Thursday, June 23, 2011

more vjtorley nuttiness

From torley:

The first fatal flaw in Professor Tkacz's critique of ID is his outrageous personification of Nature as "she." He isn't just waxing poetic here; he really does regard Nature as One Big Agent. What's more, Nature is One Big Autonomous Agent, according to Professor Tkacz. While Nature is totally dependent on God for her being, Nature's operations are entirely her own. God never "interferes" with the operations of Nature; He is "responsible for" them only insofar as He is the Creator of Nature. God alone can cause things to exist, and the universe would be nothing without Him. Hence Creation is God's domain. Change, however, is entirely Nature's domain. Nature alone produces all the changes in the world, without God needing to "intervene."

To clear up any remaining misunderstandings, I'd like to respond to five quick questions I imagine my readers will want to ask.

Question 1: "You mean, God does half the work and the natural agent does the other half?"

Answer: No. God and the natural agent operate on different levels, and they each do 100% of the work on their respective levels. God acts as a Transcendent cause, while the natural agent is a created cause. God is not merely the first in a long chain of causes; rather, God is above the entire chain, actively co-operating with each and every member as it produces its effect.

Question 2: "But if God and the natural agent both cause the same effect, isn't this unnecessary duplication?"

Answer: No. God and the natural agent contribute to the change they produce in different ways. Let's say that God and natural agent A (e.g. a flame) co-operate to make agent B (e.g. a piece of metal) do something new (e.g. glow). In this case, God causes agent B (the piece of metal) to do something, while natural agent A causes it to do this (glow). Agent A is responsible for the specificity of the effect (the glowing), while God acts as a universal cause, responsible for the occurrence of the effect (the glowing). Both contributions are essential; and each is nothing without the other.

Question 3: "So there are two actions resulting in the same effect, then - God's transcendent action and the creature's action at the natural level?"

Answer: No. God and the natural agent co-produce their effect by a single action, because actions are individuated by their effects, rather than their causes. As Professor Freddoso has pointed out, this is an axiom of Scholastic theology.

Question 4: "So if the creature does something bad or harmful, then isn't God is a 'partner in crime' with the creature? Doesn't this make Him responsible for evil?"

Answer: No. As we saw, God is a universal cause. When God co-operates with a natural agent (e.g. the flames of a forest fire) that causes a harmful effect (e.g. the death of an animal, which is a natural evil), we have to distinguish between the general features of the effect (e.g. the fact that fires burn combustible bodies in their path) and the particular details (e.g. the fact that the fire burned this unlucky animal). As a universal cause, and as the Author of Nature, God is morally responsible for the former, but not the latter. Of course, some people might still try to find fault with God for making flames which are liable to burn animals in the first place, or for making some animals too slow to run away from approaching forest fires. But that's a problem for "mere conservationists" like Professor Tkacz, just as much as it is for concurrentists like Aquinas. And the Scholastic answer to this problem would be that: (a) the tendency of flames to burn flesh is not evil per se; (b) because natural processes are inherently liable to fail on the odd occasion, some individual animals will necessarily have defects (e.g. lameness), which may cost them their lives in a forest fire; and (c) asking God to guarantee that animals should always be out of harm's way whenever a forest fire rages, is tantamount to asking Him to act as a Cosmic Nanny. For God to prevent all these harms would constitute an excessive restriction on the "creatureliness" of creatures: it would "cramp their style" too much.

Question 5: "If the creature is a moral agent, who does something bad or harmful, then why isn't God responsible for the evil done by that agent?"

Answer: When God co-operates with a moral agent, who has a will of his/her own, God is in no way responsible for the moral evil of that agent's act, as this defect from the agent. For instance, when Brutus stabbed Caesar, God, in co-operating with Brutus, intended that his hands should work as they normally would when picking up things (be they spoons, gifts or daggers), and that the dagger held by Brutus should remain in his hand as it normally would when held firmly. What God did not intend was that Brutus should stab Julius Caesar with this dagger. In the words of Aquinas, "Forasmuch as the first cause has more influence in the effect than the second cause, whatever there is of perfection in the effect is to be referred chiefly to the first cause: while all defects must be referred to the second cause which does not act as efficaciously as the first cause" (Quaestiones Disputatae De Potentia Dei (Disputed Questions Relating to the Power of God) Q. III art. VII, Reply to Objection 15). Hence God is in no way the Author of evil.

Concurrentists believe that God's agency, when producing a natural effect, is immediate in another sense, as well: God uses the natural agents He co-operates with as instruments of His will, in order to accomplish the effect He intends. In these cases, God is primarily responsible for the effect as its Author, and the natural agent plays a subsidiary role. Because the effect brought about is intended as an end by God, who planned it to happen, then we can legitimately speak of it as being immediately brought about by God. I have already discussed this sense of immediacy at considerable length, in the long version of "Smoking Gun" number five, in Part One of my response to Professor Tkacz. I showed there that Aquinas explicitly taught that God uses the natural agents He co-operates with as instruments of His will, and that when He does so, His agency is immediate.

"But why does it matter whether God co-operates with each and every natural agent, when it acts?" I hear you ask. Here's why. If you're a "mere conservationist" like Professor Tkacz, then you'll believe that God could only stop a natural agent from behaving as it normally does by "intervening in" or "interfering with" Nature. That sounds messy. Miracles are problematic too, for the same reason: it seems repugnant that God should have to interfere with His own handiwork, in order to bring about a desired effect. No wonder "mere conservationists" want to keep miracles as rare as possible.

A "mere conservationist" can believe in Intelligent Design, but only the extreme front-loading variety, whereby God programs the specifications for complex biological structures into the initial conditions of the Big Bang - or perhaps creates a very peculiar set of highly specific, information-rich laws - utterly unlike the general, information-poor laws we know - which lead inexorably to the emergence and subsequent evolution of life when the right sequence of events unfolds. Either way, though, it's very fiddly work for the Deity, so I'm not surprised that few "mere conservationists" entertain this option seriously.

But if you're a concurrentist, then you'll have no problem believing in miracles or Intelligent Design. Miracles are elegantly simple for God to accomplish, on a concurrentist view. God never has to "go against" a natural agent when He works a miracle, even if it's a miracle that's "contrary to nature": all He has to do is refuse to co-operate with the agent in the way that He normally does. Take the Biblical account of Shadrach surviving unharmed in Daniel's fiery furnace (Daniel 3:26-27). In order to stop the flames from burning Shadrach, all God had to do was "turn off the taps" on His side, by refraining from co-operating with the flame when it came into contact with Shadrach's body. The flames still retained their natural disposition to burn (as shown by the fact that they incinerated Nebuchadnezzar's soldiers), but they couldn't do anything to Shadrach without God's co-operation.

I should add that concurrentism accords perfectly well with a philosophically rigorous, scientifically adequate account of the laws of nature.

Intelligent Design isn't a problem either, if you're a concurrentist. God already has His finger in every pie, for no natural agent can do anything without Him. And if God chooses to supplement His normal co-operation with natural agents with some special effects that are produced by Him alone, that's His business. On a concurrentist view, there's absolutely no reason why He shouldn't produce some special effects in Nature on His own, if He wants to. He's not interfering with Nature, because He's already in the thick of things: He works with each and every natural agent, whenever it acts.

This argument ties in with another reason why concurrentism should be especially attractive to religious believers: it offers us a maximally active Deity, one Who causes every effect, whether acting alone or acting in co-operation with creatures. By contrast, "mere conservationism" keeps God on a tight leash: although He keeps every kind of creature in being, He does not co-operate with any creature when it acts; nor does He "intervene in nature" (to use Professor Tkacz's dreadful phrase), for that would be interfering with Nature's autonomy. At the same time, concurrentism upholds the view that creatures are maximally active: since they participate in the agency of God their Creator, who is Pure Act, it is only fitting that they should be as active as created beings can possibly be.

Concurrentism thus stands mid-way between two extreme views of how God interacts with the world: a view that mistakenly minimizes God's agency, in order to maximize not only the agency of creatures, but also their autonomy ("mere conservationism"), and another bizarre view called occasionalism, which maximizes God's agency at the expense of creatures. According to this view, creatures don't really act at all. Even though they appear to act in certain situations, it's really God who's acting on all those occasions when they happen to be around. Thus a flame doesn't really burn; God just goes into "burn mode" when something which God has deemed "combustible" gets sufficiently close to a flame. St. Thomas considered this view to be absurd and unscientific, as we would have no way of knowing things' natures if they could not act:

And thus, all the knowledge of natural science is taken away from us, for the demonstrations in it are chiefly derived from the effect. (Summa Contra Gentiles Book III, chapter 69, paragraph 18.)

Additionally, St. Thomas argued that "if no creature has any active role in the production of any effect, much is detracted from the perfection of the creature," and that "this position detracts from the divine power" as well, because it entails that God is unable to communicate the perfection of agency to creatures (Summa Contra Gentiles Book III, chapter 69, paragraph 15). Hence occasionalism limits both God and creatures.

So I would like to counter Professor Tkacz's Principle of the Autonomy of Nature with a principle, which I call the Principle of Maximal Activity: we should ascribe the maximum possible degree of agency to God and creatures alike. Or as Professor Alfred Freddoso puts it in his essay, God's General Concurrence With Secondary Causes: Why Conservation Alone Is Not Enough: "in general, theistic naturalists should be antecedently disposed to countenance in nature the maximal degree of divine activity compatible with the thesis that there is genuine secondary causation." Concurrentism is the only account of Divine Agency which satisfies these criteria, as it asserts that God co-operates with every natural agent, making Him an immediate cause of each effect, while creatures retain their natural agency. Concurrentism thus maximizes the activity of both God and creatures.

I presume that Professor Tkacz is familiar with concurrentism. His example of a hippopotamus giving birth sounds suspiciously similar to the example of the birth of a baby armadillo, discussed by Professor Alfred Freddoso, of Notre Dame University in his essay, God's General Concurrence with Secondary Causes: Pitfalls and Prospects. I note also that at the end of his talk, Tkacz acknowledges his indebtedness to Professor William Carroll, who (in his footnotes) highly commends essays written by Professor Alfred Freddoso, defending Suarez's version of concurrentism. I therefore find it puzzling that Professor Tkacz, in his hippopotamus example, makes no attempt to be fair to concurrentists, but instead sets up a "straw man" in an effort to make his "mere conservationism" sound more reasonable to his audience. It would have been much more helpful if he had presented concurrentism in a more balanced manner.

I might add in passing that it is difficult to see how a "mere conservationist" of Professor Tkacz's sort could still call God the Prime Mover. First Cause? Yes, certainly - First Cause of creatures' being. But how could a God who doesn't cause any changes in Nature, but merely maintains it in being, be properly called a Mover at all? (I should add in all fairness that not all "mere conservationists" are as extreme in their views as Professor Tkacz. Some, like the 14th-century medieval philosopher Durandus, regarded God as a remote cause of change, as well as an immediate cause of creatures' being. "Mere conservationists" like Durandus could legitimately call God a Prime Mover.)

What I'm suggesting here is that maybe, even God can't make a predictable universe that can generate life in all its diversity. Perhaps the demand that He do so contains a hidden contradiction - and since God cannot do what is logically contradictory, He can hardly be faulted for not being able to make life in the way that Professor Tkacz would like Him to. Like it or not, if we want a universe with life - especially eukaryotic life-forms like us - then we need a manipulating, "hands-on" Deity. And if that strikes some theistic evolutionists as messy, then I can only say to them: get used to it. We live in the real world, and it's God's world, not the world of your Laplacean intellectual fantasies.

The beauty of Intelligent Design, in my opinion, is that it complements Aquinas' arguments, by appealing to empirical phenomena which by their very nature can only be produced by an intelligent being. Thus ID provides a via manifestor for modern skeptics, and helps us reason our way towards the existence of an Intelligent Designer of life and the cosmos, because it argues from specific effects which are peculiar to intelligent beings, and which intrinsically require concepts in order to produce them. It also helps us understand better what it means to say that God is intelligent.

The first fatal flaw in Professor Tkacz's critique of ID is his outrageous personification of Nature as "she." He isn't just waxing poetic here; he really does regard Nature as One Big Agent. What's more, Nature is One Big Autonomous Agent, according to Professor Tkacz. While Nature is totally dependent on God for her being, Nature's operations are entirely her own. God never "interferes" with the operations of Nature; He is "responsible for" them only insofar as He is the Creator of Nature. God alone can cause things to exist, and the universe would be nothing without Him. Hence Creation is God's domain. Change, however, is entirely Nature's domain. Nature alone produces all the changes in the world, without God needing to "intervene."

If you’re a neo-Darwinian evolutionist, then you have to trace the origin of all animals back to single-celled creatures, which in turn are said to have arisen (somehow) from inanimate matter. Aquinas argued, however, that the extreme specificity of the conditions required to form “perfect animals,” due to their high level of complexity, precludes the possibility of their having originated from non-living matter. More precisely: God alone could have produced the forms of the various kinds of higher animals (or “perfect animals,” as Aquinas called them), when they first appeared, as they were too complex and required too many conditions to be satisfied for their formation to have occurred by natural processes acting on non-living matter.

Today, however, we know that animals have not always existed: they had a beginning in time.

In my online refutation of Professor Tkacz, I showed that Aquinas taught that some physical changes are beyond the power of nature to bring about. These changes cannot have a naturalistic explanation. They must therefore be produced by the power of God alone. Examples include the raising of a dead body, the production of the first human body from inanimate matter and the production of the first animals, according to their various kinds. I also showed that Aquinas held that events occurring outside the order of nature manifest God’s agency in the best possible way, for they manifest God’s power and voluntary agency in a way that is evident to everyone.

the reader might like to check out our Darwin’s Dilemma Web page, which shows that the appearance of dozens of major complex animal types in the fossil record in the Cambrian period cannot be explained as a product of chance and/or necessity: only an Intelligent Agent could have produced them. It does not matter whether you believe that He did it through front-loading (early in the history of life) or by manipulating the genes of simple animals at a later point in geological time; the point is that one way or another, a massive amount of functional information was required to produce these creatures. Since intelligence is the only known source of functional information, Dr. Donald Johnson concludes in his books Probability’s Nature and Nature’s Probability: A Call to Scientific Integrity (see here for the less technical version) and Programming of Life that the probability of unintelligent natural processes producing life or complex animals is exactly zero.

Right now, I’m working on a lengthy essay which deals with what Aquinas would have thought about creationism, ID and the theistic version of neo-Darwinian evolution, were he alive today. It will be posted online in a week or two. It contains quite a few surprises. For instance: St. Thomas believed on scientific grounds that certain kinds of living things could not have arisen naturally from non-living matter. I also argue that St. Thomas could not have accepted any version of neo-Darwinian evolution, for theological reasons. Stay tuned.
2. I believe that Aquinas’ Fifth Way is a valid argument, but it’s a metaphysical one. Most modern-day people don’t trust metaphysical arguments, as an avenue to truth. Even if you could argue them into a corner (and I’ve tried many times), they’d simply say that there must be something wrong with one of the premises.
3. However, modern-day people DO trust maths and the sciences. I believe we have to engage them on their own ground, and take the fight to that arena. That means we have to keep ourselves abreast of the latest scientific developments and continually sharpen our arguments by exposing them to the harshest criticism: that of intelligent skeptics.
4. At the same time, we should keep our metaphysical arguments ready to deploy as well, as conversion to theism occurs on many intellectual levels, and we have to engage all of them. With most skeptics, I’d bring out Aquinas’ Fifth Way after convincing them that there was a good scientific case for the universe’s being designed (the fine-tuning argument) and for life being designed (Signature in the Cell). By that stage, they’d be open to metaphysical arguments and a new world-view, but not before.

Absolutely speaking, you are right to say that “The metaphysical argument is the strong argument,” because it cuts to the very heart of reality. However, when arguing with skeptics, one has to use arguments which they can readily grasp. That is the advantage of cosmological fine-tuning and biological ID arguments: the key concepts are relatively easy for moderns to grasp. The only question is whether the science and mathematics are correct.
I am not at all worried about whether the gaps in Meyer’s argument will be overturned. There are only three possible ways of generating the complex specified information in DNA: chance, necessity and intelligent agency. The first two are mathematically incapable of generating enough CSI to make even a protein, let alone a cell, in the lifetime of the observable universe.

I am well aware of the distinction between abiogenesis and evolution, thank you. And no, I don’t claim that Aquinas’s views would be unaffected by modern science, were he alive today. In my forthcoming paper, I spell out at considerable length precisely how much Aquinas would be prepared to change his views, given his fundamental theological principles. I argue that while he’d accept an old earth and possibly common descent, there’s no way he’d accept neo-Darwinian evolution. And while he accepted abiogenesis, he’d laugh it off as silly nonsense were he alive today.


There's the Cambrian explosion argument again. vince apparently hasn't heard that the "explosion" took millions of years.

The Brutus/Caesar bullshit is fucking hilarious!

And of course vince thinks he knows exactly what 'god' and aquinas think or would think today or did think or did do or would do or whatever. What a pompous, delusional windbag. So typical of an IDiot!

Notice his problem with nature being called "she". He is married to a Japanese woman, who are said to be subservient. He has no problem with "God" being called "He". He's also a catholic, and catholic men treat women like inferior slaves. Profound misogyny comes to mind.

His "essay" is "lengthy". That must mean it's accurate. LMAO!

All science so far! ROFLMAO!!!!!!!!!!!!