Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Forrestry: noun: the practice of deliberately misrepresting someone else's position [see "intellectual fraud"]

I don't think that in the six years this blog has been in operation that I have ever had to delete a post for reasons of content. But today I deleted two (by the same author). They were comments on my post about the misinformed and sloppy article by Barbara Forrest in the journal Synethese, an otherwise reputable periodical, claiming that Beckwith is a "creationist."

Forrest is the self-appointed head of the Academic Committee on Unscientific Activities whose wild accusations of scientific subversion have garnered attention in the debate over evolution. And woe be unto the hapless academic who finds himself in the wrong place when she begins pointing fingers, identifying the creationists in our midst.

"I have here a list of 205 names of known creationists in academic departments," she seems to say. Or was it 57? It's hard for her to remember.

In her fevered tirade in Synthese, she identified Beckwith as a creationist enemy of science. Trouble is, not only is Beckwith not a creationist, he isn't even a proponent of Intelligent Design. In fact, his break with the Intelligent Design position, the result of a sort of philosophical conversion to the philosophy of Aristotelian Thomism several years ago (which accompanied his religious conversion to Catholicism at about the same time) is one of the more interesting and widely publicized intellectual stories of the last several years.

Forrest, however, writes as if the whole conversion thing really never happened. In fact, so bad was Forrest's handling of the whole matter in her article that the editors of the journal took the unprecedented step of distancing themselves from the article, publishing a disclaimer. Beckwith calls Forrest's charges "a professional embarrassment" and "philosophical malfeasance." That, quite frankly, is a charitable assessment.

In any respectable movement she would be intellectually shunned.

In any case, one of the more excitable commenters on this blog, "Human Ape" (a self-characterization the accuracy of which I will not challenge) joined in the conspiracy theory excitement and repeated Forrest's demonstrably false charges. Technically speaking, he also knowingly and brazenly (he even announced he was doing it) violated the posting rules. That, I might have let go.

But character assassination based on charges that are publicly known to be false seems to me to be a little over the top.

And speaking of over the top, just go look at what passes for intelligent commentary at Human Ape's blog. It's really something to behold. This is what we're being asked to accept at the cost of forsaking a 2,500 year old intellectual and cultural tradition. It's not fundamentally different from Forrest's approach--just a little more straightforward.

There comes a point at which your blunders begin to embarrass even your friends. Has it come to that with Forrest? Or are the intellectual standards among the Darwinist alarmists really that low?

I guess we'll see.

36 comments:

Thomas Aquinas said...

You're a saint, Martin. :-)

Francis J. Beckwith said...

I hesitate to be picky given your graciousness, my friend. But my movement away from ID starts taking root around mid-2005, though I don't feel confident enough to write about it until after I Pope in late 2007.

Because there are some fine Catholics that are ID advocates, I don't want to give the impression that rejecting ID is a prerequisite to being in full communion with the Church. Basically, my Thomism is this deep conscience that finally comes to the surface in mid-2005. When I read some of my pre-2005 ID stuff I cringe a little, since I now see in it this strange weaving of modernist and Thomist ideas that clearly I had not properly worked through philosophically at the time (though I thought I did).

BTW, as of tonight--10 March 2011--my article, "Or We Can Be Philosophers"--is the #1 downloaded Synthese article over the past 7 days (even though it has only been out for 4!)

Lee said...

Francis, have you written an article explaining how your thinking led you away from ID? If it is online, can you provide a link? I would appreciate it.

Lee said...

I found this...

http://biologos.org/uploads/projects/beckwith_scholarly_essay.pdf

Singring said...

Francis, I find it fascinating that it was not scientific data or a pondering of the quality of research and empirical evidence led you to dismiss ID, but rather a reaffirmation of personal dogmas.

I wonder what the world would look like today if scientists used those kinds of principles when evaluation claims about reality?

Francis J. Beckwith said...

Lee:

A more detailed piece is my article from the University of St. Thomas Journal of Law & Public Policy, "How to Be An Anti-Intelligent Design Advocate." There I explain how thinkers like Dawkins assume final causality in their critique of ID. What I am suggesting in that critique is that ID version of design is not the only sort that one can discover in nature. On the other hand, final causality need not be part of "science" in order to be real and knowable. This is why it seems to me to concede to people like Dawkins--as some of my pro-ID friends do--that design must be scientifically established in order to be a rational belief is a dead end street. You can find my article on my website under "articles:" http://francisbeckwith.com

Singring, your brief retort just renames my arguments as "dogma." I now rename your renaming as "wrong to infinity," and thus I win be sheer assertion forever. Word up, as Ockham would have said.

Thomas said...

Singring,

Thomists don't reject ID for personal dogmas, but for philosophical reason. And the Thomist approach to philosophy is mostly a posteriori, so your question doesn't really make sense.

Singring said...

'Singring, your brief retort just renames my arguments as "dogma."'

Let's look at the argument you cite from Aquinas that was part of your dismissal of ID (according to your essay as linked to by Lee earlier:)

'We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end.'

What a great thinker he was...

Step 1.) Assert some stuff about 'natural beings', their 'ends' and how the outcome is always 'best' according to whatever standards and definitions you fancy

Step 2.) Conclude from your assertions that natural beings are designed (a conclusion that does not even follow, by the way; ironically you quote Ockham who might have told you that assuming existence of a God would only unneccassarily complicate a situation where we have a perfectly good natural explanation for why 'natural beings' act the way they do - evolution).

Anyone who advances such patently ridiculous 'arguments' as his criteria for evaluating ideas and propositions about, say, evolution, is indeed doing nothing but following personal, subjectively derived dogmas.

Again, I wonder if you would even have a computer to type on if scientists used such stunning arguments as Aquinas' to determine whether, say, ID is valid science.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

It says something when someone has to change what someone says in order to criticize it. It make the person's original statement seem all the more unassailable.

You characterize Aquinas's remarks about things having ends as asserting "some stuff about 'natural beings', their 'ends' and how the outcome is always 'best' according to whatever standards and definitions you fancy."

You ought to actually deal with what Aquinas said, not change it in order to make it weak enough to be easily refuted.

What Aquinas says is about as clear anything could be: we see unintelligent things working toward certain ends. What is controversial about that? You plant an acorn and it strives to be an oak; you plant a bean seed in the soil and it produces a bean plant; you birth a puppy and it strives to develop into a dog.

What is more empirically verifiable than this?

And then you claim that Ockham "might have told you that assuming existence of a God would only unnecessarily complicate a situation where we have a perfectly good natural explanation for why 'natural beings' act the way they do."

You clearly know little about Ockham. As wrong as Ockham was in his ontology, he was a devout Christian, and, in fact, suffered from what EtiƩnne Gilson called "theologism." One thing Ockham clearly didn't believe was that a naturalistic explanation is mutually exclusive of a supernatural explanation. He was still too good a philosopher--and too devoted a theologian--to believe something so intellectually primitive.

Ockham believed that, with human reason, you can only defend a belief that is logically necessary, not one that is only possible or probable. But Aquinas' whole point is that the purpose in things is logically necessary in order to explain how they act. You may believe that Ockham's Razor militates against Aquinas's point here, but you at least have the obligation to show how it does this.

Francis J. Beckwith said...

Singring writes:

"Anyone who advances such patently ridiculous 'arguments' as his criteria for evaluating ideas and propositions about, say, evolution, is indeed doing nothing but following personal, subjectively derived dogmas."

First, this assumes that the mind has a certain or purpose that one has an obligation not to violate. And thus, you unintentionally (how's that for irony) prove Aquinas's point.

Second, nothing I said deals with "evolution." It deals with philosophical naturalism, a view that denies final and formal causes in nature. Suppose, for example, one points out that natural selection seems to work for a certain end, survival and reproduction. In that case, NS presupposes the reality of final causality.

Third, like the ID advocates you seem to think that final causality is competing with material and efficient causes. But not for the Thomist. They can exist simultaneously.

Thus, every time you accuse a theist of ignorance and request that he or she abandon ignorance, you presuppose final causality, since to say that requires that he or she ought to know something. But such oughtness requires appropriate ends or purposes.

Every time you plagiarize from a worldview you reject you implicitly testify to its rightness. You're a amnesiac secret agent for the truth. Bless you.

Singring said...

'What Aquinas says is about as clear anything could be: we see unintelligent things working toward certain ends. What is controversial about that? You plant an acorn and it strives to be an oak; you plant a bean seed in the soil and it produces a bean plant; you birth a puppy and it strives to develop into a dog.'

1.) I dislike your use of the word 'strives' as it implies a conscious effort on the part of the oak, for example, to grow. Which is nonsense. Also, a puppy is a dog as much is a dog is a dog, but this appears to be news to you. It exactly this kind of wishy-washy, garbled linguistic sleight of hand that reveals the subjective, arbitrary nature of Aquinas' and, by extension, your assertions about the world, especially these 'ends' that come up all the time, which of course are metaphysical in the view of Aquinas, anotehr unfounded assertion.

2.) You conveniently omit Aquinas' rather bold and non-sequiturial assertion that all 'natural beings' act in a way that leads to the 'best result'. Thereby commiting exactly what you accused me of doing - misrepresenting Aquinas position.

'One thing Ockham clearly didn't believe was that a naturalistic explanation is mutually exclusive of a supernatural explanation. '

Neither do I. And I never claimed I did, not did I claim that Ockham did. All I said was that, using Ockham's razor, we can exclude factors that are not required to explain the outcome. We have a perfectly good model to explain the way 'natural beings' act - evolution. This model works on purely naturalistic principles and therefore, there is no need to introduce any methaphysical 'ends' or a 'designer's hand' at all, at any stage in the process.

'But Aquinas' whole point is that the purpose in things is logically necessary in order to explain how they act.'

Utter nonsense. Even at our relatively primitive stage of scientific discovery, we can give an very good account, from the molecular right up to the macroscopic level of how an acorn 'acts' to become an oak, no metaphysical 'purpose' needed at any stage. Maybe one day we will discover such a necessity, but so far - not one iota.

I think its rather sad that a teacher like yourself has seen no need to catch up with the past, oh, 800 years of scientific research or so. It may come as a shock to you, but our understanding of acorns and trees has moved on ever so slightly since 1280 ad.

Francis J. Beckwith said...

Singring:

Why should anyone avoid ignorance? Please appeal to only material and efficient causes.

When a human being is born mentally retarded why do we consider that a tragedy? Please appeal to only material and efficient causes.

When I say, "If Socrates is a man, then he is mortal," what is the empirical referent? You can not appeal to universals, since those are abstract objects and thus are not a proper object of empirical materialist science.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

Again, you have to understand an argument before you can adequately critique it.

You say, "You conveniently omit Aquinas' rather bold and non-sequiturial assertion that all 'natural beings' act in a way that leads to the 'best result'."

You seem to think that Aquinas' statement here is the conclusion of his argument, which it clearly is not. This is the only way you could legitimately call it a "non-sequitur." But Aquinas is using what, in logic, is called an "epicheireme," which is an argument form in which the premises contain causal clauses which indicates that the main clause in the premise is itself the conclusion of some previous syllogism. It's a sort of parenthetical way to give the reader an idea of why he's using the premise.

So what you seem to think is the conclusion of the argument isn't the conclusion. It isn't even a premise leading to the conclusion. It's a premise in a prior argument leading to a premise in the argument which does lead to the conclusion.

You could take that assertion out and it would not affect the reasoning because it's not a part of the main syllogism.

Once again, you don't appear to even know what Aquinas' argument is.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

You say, "I dislike your use of the word 'strives' as it implies a conscious effort on the part of the oak, for example, to grow."

As I have pointed out before, your emotional state is not relevant here.

Secondly, "striving" does not imply a conscious state. It only implies an intentional state. Intentionality does not imply consciousness. Thomistic philosophy makes t his distinction. If you think it is not a valid distinction, then you need to offer an argument for it, not merely assert it.

And I'll chime in with Frank's theme here: please offer an empirically verifiable argument against this distinction.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

You say, "Even at our relatively primitive stage of scientific discovery, we can give an very good account, from the molecular right up to the macroscopic level of how an acorn 'acts' to become an oak, no metaphysical 'purpose' needed at any stage. Maybe one day we will discover such a necessity, but so far - not one iota."

I realize I must sound like a broken record, but you don't even understand the issue. Aquinas is discussing the question of God's existence on the basis of why things are the way they are. You think he's discussing it in terms of how they came to be.

You're not even understanding what he is saying.

Your argument basically boils down to saying that Aquinas's metaphysical argument is bad because it's not a good scientific argument. That's like saying that my computer isn't very good because it's a bad automobile, or that the apple tree in my yard has problems because it doesn't produce milk.

Your only way of dealing with philosophical arguments to keep saying their not scientific. Of course their not scientific. They don't even purport to be scientific.

All you've got is a hammer and everything looks to you like a nail. So you'll have to excuse the rest of us who think the world is made up of other things besides nails.

Singring said...

'Why should anyone avoid ignorance? Please appeal to only material and efficient causes.'

You're asking me my personal opinion? Because ignorance makes it less likely that one will live a life that will help to minimize harm to oneself and society. I should really hope that we at least agree on the latter, but somehow I'm not so sure as you are championing ideas about reality that are 800 years behind the times.

'When a human being is born mentally retarded why do we consider that a tragedy? Please appeal to only material and efficient causes.'

Agan, you are asking my personal opinion, apparently, as you should be perfectly aware that I subscribe to moral relativism/subjectivism? I don't consider it a 'tragedy'. It's just the way the child is. I consider it a 'tragedy' when a person that was born mentally competent loses that competency due to extreme misfortune or intent.

Ironic that a pro-choicer has a higher opinion of a retarded child than a pro-lifer.

'"If Socrates is a man, then he is mortal," what is the empirical referent?'

I had this discussion with martin before. How do you know all men are mortal? How do you know that I, for example, am not an immortal man? How do you know that Socrates is not still alive?

You see, Francis, its easy to say the things you do - I'd just like to hear some credible reasons why I should think they are anything other than mere assertions.

Singring said...

'So what you seem to think is the conclusion of the argument isn't the conclusion.'

Martin, maybe you should actually read the passage in question before lecturing me. I quote once more:

'We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result.'

Did you see that part - the 'this is evident from' part? So clearly Aquinas is stating that because things act almost always in the same way to achieve the 'best result' this supports the conclusion that they act toward an 'end'.

This statement is complete nonsense, utterly random and it gives no indicationas to what these 'best results' are, notr how we are to knw that all things act toward such results.

The fact that you did not spend a single word defending this garbled mess makes my point nicely for me - instead you lecture me once again on how I don't undertsand the argument and give some long-winded excuse for why this is not really an argument by Aquinas at all...its pathetic.

But then you say this:

'You could take that assertion out and it would not affect the reasoning because it's not a part of the main syllogism.'

OK...let's take it out! What are we left with?

'Natural beings have ends'.

That's it. A pure assertion, just as valid as if I said 'natural beings have no ends'.

Thanks for making my argument for me, Martin.

Singring said...

'Secondly, "striving" does not imply a conscious state. It only implies an intentional state. '

So an acorn can have in intention without having consciousness. What is this...some new-age stuff you picked up?

'Intentionality does not imply consciousness.'

We seem to disgree on the fundamentals of the English language and/or the nature of consciousness then.

'And I'll chime in with Frank's theme here: please offer an empirically verifiable argument against this distinction.'

If we can't even agree on the meaning of the word 'intention', then I think this would be a fruitless endeavor.

But tell me this: If an acorn fails to grow - was that because it didn't have the 'right' intention?

Singring said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Singring said...

'Aquinas is discussing the question of God's existence on the basis of why things are the way they are. '

Completely, utterly false, Martin.

Evolution - in addition to giving an account of how the diversity of life comes to be, gives a precise account of why there are trees, why they grow and why they look like they do.Apparently your understanding of evolution is so woeful you didn't realize this.

'Your argument basically boils down to saying that Aquinas's metaphysical argument is bad because it's not a good scientific argument. '

You can put it that way if you will.

I would rather put it this way: Any sane being shoulod choose explanations for something that are testable and verifyable by empirical methods over the bald assertions that are not testable - or if soe, have failed tests - made by someone who lived 800 years ago when people didn't even know of the existence of cells.

'Of course their not scientific. They don't even purport to be scientific. '

Well thanks for finally coming out and stating it clearly. I agree, of course.

But then tell me: How doe we know what Aquinas asserted without evidentiary support to be true, when I can just as well assert all kinds of contrary claims without evidentiary support.

How do we know that natural beings have ends, if all it takes for me to counter Aquinas' claim that they do is to make my own claim that they don't.

If this is not a scientific question, we both (Aquinas and myself) have zero empirical evidence for our respective stances on 'natural ends', correct? So how come you choose his over mine? On what basis?

Thomas said...

Singring,

"So an acorn can have in intention without having consciousness. What is this...some new-age stuff you picked up?"

This is just as foolish as if I were to say: "so a bacterial organism can have fitness even though it doesn't have big muscles or work out? Biologists apparently don't know how to use the English language." Fitness is an equivocal: it can be used in the ordinary sense of physical fitness or it can be used in the biological sense which refers to the passing on of genes.

If we were debating evolution, and I ridiculed you for using the term fitness, and refused to recognize the term being used is actually an established technical term, you would rightly conclude (1) that I do not know what I am talking about when it comes to biology, and (2) that I wish to cling to my ignorance.

Likewise, the term "intentionality" is an equivocal, which might refer in the ordinary sense of a sort of conscious willing or in the technical sense of a sort of directedness. This latter technical sense is far older than the biological sense of fitness, and it is widely used not only by Scholastic philosophy but also in modern phenomenology influenced by Franz Brentano.

Now you can refuse to grant the term "intentionality" its established philosophical sense, but since this is a philosophical discussion it will only lead people to believe that not only do you not know what you are talking about, you don't even wish to know.

Singring said...

Why, thank you Thomas.

But completely besides the point, as usual.

1.) Whether 'intention' refers to a conscious effort or a 'sort of directedness' my criticism of the argument is valid in either case. If the former meaning of the word is used, it is simply nonsense as an acorn as far as we know has no consciousness, if the latter is applied, any evidence of any 'directedness' beyond the eloquent account of it provided by evolution is completely absent.

Which brings me to:

2.) I am not in the slightest surprised that - as is typical of this blog - your response is exclusively concerned with lambasting me for my alledged philsophical incompetence while studiously avoiding any attempt to adress the actual issue: how does Aquinus know natural beings have an end, how does he know they always act towards the 'best result'?

I provided some specific questions that ought to be easily answered in thsi regard. For example, on what basis would you reject my assertion that natural beings do not act towards some metaphysical end if empirical evidence is explicitly disqualified from consideration (see Martin's statements), but at the same time accept Aquinus' assertion that they do?

If I am such a philosophical ignoramus, how come you never answer those but just deflect, deflect, deflect?

We both know the answer. I live in hopw that one day you or Martin will come out and say it.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

Talk about deflecting...

Beckwith asked you several questions, asking you to give the material or efficient causes for several things, since you claim reject formal and final causes--on the basis, apparently that their expiration date has run out.

What do you do? You give him your position, which it turns out is based on formal and final causes!

Do you even realize you proved his point?

Martin Cothran said...

Singring:

You seem completely unaware a) of what an epicheireme is--and therefore of what role a causal statement like the one you don't like serves in it; b) of the fact that the passage from Aquinas you are dealing with comes from his "fifth way", one of his five arguments for God's existence [since you explicitly deny it].

It's kind of hard to argue with someone about an argument when they don't know anything about the argument form it takes or what the argument even says--and when, despite this, he thinks he knows a whole lot about it.

So let's see if we can try to clarify this.

Here's Aquinas' argument that you quoted:

1. All things that act for an end achieve their end by design [Implied premise]
2. All things which lack knowledge act for an end [Stated premise]
3. All things which lack knowledge achieve their end by design [Deductive inference from 1. and 2.]

The causal statement you don't like is attached to the minor (or second) premise. This the first of the two component arguments in his "fifth way."

Are you saying that this argument is a non-sequitur? Or are you saying something else?

Singring said...

'What do you do? You give him your position, which it turns out is based on formal and final causes!'

First of all, at least I answered his questions, unlike you, you never answer mine.

Secondly, could you please tell me which of my answers to Francis' questions are in any way dependent on formal and final causes - you know, the metaphysical, objective, universal kind you two espouse?

'Are you saying that this argument is a non-sequitur? Or are you saying something else?'

The non-sequitur was Aquinas' assertion that things 'clearly' always act toward the best result. I was very clear on this.

I was also very clear what my issue with the 'argument' overall is. Let's look at that premise:

'2. All things which lack knowledge act for an end [Stated premise]'

Now the only argument or piece of 'evidence' in support of this premise that Aquinas delivers is that we can know this premise is true because natural beings always act toward the 'best result'.

I would like to know how he knows this. I would like to know how he has arrived at this stunning idea and what his standard for the 'best result' is.

But I don't think we really need to bother with that question, because you have come right out and said that these questions are not scientific...so then how do we know premise 2 is correct?

I asked you this above and you just ducked the question once again:

Say I object to premise 2 and simply assert my own premise: 'All things which lack knowledge do not act for an end'.

But say I advanced that premise. You've told us that science (i.e. empiricism) plays no role in validating this premise.

So how do you know his is correct and mine is false?

How do you do it?

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

BECKWITH: Why should anyone avoid ignorance? Please appeal to only material and efficient causes.

YOU: Because ignorance makes it less likely that one will live a life that will help to minimize harm to oneself and society.

Your answer assumes that the purpose of humans that will live a life that will help to minimize harm to oneself and society. That's a final cause.

It certainly isn't material or efficient cause, which is what he asked for, since they are the only two you can believe in given your scientistic view of reality.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

The non-sequitur was Aquinas' assertion that things 'clearly' always act toward the best result. I was very clear on this.

So you are calling an assertion a "non-sequitur? Are you aware than only arguments, not statements, can be invalid?

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

You keep saying that I said that Aquinas' argument is not a scientific argument. This is true of the main argument, which I extrapolated above. The premises of that argument are justified by prior arguments.

My trouble with your reasoning is that you keep calling something a "non-sequitur." But the only argument Aquinas makes explicit is the one I outlined. It is clearly not a non-sequitur. It is standard "BARBARA" argument in traditional logic.

But it appears to me that you are actually attacking a premise in the argument: "All things which lack knowledge act for an end." But if that's what you are attacking, then why are you calling it a "non-sequitur"? Statements are neither valid nor invalid; only arguments are valid or invalid. Statements are only true or false.

Forgive me for being confused on what you are attacking, but your terminology is terribly confused.

I'll assume then that you are attacking the argument Aquinas seems to be assuming to justify his stated premise. The premise itself has a causal statement attached which implies a prior argument (Things which lack intelligence act always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result). This prior argument, which is not the main argument in the passage, clearly is the result of empirical observation.

You get an acorn and it always (or "nearly always," according to Aquinas) strives for the perfection of the oak. A bear cub strives for the perfection of a bear, etc. Just go out and look.

If you can find acorns that become bears or bear cubs that become oaks, then we'll talk.

'We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result.'

Singring said...

'Your answer assumes that the purpose of humans that will live a life that will help to minimize harm to oneself and society. That's a final cause. '

No it isn't! For the love of goodness can you get any thing right?

I neevr said that there is any 'purpose' to living any kind of life - not 'purpose' in the metaphysical sense you like to use it, anyway.

I said that we shoudl avoid ignorance because it leads to unnecessary harm. That can be be empirically demonstrated. Martin, you are a teacher, for crying out loud - and yet you seem to deny that ignorance increases unneccessary harm?

This is ridiculous...

'So you are calling an assertion a "non-sequitur?" '

I call it a non-sequitur because the conclusion does not even follow from the premise! It's totally out of the blue! Even if all things always acted towards the 'best result' - that would in no way imply that there is design involved as there may be perfectly naturalistic mechanisms to explain such 'acts'.

Do I have to spell everything out for you?

Singring said...

'This prior argument, which is not the main argument in the passage, clearly is the result of empirical observation.'

Oh... so now all of a sudden the argument is scientific, eh? And an inductive one at that? I thought those were irrational?

But let's move on:

'You get an acorn and it always (or "nearly always," according to Aquinas) strives for the perfection of the oak. A bear cub strives for the perfection of a bear, etc. Just go out and look.

If you can find acorns that become bears or bear cubs that become oaks, then we'll talk.'

Goodness me. This from a teacher, no less. let's for a moment ignore that this still doesn't even adress what these 'best results' are or what 'perfection' is, terms that you and Aquinas just concoct from scratch without any cogent definition, apparently (how come it's 'best' for a bean to grow into a bean plant rather than a bear, for example?).

First of all, science is not based on people 'going out and looking', it is based on the testing of hypotheses against observational data. Secondly, as I have explained ad nauseam above, we know why an acorn doesn't grow into a bear and vice versa. It's called DNA and it is the result of evolution. These explanations require mo supernatural forces, no metaphysical 'ends', no divine intervention.

Maybe these 'observations' were baffling to people 800 years ago in the dark ages and required the assertion of metaphysical 'ends' to explain them, but thankfully we have moved way beyond that point.

You, however, seem to have missed that bus.

Thomas said...

Singring,

This isn't that difficult. A living thing strives to maintain itself in a way that other things don't. When the bark of a tree is torn by an animal, the tree heals itself. When the finish on an oak bed is scratched, the bed, although made of the same material (wood) does not heal itself. This activity of a tree that maintains itself is directed (and this does not require any consciousness) toward maintaining itself as a tree, whereas a bed does not have this sort of directed activity. This "directedness" is what is primarily meant by formal cause rather than conscious purpose.

Or again, the activity of an animal is directed towards maintaining itself (and this primarily through nutritive) and maintaining its species (through reproduction). If in your biological studies you had not noticed that a real spider directs its activity in a way that keeps it alive and perpetuates its species in a way that a fake rubber spider does not, I would wonder not only whether you were paying attention, but whether you had read Darwin.

Singring said...

'This activity of a tree that maintains itself is directed (and this does not require any consciousness) toward maintaining itself as a tree, whereas a bed does not have this sort of directed activity.'

This is all very nice.

But I can explain perfectly well how and why a tree 'heals itself' without any appeals to metaphysical formal causes or purposes.

So your example illustrates my point perfectly: the assertion by Aquinas that all things act towards a certain metaphysical end assigend by a deity of some sort is wholly unnecessary to explain the phenomenon at hand. Thus we can excize this superfluous assumption. (I also note that you still have not even attampted to explain what constitutes a 'best result' as stipulated by Aquinas).

This 'proof' for God (and by extension, design) is thus found to be lacking.

'If in your biological studies you had not noticed that a real spider directs its activity in a way that keeps it alive and perpetuates its species in a way that a fake rubber spider does not...'

A rubber spider can't 'act' towards staying alive because...wait til you hear this, I know its a shocker...it isn't alive.

So basically what you are saying is: 'Something is alive if its alive and it isn't when it isn't'. How did you ever come up with that stunning conclusion?

Just because something is alive and behaves in a way we can explain resorting only to natural mechanisms does not mean it is acting towards some 'best result' set forth by metaphysical rule or law. Yet this is precisely what Aquinas is arguing and the sense in which Martin has referred to the 'intention' of things.

If you had read any Darwin, you would know that I can account for why a spider does what it does using evolution as an explanation. No God, no 'intentions', no 'ends' required. I wonder how long it will take you and Martin to catch up with 21st century science on this point.

But what I find really entertaining is that you still haven't told me how you know my assertion (beings have no metaphysical 'ends') is any less accurate than Aquinas' contrary assertion that they do have such 'ends'.

Martin has already flip-flopped from saying that its not a scinetific question to saying that it is, but that didn't help much. Seems to be a tough one.

Thomas said...

Singring

"... the assertion by Aquinas that all things act towards a certain metaphysical end assigend by a deity of some sort is wholly unnecessary to explain the phenomenon at hand."

If this is what you think of as final cause, then you haven't been paying attention. Everyone on this post has already pointed out that "intention" does not necessarily entail consciousness.

Further, you continue to assume that final causes are imposed from the outside and are external to the organism, rather than imminent to an organism. But Aristotle and Aquinas view final causes as imminent to organism; things that have "final causes" imposed from the outside are artifacts. The whole Thomist criticism of ID is that ID theorists view natural things as artifacts rather than as natural things with imminent (rather than metaphysical) final causes.

In other words, you persist in attributed to Thomist philosophy a view that it not only does not hold, but explicitly rejects, and you keep doing this despite the fact that this has been pointed out several times. To the extent that Aquinas does have a design argument, it doesn't deal with "metaphysical" ends or any other causes imposed from the outside.

Singring said...

'To the extent that Aquinas does have a design argument, it doesn't deal with "metaphysical" ends or any other causes imposed from the outside.'

Great! Let's go with that, then:

Since Aquinas' argument does not imply any causes for design external to the natural world, his fifth reason for God is nothing but hot air, since we now have a perfectly good explanation for the 'imminent ends' of organisms. One down, four to go.

Thomas said...

Singring,

While I'm familiar with Aquinas' account of causality (which is mostly due to my studies of Aristotle) I'm not as familiar with the teleological argument. In fact, the only thing from Aquinas I've read on it is the brief summary in the Summa.

But since you know enough about it to declare it to be "hot air" and easily dismissible, perhaps you could enlighten me as to which of his works the full version of the teleological argument is set forth in, and what the particular errors are--specifically how Aquinas' account is irreconcilable with the established neo-Darwinian view.

Fortunately Aquinas' books are online, so this should be an interesting discussion.

Singring said...

So, Thomas, at first you were lecturing me about the precise nature of Aquinas argument from design,but now suddenly you claim to unfamiliar with it?

All I need to refer to is the passage Francis cited. You claimed that Aquinas was making no argument o metaphysical ends and thereby conceded that there was no reason to posit God. It is you who has been making these bold claims about Aquinas which you are now trying to push onto me. I sinply drew the logical conclusions from your claims.

You can cahnge the subject all you want,it's all there in the record.