I recently ran across a hit piece in the Huffington Post about how Intelligent Design is “losing” Catholics and read through it to find out what it had to say about who was being lost and why. The piece was typical of mass media pieces on ID – full of acerbic ad hominem, false association and characterizations and blanket cruelty. So the piece is of no interest to me except for what it considers “lost” Catholics.
The first example the article cites is from a philosopher, Edward Feser, who writes from a Catholic point of view (I actually find his larger project fascinating). His particular critique is that the ID argument lacks metaphysical teeth and fails to account for God’s continual, efficient causality in the natural world. In comparing it to Paley’s argument he 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.
The metaphysically necessary connection between the world and God is broken; in principle the world could exist and operate just as it does apart from God.
I find this critique of ID interesting in that I have never run across one of the scientists within the ID movement claiming to make an inherently ontological argument about the continual, metaphysical connection between God and the universe. It seems to me that as the post cited above continues what Feser is really after is a classic critique of arguments for God’s existence not being able to account for the metaphysical complexity of the Christian God. Great. He’s probably right. But that’s not the burden of ID. Feser seems to have erected a straw man and proceeded to knock him down.
The second example Farrell uses in the HP article has all the shock value he wants but none of the follow-through. The physicist, Stephen Barr, writes:
It is time to take stock: 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.
If true, that is serious stuff. A scientific argument that has failed to produce any serious results or insights – bad news. There is a more thorough response to Barr’s criticism here, but I want to address a couple of his theological moves.
The older (and wiser) form of the design argument for the existence of God—one found implicitly in Scripture and in many early Christian writings—did not point to the naturally inexplicable or to effects outside the course of nature, but to nature itself and its ordinary operations—operations whose “power and working” were seen as reflecting the power and wisdom of God.
This particular criticism of ID might feel as if it comes out of left field, because it does. At the risk of sounding repetitive – ID does not concern itself with what we might call the imminence of God in the workings of nature. In addition, Barr stretches the category of “design argument” to imply that it doesn’t properly include an argument explaining the beginning of nature. And in addition to philosophical design arguments, there are plenty of explicit places in Christian Scripture that don’t imply, but state a doctrine of creation ex nihilo.
He goes on:
The emphasis in early Christian writings was not on complexity, irreducible or otherwise, but on the beauty, order, lawfulness, and harmony found in the world that God had made. As science advances, it brings this beautiful order ever more clearly into view.
Even if he is right, who cares? This argument, which is the bulk of his theological argument against ID, is neither here nor there. I wonder if I am going to sound repetitive if I point out ID isn’t concerned with New Testament theology as a foundation for their research on DNA or the statistical laws of information.
And that brings us back to the piece in the Huffington Post. The title is, “Intelligent Design: Losing the Catholics.” Neither Feser nor Barr were ever proponents of the ID position. You can’t lose what you never had.
I wonder if the editors at the Huffington Post have worked with a dictionary recently.