Scotism and ID (UPDATED)

Having invited our friends at The Smithy to comment on Torley’s attempt to enlist Duns Scotus in the ID cause, I immediately regretted it somewhat, as I did not want to call down upon them the furies that might greet them whichever side they ended up taking. But now I’m again glad that I did so, since Michael Sullivan has written a very interesting series of posts on the subject. Naturally I’m gratified that we agree on much, but we do not agree on everything, and readers might find of interest the ways in which the differences between Thomism and Scotism are reflected in this debate. You can find the relevant posts here, here, here, and here. Unlike me, Messrs. Faber and Sullivan are unfailingly polite, so please be polite too if you find yourself disagreeing.

UPDATE: Torley replies to Sullivan and Sullivan offers a further reply to Torley. As Sullivan points out, Torley’s talk of a living thing’s “program” or “code” is problematic. There seem to me to be three possible interpretations of such language. First, it could be meant as merely a metaphorical way of talking about what are nothing more than certain complex patterns of efficient causation. But in that case it is not clear that it can do the job Torley wants it to do, viz. to differentiate living things from non-living ones, since he evidently (and rightly) takes “finality” or teleology to be essential to understanding life. Second, it could instead be intended to describe irreducibly teleological features of living things that derive from an external source, i.e. a designer. But in that case any ID argument that proceeds from such a description of living things would be circular. (Sullivan makes a similar point.) Third, it could be taken as a way of describing certain immanently teleological features of organisms. But in that case Torely would be committed to an essentially Aristotelian non-mechanistic conception of life, and he has said that ID makes, for methodological purposes, no such commitment. (As I have argued elsewhere – e.g. here – “program” talk when used by scientists is best interpreted in this third, Aristotelian way.)

UPDATE 2: Yet another reply to Sullivan from Torley. Note that in his section “Immanent final causality,” Torley thinks he sees a disagreement between me and Sullivan. But as far as I can see, Sullivan and I do not disagree. Torley is here confusing (a) the distinction between immanent versus transeunt causation with (b) the distinction between immanent versus externally imposed final causes. These are different distinctions and “immanent” does not mean the same thing in both cases. (Torley loves subtle distinctions, but here’s one he missed.) Distinction (b) is a distinction between final causality understood the Aristotelian way (as inherent to natural substances) and final causality understood the way Newton or Paley understood it (as not inherent to natural substances, but imposed from outside). Distinction (a) is a distinction between causal processes that terminate in and benefit the cause itself (“immanent” causation) and causal processes that terminate outside the cause (“transeunt” causation). (I discussed this distinction in my post on the origin of life.) It seems to me that what Sullivan was saying in the passage quoted by Torley is that he (Sullivan) and I agree that not all natural phenomena which manifest immanent final causality in the sense of distinction (b) are living, and he is right: We do indeed agree on that. What I was saying in the passage of mine that Torley quotes is that living things manifest immanent causality in the sense of distinction (a). I suspect Sullivan would agree with me about that too, but even if he doesn’t, I don’t think that that is what he was talking about.
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