Re: [asa] on science and meta-science

From: Schwarzwald <>
Date: Mon Nov 09 2009 - 23:12:59 EST

Heya all,

I'm going to focus on what I'd disagree with as far as what's been posted so
far, just to throw in some consistent commentary on this subject.

* I disagree with Ted - strongly disagree - that Darwinism "allowed one to
be an intellectually fulfilled atheist". Though that could possibly be to
due differing understandings of being 'intellectually fulfilled'. If all it
means is "a person can be very intelligent and accomplished and also an
atheist", wonderful - but not only do I doubt that Darwin offered much in
that regard, but I'd also say that's an incredibly low-hanging fruit, so to
speak. In that case one can be an intellectually-fulfilled raelian,
discordian, and probably even solipsist.

* Cameron - in my view, rightly - talks about the importance of final causes
in nature, the fact that leaving final causes out of science may not only
lead to an 'incomplete' picture of nature, but a 'wrong' picture of what is
actually described, the value that Aquinas and Aristotle bring to a study of
nature, and so on. But it's worth pointing out one thing: As far as ID goes,
the modern thomists and other philosophers/theologians most wedded to an
Aristotilean-Thomistic (or generally scholastic) perspective of nature have
not coincidentally been the ones putting up the most surprising resistance
to the ID project. Even Dembski has publicly complained about this on UD
(singling out thomists specifically I recall). From the A-T perspective, not
only is evolution and even macroevolution largely uninteresting as far as
inferring God goes (in the words of Edward Feser - while he certainly does
not subscribe to Darwinism himself, though evolution is another matter - if
anything, evolution further bolsters the case for final causes and
teleology), but the entire ID tact of making probablistic arguments is not
just unnecessary (if the A-T arguments are persuasive, then specific
arguments of ICness are not necessary to establish what ID proponents want),
it's downright counterproductive (because arguing that X may or may not be
"designed" presumes "not being designed" is possible, and on A-T, it's just
plain not possible for anything to exist sans God, and this can be known by
reason.) In other words, ID arguments implicitly or explicitly accept a
mechanistic, final-cause-lacking view of the world - and no amount of
investigating purely efficient causes or talk about ICness is going to
change that. On the other hand, if one started out with an explicit or
implicit commitment to intrinsic teleology and final causality, then what's
the point of talking about ICness and the like anyway (insofar as God is
concerned, at least)?

* That aside, another thing that worries me is this dislike of 'stochastic
mechanisms' - in fact, I wonder how much of the problem with this part of
Darwinism has to do with actual mechanisms, as opposed to emphasis. I
recently watched a very long and recent interview Michael Denton gave, and I
try to keep up with Conway Morris' thoughts on the matter. What struck me
was how their views clearly raise little to no criticism of evolutionary
mechanisms, but they shift the focus instead to capabilities and constraints
built into nature in both an intrinsic and extrinsic way - such as Conway
Morris mentioning the tightness of constraints in evolution such that
certain solutions will inevitably be found. And given that ultimately there
are quite a lot of constants like this at work in nature (and a tremendously
narrow selection of them seems necessary for life as we know it), it seems
that the idea of attributing evolutionary development or even the OoL to
'wholly stochastic processes' is ruled out right out of the gates. Instead,
what's left over is a question of emphasis - should we give pride of place
to talk of the contingencies of the process? The constraints? Indeed, which
is the less Christian-friendly argument - an evolutionary process that made
intelligent creatures like humans wildly unlikely ("Look, human existence is
tremendously unlikely, no God could have intended them!" vs "Look, human
existence is tremendously unlikely, surely God must have intervened!")? Or
one that makes intelligent creatures like humans tremendously likely?
("Look, human existence is tremendously likely! No God is needed!" vs "Look,
human existence is tremendously likely! Clearly God arranged the conditions

* Maybe there's a third way available aside from the ID and TE viewpoints.
Instead of regarding science as a place where the existence of God must
ultimately be inferred or determined (which honestly seems like a common ID
viewpoint - perhaps caricature), or regarding science as a place that can
for all practical purposes never have anything to reveal of relevance to God
one way or the other (the TE viewpoint, or again, at least caricature). One
which eschews even lip service towards naturalism (rejecting MN), maintains
a proper perspective on science all the same, but also allows for science to
be re-united with philosophy, theology, and metaphysics in a coherent
greater whole, rather than somewhat disjointed. But of course that sort of
thing isn't going to ever be totally resolved in a single direction, much
less on a (if very nice) mailing list.

[An aside here: One real eye-opening experience for me came when I was
interested in Mormon belief and apologetics, and decided to simultaneously
read the FAIR LDS forums at the same time I'd read Catholic forums. What's
interesting with Mormons is that their theology and philosophy seems like
nearly the dead opposite of classical theism / Catholicism in a lot of ways
. For Mormons, matter is eternal and God is co-eternal with it. For
Catholics, the emphasis is on ex nihilo creation. For mormons, even the
spirit is taken as a kind of 'material'. For Catholics, immaterial
principles. But what was interesting was seeing how the atheists operated on
both forums. On the Catholic forum, the idea that time, matter, etc began to
exist at the Big Bang - or any point - was regarded as ludicrous, and it was
assured that any rational, scientifically informed person would accept the
universe was *really* eternal. On the mormon forum, it was asserted that
time, matter, etc began to exist at the Big Bang or some other point - and
the idea that the universe was eternal was explicitly attacked as
unscientific, and all reasonable and scientifically informed people accepted
this. For Catholics, materialism was promoted. For Mormons, materialism was
attacked. Other examples could follow, but it really put quite a lot into

On Mon, Nov 9, 2009 at 8:13 PM, Cameron Wybrow <> wrote:

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

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Received on Mon Nov 9 23:13:36 2009

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