Phillip Johnson, a pioneer in the development of intelligent design science, wrote that Darwinism is as much a philosophical claim as it is a scientific theory. There are genuine and profoundly important scientific questions addressed in the Darwinism/ID debate, but underlying this debate is the Darwinian philosophical assertion — generally implicit but quite real — that nature is an uncreated machine. Atheist materialism is the metaphysical root of Darwinism, just as monotheism and (truncated) Aristotelian hylomorphism is the explicit philosophical root of the Scientific Enlightenment and the implicit root of much of modern science (e.g., quantum mechanics).
Heisenberg noted, with characteristic sagacity:
What we observe is not nature itself but nature exposed to our method of questioning.
Metaphysics matters to science, because metaphysics aims and constrains our questions. As such, the study of evolution is necessarily philosophical as well as well as scientific.
A Prior Commitment
The metaphysical basis for contemporary science is generally implicit, and usually flawed. Darwinism is the creation myth of atheist materialism. All that exists, for the modern materialist, is matter extended in space. Evolution, in this enfeebled ideology, can only be by chance and necessity. Things change and survivors survive. Atheist materialism offers no other options, and Darwinists would rather get nature wrong than question their own assumptions. Eminent Darwinist Richard Lewontin admitted in a moment of astonishing candor:
[W]e have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.
Materialists observe nature exposed to their method of questioning, and thus they don’t see design. They are blind to design because they never seriously look for it.
Design in nature is obvious. What metaphysical system provides us with the light to understand it?
Thomas and Thomism
Thomism, derived from the work of Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century, is the most rigorous and systematic understanding of the natural world ever put forth. It is, of course, a theological and ethical system as well, but its metaphysics, which derive from Aristotle, were the basis for the scientific enlightenment and remain the (implicit) basis for much of modern science, especially in quantum physics.
There is an ongoing debate about intelligent design in the Thomist system. Some Thomists disdain ID, and adopt theistic evolution. Other Thomists propose that ID is consistent with the Thomist understanding of nature. Father Michael Chaberek, a Thomist philosopher and Dominican friar, is in the latter camp. He is a superb philosopher and a gifted writer. His books Aquinas and Evolution and Catholicism and Evolution are required reading in the Darwinism/ID debate and in the debate between ID scientists and scientists who advocate theistic evolution.
Fr. Chaberek now has a website devoted to the Thomistic understanding of evolution. Aquinas.design is superb. In it, Fr. Chaberek accomplished what I thought nearly impossible: he presents sublime Thomistic insight with accuracy, economy, and clarity. He has pages devoted to specific aspects of the debate between ID-friendly Thomists and theistic evolution-friendly scientists, and he demonstrates with clarity and precision that ID science is entirely consistent with Thomist metaphysics, and that in fact ID and Thomism, understood in this way, complement each other. His arguments are devastating against theistic evolution and all variants of materialist Darwinism.
His website and his books are remarkable as well for their accessibility and profundity. Fr. Chaberek has a gift for explaining the most subtle Thomistic insight in ways that are readily understood by those who are new to St. Thomas’ ideas as well as those who have walked with the Doctor Communis for a while.
A Shaft of Light
Please visit his website and immerse yourself. I love his work, and I hope to comment on it more in the future. Dr. Chaberek’s defense of the design inference from a Thomistic perspective is a shaft of light in a dark debate, a debate too often monopolized by Darwinists and their theistic collaborators.
Intelligent design science, from a Thomistic metaphysical perspective, provides the deepest understanding of evolution. Read Dr. Chaberek’s blog, and let him show you why.