Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A naturalist paradox…

"It is paradoxical to hold both a.) Intelligence is (or will be) explained by natural science and b.) That natural science cannot explain nature by invoking the causality of intelligence. After all, if intelligence is just another subject of natural science, then there is no reason we can’t invoke it as a natural cause; and if intelligence is so outside of nature that it can never be invoked by a scientist, then it is supernatural."

–– James Chastek, Just Thomism


Crude said...

Actually, this is one of the reasons I thought that Intelligent Design was an issue that even thomists should get behind to a degree (even if 'getting behind' merely meant 'refusing to dismiss'). If intelligence is as natural as anything else, then why can't it be considered a cause or explanation?

But then, I have a lower opinion of naturalism than James. I don't think it even has a meaning anymore, aside from 'not the Christian God'.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

I've had similar inclinations about ID. I mean, at some level, however high or deep it may be, we all agree there is Intelligent Design in the cosmos or we cease to be theists at all. But for now I am Catholic "darwinist" by default, or rather, one by way of choosing an acceptable position until I reach a firmer position of my own.

A quotation from Gilson from an earlier post on this topic(ish):

"It is not necessarily that man may be better known to us than the rest [of creation], but, to begin with, whatever object is considered, the knowledge that we have of it is human knowledge which expresses itself in some human language; and, next, the knowledge which man has of himself, imperfect as it may be, is by nature privileged. In knowing himself 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 is strictly nothing else that man can hope to know in this way."

It's too bad you and unBeguiled (cf. combox) never interacted. Ah, memories. Heh.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Here's a lengthy post of mine on what I think is the ultimacy of ID:

I believe the dispute between Thomists and IDers arises because the former believe the latter are confusing natural principles (viz. teleology) with proximate causes (viz. how a flagellum evolved). I think there is a case to be made that principles of nature––the grounds of entitative order––are distinct from natural causes on proximate, case by case level. Thus, while Thomists treat "ID" as a principle, they see no reason to invoke it as a cause.

That's just a working premise, which may not be coherent. But perhaps you see what I'm getting at.

Crude said...

Instead of my usual blogging through comments, I think I'll toss my thoughts on this onto my blog since I think there's a number of dimensions to the whole Thomist v ID conflict.

Ilíon said...

If "nature" must be understood in terms of naturalism -- and what so-called atheist can deny that it must and still calim to be intellectually consistent and intellectually honest -- then minds (and the functions of minds) are "outside" nature.

That is, by its very nature, naturalism implies and entails that all minds are "supernatural."

Ilíon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ilíon said...

It seems to me that the biggest problem between the Thomists (or, at least, those like Feser) and the IDists is that the Thomists decline to understand at least two things:
1) that the Thomists themselves are operating from a base of presuppositions, not all of which seem self-evident to non-Thomists;
1a) thus, many Thomists arguments seem quite circular;
1b) thus, some Thomists (themselves) seem to be quite as obtuse as the naturalists/materialists;
2) that the IDists are fighting naturalism/materialism using the presuppositions of the naturalists/materialists -- which is the only way it can be done, if one’s goal is to convince the naturalists/materialists that their understanding of reality is false.

On point two: for instance, when arguing against the Sadducees, Christ would argue from only the Pentateuch, for that is all the Sadducees accepted as valid Scripture.

Crude said...

I think there are some additional issues.

1) Thomists want to communicate their ideas, which are very distinct from ID arguments (which do tend to be somewhat Paleyan.) They have enough trouble trying to make it clear that no, the 5th way is not Paley's argument. But since both use some common language ('teleology'), there's a huge risk they'll be mistaken for each other.

2) Additionally, Thomists seek to establish God's existence. ID proponents explicitly don't, by their own admission. Dembski will say flat out that anything ID can find can conceivably be made by anything from a simulated universe to 'an impersonal telic process' to aliens to otherwise. So, again, they're at cross-purposes - and the sort of cross-purposes they're at make it such that getting confused for each other must be maddening to a thomist. (I can imagine Ed being told 'Okay, but even if the 5 ways work, maybe all it shows is that, like.. some alien exists. Or Satan.' and pulling his hair out.)

3) ID proponents also tend to at least give the impression that ID demands a denial of evolution. If a thomist accepts evolution, then that denial is just yet another thing they'll want no part of.

But I think ID proponents still should receive support from Thomists. Namely they should scream from the hilltops, 'ID is entirely compatible with naturalism, and even materialism in some cases. If you're a naturalist, these guys are working within your own scope.' I think that will go a very far way to showing why naturalism is hopeless - it doesn't even guarantee atheism of the sort so many want. (Contra Feser on this point, who seem to think that if Dawkins found out Zeus existed he'd be okay with that.)