Re: [asa] on science and meta-science

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Mon Nov 09 2009 - 20:13:15 EST


First, I don't have the money to buy your book, so your suggestion that I read your essay is out of the question. If you wish to e-mail me a file with the essay in question, I will look at it.

Second, having established in many posts here that I can use words precisely when necessary, so that there should be no doubt about my ability to exercise academic caution when needed, I expect a certain co-operation regarding loose expressions where the context should make the meaning plain. Yes, I know that design, strictly speaking, is the result rather than the cause. If you wish, substitute "designing intelligence".

Third, I am aware that human agents are not the same as divine agents. However, tradition attributes intelligence to God, and we know how to detect signs of intelligent agency.

Fourth, I did not say that we could study God through scientific methods. This is *another* statement which continues to be made on this list because people do not read carefully either what I say or what ID writers say. What I have said, and what is obvious to most people, is that if a dagger is stuck in someone's back in precisely the appropriate place, we infer that the person has been murdered by *someone*. One doesn't need to know anything at all about the "someone" -- whether the murderer was male or female, black or Caucasian, young or old -- to discern that a murder was committed. ID does not claim to "study" God any more than the person who infers that the drifter in the alleyway has been murdered claims to be "studying" the murderer. If you have read any serious ID literature, and are not relying entirely upon the notions of ID held by church people who speak at education hearings, you should know this.

Fifth, in your remarks about "constraint", you appear to be confusing a scientific *theory* with a scientific *inference*. I admit that God cannot be used as part of a scientific *theory*. I am aware that divine action is not amenable to being reduced to a scientific theory. If I have occasionally spoken of "ID theorists", I have meant people who draw design inferences based on the facts of nature, not people who postulate a "scientific theory of divine action". I don't know of any major ID theorist who has written on the subject of divine action in the context of an ID work.

Sixth, you and other ID critics continue to put the emphasis of ID in the wrong place. The focus of the design inference is not on God. The focus of the design inference is on showing the inadequacy of stochastic processes to explain the phenomena, and on design as the "best explanation" given present data. That this inference then leads to the question of who the designer is, and what the designer's intentions are, and so on, is interesting and important, but is not the point of the design inference as such.

Seventh, that modern science cannot address final causes is not due to any lack of final causes in nature, but is due to a willful methodological decision on the part of early modern philosophers and scientists. (Read Bacon and Descartes if you doubt this.) You do not seem at all concerned that science may be misdescribing nature by omitting final causes. And I mean *misdescribing*, not merely giving an incomplete account. I mean not merely playing the first three movements of the symphony, and leaving out the fourth and final movement; I mean playing wrong notes and missing entire passages in the first three movements.

Eighth, maybe no one here has explicitly denied final causes, but such causes are implicitly relegated to second-class status. They are granted as part of the private interpretation of nature for religious individuals, and have no role in the public interpretation of nature as practiced by modern scientists. Whatever TEs may say, the public has the impression that science tells us what nature is really like, and since scientists refuse to deal in anything but efficient causes, then the public draws the inference that nature is nothing but a seamless web of efficient causes. Maybe a seamless web created by God, but a seamless web of efficient causes only, not final causes. This is a denial of other views of nature, e.g., the Aristotelian and the Scholastic, in which final causes have by no means second-class status, and are just as much part of "public truth" as efficient causes are.

Ninth, I have never denied that natural science has its limits and that theology has access to truths beyond those limits. Thomas Aquinas drew very clear limits around science, stating where science ended and where theology began. You draw your boundaries in a different place. And I wouldn't mind that, but you, and others here, write as if *your* boundaries are the *right* boundaries, and as if your notion of "science" is the only one that an enlightened, rational person could hold, as if ID people, Dawkins-atheists, YECs and the lay public just didn't have "science" straight until TE came along. It's simply not the case that the view of "science" held by TEs has been the view uniformly held throughout the history of science.

Tenth, far from its being the case that ID makes science too large in scope, and that TE narrows it properly, the reverse is the case; TE gives science more scope than ID does, because TE takes it for granted that "origins" belong within the ambit of science, whereas ID people have some reservations about that. In terms of Gould's NOMA distinction, the magisterium of science occupies a larger territory for TE than it does for many ID proponents.

Eleventh, I said nothing about particular observations being due to supernatural agents. You must not have read my previous post carefully before writing your reply.

Twelfth, in answer to your question regarding when you suggested that final causes implied miracles, your recent replies have conflated final causes and miracles, if not directly (by continuing to charge that design inferences are connected with supernatural actions of God), then indirectly, by wandering from one subject (miracles) to the other (final causes) in your discussions without indicating when you are shifting topic. So even if you have no conceptual confusion on this point, your exposition has led me to think that you may. And remember, I said I was replying to more people than you. The conflation of miracles and final causes is not infrequent in discussions here.

Thirteenth, yes, I know that TEs talk about how God is continually and always active in creation, yada yada yada. But that involvement has zero epistemological significance as far as the practice of science is concerned. It's a private theological gloss.

Fourteenth, if I may slightly correct my expression while retaining my essential point, many scientists have taken it as their working hypothesis that stochastic mechanisms, combined with impersonal natural laws, can explain the origin of life without any need for intelligent design. In fact, Stephen Meyer, whose specialty is the history of origin-of-life theories (did his Ph.D. on the topic), lays emphasis on the primary role of stochastic mechanisms in origin-of-life theories. I've just finished a slow, careful read of his book. Meyer shows how people like Oparin gave to stochastic mechanisms a colossal creative role that is simply not justified by the evidence. I highly recommend that you read Meyer's book.

Fifteenth, the fact that you say this:

"To me, seeing science as addressing final causality is to buy into the very "scientism" that the atheists do."

betrays a serious misunderstanding of final causality. Thomas Aquinas did not "buy into" either scientism or atheism. Nor did Aristotle. Once again the Protestant-centrism of TE, with its obliviousness of non-Protestant theological and intellectual alternatives, shows through. The only corrective to this sort of TE distortion is serious reading in the history of science, the history of philosophy, the history of theology, and the history of ideas, with emphasis on pre-Protestant primary sources.


  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Keith Miller
  Sent: Monday, November 09, 2009 5:40 PM
  Subject: Re: [asa] on science and meta-science


    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 apologetically.

    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 argument.


    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 20:14:32 2009

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