Monday, 30 March 2015

The teaching of St Maximus and design detection

St Maximus the Confessor († AD 662)

The teaching of St Maximus the Confessor about the divine logoi of creation (for a summary in Russian, see here) can serve as a philosophical foundation for Intelligent Design. In short, according to St Maximus, each created thing, alive or not, has the corresponding divine idea (logos) of its existence. Each divine idea is then realized in a certain way called a tropos (plural — tropoi) of the respective created thing. The tropos of a thing is the mode of its existence. For example, the Fall of Man resulted in the change of the tropos of the existence of humans.

The ideas (logoi) of all existing things, before all ages founded by God as He knows Himself, — those that divine men refer to by the goodwill (of God) — though unseen (by us), can still be contemplated or "thought of" by way of reasoning about visible things. For all things created by God, when they are with enough skill contemplated according to their nature, mysteriously reveal to us the ideas by which they received their being, and manifest God's intent. St Maximus the Confessor. Answers to Thallasius. Answer 13 (translation from Russian mine. Apologies in advance for any inaccuracies as I could not find any other translation into English on the web — E.S.)

The problem of design detection can be formulated as follows (for a more formal statement, see here).

Given only a configuration of matter, is it possible with enough level of assurance to correctly infer to its design? Given a configuration, is it possible to find out if intelligence played a decisive role in its generation apart from 'natural' i.e. unintelligent causes? In particular, how well is the retrospective deduction methodology of applied disciplines like forensic science or archaeology suited to the scientific inquiry into the origin of life? 

In solving theoretical and practical problems of design detection, chance and law-like necessity are usually referred to as natural causation as opposed to intelligent choice-type causation. Even though natural factors of causation are the tropoi (i.e. the modes of existence/the ways of realization) of the divine ideas and they themselves have intelligent origin, it is not possible to infer scientifically to their design because they are a given in science. The problem of the meaning and goal of all creation, which is central in St Maximus' teaching, goes beyond the realm of science because science deals only with the syntax of nature, i.e. with external relations of phenomena.

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