Thursday, June 11, 2009

And your punt, exactly?

Our old friend, unBeguiled, posted the following not too long ago and I have decided to post some comments in response.

"[M]any people today," he argues,

"still have a powerful intuition that order indicates intelligence. A quark just could not reliably behave like a quark, the argument goes, unless a mind is guiding it. So, regularity indicates God.

"But then the apologist does something strange. He points to miracles to prove that God exists. Jesus died and came back to life, which is a violation of natural law. Only a god could violate natural law.

"The contradiction is obvious.

"The regularity we observe in nature, as well as an irregularity, are both evidence that God exists."

He then elaborated in the comment section:

"I am not claiming that the notion of a sovereign God is incompatible with both regular physical laws and the occasional miracle. Rather, my point is that the theist cannot use both of these arguments without seeming silly."

I reply by asking, "What is a pun?"

A pun is a meaningful and recognizable aberration from the laws of grammar and/or phonetics, based on the intentions of an intelligent language user, in order to modify a relational bond or unveil something new or unseen about the world. The "violations" created by humor presuppose the "inviolable" laws of a language. One must appeal to both aspects of the speech act––both its prescriptive basis and its creative "error"––to understand the pun.

What, in turn, is a miracle?

A miracle is a meaningful and recognizable aberration from the laws of science and/or matter, based on the intentions of an intelligent agent, in order to modify a relational bond with the faithful or unveil something new or unseen about the world. The "violations" created by miracles presuppose the inviolable laws of nature. One must, pace unBeguiled, refer to both aspects of a miracle––both its nomological basis and its theological "bizarreness"––to understand the miracles qua marvel.

A pun-maker simultaneously invokes and revokes the laws of grammar based on his contiguous rational aims. The point of my analogy is that God does much the same thing when He performs a miracle: He "leverages" otherwise natural phenomena into a marvelous new causal constellation in order to bring about an effect that none of the phenomena, separately or collectively, would produce without God's intention to perform the miracle.

On the one hand, each language has prescriptive grammatical and phonetic "laws". E.g., saying IMport when you mean to say imPORT is not simply different, but linguistically wrong. It is a violation of the laws of English. A pun, however, allows a competent speaker to "break the rules" and still convey something meaningful in the confines of the rest of the laws of English. Puns are "miracles" of locution, insofar as nothing about the laws of English themselves can generate a pun. If puns just "fell out" from prescriptive language, they wouldn't be humor: they would be humdrum. A pun is a sign of mastery in a language; so too is a divine miracle a sign (semeion) of God's mastery over creation. To be sure, lesser speakers (and agents) can object that puns (and miracles) "break the rules" of English (or of nature), but their objection dissolves in the higher rationality which generates and situates the pun (and miracle). Just as a pun is often "a distinguishing mark" (semeion) of someone we know well, so too is a legitimate divine miracle a "reminder", or "trademark" action of the God we know in Christ. Just as we can know enough about some languages in some cases to determine a phrase is a joke (e.g., my own little joke in Chinese), so too can we know enough about nature in some cases to determine that an event is a miracle.

Our critic seems to be saying that we must pick one pole of the created "evidence for God": either the unfailing lawlike order of nature, or the unpredictable, unreproducible mystery of miracles. But does this objection hold even in terms of language use? No, for, again, the fullness of a language entails both performances. On the one hand, if we never saw creative innovation (e.g., puns), we might suspect no one really knows how to use that language. People would be making a lot of "English noises" but if they always followed the same slavish rules without fail, we would have to wonder if any of the speakers are really "there" behind the words. Unchanging repetition in any arena is a sign of stupidity, not mastery or wisdom. On the other hand, if so-called native speakers constantly made puns and jokes and bizarre grammatical statements, we would suspect they lacked a true grasp of the language in question. Only if we see a fundamental order and proficiency in their language use, combined with an intelligent unpredictability, will we trust the speaker as a real master of the language.

Again, unBeguiled's objection seems to be that a theist cannot claim God would both evidently preserve natural order and intervene miraculously in creation, but this seems as weak an objection to miracles as a foreigner's objections would be to puns. From the outsider's perspective, every pun makes a mockery of standard English as found "on the books." So, the non-native speaker wonders, which is it: real native speakers ground English by following all the rules better than non-native speakers (i.e., without error), or native speakers ground English by breaking the rules whenever they like (i.e., "miraculously")? To the outsider, combining both language skills––i.e., preserving correct grammar and riffing in jest––seem maddeningly silly. Likewise, to someone outside the Christian faith, it seems methodologically silly to honor God as both law-keeper and miracle-worker.

* * *

I would now like to advance the issue by noting a grave misconception behind unBeguiled's objection. This will allow me to present the larger, positive view of classical Catholic philosophy and show why so many "evolutionary" objections to the Faith are wide, wide of the mark.

"A similar contradiction," unBeguiled continues in the same comment thread, "arises when making a fine tuning argument and then making an intelligent design argument. If fine tuning is true, then biological knob twiddling would be unnecessary."

The problem is that he seems to think that Christians must either pick a theology of creation in which God winds everything up and lets it all run like a perfect clock according to divinely planned immutable laws, or a theology of creation in which God sovereignly intervenes to "tune up" His work for the good of the Church. But this is a false dichotomy. In the classical Christian understanding of creation, God imparts a genuine "share" of autonomy to nature, allowing it to develop in its own ways, based on its own disparate contents as they interact over time. In this sense, there is no reason for God to intervene: His creation is robust enough that it can, as it were, take care of itself. As Dennis Bonnette puts it Origin of the Human Species, God "communicates the dignity of causality" to creation. "God allows creatures to participate in the causality which constitutes His very nature as First Cause Uncaused" (p. 17). "Thus," Bonnette continues,

"perhaps the most forceful argument in favor of evolutionary theory lies in its ability to express most perfectly the fullness of divine creative causality. … Evolution may give greater glory to the First Cause by preserving the natural efficacy of secondary causes. St. Augustine's appeal to 'seminal reasons' [rationes seminales, or, 'seeds of rational order'] rightly points to a more perfect Creator by minimizing the need for subsequent miraculous interventions. … [T]he omnipotence of God might best lie in God having providentially ordained a world so structured from its inception as to give rise through the natural interaction of creatures to ever more perfect forms of reality and life" (pp. 17–18).

This is precisely the reason the bulk of Catholic intelligentsia are untroubled by even the most rigorous evolutionary claims. Only because God created the universe as a unified, dynamic whole do we, as a matter of course, see organisms interacting and emerging and submerging in novel ways. Nature is not, pace Deists, a wound-up clock that runs down without a glitch while God gazes upon it in His heavenly hammock. Nor, however, is creation a leaky bucket constantly in need of "tweaking" to keep her afloat. That perspective is, from what I can gather, more the view of intelligent design (ID) theorists than classical Catholic thinkers.

Nature does not run perfectly deterministically, since, presumably, if it were reset a few times and allowed to unfurl, we would see some wholly novel variations between "parallel" systems in time. Nor, however, does nature run totally erratically: there really are built-in structures, relations, and laws which, by and large, produce the same predictable results in various conditions over time. Nature, thus, is neither rigidly deterministic nor wildly chaotic: she is stochastic: she has a temperament but is also, like it or not, a mighty law unto herself.

This is, according to Bonnette, why "classical metaphysics insists the finality principle is essential to all, including biological, beings' intelligible structure" (p. 46). "In the biological context," he continues, "the soul, a living body's substantial form, is the finality principle. The soul constitutes life's principle and determines living matter's total organization" (ibid.). Further, any substance's "substantial form is the intrinsic constituent co-principle of a being that actualizes its matter's potencies. It determines that matter to be of a certain specific nature or species" (ibid., p. 53, italics added). The formal determinacy which pervades nature does, however, require the active power of an intellect to recognize a formal function or real state of affairs as determinately this-and-not-that (cf. James Ross, "Immaterial Aspects of Thought"), otherwise all scientific claims are sheer fabrications. The ultimate source of nature "formal determinateness" is, of course, God Himself. Yet, none of this miraculous: it is mere creation. As Michael W. Tkacz writes in "Aquinas vs. Intelligent Design," "natural things are intelligible … as the products of nature—that is, they are intelligible in terms of their natural causes. If this is true of the totality of natural things, then there must be some ultimate source of this intelligibility…", namely, God (This Rock, Nov. 2008).

Hence, we must preserve a strict barrier between what classical Catholic theology means by a "miracle" and what many critics of special creationism or intelligent design mean by "interventions." A miracle is a radically theological event, not a physical or scientific event. A miracle is not done for the good of tightening up or improving the natural order, but rather, for highlighting and emphasizing the supernatural order. Nature, as God created her, does not need more miracles in order to function. Human beings, by contrast, do at times need miracles in order to keep their heads above the purely natural plane, as it were, and look faithfully to God for everything "more" which nature cannot provide.

What, then, is the "point" of God's supernatural power of creation? If nature really can work fine by itself, what need is there of God? The "point" of "keeping" God in nature, is metaphysical not scientific. God is the ontological foundation for the existence of nature as such. He "ratifies" the way nature exists––its total form––by preserving all of nature's complex components in their own autonomous correlations. He need not have created a cosmos in which E = mc2 is true or in which quantum covariables (such as momentum and position) are inversely determined, but there is no way He could create a world that did not essentially depend on His own supreme existence for its derivative existence, regardless what particular structure and cycles it contains within itself. Along the same lines, Tkacz reminds us how "Thomists distinguish between the existence of natural beings and their operations. God causes natural beings to exist in such a way that they are the agents of their own operations" (op. cit.). Since God created the world ex nihilo et ab initio temporis (i.e., from nothing and at the origin of time), and since creation means productio totius substantiâ ex nihilo sui et subjecti (i.e., production of the entire substance of a thing into existence from a state of non-existence). Accordingly, Tkacz writes, the dogma of creatio ex nihilo (i.e., creation by means of nothing but God's own agency), means that:

"… God creates without taking any time to create: He creates eternally. Creation is not a process with a beginning, a middle, and an end. It is simply a reality: the reality of the complete dependence of the universe on God’s agency. … [As such,] nature and her operations are independent in the sense that nature operates according to the way she is, not because something outside of her is acting on her. … God causes natural beings to be in such a way that they work the way they do. … God made the whole of nature to operate in this way and produce by her own agency what she produces. Thus, God remains completely responsible for the being and operation of everything, even though natural beings possess real agency according to the way they were created. … [Moreover, pace IDers such as Behe or Dembski,] God’s Creation of the world from nothing is not the same as a natural cause. Unlike the causes at work within nature, God’s act of Creation is a completely non-temporal and non-progressive reality. God does not intervene into nature nor does he adjust or 'fix up' natural things. God is the divine reality without which no other reality could exist. Thus, the evidence of nature’s ultimate dependency on God as Creator cannot be the absence of a natural causal explanation for some particular natural structure" (op. cit., italics added).

This is why, despite how strongly Bonnette supports the analogous autonomy of creation's secondary causes (cf. op. cit., p. 17), he adds that such "a [natural-evolutionary] process cannot escape the absolute metaphysical necessity that God continues to create and sustain the existence and natural operations of all the natural agents involved. … Theistic evolution respects the natural order of procreative agents within the limits of metaphysical possibility" (pp. 18, 41, italics added). God does not deploy so many occasional "nip and tuck" miracles to help nature be herself; He simply makes her to be; He creates and sustains her as herself. He is the source of Absolute Being which gives substance to her Relative Being. At times, certainly, God may "convince" or "inspire" Nature to produce effects that she would rather not, or would not even naturally think of herself, but this is simply part and parcel of the covenant that exists between God and Nature: she respects His sovereignty as He Who Is, as He Who Grounds Nature, and continues being-herself as long as He allows her to be that way, while He respects her own inner laws, occasionally expressing a higher message through her in ways that she must respect, if only because it is beyond her power to reproduce, much less suppress, such effects. God, then, is the "field" in which nature acts like Nature and Nature is the "field" in which God is known as God by non-God. Faith in miracles, then, is how nature––via us––stands in awe of what God does through her for the good of those of us in her womb. "In knowing himself," says Étienne Gilson in From Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again (University of Notre Dame Press, 1984, p. 4):

"man knows nature in a unique way, because in this unique case the nature that he knows, he is. In and through the knowledge which man has of himself nature knows herself directly; she becomes conscious of herself in him, self-conscious one might say, and there i strictly nothing else that man can hope to know in this way."

By natural science, nature comes to know herself by means of the natural minds of human scientists; by divine faith, nature comes to know herself as Creation in the eyes of her Creator by means of the hearts of the human faithful illumined by miracles and revelation. Once more, however, I must emphasize that such marvels are theological actions, not simply weird or very rare occurrences in nature.

Even something as controversial, for some religious folk, as abiogenesis (i.e., the emergence of living entities from non-living matter), rationally falls within the ambit of Aristhomistic natural philosophy. Natural aberrations, in other words, do not subsume theological miracles or theistic metaphysics. In The Philosophical Dimensions of the Origin of Species, for instance, John Deely "claims that abiogenesis entails no violation of the causality principle [i.e., that something cannot produce an effect higher than itself] and no need exists for special divine 'concursus (still less intervention).'" (as cited in Bonnette, op. cit., p. 52). Transformism, Deely argues, entails equivocal causality: "The principle is the involution and mutual activation of the causes: causae ad invicem sunt causae" (p. 321, as cited in Bonnette, op. cit., p. 52). Creation, which Bonnette calls a "republic of natures," "may generate new and higher forms of being as the 'intersection of causal chains' produces reorganizations of matter in ways quite novel from the perspective of individual reagents" (op. cit., pp. 52–53, cf. also Jacques Maritain, A Preface to Metaphysics (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1939), pp. 141–151). Astoundingly, (to some non-Thomistic ears, I think) Bonnette goes so far as to say that "Eduction of form only requires proper material organization. … [C]ausal interaction progressively alters matter's dispositions through a continuum of intermediate dispositions leading toward the ultimate [evolved] disposition" (op. cit., pp. 53–54). If I didn't know any better, I'd think Bonnette were a secularist.

Indeed, does not granting so much theoretical autonomy to natural, scientific explanation without reference to divine intervention "give away the game" to materialism? Not for a Thomist like Bonnette. For one thing, Bonnette insists on the reality of miracles, such as the Incarnation and Resurrection of Christ. For another thing, he carefully distinguishes between a miracle per se and a merely non-natural "rare" event (as I alluded to above). Chance events fall outside the ambit of the normative natural order, but they are not for that reason miraculous. Chance events are, to recall C. S. Lewis's reference to Brownian motion in Miracles, as subnatural as miracles are supernatural: either way, certain things lie beyond not only the powers of natural science to explain systematically or rationally, but also beyond the power of nature itself to generate uniformly, autonomously, naturally. Admitting that much severely curtails the pretensions of both scientism and naturalism simpliciter.

Parallel to the subnatural-natural-supernatural distinction is that made by Ric Machuga in his In Defense of the Soul, namely, the distinction between per se causation and per accidens causation. To cite Machuga's own illustration (cf. pp. 144ff.), a geologist may be able to explain to his daughter the natural, per se mechanism by which a certain rock she finds on the path was formed, but he has no per se explanation––but only a per accidens shrug, as it were––as to why a precise C-shaped crack formed on one of its sides. The kind of rock she finds is something that nature produces per se, as a natural tendency, cycle, or disposition, given the proper materials and time. The C-shaped crack she finds on it, by contrast, is something nature has "produced" only accidentally, per accidens, by sheer chance. "[P]henomena like this do not rationally require an explanation," asserts Machuga. "To say that something occurred by mere chance or coincidence is not to provide an explanation, but instead, it is to assert that the event or object in question neither has nor demands an explanation. … What we are saying is that there are no laws of nature (per se efficient causes) that explain C-shaped cracks" (pp. 98, 145). So, again, even granting a tremendous amount of secondary causal autonomy to nature is not in itself capitulating to secular naturalism. (Indeed, on pages 91–97, Machuga, also a stringent critic of ID, engages the crystal-silicate-mud theory of abiogenesis popularized by Graham Cairns-Smith, grants that it might one day be proved, and then still affirms that this would be no problem for Aristhomistic metaphysics!)

But to return to Bonnette. The reason his admission of chance abiogenesis and evolution is not a cop-out to secularism, is because chance, as "a limited explanation of the origin of new living species, is critically different from chance, taken as a general metaphysical explanation of the whole universe's existence and order" (p. 55). Hence, the

"classical metaphysician can view with amusement the deadly combat between scientific materialists and scientific creationists over the abiogenesis question, as if God's existence depended upon the victors. The notion of chance presupposes an orderly universe, a republic of natures obeying the universal principle of finality, a universe whose intelligibility presupposes a supreme intelligent orderer" (p. 55, italics added).

Bonnette notes how Jacques Maritain

"exposes those metaphysical presuppositions when he says that chance entails the 'encounter of causal series,' each of whose causes are determined to particular ends. Chance 'necessarily implies preordination.' Cosmic structure capable of generating life presupposes order just as a roulette game presupposes the shape and structure of the wheel and ball. … [Citing Maritain:] 'An effect can be due to chance only if some datum aside from chance is presupposed at the origin" (ibid., cf. A Preface to Metaphysics, pp. 148, 141–151; cf. also Approaches to God [New York: Collier Books, 1962], pp. 56–62).

"Chance," Bonnette explains, "always presupposes a pre-existent order and structure of those elements that construct it. 'Random' dice toss presupposes the existence and proper structure of 'regulation' dice and other pre-existent conditions necessary to that particular chance event" (op. cit., p. 57, italics added). As a result, Bonnette argues fully in accord with Catholic piety that whether life's origin "occurred by limited chance or direct divine intervention, the cosmos remains a creature dependent on God for its initial creation, continued creation (conservation), perpetuation of its natural laws, and its overall direction to its ultimate end" (p. 57). Tkacz writes similarly:

"…the order and design evident in nature is precisely that which makes natural science possible. If nature were not ordered, then there would not be a reason why natural things are the way we observe them to be. … Without order and design in nature, then, there cannot be natural science. So, the followers of Darwin who argue that evolutionary theory removes all need for positing a design in nature are inconsistent. Presumably, they make this claim on the basis of natural science which, if their claim is true, is impossible" (op. cit., italics added).

* * *

Since it is probably not obvious, I want to point out that what undergirds and motivates Bonnette's, or any other cogent Thomist's, confidence in the metaphysical supremacy of God as Creator, despit ehis impressive "conessions" to naturalistic metaphysics, is the fundamental divide between act and potency in Thomism. To cite the first principle of the hardy old "Twenty-Four Thomistic Theses", "Potency and act divide being in such a way that whatever is, is either a pure act, or else coalesces necessarily from potency and act as from its first and intrinsic principles. [Potentia et actus ita dividunt ens, ut quidquid est, vel sit actus purus, vel ex potentia et actu tamquam primis atque intrinsecis principiis necessario coalescat.]" On one end of the spectrum, God is Pure Act (cf. SCG, I, xvi), but on the other end of the spectrum, "prime matter" is sheer potency, sheer openness to formed-being, a point which we will see is stunningly important for the Thomistic position in the so-called creation-evolution debate.

As a test case, as it were, for the importance of this act-potency distinction, Bonnette engages the views of Sidney W. Fox as found in "Creationism and Evolutionary Protobiogenesis" (in Science and Creationism, ed. Ashley Montagu [Oxford, New York, Toronto, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1984]). Summarizing Fox's thesis of molecular determinism, Bonnette says that "Primordial reactants, not chance, form amino acids," the building blocks of living entities. The "internal self-limitations of molecular stereo-specificity," Fox argues, led to the emergence of amino acids and, in turn, life (op. cit., p. 229). Fox thus replaces the "mythology of Genesis" with the natural "directive nonrandomness" of chemical interaction (Bonnette, ibid., p. 57, cf. Fox, op. cit., p. 230). Consequently, Bonnette notes, Fox's "process of stereochemical selection is non-random and not by chance" (ibid.). Nonetheless, argues Bonnette, whether "life arose in the cosmos by chance or molecular determinism, from a metaphysical perspective, need for a transcendent First Cause remains. Fox's terms 'self-explanatory' or 'self-organization' cannot legitimately indicate escape from dependence upon extrinsic causes of the complete order of being…" (ibid., p. 57, italics added). More exactly, "Fox's scenario presupposes the given atomic structure of physical reality and its specific potentiality to a life [sic] outcome upon interaction of its elements" (ibid., p. 57, italics added).

As I say, the word "potentiality" is immensely important in this context. "The metaphysical principle," argues Bonnette, "that nothing moves itself primarily demands that we understand 'self-organization' in a limited sense. … Determinism of the [stereochemical] process is the natural result of the interaction of the involved reagents, not of self-organization. … Because many agents compose the solution of amino acids, the process does not violate the principle that nothing can reduce itself from potency to act" (ibid., p. 58, italics added). In other words, the, if I may, involuted co-determinism of the stereochemical elements already possess certain active power to reduce their disparate potency to the higher 'act' that is an amino acid. "Because an amino acid solution is many things," Bonnette elaborates, "not one, the multiple reagents of the solution are not self-ordering. These multiple molecules order each other according to their nature's chemical finality" (ibid.). As a result, while "stereochemical selection may explain why chemical combinations ordered toward life through self-organization perpetuate themselves in existence, [it does not explain] the reason matter's nature possesses the potentiality to attain progressively higher states of being. Potency is an order toward an end. If matter did not have potency to life within its very nature, life would never arise" (ibid., p. 59, italics added). Indeed, if Fox is correct, Bonnette asserts, "a property of our cosmos is to produce living organisms. This cosmic process uniformly and regularly generates increasingly higher forms of living bodies. 'Teleological' … is written boldly upon it" (ibid., p. 59).

Despite all that, Bonnette has no desire "to endorse the evolutionary claims put forth by Fox and others" (p. 60). He merely wishes to stress that the "teleologism of non-random abiogenesis requires no preternatural intervention or force. God's original creation would instill such natural teleologism toward life in the material world" (p. 61). The natural teleologism of matter to organize itself is "the intrinsic tendency of chemical elements to interact according to nature. The living product of that interaction is foreseen and foreordained by God's extra-temporal providence. The components' finality transcends them exactly as is the case when hydrogen combines with oxygen to form water. From all eternity God knows and ordains the coming-to-be of water. … That teleology is contained in the intentionality of the creative act by which God gives all secondary matter its material potentialities and formal dispositions" (p. 61, italics added). Consequently, natural teleologism, à la Fox's molecular determinism, "presupposes the critical influence of environmental factors" and, as such, would be "an instance of extrinsic finality" (p. 61). This means that "God pre-ordains finite agents toward accidentally ordained ends that they attain as they interact according to their own intrinsic finality," and, thus, what "appears as chance to some and molecular determinism to others would be, from God's perspective, the eternally foreknown process of generating a world of living things" (ibid., pp. 61–62).

Interestingly, Bonnette explains how, a half-century earlier, Brother Benignus Gerrity, in Nature, Knowledge, and God (Milwaukee Publishing Company, 1947), "read bioteleologism as consonant with modern chemically determined abiogenesis" (p. 62). Gerrity argues that matter became alive and evolved to the present day because "it had to" (op. cit., p. 501–502). In accord with the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas, Gerrity construes "primary matter as an 'appetite or urge to live and ultimately to live on the highest possible level, that is to say as the body of man'" (ibid., as cited in Bonnette, p. 62). As St. Thomas says in Summa contra Gentiles, III, xxiii [xxii?]: "…the appetite of matter by which it seeks a form tends toward the last and most perfect act which matter is able to attain…." From one grade to another, then––from prime matter (qua pure potency), to elemental form, to compound form, to vegetative form, to animal form, and finally to rational form––matter has an intrinsic tendency toward higher order in the total order of Being. "Therefore," continues St. Thomas, "the last of all the grades is the human soul, and in this matter tends to its ultimate form. Therefore, elements are for the sake of bodily compounds, and these are for the sake of living things, in which pants are for the sake of animals, and animals are for the sake of man. For man is the end of all generation" (SCG, ibid.). Aquinas thus "indicates how prime matter's actualization by each successively higher form proximately disposes it to the next, higher form" (Bonnette, op. cit., p. 63). Fulton J. Sheen, in The Life of All Living (New York: Image Books, 1979), rephrases this basic Thomistic principle (viz., as found in SCG, IV, xi), thus, "the greater the immanent activity, the higher the life" (p. 19). Sheen later expands: "Like a mighty pyramid reaching from the basest of matter on to the very throne of God, there is an increasing immanence in things until we come to God, where we find perfect immanent activity and therefore Perfect Life" (p. 26)––thus revealing the rich theological seeds which Thomism, and Incarnational Catholicism in general, has long contained to accommodate and, indeed, illuminate the concept of evolution.

We should not, however, let ourselves be carried away into triumphalistic anachronisms. On the one hand, Bonnette and Gerrity concede, respectively, St. Thomas did not provide a metaphysical basis for the evolutionary process, though his claims do make evolution intelligible, and it is erroneous to cite St. Thomas' works as an explanation of modern evolution. On the other hand, Gerrity maintains that "the consistent Aristotelian-Thomistic position" on natural development illuminates how "mechanical and final causality are reciprocal in nature" (Gerrity, op. cit., p. 502). Bonnette, for his part, is content to note how "[n]atural extrinsic bioteleologism, many contemporary scientists, and Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy agree that some form of abiogenesis in a legitimate possibility or even probability" (p. 63). He is not, however, as sanguine about certain secular objections: "That so many scientific thinkers … give an atheistic philosophical interpretation to the same data reveals their failure to understand adequately the metaphysical context of that [sic] data" (p. 63). Fortunately, though, according to Tkacz, "Thomism provides a corrective to the ID theorists who claim that the lack of certain kinds of explanation in natural science shows the necessity of divine intervention into nature as a substitute for natural cause. According to Thomism, God is indeed the Author of nature, but as its transcendent ultimate cause, not as another natural cause alongside the other natural causes."


UnBeguiled said...

"Again, unBeguiled's objection seems to be that a theist cannot claim God would both evidently preserve natural order and intervene miraculously in creation, but this seems as weak an objection to miracles as a foreigner's objections would be to puns."

No. My post was about arguments theists make. An argument is meant to be persuasive.

As I stated in the comments section, which you pointed out, the God hypothesis is compatible with any observation. (And that's why for me it's so useless as an explanation.)

I only read that far. I'll read the rest later I guess.

The Cogitator said...


I did notice the intent of your post was more to critique apologetical methods rather than Christian metaphysics per se, and I'm glad you see that I tried to respect that difference in your attack.

Nonetheless, without getting into other things before you read this whole post, it seems to me that if you grant the ontological coherence of God as both law-maker and miracle-maker, then your methodological objection must fall by the way side.

As I was trying to show with the pun analogy, certain ontological realities about language demand a "silly" dual approach to using humor. Likewise, certain ontological realities about God and Creation require a believer to "look silly" by simultaneously talking up Creation's nomological order via God and God's sovereignty via miracles.

You seem to be asking "us" which counts as stronger evidence, cosmic order or divine power. But again, that is a false dichotomy by my lights.

All the best,

UnBeguiled said...

If a hypothesis is compatible with all possible observations, then no observation can be used as evidence for the hypothesis.

Do you understand that?

If you do then you understand my original post. If you don't, I'm at a loss as to how to explain it to you.

The Cogitator said...


Who said theism is compatible with all possible observations? That's a new claim on your part.

I'm addressing the coherence of theism to explain certain things that ground scientific observations in the first place.

It seems like there are three currents running together here: 1. you don't like the way believers appeal to science and miracles, as a matter of style; 2. you deny reason is needed to ground a reasonable universe; 3. you say "the God hypothesis" is infinitely pliable. I can't address all those at once, so the problem is I seem to want to zig when you want me to zag.

UnBeguiled said...

What observation would be for you evidence against the God hypothesis?

The Cogitator said...

God is not really a hypothesis, anyway. That would be like saying "causation" or "perception" are hypotheses for explaining scientific problems. They're not. They are transcendental categories which ground the whole scientific enterprise to begin with. God is only a hypothesis in the sense that, as the human mind is driven to find ultimate rationality in the world, it posits an Ultimate Rationality, but this does not strictly tie into specific problems in need of hypothetical solutions. Miracles have little if anything to do with the chemical properties of, say, potassium in hot water or the behavior of a stream of photons as they make their way from the sun toward earth. No one need "hypothesize" God is "behind" such phenomena in a mechanical, theoretical way. One does, however, need to maintain that explanations are meaningful because the world itself makes sense. But a world fundamentally devoid of rational structure and aim negates our hopes of meaningful explanations, unless, of course, we wish to be sheer scientific constructivists.

You believe in scientific truth, but why should you? For one thing, the world is not stamped "Intelligible" outside of religious faith and, for another, nothing in the world ought to reassure you your cognitive powers are up to the task of cracking natural mysteries. The world, after all, wasn't made for you, nor for anyone, because, you say, it wasn't made. It just is.

The Cogitator said...

What observations would kill my faith?


Jesus Christ's disinterred corpse.

A glimpse ahead in time at my own death without resurrection.

A total lack of coherence at the most basic level of physical reality.

Little things like that.

Now, let me do my best writing of the day and quote Chesterton, then I must sleep:

"It is very hard for a man to defend anything of which he is entirely convinced. It is comparatively easy when he is only partially convinced. He is partially convinced because he has found this or that proof of the thing, and he can expound it. But a man is not really convinced of a philosophic theory when he finds that something proves it. He is only really convinced when he finds that everything proves it. And the more converging reasons he finds pointing to this conviction, the more bewildered he is if asked suddenly to sum them up. Thus, if one asked an ordinary intelligent man, on the spur of the moment, "Why do you prefer civilization to savagery?" he would look wildly round at object after object, and would only be able to answer vaguely, "Why, there is that bookcase . . . and the coals in the coal-scuttle . . . and pianos . . . and policemen." The whole case for civilization is that the case for it is complex. It has done so many things. But that very multiplicity of proof which ought to make reply overwhelming makes reply impossible.

"There is, therefore, about all complete conviction a kind of huge helplessness. The belief is so big that it takes a long time to get it into action. And this hesitation chiefly arises, oddly enough, from an indifference about where one should begin. All roads lead to Rome; which is one reason why many people never get there. In the case of this defence of the Christian conviction I confess that I would as soon begin the argument with one thing as another; I would begin it with a turnip or a taximeter cab."

–– Orthodoxy, chap. 6,

UnBeguiled said...

Jesus not resurrecting and the mortality of your "soul" are both fully compatible with theism.

If I observed a "lack of coherence at the most basic level of physical reality", that for me would be evidence for a God. Such an observation would be incompatible with life. Yet there I am observing anyway.

That's what I think is so uber-goofy about fine tuning arguments. Consider that we are made of mostly hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen. We look at the rest of the universe and find that it is made of the same stuff. But what if we looked at the universe and it was made of boron only, or bowling balls only.

That would be a miracle.

Crude said...

The problem is that, even if someone cedes that theism is compatible with all evidence, atheism is clearly "compatible" with all evidence.

Observe a miracle? Delusion.
Multiple observations of a miracle at once? Mass delusion.
Reliable, repeatable demonstration of a miracle? Still delusion, high technology or natural event we do not understand.

Delusion, multiverses, alien technology, alien design and the aliens evolved by chance, unknown natural powers, mysterian positions, simulated universes - all this and more. No matter what is experienced or seen, even if one feels compelled to ascribe what they see to a mental force, there's always an out. "Okay, it was a mind. An extremely powerful mind. But the mind came about by chance."

In fact, I'd go so far as to say: Expect this to be the atheism of the future. Count on few people to remember it was the paganism of the past.

The Cogitator said...


Thanks for making that point for me. I kept wanting to bring up what I think is called "Shermer's Law": no divine action is meaningfully distinguishable from that of super-advanced aliens. Ergo, Shermer argues, really nothing could count as "proof" of divine agency. Mighty handy cop out! To his credit, unBe seems to say that organic humans in a world of bowling balls would be sufficient proof of God. Alas, a solitary instance of sentient human life in an entropic vacuum of lifeless inanimate matter does not similarly count as evidence. Gosh, what a surprise. Go figure.


I'm going to make a familiar request: please read the whole of this post and engage it as a whole post. I'd like to see what you think about the latter 2/3 of it, especially regarding the secondary autonomy of nature in Thomism and the potency of matter towards higher forms.

The Cogitator said...


I would raise the stakes for atheism by saying it can never have the same certainty or epistemic integrity as theism, since it asserts a negative. It can literally never reach a proof of its core thesis. No evidence can enter the court in time. If it's true that we all just fade away into a godless universe, who would know? That can't count as evidence, since no one will be there to hear it.

By contrast, theism can at some point be falsified, and even particular "brands" of theism can be falsified, say, at a final judgment. Theism is a positive claim that demonstrably makes sense of the whole shebang, whereas atheism is, intrinsically, a nominalistically grouped set of subjective protests by humans that "the world doesn't seem to make sense to me." A theist is epistemically justified, even commendable, for trusting in the existence of an all-good God, since this fully explains and grounds his other epistemic burdens. By contrast, an atheist has no similar epistemic grounding for his claim that, based on the little he knows, there seems to be no God.

Interestingly enough, atheism is wrong only because it doesn't carry itself far enough. The world DOES "lack God", since God is infinitely transcendent from the world. As such, there IS NO evidence of God "in" the world. Precisely this divine lacuna in the cosmos, however, ought to propel the unbelieving mind to God as transcendent over the world. Atheists want to find God in this world, but that is simply an illegitimate demand as far as classical atheism is concerned.

See my latest post for a fuller statement of this point.

UnBeguiled said...

"since it asserts a negative."
"the world doesn't seem to make sense to me."

face palm. head desk. drink Colt 45.