Friday, September 2, 2011

In Which I Add My Input

So, an article by John Farrell is being discussed on Catholic blogs recently? Let me guess: He's causing controversy because of his defense of Catholic theology and/or moral teaching, or his stern criticism of the Cult of Gnu's abuses of science, and he's doing so by displaying he actually is more than thinly informed about the details he's discussing?

Ha! I'm kidding. He's playing Catholic water boy for PZ Myers or Jerry Coyne, right?

Really, I'd throw in my two cents here - but Valicella, Ilion, M_Francis and others have already beaten me to it, M_F being his usual devastatingly effective self about the whole thing. So I'll just do a little fast commentary.

Valicella's endorsement of him aside, I don't take Farrell seriously. He's every bit as much of a combox punk as yours truly, and his main claim to fame is the usual one among a certain class of Catholic pseudo-intellectual: 90% vicious, angry, furious offense against Christians he disagrees with (his specialty: Intelligent Design), 5% mewling pleading with atheists that maybe they kinda-sorta could tone down their criticism a smidge (because there are GOOD Christians too, like, well... Farrell himself! Right? Right? Pat on the head, please, Mister Myers? Brothers in arms, wink wink, nudge nudge?), 5% minutae.

But oh well, at least he indirectly contributed to a worthy discussion by prompting a variety of people vastly more learned than him to correct him on this topic. So at least there is that.


Ilíon said...

My post was mostly about some faulty theological musings I've noticed with Vallicella -- semi-Pelagianism, to put a name to it -- rather than directly about John Farrell's article. As you mentioned, Michael Flynn's discussion of Farrell's article is excellent.

Ilíon said...

... at the same time, I can see that some (some R.C., and certainly Calvinists) might think I am a semi-Pelagian.

Ilíon said...

... and, on yet the other hand, I could find some fault in Mr Flynn's article -- specifically, his seeming Aristotlean view of "Nature" as existing in its/her own right, as seen when he discusses a presumed evolution of the human animal (and perhaps evolution of a capacity for reason) by "natural" means ... at which time God is supposed to have finally acted in the world and called forth a rational soul in some human animal.

The Deuce said...

I notice that m-francis didn't really go after John Farrell himself, but only reproduced the Coyne quote. Only Bill (who isn't a self-identified Catholic) seems to have taken that route. I think a lot of the Catholics who read it have a hard time believing that Farrell is seriously denying or trying to redefine the Fall. For my part, I'm not especially surprised that John thinks what he thinks, but I am surprised that he *said* it.

What I recall from when I used to read his blog is, he would frequently endorse or recommend articles with arguments against ID that, if you spent a few seconds thinking about their implications, didn't leave any room for theistic evolution either. He'd also cite anti-ID articles by Ed Feser, even though the premises that Ed uses in those arguments contradict many of the secular arguments he'd cited previously. Of course, I never saw him endorse Ed's articles where he makes a *positive* case for teleology, or for the immateriality of the mind, etc.

What became apparent to me is, he didn't really spend any time worrying about whether the arguments he endorsed were compatible with Christian theism at all, or whether they contradicted each other, because he really didn't care. And he'd never attempt to provide his own intellectually defensible account of teleology, or endorse anybody else's, because that could potentially leave him open to the same sort of attack by the secular folks he wants to appease that he uses against IDists (and it could also be used by IDists to charge him with hypocrisy).

I gradually came to the conclusion that he honestly wasn't committed to the essentials of Christian theology in his heart of hearts, and that this was why he was so careless in the arguments he cited, and why he didn't give any caveats when citing them. But he wanted to be *seen* as an orthodox Catholic, so he never *directly* denied essential doctrines like the Fall, the Incarnation, sin and Redemption, etc. And he'd pal around with orthodox Catholics like Ed Feser to give him cover of orthodoxy, though a careful eye could see that he had little use for them when they weren't criticizing ID. And the couple of times I challenged him for tossing essential Christian theology under the bus, he denied doing so, but gave only weak lip-service to them and didn't attempt a robust defense of how they are compatible with the arguments he had cited.

So it doesn't surprise me that he's not really committed to the Fall after all. It also doesn't surprise me that his fellow Catholics are surprised and confused by his article, because he's been so mealy-mouthed about it in the past. The tearing down of essential doctrines, and calls for Christianity (and the Catholic Pope in particular) to "evolve" past them, is characteristic of what you'd expect from liberal Christians like Spong or the process theology folks. I wonder if this bit of heterodoxy signals a new direction for him now that he's at Forbes?

Crude said...

I agree with most of your estimation here. And he does have a bad habit of just plain endorsing whatever has the general thrust of being in a direction he likes (Is it anti-ID? Then it must be good! Pro-evolution? It must be good!), and half the time the guy doesn't even seem to understand the arguments themselves.

I don't see much of anyone being surprised or confused though. People are replying to Farrell's article and setting straight the responses, but at least in the corners I've been there's very little 'This is a surprise to hear from Farrell'. Outside the niche of thomist bloggers and ID proponents, I think the more common response is going to be "Who's John Farrell?"

I also suspect - so long as I'm guessing - that even among the thomist bloggers, I'm not exactly saying anything new. It's not like what we've noticed about him takes amazing perception. You just have to watch his pattern. But he also does his best, at least in comboxes, to praise and ass-kiss any Catholic who goes after ID, and keeps his mouth shut when Thomists take positions that buck the mainstream, which is apparently all you need to get yourself a friend online nowadays. Most people are reluctant to tell off someone who's praised them in some past context.

Either way, as I said, I think the best part of Farrell's piece is that it's summoned up great and thorough responses. I'd add the Just Thomism response to this list as well. Though between Farrell and that recent Christian magazine, I'm noticing that the current trend is to deny the reality of the Fall. Not merely deny that all of humanity descended from two people, but any idea of a fall, period. The science doesn't affirm that, nor could it. But then again, 'dishonestly manipulating what the "science says" to advance a criticism' is pretty much the name of the game nowadays.

The Deuce said...

I see that Ed has weighed in now. It looks to me like I was right about the Catholic reaction, at least in Ed's case. He expresses surprise at John's position, and wonders a bit if he really meant what he said.

Again, not that surprising from my point of view, since I've seen Farrell endorse arguments that are incompatible with the basic tenants of orthodox Christianity (and even theism) plenty of times at his blog, but I'd be surprised if I were only familiar with the face he presents on Ed's and other orthodox Catholic blogs.

The Deuce said...

Clicked on an article linked from Real Clear Politics titled "Less Than Human?" and surprise, it's John Farrell's latest:

You might expect that he'd make the argument that, in fact, a metaphysical definition of humanity is both true and logically necessary based on observable fact, and that a coherent materialistic one is and always has been impossible. Perhaps even throw a link to Ed Feser for those interested in knowing more. But, no, he's not going to make any bold assertions that might diminish his respect in the eyes of, say, Rhazib Khan, or link to Ed Feser for anything other than arguments against ID.