Re: [asa] Re: Gingerich on TE and ID

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Sun Jun 07 2009 - 19:20:56 EDT

Hi, Schwarzwald!

Thanks for your interesting comments.

In calling modern science "non-teleological", I'm following a tradition which includes, as far as I know, most of the major historians and philosophers of science of the 20th century. I'm also following the lead of Descartes and others who explicitly excluded the study of final causes from the study of nature. So there is nothing novel in my usage. You are going to have to explain what troubles you about the phrase "non-teleological science", whether it's Descartes & Co. or the modern scholars that you are disagreeing with.

I don't say that only science could put Christianity at risk. History could also do so. (Of course, if you are Bultmann, history couldn't do so; Bultmann would have no problem if Jesus's body were found. But traditional Christianity would find itself in dire straits.) As for the appearance of another deity or the seeming validation of another religion, yes, those also would put Christianity at risk. So I don't see that my statement is unduly narrow. The point is that religions either assert something about reality -- the way the world ultimately is -- or they are purely internal, psychological "takes" on the world. Most of the traditional religions of the world have understood themselves to be saying something about the way the world ultimately is, not merely as private feelings. I think that the writers of the Bible, and all the major Christian theologians, Jewish rabbis, etc., were asserting things about the way the world is. But assertions can be false as well as true. For a religion to say something significant that is true, it must run the risk of saying something significant that is false. Determining whether a religious teaching is true or false is not as simple a procedure as determining if some historical or scientific claim is true or false, but if there is in principle no "reality test" of any kind for religious teachings, then they might as well be private delusions.

I agree that the demonstration of design in a flagellum would not prove the existence of the God of any revealed religion. I've always maintained that -- which is why I reject the argument, made by many here and elsewhere, that ID "takes away the need for faith". ID doesn't replace religious faith at all. It's at best a propaedeutic to faith; but for many people in the secular world, as I've taken pains to point out, ID can be a good propaedeutic. I'm certainly not arguing that Christians need to be taught ID before they can become Christian -- Thomas Aquinas didn't teach that, either. But there is no harm in exposing secular people to ID arguments as a potential augmentation of traditional "natural theology", as long as one is very clear about the limitations of natural theology. If all that natural theology does is puncture the confidence of some of Dawkins's and Hitchens's readers, then it's cleared away some rubble that stands (for some people) in the way of religious understanding. If TE people feel they don't need that rubble-clearing activity, that's fine; but for others, who do not start, as TE people do, from Christian premises, it may be essential. One doesn't forbid all children from using "training wheels" on their bicycle because one didn't need them oneself. That would be the height of non-charity.

You are right that the neo-Thomists have criticized ID. Their criticism centres on their belief that ID has accepted the view of knowledge put forth by early modern philosophy, and that therefore, in fighting Darwinism, it is fighting with one hand tied behind its back. Needless to say, the Thomistic critique of ID would apply with equally great force to atheist Darwinists and TEs, who also accept the view of knowledge put forth by early modern philosophy. I have not studied the neo-Thomistic critique of ID enough to assess it as yet, so I will have to refrain from further comment on this point, except to add that I am not sure that the entire ID argument can justly be said to fall under that criticism.

I agree with you that the opposite of fideism is reason, not science in the narrow modern sense. And I don't want to elevate natural science to the status where it dictates what people believe. If we go back to the Middle Ages, when teleological reasoning was accepted in natural science and therefore science had broader explanatory powers than we grant to it today, nobody even then thought that natural science contained all truth. Beyond science there was metaphysics, and then there was revelation. So even if, for the sake of argument, all TEs were to accept today that design inferences are "scientific", there would be no encroachment of science upon the higher truths of revelation.

As usual, Schwarzwald, your thoughts are pertinent and substantial. I hope I've adequately answered your comments.




  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Schwarzwald
  Sent: Sunday, June 07, 2009 5:50 PM
  Subject: Re: [asa] Re: Gingerich on TE and ID

  Heya Cameron,

  I don't think science is properly called "non-teleological". At best, it's silent on teleology.

  But my main question here is - why is it important to you not only that Christianity be in some ways potentially 'at risk', but that specifically science provides that risk? Why wouldn't, say, the discovery of Christ's body be enough of a 'risk'? Or the appearance of another deity or seeming validation of another religion, etc? Especially when you're a person who, I think, is clearly aware of how often the reach and conclusions of 'science' is overblown, misunderstood, mixed with metaphysics, etc?

  There's an additional problem here: Even if ID were to be dramatically successful - even if it were established, and all scientists agreed, that there was design of the most fundamental nature present in the universe, that would not be enough to prove Christianity, much less theism. And if you don't believe me, watch how Dawkins, Dennett, and other atheists have responded when faced with what they thought was certain evidence of design (Francis Crick and the Origin of Life) or when asked about how they'd react to certain evidence of design. The answer is: Most would give assent to a designer, then go on to claim it was not God. Putting aside multiverses, the replies would range from aliens of superior intelligence and technology (Dennett mentioned this in his recent discussion with Plantinga), or our living in a simulated universe (David Chalmers and Nick Bostrom among others have discussed this), and otherwise.

  What's more, you talk about pre-modern Christianity (Catholics in particular) seeing faith and reason as entwined. I'd agree with that. The problem is that the same pre-modern Christianity approached this question with a heavy investment in metaphysics - and the modern Thomists who subscribe wholeheartedly to such a view routinely chide ID proponents on this very topic, since they see ID as embracing a fundamental metaphysical perspective that they view as mistaken (Namely, mechanistic materialism, where all matter is "dead" stuff blindly and purposelessly reacting to external laws.) Maintaining a reciprocal relationship between faith and reason doesn't amount to elevating science (certainly a science married to a flawed modern metaphysic) onto a pedestal which exclusively dictates what we should or shouldn't believe, at least not for most of the Thomists I've read. The underlying philosophical perspective plays a key role, and metaphysics happens to play a larger role than science. (Indeed, 'science', they remind people repeatedly, is made possible and proceeds because of certain metaphysical commitments.) Or, put another way, the opposite of fideism is not science, but reason - and reason covers vastly more than science. Science is simply a subset of reason.

  I guess what I'm saying here amounts to this: Entwining faith and reason doesn't seem to require elevating science to the level you seem to suggest it does, the type of "fideism" you complain about is as or more prevalent among the atheists ID seems most concerned with combatting, and the opposite of fideism isn't science but reason (which is far broader than science.) I do appreciate the suggestion that Christians have to be more aggressive on the subject of design and nature.

    This turn toward the subjective is connected with the modern tendency to divide reality between "subjective" and "objective" realms. We tend to regard "nature" as part of the "objective" realm, and have assigned the understanding of this "objective" realm to a non-teleological science. As that non-teleological science has grown in explanatory power by leaps and bounds, to the point where it now purports to explain even how the passions and the mind work, religion is crowded ever more and more into the "subjective" realm, where, it is believed by many, religion will be invulnerable to anything science can discover about nature or even human nature. So we can choose our religion, and continue to believe in it out of sheer will, or desire, or preference, and never be in contradiction with what the world is really like. In this view, science purportedly describes nature "objectively", and atheists and Christians are then free to apply their "subjective" religious glosses to the objective reality disclosed by science, and make statements which are utterly beyond public verification or falsification.

    It sounds great, in principle, since it guarantees the protection of Christian faith from any imaginable advance in natural science (including natural scientific discoveries which might seem to many to destroy the possibility of human free will). But this immunity of Christian faith from the facts of nature comes at a high cost in terms of public prestige, since many people in the modern world, including leading members of its intelligentsia, take the "objective" realm to be "real" and the "subjective" realm to be of dubious status; possibly the subjective realm, including the realm of religious feeling and experience, is a mere epiphenomenon of the movements of matter which has no real existence. Thus, from the point of view of many, Christianity is no more than a particular illusion or neurosis which helps Christians get through the day. And by adopting a subjectivist account of faith, Christians in effect make this charge irrefutable. They can personally believe that their free will and their faith and their religious experiences and so on are not mere epiphenomena of neural activity in the brain, but they cannot expect the world to believe the same, because the very subjectivism which protects their faith from disproof also rules out the possibility of proving that their beliefs have any grounding in reality.

    Pre-modern Christian metaphysics and ethics did not use the language of "subjectivity" and "objectivity", and the word "real" did not have the sense that has acquired in modern times. Nor, for that matter, did the word "science". The categories that bedevil us are of modern provenance. Pre-modern Christian metaphysics did not divide, but sought to harmonize, the truth of the world that was known with the reliability of the human apparatus that knew it. It therefore seems to me that at least part of the blame for the sundering of our knowledge and our world was the break-up of the pre-modern metaphysics. One of the main forces responsible for that break-up was Protestantism itself. This, I think, is why many Protestants have not resisted, and have even promoted, the subjective/objective division. For certain Protestants -- those of a fideistic temperament -- nature, conscience, etc. have no reliable touchpoints with God or Christ, and so the "choice" for God or Christ is not in any sense natural or rational. The adoption of a religion is thus like a roll of the dice.

    Once again I refer to the Pope's Regensburg speech. The question is whether Christianity should be interpreted in an Islam-like way, i.e., as at bottom radically fideistic, or in a Patristic-Medieval way, i.e., as a theology in which elements of faith and reason are interwoven in an inseparable way. Clearly I prefer the latter interpretation. The question is where
    Protestantism sits between these two ways. Its language is inconsistent and wavering, in part because Protestantism is not a tidy unity, but comprises a broad range of Christian views, some closer to the classical-Christian synthesis that I endorse, and others further away. In some Protestant statements that are made here, I hear the clear accents of a fideism which would make Christianity impervious to any possible result of science, but at a cost I am unwilling to pay. I would rather have a Christianity that could be put at risk by at least some imaginable discoveries about the way the world is, and therefore boldly asserts something of an essentially public nature, than a Christianity which is bullet-proof because it is a pure fideism, but threatens no one and changes nothing because it asserts nothing of public relevance.


    ----- Original Message ----- From: "Ted Davis" <>
    To: <>; <>
    Sent: Sunday, May 31, 2009 7:52 PM
    Subject: Re: Gingerich on TE and ID


      I have nothing more to add concerning the approach that Owen Gingerich
      in "God's Universe." I find it both eloquent and faithful, whereas you
      not impressed and want to have a stronger role for natural theology here.
      (I think this is what you are saying and invite correction if not.)

      That's a basic disagreement, and IMO a fair one. Most TE advocates would
      say that, if there is a role for natural theology (and Owen thinks there
      devoting an earlier chapter to that topic), it's a modest one with limited
      scope, and primarily in the realm of metaphysics rather than science
      science of course can be used in the arguments). I realize that "Design"
      used by ID advocates is not understood by those advocates to be a type of
      natural theology -- the natural theological step is separate from the
      inference (which is scientific, in the opinion of ID advocates). Whereas,
      TEs typically think that "design" inevitably entails theological
      and goes well beyond science.

      Have I put this fairly?


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Received on Sun Jun 7 19:21:48 2009

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