Misunderstanding Intelligent Design

Gonzaga philosopher Michael W. Tkacz (via Francis Beckwith via Alan Phipps) warms lots of air talking about Aquinas and Intelligent Design without ever trying to understand what Intelligent Design is.

Tkacz says,

Since the time of Charles Darwin there has been vigorous debate between Christian creationists and Darwinian evolutionists. Neither side has been especially interested in what Catholic Thomism—a minority position to be sure—might contribute to the discussion.

He defines “Intelligent Design” as he understands it:

Now, the advocates of ID have revived the debate with evolutionary biology on scientific grounds. This new challenge to Darwinism attempts to show that the biological evidence supports gradual evolution of species less than it does direct creation by a divine Designer.

This is simply bogus. He creates a straw man and then proceeds to hack away. In fact, Intelligent Design, as coined by Michael Behe, simply points to examples of “irreducible complexity” in biochemistry as evidence of a designer. In other words, it is simply a restatement of the teleological argument for the existence of God, as advanced by philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, and Thomas Aquinas. Michael Behe is a Catholic–it should be no surprise that he resurrected a Thomistic argument.

Behe is also an evolutionist–a thorough-going, dyed in the wool evolutionist who in fact also rejects a “god of the gaps.” Properly understood, that’s a label that does not fit Creationism at all, but is better applied to  “theistic evolution,” an idea that doesn’t seem very popular today. “Christian” evolutionists and atheistic evolutionists seem agreed that evolution is random and contigent and guided by natural selection and not by a divine hand. Behe has no problem with that, either.

I drew attention to Behe’s evolutionism last August. “I have no reason to doubt that the universe is … billions of years old,” he says, and “I find the idea of common descent … fairly convincing” (p. 5). I’d go so far as to say he’s actually a Deist, as seems evident from these statements in his latest book, The Edge of Evolution:

“… Although some religious thinkers envision active, continuing intervention in nature, intelligent design is quite compatible with the view that the universe operates by unbroken natural laws, with the design of life perhaps packed into its initial set-up.”[4]

“The purposeful design of life to any degree is easily compatible with the idea that, after its initiation, the universe unfolded exclusively by the intended playing out of natural laws. [It] is also fully compatible with the idea of universal common descent….”[5]

Tkcaz says,

A bit of attention to the Thomistic philosophy of creation may help to answer these questions. More importantly, investigating the coolness of Thomism toward ID theory may help to move the debate away from its polarized Creation vs. evolution state toward a discussion that is more philosophically productive. A look at the Thomistic understanding of God’s relationship to nature may even suggest a third alternative to the already well-known positions of the Darwinians and ID theorists.

I can only shake my head in disbelief. The very via media he wants between Creationism and atheistic Darwinianism is what Behe offers. Read the guy before you criticize him!

3 thoughts on “Misunderstanding Intelligent Design

  1. I think you severely miss the point. In fact, Tkacz does reference Behe’s comments concerning irreducible complexity and observes what I have seen going on for quite some time: that, in spite of Behe’s attempts, irreducible complexity does tend toward a God of the Gaps. Tkacz isn’t alone in this opinion, either. Even if he is only arguing the flawed nature of evolutionary theory, Behe’s arguments weren’t ever really accepted as “thomistic”. Your conclusion concerning irreducible complexity as offering a “via media” doesn’t follow. That is not what Tkacz is looking for, at least, if you desire a thoroughly Thomistic approach to the question, whether you agree with that approach or not.

    • The point is, Tkacz is ignorant of the fact that Behe is just as enamored of evolution as he is.

      And yes, Behe is indeed accepted as Thomistic by some Thomists … even by some prominent Gonzaga faculty in other departments. I think that’s what really has Tkacz in a dither.

      Irreducible complexity merely points to the fact that there is design.

      Of course, the genuinely Christian approach (that of Thomas himself) is to believe Scripture, and to accept that God created it all, by verbal, special creation. Because if you reject this, if you seek to wiggle around it, you face an unsurmountable theological hurdle: you must believe that death infected earth for billions of years before the fall of Adam (something Catholicism insists on retaining, even while believing that Adam had non-human ancestors–a mind-boggling contradiction!).

      At face value, Tkacz seems to have a problem with God’s active agency in creation. And yet Catholicism insists on belief in miracles. The two are mutually exclusive.

  2. Not apropos to the main point, but, I do get tired of hearing “god of the gaps”. As if the monumentally intricate designs found in nature were just some sort of teeny weeny gap that maybe we could fit God into. In my opinion, the Darwinists have completely failed to meet the burden of proof, and indeed, I think it will turn out that there exist just a few teeny gaps in the nature of things that Darwinism can legitimately speak for. I mean Romans chapter 1 certainly isn’t calling people to account for failing to notice a mere smattering of tiny gaps!

    It’s more like there’s an elephant standing in the living room, but people are claiming that such a thing is clearly impossible because the mesh of the screen door is too fine. Given our current level of knowledge of molecular biology and cosmology, the very idea of a mere “god of the gaps” is patently absurd.

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