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

From: Schwarzwald <>
Date: Sun Jun 07 2009 - 20:44:26 EDT

Heya Cameron,

No, I'm not saying that your use of "non-teleological" is novel at all. But
the more I read about the history of science and teleology, the more I'm
convinced that there is some sleight of hand going on. Where at one point
science simply proceeded with the assumption that teleology may well exist,
but simply could not be proven by experiment - in other words teleology was
treated as a question that could not be asked, or at least that science
could not answer. But that has since turned, in some quarters, to a question
that science answers (or at the very least, assumes the answer from the
outset) in the negative. The two views are tremendously distinct - yet one
seems to change into the other at times, by nothing but philosophical
shell-gaming. I'm not at all accusing you of doing this, by the way - I just
think the difference between "Science cannot decide on this existence" and
"Science has proven this does not exist" / "Science assumes this does not
exist" is tremendous, and can't be repeated enough.

Now, I agree with you that Jews, Christians, etc are asserting something
that they believe is true about the world. On the other hand, I recall a
thomist blogger asserting that there is a test for (for example) the
afterlife: You die. Just as there's a test for a prophecy: You wait. Between
that and the various historical claims or extra-scientific claims, I think
there's an abundance of 'reality tests' for religious claims. Admittedly,
not all of these are the kinds of tests we can go out and solve this very
moment with a particular experiment, etc - but then, the only kind of test
like that which I can think of would be a scientific test. (I imagine
philosophy could apply to a degree - show a claim to be contradictory, etc -
but I'm reminded of Van Inwagen pointing out that nothing of import in the
history of philosophy has ever been settled decisively.)

I would absolutely agree that there is tremendous value in ID - particularly
as a philosophical or theological tool. I guess one difference I would have
here is that I don't see the necessity of classing ID as itself somehow
'scientific' to get a lot of that value. The philosophical approach of
viewing the world as an exquisite work of engineering, or programming, even
artwork, is considerable in my view. In fact, I think it goes a long way
towards clearing that rubble you speak of - once the metaphysical
presuppositions (extraneous to the science, and frankly rather alien to
quite a lot of experience) are out of the way, there's very little "left"
for Dawkins and company to crow about. Most of the steam in their engines is
from trading on ignorance about science and metaphysics.

I think the neo-Thomist criticism of ID can be expanded, actually. Or
rather, it's not the only way to criticize both what appears to be a
fundamental assumption of ID, as well as one of Darwinists and TEs. Though
it's getting into more esoteric areas, considerations about panpsychism, or
idealism, or panentheism, etc all are rock-bottom metaphysical perspectives
(I won't defend their particular strengths, etc) that help to illustrate the
importance and application of philosophy when considering scientific
questions. That'd branch off into a larger topic, but it's one I want to
mention - particularly since I see a number of contemporary moves by
materialists to try and claim panpsychism as "just materialism", despite it
being radically distinct from what materialism currently is taken to mean.
(I've also found it interesting how severely that doctrine/outlook has
changed, but you wouldn't know it by hearing anyone talk about philosophy.)

As for reason, teleology, and science, maybe there's a way here where TEs
and ID proponents could possibly hash out a common ground on. The recurring
theme seems to me that ID proponents argue that their arguments are
scientific/science. What would an ID proponent say to someone who argued
that ID wasn't science, but were still powerful arguments based on reason,
or philosophy, or otherwise? I guess another way of asking this is whether
ID is itself, in your view, purely a scientific endeavor or if there are
philosophical, metaphysical, and forensic arguments at work in the 'big
tent' as well?

And thanks for the insightful responses!

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.
> Cameron.
> ----- Original Message -----
> *From:* Schwarzwald <>
> *To:*
> *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.
>> Cameron.
>> ----- Original Message ----- From: "Ted Davis" <>
>> To: <>; <>
>> Sent: Sunday, May 31, 2009 7:52 PM
>> Subject: Re: Gingerich on TE and ID
>> Cameron,
>>> I have nothing more to add concerning the approach that Owen Gingerich
>>> takes
>>> in "God's Universe." I find it both eloquent and faithful, whereas you
>>> are
>>> 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
>>> is,
>>> 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
>>> (though
>>> science of course can be used in the arguments). I realize that "Design"
>>> as
>>> 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
>>> design
>>> inference (which is scientific, in the opinion of ID advocates).
>>> Whereas,
>>> TEs typically think that "design" inevitably entails theological
>>> inferences
>>> and goes well beyond science.
>>> Have I put this fairly?
>>> Ted
>> To unsubscribe, send a message to with
>> "unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.

To unsubscribe, send a message to with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Sun Jun 7 20:44:51 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Sun Jun 07 2009 - 20:44:51 EDT