Re: [asa] on science and meta-science

From: Keith Miller <>
Date: Mon Nov 09 2009 - 17:40:33 EST


In design theory, intelligent design is just as much a "cause" of a natural
> event or phenomenon as gravity, friction, etc. are. It is a real
> contributing factor, one not necessarily requiring miracles (disruptions of
> nature) but quite possibly operative within the realm of nature. The
> architect who designs a house is not a supernatural being, but is *every
> bit* as much the "cause" of the house's existence as are the material
> factors (wood, nails) and the efficient causes (cranes, workmen). You
> cannot explain, in natural terms, the existence of the house without
> positing an architect. (Even if there is not an actual architect, and the
> crew is putting up the house by sheer experience, without a blueprint, there
> is a *de facto* architectural plan guiding the construction.)

Design is not a cause. The author of the design is a cause. However,
except in the case where God acts outside of chains of cause-and-effect, God
is not the immediate or effective cause. It is only such causes that
science can address. Science cannot address ALL causes. Secondly, human
causal agents are NOT the same as divine agents. This is a very important
distinction. Humans are causal agents that we can directly observe and
study. Other organisms are also similar agents (we can study the purposive
behavior of animals and identify their past actions). We cannot study God
through scientific methods. Furthermore, God is unconstrained and can
accomplish any logically possible end. As I have argued on other threads in
this forum, to be meaningful as a causal agent in science, the capabilites
of an agent must be constrained. Otherwise an appeal to such an agent is
identical to an appeal to ignorance.

(I really hope that you and others on this list would read my essay "The
misguided attack on methodological naturalism" in the book "Fopr the Rock
Record." I address nearly all of the issues raised in this thread there in
a cohesive argument. I would very much value any responses to that essay.)

> What the design theorists are saying is that you cannot explain nature,
> even on the scientific level, with the methods of Dawkins and Coyne.
> Dawkins and Coyne insist that no final causality is necessary, only
> efficient and material causality, to explain *every* phenomenon in nature.
> Design theorists say that they are wrong. Design theorists say that nature,
> *as Dawkins and Coyne conceive it to be*, does not have the power to arrange
> itself in the manner that they suppose. Therefore, if macroevolution is a
> fact, then nature must be something other than what Dawkins and Coyne
> conceive it to be. That leaves open at least two broad explanatory options,
> one involving no miracles -- the option that nature is "rigged" to produce
> life and species (Denton, and apparently Conway Morris) -- and the other
> involving miracles, with some sort of artificer playing some sort of
> efficient-cause role (as some DI folk and many grass roots ID people
> believe).

Who among us on this list has ever denied final causality? All that I and
others are saying is that science cannot address final causes. I have
explicitly stated that science is an incomplete description of nature. This
goes back to my previous statement that many ID promoters (at least) seem to
insist that such final causality must be accessible to science. The proper
response is not to make science an arbiter over a larger domain of truth,
but to explicitly and forcefully clarify its limitations. Theology needs to
be seen for the powerful path to truth that it is.

> Because there are two options possible, design theorists might say that "a
> particular event or process was a direct *or indirect* result of God's
> action", where by "indirect result" they have in mind wholly naturalistic
> processes which produce integrated complexity (e.g., "front-loading"). But
> too often people here, in criticizing ID, have in effect shortened your
> remark to "a particular event or process was a direct result of God's
> action".

I would say exactly the same thing. I am only, and have only, argued
against the attempt to identify God's action through the methodology of
science. Science just cannot conclude that a particular observation of the
natural world was due to a supernatural agent. As I have stated innumerable
times, I firmly believe that God is always acting in and through natural
processes. Nothing happens without God's active sustaining action.

Front-loading type arguments or anthropic type arguments, are NOT
conclusions of science. They are philosophical/theological interpretations
of current science. I have no fundamental opposition to such arguments,
other than I do not find them particularly useful theologically or

I am fully aware that the limitations inherent in science are not
> limitations of God. But modern science, as championed on this list, has
> other limitations besides its inability to speak of God. It is actually
> unable to give a coherent account of many aspects of the world even on the
> purely natural plane, because it rejects notions of final causality.
> The rejection of final causality in science was a deliberate choice made by
> early modern philosophers. They expected that it would bring great
> dividends in understanding and, most of all, in power over nature
> (Descartes, Bacon). They were right; it did. But much was sacrificed,
> including the possibility of a balanced and comprehensive account of
> nature.

But why insist that science must do all of the heavy lifting. Are you
saying that theology has nothing to say about the Creation? Are you saying
that everything of importance about physical reality must be accessible to
science? Why? What is wrong with stating that science does not, nor cannot
say everything of importance (perhaps science cannot even say anything about
what is most important about creation)? To me, seeing science as
addressing final causality is to buy into the very "scientism" that the
atheists do. They also claim that science can answer questions of final or
ultimate causality -- and they conclude there is none. The reason they do,
is that they are unwilling to accept the legitimacy of theological

> If the TEs here wish to reject final causation from science, then fine; I
> understand their reasons (sacrificing intelligibility and comprehensiveness
> for consistency of method and technological fruits) even if I don't agree
> with them. But I cannot abide this constant repetition of entirely false
> claims, i.e., that belief in final causation implies belief in miracles, and
> that ID, in its theoretically proper form, claims to be able to pinpoint
> direct actions of God. Such claims betray a desire to argue against straw
> men.

I don't know how you could possibly draw this conclusion from anything said
on this list. When did I ever even in a remote fashion suggest that final
cause implied miracles? How many times do I have to state that EVERYTHING
in creation depends CONTINUALLY on the ACTIVE CREATIVE work of God.

A fair argument against ID, aimed at ID at its strongest, would be a
> demonstration that stochastic processes alone can explain the origin of
> life, the origin of new body plans, etc. If such demonstrations are ever
> produced, then ID is dead. But at the moment such demonstrations are far
> away.

This is another entirely different topic, that I do not have time to
address. But I will just state that NO ONE claims that stochastic processes
alone can explain the origin of life.

NOTE: I am getting quite behind in my academic teaching responsibilities
and will not be posting much to this list in the near future.


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Received on Mon Nov 9 17:40:58 2009

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