Thursday, August 11, 2016

Theism, Naturalism, and Final Causes

There is a long tradition in theistic philosophy of religion of appealing to God as the ultimate ground or architect of final causes -- of purpose, plan, and function -- found in nature. A key rationale behind this appeal is that final causes have an intelligent source as part of their nature or essence. This rationale appears to be at work in a wide range of arguments for God. Examples include design arguments, arguments from reason, arguments from intentionality, and arguments from life-meaning and purpose. 

Here's the rub: There are final causes in God's nature that are ontologically prior to his intelligent agency. For example, God's intellect and will work together to perform various functions, such as designing and creating things.  God's life is also meaningful and purposeful according to classical theism. On classical theism, therefore, final causes are built into God's nature without a prior cause. But if that's right, then classical theism entails the existence of final causes at the metaphysical ground floor that God cannot create. And if that's right, then theism entails base-level final causes that do not require intention. 

The moral: Theism entails that non-conscious teleology is a more fundamental feature of reality than teleology caused by intelligence, in which case it's not at all clear why base-level final causes are problematic for naturalism vis-a-vis theism.

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