"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Indian of the Gaps?

Over at Uncommon Descent, an "intelligent-design" blog, Barry Arrington has posted a perfectly silly reaction to my review, in the current issue of First Things, of John Haught's book Is Nature Enough? Meaning and Truth in an Age of Science. Lest I gain a reputation for saying perfectly silly things I didn't say, I believe I should respond.

According to Arrington, I wrote that "agency cannot show up within the layers of scientific explanation, for to do so would invoke the rightly dreaded God of the gaps" (I have added the emphasis). Now if that is what I had actually written, I would deserve the ridicule and other pummelling that Arrington and his combox contributors give me. I would be the worst sort of eliminative materialist, a là Daniel Dennett or Patricia Churchland. But that isn't what I wrote, and even a cursory reading of my review would show that I believe science and belief in "agency," not only human agency but divine, are perfectly compatible.

Here's what I actually wrote (again, I'm adding the emphasis): "God as final cause cannot show up within the layers of scientific explanation, for to do so would invoke the rightly dreaded God of the gaps." Of course I admit that "agency" in some generic sense, and in some cases in the sense of design, can and must show up in scientific explanation. Indeed, scientific explanation is itself an instance of agency with design. What I wrote is perfectly compatible with that. All I'm suggesting, unoriginally, is that God as designer of the universe as a whole does not and should not figure in scientific explanations—for God is not an object of scientific knowledge. As a theist, of course, I firmly believe that God as primary efficient cause is what ultimately accounts for the existence of the universe, and God as final cause is what ultimately accounts for why the universe observable by natural science is structured as it is. But that is a metaphysical position, not a scientific one. It is a position compatible with natural science, and thus not excluded by natural science; but neither is it dictated by natural science.

I must say that I have a hard time understand the hostility of ID advocates to such a position. I believe that science alone cannot answer the sorts of questions that theism does. I just don't think that the true answers are scientific. They can and should make use of scientific results, but in so doing they pick up where science leaves off. Obviously, some scientific advocates of ID demur. But their disagreement with me is philosophical, not scientific.
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