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Monday, January 30, 2006


Deacon John M. Bresnahan

Frankly, I'm puzzled by some Catholic's attacks on intelligent design. Don't some of the Church Fathers and even lines of the Bible say words to the effect that the pattern and organization, design, etc. of the universe give evidence of the Creator? Are some Catholics afraid they might fall into a second Galileo "scandal" so have become "snakebitten" when it comes to some issues of science and God?
As far as God as "Lover"--Doesn't Catholic doctrine state that genuine marital love is "godlike" in its fruitfulness (its creative capacity). I'm no theologian but some of the attacks on ID by a few Catholics seem to have a very cramped view of God's creative power.


*whistles* Ouch. The more I read of Fr. Coyne's writing, the less impressed I get. He doesn't do much justice to Cardinal Schoenborn's argument either.

If you squint, I guess the closest ID comes to "literal creationism" is in demanding specific intelligent "interventions" in evolution, so (like literalist creationism) there is a danger of forgetting Aquinas' "creation is not change" distinction. But that's about as far as it goes.

At this point my own beef with ID is principally that, in response to the poverty of modern philosophy wrought by materialism, it tries to reshape natural science to take up the slack. That's a recipe for poor science and even worse philosophy. I'm with Schoenborn that we need to rehabilitate philosophy as such.


John: actually, perhaps that's my second beef with ID. What does the term "Intelligent Design" mean to you?

The reason I ask is that -- the way ID is often "marketed" -- it tends to lead people to believe that it is synonymous with the notion that reason can find evidence for God in Creation. That's Revealed, of course. So I would hope there aren't many Catholics arguing with that (though these days you never know...).

From everything I've read so far, Intelligent Design, as put forward by the Discovery Institute et al, boils down to a much more limited and specific position:

1. Bacon's philosophy of science was a mistake. Natural science must be (re)defined to address all four of Plato's causes.

2. Natural science can then show that the universe is a product of intelligence.

2a. A statistical analysis of structure in the universe demonstrates that it is the product of intelligence (this is the "Specified Complexity" argument).

2b. An analysis of biological structures shows that their development requires the periodic intervention of an intelligent agent (this is the "Irreducible Complexity" argument).

[Anyone, please correct me if you've read ID literature and seen that I've mis-characterized the ID position.]

I think one can contest these points on philosophical and scientific grounds without running afoul of Revelation. The arguments of Intelligent Design (the philosophical movement) are not the only arguments for Intelligent Design (the reality).


I should also note that there's some genuinely good material in ID; the first part of Dembski's "Specified Complexity" argument, for example, where he points out that we automatically attribute things exhibiting specific sorts of complexity to intelligence, and that it's clear that this same sort of complexity may be found in nature. So far, so good.

However, from there, he attempts to develop an infallible mathematical test for this specific sort of complexity (infallible in the sense that it can yield false negatives, but not false positives). It's that specific mathematical test which has been widely criticised, and I suspect many materialists may find it a welcome distraction from the real point.

On the other hand, it's not even clear that the math is necessary. For example, in his recent "First Things" article, Cardinal Schoenborn presented a much cleaner version of the same argument -- since Creation is intelligible, it must necessarily be the product of intelligence. I suppose one might call that variant "Intelligible Complexity". It's rather harder to argue that the universe is unintelligible than it is to quibble with Dembski's math.

Anwyay, I've posted way too much already. I didn't mean to hog the thread...

Patrick Coulton

All of Aquinas's arguments for the existence of God rely
on physical observation (Aristotle), which I think is the foundation
of his philosophy as opposed to innate ideas (Plato).

Somewhere, I think, Paul claims that the existance of God
can be known by man ( I think Leo XIII makes this the basis of the
claim that man can know of the existence of God through reason alone)

Unfortunately, I don't have all the citations but I could look
them up if your interested.

I remember this because Mortimer Adler was to give a paper at a
conference on Thomist philosophy that claimed that St. Thomas's
argument were not completely valid. The organizers were agast
since they felt that this was a critique of the Church doctrine,
until Adler conceded that he was not claiming that God's existence
could not be proved rationally, but only that he thought
St. Thomas had failed in some sense.

Later Adler wrote (Does God Exist, I think) which attempts to give
something of a proof.


Patrick: Romans 1:19-21 I think? One of John Paul II's audiences dealt with the subject, and he cited it there:

(okay, okay, I'm really done posting now...)


Not to go too far off topic, but Garrigou-Lagrange's two-volume, out-of-print book on God is the most trenchant explanation and defense of the "classical proofs" put forth by Aquinas that I have ever encountered in my philosophical/theological studies. He considers the proofs-- with the likes of Maritain & co. -- to be conclusive *when understood fully*, despite the criticism (which, as he shows, fail to understand everything involved). I, for one, find Garrigou-Lagrange's book more rigorous and conclusive than anything I have ever seen by Adler (not that he is bad. . .).
Perhaps Ignatius Press should put out a new edition of Garrigou-Lagrange's work? It would be an incredible addition to the catalog. The last English edition, I think, was from 1934.
At least, I'm suggesting, someone at Ignatius should take a look at it. If Schonborn is looking for us Catholics to push in the right philosophical direction, the publication of this work would be a good starting point.

[Note: This is the point at which anyone familiar with this work pipes up in gleeful support.] :-)

Patrick Coulton

Romans 1:19 is right, thanks.

Vatican I says:
1. If anyone says that

* the one, true God, our creator and lord, cannot be known with certainty
o from the things that have been made,
o by the natural light of human reason:

let him be anathema.

Carl Olson

Peter: By chance, is the Garrigou-Lagrange book you refer to titled The Trinity and God the Creator? If so, it is available online over at EWTN. I have several of his books, but not that one.


No, Carl. I know about the great selections EWTN has put up.

I should have realized that Garrigou-Lagrange's works are usually on God (duh), so let me give the exact title of the book I meant: "God: his existence and his nature; a Thomistic solution of certain agnostic antinomies", 5th edition. The English version is the one I read and it was in two volumes.

I'm not on the right computer now to access library databases, so I can't tell you where you can find a copy if you're interested. If you don't find it at a used [theological] bookstore, I'll provide a library name if you want. I just can't at this moment.

Re: Patrick Coulton, this work begins with an overview of Vatican I in its relation to God's existence and seems to be Garrigou-Lagrange's orthodox response (with the aid of others) to those very points of Vatican I.

Ed Peters

I'm sorry to see Fr. Coyne weigh in like this. It distracts from the good science he and his team have done over the years at the VO. Oh well.

Mark Brumley

There is great value in reading both volumes of Garrigou-Lagrange's GOD: HIS EXISTENCE AND HIS NATURE. However, there are all sorts of pertinent issues that he did not address, or did not adequately address, issues that have become prominent in the last fifty years, especially as a result of discussions with theoretical physicists and cosmologists. For example, the question of whether the coming into existence of the cosmos that the Big Bang Theory seems to indicate can be explained as part of the ongoing working out of principles inherent to an eternal Metaverse or whether Stephen Hawking's suggestion that so-called imaginary time precludes the need for a cause of the universe's coming into existence.

Many of these issues may be phantom problems--the result of philosophical sloppiness on the part of certain scientists or a confusion of the realms of physics and metaphysics. Surely, though, not all are. And whether the problems are illusory or real, they need to be directly addressed.

Some of the principles discussed in GOD: HIS EXISTENCE AND HIS NATURE, as well as in many other older Thomistic texts, may well help in that regard, but more immediate conversation between scientifically-informed Thomistic philosophers and scientists is probably in order.

Patrick Coulton

Let me recommend Hawking's the beginning of real time.

The hypothesis of imaginary time does not means that the universe
has no cause though Hawking seems to imply this. ( I think he means that
one need not assume that the universe began at some specific time by
a specific intervention)
Aquinas'/Aristotle's idea of cause, I think, still holds.

What the hypothesis seems to mean is that the Big Bang singularity
(that all matter/energy callapses to a point so that the Schwarzchild
metric becomes undefined) can be smoothed out using a new coordinate scheme.
The common metaphor is that the north pole is not a
singularity though it appears as a singularity on many maps.

What is often missing from these discussions is the fact that
real time can not be used as a coordinate in General Relativity
without running into causality problems.

Mark Brumley

Here is a William Carroll piece on Thomas Aquinas and Big Bang Cosmology that should contribute to the discussion:

Patrick Coulton

Excellent resource for all, Mark. Thanks


Most ID advocates don't argue that irreducible complexity implies periodic interventions by a designer. Some talk about the idea of 'front loading', that is that life is designed to evolve. Search for 'front loading'.

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