Saturday, April 09, 2011

The Inadequacy of Intelligent Design

Professor Francis Beckwith (Baylor) weighs in on an ongoing discussion between Edward Feser and Jay Wesley Richards on Intelligent Design theory and classical Thomism.
My friends Edward Feser and Jay Wesley Richards, both fellow Catholics, are engaged in an online dispute about whether contemporary Intelligent Design theory (ID) runs counter to classical Thomistic understandings of nature and final causality. On this matter, I am with Ed. For I believe that ID, as defended by Michael Behe and William A. Dembski, is a view that in the long run serves to undermine rather than advance the cause of Christian theism. Of course, I see why some of my fellow Christians, both Protestants and Catholics, are so attracted to ID. For it promises to beat the apologists of atheism at their own game with the only tools they believe are epistemically appropriate, the methods of the empirical sciences. But this posture, it seems to me, uncritically accepts this first premise, which is inherently hostile to the sort of metaphysical thinking on which large swaths of the Christian worldview depend.
Naturally, I agree with Frank and Ed on this. Though without getting into some of the more explicit, philosophical details here, I would just echo what I have said before: In general, ID theory (and the movement behind it), and, in particular, notions such as "irreducible complexity" (Behe), tend easily toward a "God of the Gaps" view; such a view is not consistent with the Catholic intellectual tradition or understanding of God. We do not believe a God whose existence is somehow demonstrated by our ignorance of what isn't presently known or understood. On the contrary, we believe and profess a God who created and upholds the universe and who has purposely and intentionally imbued it with intelligibility. The universe is rational, and our growing comprehension of it only further demonstrates God's hand, not the other way around.  I echoed Christoph Schönborn on this before (emphasis mine):
A great deal that was previously incomprehensible in natural processes, because we did not know how to explain it, can be explained today through scientific research and has thereby become comprehensible... The more that is explained, the less there remains that is inexplicable. Is the "room" for God becoming steadily "smaller"? It is no wonder that Der Spiegel closes the article ["God versus Darwin: a religious war over evolution"] with the words, "It's becoming cramped for the creator."

Yet belief in the Creator does not begin at the point where we do not yet know something, but precisely where we do know very well. The proper approach is to look at what we already know today. That, thank God, is a great deal. We are not looking where there is still something unexplained to see if there is still room for God, but looking at what we know and asking, "What is this based on?"
Read the Beckwith's whole treatment and follow the discussion.

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