Thursday, January 22, 2009

Thomism & Intelligent Design

Over the past year or so, I've been gradually acquainting myself with the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas and I think I can now officially call myself his pupil. One day I hope to call myself a Thomist. And during approximately this same time period, my disposition has softened towards evolutionary theory. I've been open to some evolutionary concepts for some time now of course, just not full blown Darwinian evolution and I can't say that I'm quite there yet (nor with confidence that I'll end up there). But for what it's worth, I'll pass along an excellent article from "This Rock" magazine entitled, "Aquinas vs. Intelligent Design". H/T The Deeps of Time (which, if you have any interest in philosophy & science you should be subscribed to).

I didn't follow his arguments well enough to reach his conclusion though:
Our current science may or may not be able to explain any given feature of living organisms, yet there must exist some explanatory cause in nature. The most complex of organisms have a natural explanation, even if it is one that we do not now, or perhaps never will, know.
It seems to be starting with a presupposition that I'm not ready to accept - that all things observed must have a natural explanation. It seems to contradict Thomistic cosmogony rather than support it as the author argues. We maintain, as it was divinely inspired, that God does interrupt the natural process through miraculous intervention. This is at least how it has been revealed to us through Scripture. His argument seems to contradict that.

Any thoughts?


Principium Unitatis said...


It is a great article. But he went too far in those two sentences. Thomism does not entail that those two sentences are true. Of course, what you are saying about miracles is true. And the author, I hope, wouldn't disagree you about that. He is talking about nature, not divine acts in redemptive history. But, even so, those two sentences are not entailed by Thomism. That's because Thomism is compatible with God having created all the species de novo, each with its own unique structure and complexity. Therefore, Thomism cannot entail that every given feature of a living organism has a natural cause, or that every complex organism has a [complete] natural explanation. (A good Thomistic editor would have caught this mistake. ;-)

Good for you for noticing it.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Chad Toney said...

Here's another version of the article.

There is contact info for the author on this page. Maybe you could ask him for his thoughts in reply?

Chad Toney said...

Tim, I'd also be interested in what you think of Kenneth Miller's books if you get a chance to read them. I was pretty frustrated by his lack of theology and philosophy (they are just obviously not his strengths), but I thought he had strong arguments in the science department...and he's actually a very engaging writer, I think.

Andrew Preslar said...

Hey Chad,

I read Miller on evolution (cant remember title) a couple of years ago and remember enjoying the book for a lot of reasons but struggling with unresolved tensions. He uses a lot of language to describe full-blown Darwinian evolution that must, on Darwinian grounds, be metaphorical, but I could not figure out what might be a literal way to say some of those things. Miller appears to be borrowing more from "teleological" conceptions of nature than his own premises seem to warrant. This may be just semantics, and I cant think of any specific examples right off hand.

I did think that his analogy of evolution and happenstance vis-a-vis the providence of God was helpful. We don't know exactly how God's providence is on display when I spill my coffee or a blade of grass in bent, but that's no problem. If life arose in a happenstance way (in terms of efficient causes) that should not trouble our belief in the providence of God either. The case he makes is more convincing than that summary, but you catch my drift.

C.S. Lewis has a lot of insightful things to say about "natural law" and reality. God knows we need metaphysicians to situate the findings of natural philosophy (now styling itself simply as "science") within our knowledge of being qua being, which is, under theology, the supreme science.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Bryan - thanks.

Chad - thanks for the links. I might contact him. I haven't read Miller myself but I did listen to a recording of a debate between him and someone... William Dembski maybe? Not only did I think his opponent made better points, I thought Miller was condescending and mocking the entire time and it really turned me off to his stuff.

Miller seemed to rest his case on the same presupposition that this article does - everything must have a natural explanation. I haven't heard a good argument to believe this yet.

Ben said...

A few thoughts:

1. The heavens (universe) declare the glory of the Lord.

2. To be a declaration, something must be intelligible. Whether this declaration is immediately understood isn't important, so long as it is recognized and understood by someone at some point, otherwise it isn't a declaration.

3. According to Vatican I, (DZ 1785
) "God is the source and end of all things" and "The light of
natural human reason can come to know God." (Deum rerum omnium principium et finem, naturali
humanae rationis lumine e rebus creatis certo cognosci posse)

4. The very fact that our universe does yield up its secrets to the probing of reason is a miracle, and this miracle points toward God... this, I think, is the meaning behind the Vat I locution.

5. Besides the miraculous fact of its creation and continued existence, the universe does not seem operate on the basis special or exceptional miracles such as those wrought by our Lord Jesus. In fact, the very exceptionality of an event is what classifies it as a miracle, and thus lends to it declaratory powers (i.e. that it gets our attention in a special way.)

Tim A. Troutman said...

Ben, great points.

I understand the main drive of the argument he's making, I just think he goes too far (as many anti-ID apologists do).

They say no matter what, we have to find a natural explanation for everything regardless - I don't follow the argument.

I hear what you're saying - we dont start by looking for miraculous explanations for everything. Ordinarily we EXPECT a natural explanation - even for origin of species.

Its not that as soon as we cant explain something, we run to supernatural explanations, its that as soon as we come to a certain conclusion that something could have been produced by natural processes we run to the supernatural. I don't know of any reason to say this is wrong.

The universe itself did not come about by natural process. "That's not science!" they object. "Then obviously science is inadequate here" I reply.