Robert Koons and Logan Paul Gage have a defense of ID uploaded, titled St. Thomas Aquinas on Intelligent Design. The article is intended to address specifically theist criticism against ID and to show that ID is perfectly compatible with Thomistic metaphysics.
Up front, on the first page, the critics are identified by name. On the second page, the critical theses have been laid out. This is a very promising straightforward start. Unfortunately, the rest is downhill. While much of the criticism is accurately represented, some of it is not, and the defense with its misguided appeal to science misses crucial points of the criticism. And way too much of the defense simply reiterates ID slogans without actually defending them. And, to top it all, Aquinas is falsely interpreted to mean what he could not have meant. The last point is not too concerning though. Aquinas inevitably has that role in the circles that self-identify as Thomistic, which happens to include both ID critics and advocates.
Thomistic defense of ID by Koons and Gage
My interest was in finding an actual Thomistic or Scholastic defense of ID. Therefore I will ignore most of the mere reiteration of ID talking points in the article, such as appeals to science that cannot convince anyone but those already converted to the ID cause and that don’t really address what theist critics criticize about ID. Spoiler: That’s the bulk of the article.
However, I found what I was looking for: Aquinas’ doctrine of exemplar causation. It’s represented in the article as follows.
An exemplar cause is a type of formal cause—a sort of blueprint; the idea according to which something is organized. For Thomas, these ideas exist separately from the things they cause. For instance, if a boy is going to build a soap-box derby car, the idea in his mind is separate from the form of the car; yet the car’s form expresses the idea, or exemplar cause, in the boy’s mind. Herein lies the important point: for Thomas, a creature’s form comes from a similar form in the divine intellect. In other words, the cause of each species’ form is extrinsic. In fact, writes Thomas, “God is the first exemplar cause of all things” (p. 84-85 = p. 6-7 of the pdf)
The article says that the critics fail to mention this doctrine. That’s true. As far as I have followed the debate, exemplar causation has been mentioned only once by an ID critic in the debate, namely by Edward Feser (ID critic) when he says Vincent Torley’s (ID apologist) understanding of it is “worse than tenuous”. The rest of the mentions of exemplar causes I have seen in the debate are employed by the defenders of ID.
However, the problem with this defense is that it remains metaphysical and never touches on the physics and biology of design that ID is supposed to be about. Appeal to exemplar causes, while being relevant to Thomistic understanding of design, has no direct relevance to ID as an empirical theory whose mission is to measurably detect stuff. At least no advocate ever managed to clarify the connection to me and this article is no exception.
The real thrust of criticism
The thrust of theist criticism against ID is this: Teleology is beyond the empirical world. It cannot be measured or detected as a cause of this or that. Formal causes do not create or generate things and events, but rather “inform” things (with purpose, i.e. function, both intrinsic, special and contextual; it’s not a separately examinable part or appendage, like souls are often imagined to be separable ghosts). For example, a formal cause does not cause a dog to be, but rather determines what a dog is, what qualifies as a (natural or normal) dog and what doesn’t. The thrust of theist criticism against ID is meant to point out this category error between empirical and unempirical causation. The latter (namely, unempirical causation in Aristotelian metaphysics) would likely correspond to a “category” or “taxonomy” in scientific terminology. As long as ID fails to comply with the scientific terminology, it is doomed to remain a pseudoscience. And as long as ID trivializes Scholastic metaphysics, assuming empiricism where there is none, it is rightly criticized by Thomists and Scholastics.
This crucial criticism is sadly misrepresented in the article, sometimes subtly, sometimes grossly. For example, the article complains about the critics’ obsession with secondary causation (as distinguished from direct causation by God whereas, as rightly pointed out in the article, Thomas has no problem with direct causation) and aversion to God’s intervention and miracles. In reality, critics have no such obsessions and aversions. Instead, the criticism is that God’s direct intervention and miracles remain empirically undetectable after the fact. God’s intervention is indistinguishable from natural causes, because God is the author of natural causation. Intervention or miracles would be no different from natural causes, because God’s action is a single timeless act (a.k.a. pure actuality): When God acts, the outcome is most natural, nature itself.
Take a particular miracle such as raising Lazarus from the dead. After the raising, would modern physicians be able determine after examination, “Yup, God did it.” or “This is caused by design, not by natural causes”? No. There would be no empirical signs of miraculous intervention after the fact. And, incidentally, this is not how the Catholic Church goes about determining miracles. Yet this is how ID apparently proposes to proceed.
After all this, the article turns and says “ID is a very minimal claim which does not require intervention.” (p. 85 = p. 7 in the pdf) Then why all that accusation of critics with their obsessions and aversions concerning the matter?
Where did ID go this wrong?
There are other fundamental problems with ID theory that become evident in the article, mainly conceptual. For example, it’s never clear what is meant by “design”. Is it a cause or an effect? At one point, Behe is quoted definitionally, “Design is simply the purposeful arrangement of parts” and Dembski is claimed to have pointed out that Paley “made no appeal to miracles in the production of design.” (p. 85-86) So, if design is a production and an arrangement, it seems to be more like an effect. Yet there’s the rampant “caused by design” assertion in the ID community as we know it (from UD, originally Dembski’s forum). The article does not mention it. Dembski uses (at UD: Resources/ID defined) the term “intelligent cause” which is supposed to “best explain” “certain features of the universe and of living things” (the same as “design”?) while the relation between design and intelligence is never explained. That’s a problem created by, or at least amplified by, Dembski, I’d say.
Another is the term “irreducible complexity”. The article defends the term citing Aquinas.
Contrary to the claims of Feser (2010, 154–155), the presence of complexity is relevant to Aquinas’s argument for design:… It is impossible for things contrary and discordant to fall into one harmo-
nious order always or for the most part, except under some one guidance… (p. 86, underline in the original)
Now, does everybody agree with the implication that “one harmonious order” means something even remotely akin to “complexity”? Didn’t think so. The article is full of such misapplied quotes from Aquinas. They can be hunted for fun when reading. “Complexity” is like a square peg to a round hole when it comes to Scholastic metaphysics with its doctrine of divine simplicity. This is a problem invented by Behe.
The conclusion of the article says that “The Thomistic critics of ID understand neither ID nor the heart of Darwinian evolution… ID is not a competing metaphysical system for the simple reason that it is not a metaphysical system.” (p. 91-92 = p. 13-14 in the pdf) I’d say that if ID can be defended by means of Thomist metaphysics, then it must be a metaphysical system, except that it demonstrably cannot be defended by means of Thomist metaphysics, so it’s evidently something else. My conclusion is that ID is indefensible due to conceptual inconsistencies stemming from the fact that its advocates and apologists never figured out whether it’s a metaphysics or a science. Unfortunately, pace KN, metaphysics and science are two distinct worlds and need to be sorted out before engaging in either one.