Aquinas’ Fifth Way to prove the existence of the supreme you-know-who is both the most alive and the most dead today. And once again, he’s a fiendishly slippery philosopher to try to squeeze into a cat box. Just when you think he’s finally in custody, he smiles at you and disappears.
Way #5: Aristotle observed that things in nature often seem to have some end or direction built into them. Flowers bud and bloom; clouds glower and then rain; birds migrate and come back. All this goal-seeking behavior is accomplished by actors who are obviously too dumb to think it up themselves. They must have had help. Hence: You-know-who exists.
Aquinas paraphrases: “It is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end.” Thus the most common name for this Way: the Argument from Design. (It’s also known as the “teleological argument,” from the Greek telos for goal.) The only example he gives is an arrow shot by an archer, which certainly has a goal but could not have got anywhere near it without Geena Davis and her olympic-caliber apparatus.
Five hundred years later, the English philosopher William Paley was so impressed by Newton’s discovery of the laws of mechanics, he came up with the best-known Argument from Design image of all: God as a watchmaker. Writing in his Natural Theology in 1802, at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, he imagines walking along a beach and finding a watch.
He inspects the watch (at great length, actually – the art of elegant summary had been lost since the time of Aquinas), and concludes:
“… the inference we think is inevitable, that the watch must have had a maker – that there must have existed, at some time and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers who formed it for the purpose which we find it actually to answer.”
I said “most dead” because we know more about just how much information is packed into organisms than Aquinas and Paley did. They did not know that behaviors can evolve through natural selection and be inherited through genes. Lots of dumb things together, following simple rules, can look sharp.
But as you know, Intelligent Design is still very much alive, and in much the same form as Aquinas and Paley stated it. Its acolytes devote mucho time, effort and dinero to finding “gaps” in the scientific picture, forming impressively-named organizations such as the Center for Science & Culture, blaring headlines such as “BIO-Complexity Paper Shows Many Multi-Mutation Features Unlikely to Evolve in History of the Earth.”
I’m almost afraid to get into this. The God Project Dot Net has been called many things, but never late for dinner. And never yella.