Balancing Intelligent Design and Philosophy

I recently came across a couple of unique insights on how some (even classical Christian theists) object to Intelligent Design (ID) as being a “God of the Gaps” or “argument from ignorance” fallacy while reading The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism by Edward Feser. Feser effortlessly demolishes the gross philosophical ignorance of the New Atheists, and mainly does so by artful implementation of Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophical reasoning. Make no mistake, Feser pulls no punches. While in the process of dismantling atheism and its most hostile horsemen, William Paley’s argument from design becomes collateral damage. Sadly enough, for me anyway because I rather enjoy the design argument, Feser provides sound philosophical objections for why ID may not be the most effective approach when delivering an apologetic for the existence of the Christian God.

Personally, I sense that Feser is not charitable enough to ID and the valuable critiques it has persuasively marshaled against Darwinism. However, Feser rightly states,

““But ID arguments raise serious questions about Darwinism!” Maybe so, and that is not unimportant. But my interest here is in the question of what sorts of arguments establish the existence of the God of classical theism. And to challenge Darwinism, even to refute Darwinism, would not be to establish classical theism. Indeed, it would not even be to refute naturalism.”

Feser has an excellent point. If ID can keep the scientific elite in check, even while sometimes being the controversial minority, that’s great but does it advance the apologetic for classical Christian theism? However, on the other side of that coin, does ID allege to make any claims towards any single religion? Here is what prominent ID advocate Stephen Meyer writes in Signature in the Cell concerning the claims that ID makes,

“The theory of intelligent design does not claim to detect a supernatural intelligence possessing unlimited powers. Though the designing agent responsible for life may well have been an omnipotent deity, the theory of intelligent design does not claim to be able to determine that. Because the inference to design depends upon our uniform experience of cause and effect in this world, the theory cannot determine whether or not the designing intelligence putatively responsible for life has powers beyond those on display in our experience. Nor can the theory of intelligent design determine whether the intelligent agent responsible for information life acted from the natural or the “supernatural” realm. Instead, the theory of intelligent design merely claims to detect the action of some intelligent cause (with power, at least, equivalent to those we know from experience) and affirms this because we know from experience that only conscious, intelligent agents produce large amounts of specified information. The theory of intelligent design does not claim to be able to determine the identity or any other attributes of that intelligence, even if philosophical deliberation or additional evidence from other disciplines may provide reasons to consider, for example, a specifically theistic design hypothesis.” (pp. 428-429)

Both Feser, who seems to be largely critical of the ID approach, and Meyer seem to agree that the claims of ID are limited. I admire Feser’s emphasis on the value of the classical philosophical argumentation for God’s existence. Likewise, I genuinely admire Meyer’s work in the scientific realm of critically analyzing the inadequacies of the evolutionary mechanisms that allege to account for all biological life from a common ancestor. ID, properly approached, cannot prove the God of Christian theism (or any other god for that matter). I would have to agree with Feser that Christians who use ID to prove the existence of the Christian God are misusing ID.

A Sound Approach

ID cannot illustrate “the identity or any other attributes of that intelligence.” So, should ID have a role in the apologetic for Christian theism given its limited scope of what it can illustrate? I feel it definitely should it the proper context. After all, many arguments are limited on what they can prove. The moral argument and the Kalam cosmological argument are two popular apologetic arguments that do not result in a conclusion that precisely identifies a specific monotheistic God. In that sense, these arguments are limited but they were not designed to provide proof for the God of Christianity, Islam, or Judaism. I feel ID can add valuable scientific support for the teleological argument (i.e. fine-tuning argument), which is outlined like this…

1)     The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design

2)     It is not due to physical necessity or chance

3)     Therefore, it is due to design.

This, like the Kalam cosmological argument and the moral argument, cannot prove the existence of the God of Christian theism by itself but it can persuasively serve as a contributing member in a cumulative case composed of multiple arguments for the existence of the Christian God. A persuasive cumulative argument would start by establishing a strong case for theism and then slowly work its way towards illustrating the historical proofs of Christianity. In my opinion, Feser and Meyer have both contributed greatly to how present-day apologists operate and how we formulate our arguments for the existence of God.

Conclusion

Feser takes an Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophical approach when establishing a reasoned apologetic for the existence of God, which I highly respect. I would encourage everyone to read his book, The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism. It is the most philosophically potent refutation of atheism I’ve ever read. Feser truly enlightened me to the massive utility of the Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophical approach and I’ve added many books to my reading list to help learn more about it.

While I know how Feser has been critical of many ID proponents because ID itself doesn’t serve to establish the existence of the Christian God, I feel that Christians should utilize scientific information to our advantage when we have an opportunity, especially when it explicitly has theistic implications. Ignoring the scientific significance of ID would be foolish because it adds credibility to what we already know of the universe through sound philosophic reasoning; the Christian God created the Heavens and the earth. The scientific and philosophic truths of reality cannot logically be in contradiction. God, the efficient cause of the universe and the Being by which all things ultimately derive their final cause, cannot logically create a universe that would reflect contradictory physical and metaphysical truths simultaneously because God cannot act contrary to His nature.

For this reason, we can be confident that reliable science and sound philosophy can coexist without conflict. The possibility always exists that the science of ID may end up being refuted and new approaches may end up taking its place. Philosophy may well be a greater safe haven for sound Christian apologetics, as Feser advocates in his book. One thing is for certain though; reliable scientific findings should be used whenever possible to strengthen the argument for the existence of classical theism.

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One response to “Balancing Intelligent Design and Philosophy

  1. Pingback: Balancing Intelligent Design And Philosophy | A disciple's study·

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