There is a dismissive strain to the atheist position, such as Richard Dawkins refusing to familiarize himself with any amount of theology on the grounds that it is all rubbish anyway. And if he wanted to, how would he choose? Catholic theology or Zoroastrian theology? It is a defensible position for a polemicist, but not for someone who wants to converse politely. So I do try to take other people seriously, and look into their positions, even if I’m quite convinced there will be little new or likely to change my mind. The point is to understand somebody else, and that requires walking in their shoes, or trying to think the way they do.
In that regard, I’ve just become aware of a new book that tries to put a Thomistic spin on intelligent design arguments. The book is “Who Designed the Designer?“, by Michael Augros (2015, Ignatius Press). I’ve just started reading it, after seeing Facebook friend Mark Shea post a link to a review.
From the introduction, it does seem that Augros wants to treat intelligent design (ID) seriously. He references ID heroes such as Michael Behe when giving examples of a “science-based” approach to first cause related apologetics. That Behe’s arguements are completely discredited by actual scientists doen’t matter, this is apologetics after all.
One chapter in, and we’re already in the territory of assuming what we need to prove. Augros claimed that this book will prove, clearly and unequivocally, that there is a first cause. So of course the topic of the first chapter is how we all agree that a first cause exists and how alternatives to that are simply impossible. Not proved by argument impossible, just flatly dismissed as impossible.
These alternatives are the possibilities of circular causes and an infinite regress of causes. Augros dismisses circular causes with a simple “You can’t be your own father.” And this is where his reliance on ‘common sense’ arguments starts to bite. It is an argument about temporal causality, but yes, physicist do admit the possibility of closed time-like loops is modern discussion of relativity. I’m sorry but you can’t be both totally convincing and rely on hand-waving common sense.
Worse, Augros had just previously told us that a first cause is not really a cause that is temporally prior, but something more related to necessity. Having taken time out of the argument, it really isn’t kosher to appeal to concepts such as fatherhood that are understood as temporal priority. The argument is no longer obvious.
The same problem occuse with infinite regress. Mathematics and physics have become a lot more comfortable talking about infinity since the end of the 19th century, certainly more comfortable than Aristotle and Aquinas were. But the possibility of an infinite regress of causes is waved off with the not very rigorous judgement “Not a very likely view.”
Sorry, but “not very likely” and “simply impossible” are not the way to write a crisp, clean, and utterly convincing modern approach to first cause and intelligent design arguments for God. I’m willing to go on reading, but my expectations are low.