Saturday, June 13, 2015

The ID Approach to God vs the Thomistic Approach

ID approach:

1. Start with loose, mostly unexamined metaphysical principles.
2. Take note of what intelligent agents can do.
3. Examine the world for that which looks designed by an intelligent agent.
4. Assuming such a thing is found, identify communications that seem reasonably from the agent.
5. If the agent identifies as God/supernatural and seems trustworthy, trust them.


1. Start with tighter, more well-thought-out metaphysical principles.
2. Examine the world and how it operates.
3. Take note of what most be true about the world given how it operates + its principles.
4. Note that God/the supernatural must exist necessarily.
5. See if any communication from this God exists and seems trustworthy, and (if so) trust it/Him.

I'm not convinced that the ID proponent necessarily accepts naturalism and a personalistic God from the outset, as is often the claim. I do agree that the ID proponent's reasoning to God is sloppier and probablistic, but it's also easier for most people to grasp.

The Thomist approach requires a good share more discipline and reasoning, but is more powerful once you have a general grasp of what's going on.


Andrew W said...

Are Thomism and ID really directly comparable? My understanding is that ID is fundamentally a scientific theory - "the best explanation for these natural phenomena is a designer" - while Thomism is a philosophical method. One could argue that both are trying to make a case for a particular understanding of God sans-revelation, but ID strikes me as fundamentally phenomenological while Thomism is fundamentally philosophical. Or, one is looking for naturalistic evidence particular works of God while the other is based on a particular understanding of the necessity of God. I don't even see an inherent contradiction in someone holding to both ID and Thomism.

Critically, neither particularly bears witness to the revelatory nature of Scripture and the historical event of the Incarnation. At best they can demonstrate that this core is not incoherent.

Crude said...


I think they're broadly compatible, especially since ID's status as a scientific theory is a bit up in the air - I personally think it works best as a non-scientific but very reasonable inference.

Thomists in general seem hostile to ID, though usually for reasons that go beyond the content of the claims.

Andrew W said...

You're correct. ID is a historical theory rather than a scientific one, in that it is drawing conclusions about something that has happened rather than providing a basis for predicting what will happen. (FWIW, I'd apply the same distinction to macroevolutionary theory)

My issue with Thomism - and other metaphysical philosophies that might claim the same ground - is that right when it gets to the point of making really interesting claims it runs into the ground claimed by revelation. Sure, one can derive certain ideas about God from first principles, but revelation sets out the definitive Christian account of who God is, how he relates to us and what he is doing. Christian metaphysical systems must fit themselves to revelation, not the other way around, and as such they are limited in what they can say and what conclusions they can draw. At best, they can make claims that are compatible with those made by revelation.

That's not to say they are not useful disciplines, and certainly have value in "clearing space" of pagan philosophies. As it happens, I'd make similar claims about ID and the like; while they can demonstrate to pagans that God is a plausible option, they don't tell us much if anything about God that is not already revealed.

GoldRush Apple said...

Do you have any recommendation for books, articles or essays on the Thomist approach? Thanks in advance.

Crude said...

The Last Superstition was what got me started, really. People complain about it being too polemical at times, but frankly I disagree with them now.

Beyond that, Scholastic Metaphysics and Aquinas. All Ed Feser books.

The real key of TLS is to understand what's going on fundamentally with metaphysics. Get that and your understanding of everything leaps forward.

Mr. Green said...

Well, it all depends what you mean by “intelligent design”. “ID” is one of those terms that’s abused more than it’s used. Now, everyone acknowledges that some things happen simply by chance. Everyone also knows that some things are just too unlikely to be ascribed to chance. If every time it’s your turn to deal, you get four aces in your hand, “you’re really lucky” is not a reasonable explanation. And that is clear to anyone informally, but if you want to can do it scientifically, by studying card games empirically and working out all the proper statistical calculations. This is all so obvious that it doesn’t even need a name, and so nobody objects, when it comes to identifying cheaters. Yet apply the same reasoning to biology and suddenly people get their knickers in a knot. But naturally there is no reason we can’t ask these sort of questions about evolutionary biology, and do it scientifically. (Of course, the answer might be, “We don’t know” — we’d need some fairly specific details about how something supposedly evolved in order to be able to do real scientific calculations about how plausible the pathway in question is, and it seems to me that we have very little that’s specific enough to test in this way. Which isn’t much comfort to materialists, because if we don’t have the details, then we have no grounds to claim that it wasn’t purposefully designed, either.)

There is, I think obviously, nothing for a Thomist to object to here. (Though of course there is plenty they might object to in how a particular argument is presented in terms of mechanistic assumptions, etc.) And of course I agree with Feser that the metaphysical route is no harder to learn, more powerful, and more important to understand. But in practical terms, some people are just interested in one kind of argument rather than another, and it would behoove Thomists to put more effort into putting forth a Scholastic presentation of the [valid] ID ideas.

Syllabus said...

1. Start with tighter, more well-thought-out metaphysical principles.

2. Examine the world and how it operates.

I'm not sure I'd have those two in that order - hell, I don't even think the Thomist can ("nihil est in intellectu quod non prius in sensu" and all that), since he follows Aristotle in thinking that we reason to the universal by means of first examining the particular and proceeding upwards. There seems to be no way of inferring well-thought-out metaphysical principles, on this model, without first examining the world and how it operates. On his model, he can't arrive at a knowledge of the form of a thing without first examining it as a particular, and that necessitates casting about the sensory order for information regarding its constitution.