Over at HuffPo, John Farrell has an interesting post up about the dissatisfacton with ID expressed by many Catholics. He writes:
The Discovery Institute has from its beginning claimed it would in short order get actual scientists to consider intelligent design as a viable scientific theory, by publishing peer-reviewed articles in the leading science journals.
But they’ve failed. And no matter how much cheering the Institute Fellows get from friendly audiences at Bible schools and church socials, the reality is: this was not the way things were supposed to turn out.
And now, they’re losing the Catholics.
This past year, prominent Catholic conservative intellectuals at once ID-friendly magazines and web sites, started to break their silence about the vapidity of intelligent design.
His first example is Edward Feser, a professor of philosophy at Pasadena City College. Feser writes:
The problems are twofold. First, both Paleyan “design arguments” and ID theory take for granted an essentially mechanistic conception of the natural world. What this means is that they deny the existence of the sort of immanent teleology or final causality affirmed by the Aristotelian-Thomistic-Scholastic tradition, and instead regard all teleology as imposed, “artificially” as it were, from outside.
Well, I hate to argue with a fellow ID critic, and I only vaguely understand what is meant by the “Aristotelian-Thomistic-Scholastic tradition,” but I’m afraid I don’t see how ID commits you to any particular view of immanent teleology or whatever. ID claims simply that there are certain features of the natural world that cannot be explained by known natural mechanisms. They must be explained by recourse to the actions of an intelligent agent. That is all. How does that entail believing that all teleology is imposed “artificially” from the outside (whatever that even means)?
Farrell supplies a link to Feser’s website, which in turn contains links to essays written by both Feser and Dembski on this point. Since I cannot make head or tails out of what either one of them is saying, I think I will let this go for now.
It also comes as news to me that a mechanistic conception of the natural world is somehow at odds with Catholicism. Ken Miller and John Haught, as I understand them, and both writing from a Catholic perspective, defend just such a view. Their argument is that God established a fully natural world for us to inhabit, one that we can come to understand using the methods of science. Such detailed understanding of nature should bring us closer to God, not drive us away. The idea is that God set up the initial conditions which made evolution possible. It sounds to me like they believe that all teleology really is imposed from outside. How is this theologically problematical?
We next come to physicist Stephen Barr, who wrote:
What has the intelligent design movement achieved? As science, nothing. The goal of science is to increase our understanding of the natural world, and there is not a single phenomenon that we understand better today or are likely to understand better in the future through the efforts of ID theorists. If we are to look for ID achievements, then, it must be in the realm of natural theology. And there, I think, the movement must be judged not only a failure, but a debacle.
Now that’s what I’m talking about! This came from an essay published in the journal First Things early in 2010. Alas, as I discussed at the time, Barr’s essay is mostly pretty bad. I found it poorly argued and at several points highly unfair to the ID crowd. Farell quotes the opening paragraph above, but the essay was largely downhill from there.
Skipping ahead a bit, Farrell quotes Father Nicanor Austriaco, a biologist at Providence College:
“When we talk about evolution,” Austriaco told me in a recent interview, “most people think that to affirm that evolution is a contingent process, is to necessarily exclude divine providence.” But this is simply not the case, he argues. “The irony about the intelligent design debate today, is that the intelligent design proponents, like the Darwinists, presuppose an opposition between chance and design. They necessitate an opposition between chance and design. If it’s design, it cannot be chance. If it’s chance, it cannot be design. There is no option — and there are philosophical reasons why the moderns can’t come up with this — there is no option, no one thinks about the possibility of talking about God’s design working through chance, through contingency.”
The problem isn’t so much that the chanciness of evolution necessitates a rejection of an underlying design, it just makes design seem superfluous to our understanding of nature. You can certainly graft notions of design onto the corpus of evolutionary theory, but Austriaco will need to give some compelling reason for why we ought to do so. Moreover, the problem is not simply that God seems to work through chance. It is that evolution by natural selection is a process of singular waste and cruelty, and does not at all seem like the sort of thing a loving God would set in motion. I realize the theologians have their little arguments to offer in reply to that obvious point, but I have yet to see anything plausible from them.
Anyway, sorry to be so churlish. Perhaps I should just be happy that religious criticism of ID is becoming very common. Regardless, go read the rest of Farrell’s post!