concept underlying what you are getting at.
Finally, Gregory, you implicitly identify me as "one of three ASA big-shots" who "have chosen to take the road already travelled and to deny through silence the existence of ‘non-natural agents.’ " You flatter me, Gregory, when the ASA membership directory includes many top-drawer scientists and others who never say a word on the ASA list and are therefore not on your radar screen--including (I add) some fellows of TDI, such as our newest Council member, physicist Bob Kaita from Princeton. I am not sure just how much "grace and humility," to borrow a phrase, is behind that comment. Maybe Gregory Sandstrom could help you answer that one? If you don't know him, I can point him out to you.

Despite our differences, Gregory, I share with you the joy of the Russian Orthodox Easter. The Lord is Risen!


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Received on Fri Apr 17 16:42:12 2009

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