The Creation of Heaven and Earth: Re-Interpretation of Genesis I in the Context of Judaism, Ancient Philosophy, Christianity, and Modern Physics

By George H. Van Kooten | Go to book overview

DESIGN IN NATURE: SOME CURRENT ISSUES

RENÉ VAN WOUDENBERG


1. Design in nature and Darwinism

Far into the eighteenth century many scientists and philosophers, if not most of the ordinary folk, believed that the physical-biological world shows signs of being created by God. The eighteenth-century Scottish philosopher and scientist Thomas Reid, for instance, was a Newtonian and involved in applying the inductive method to various areas of scientific research. At the same time he believed that the world displays signs of design.1 In his Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man, he formulates a principle to the effect 'that design and intelligence in the cause may be inferred, with certainty, from the marks or signs of it in the effect'.2 Although the principle does not specify 'marks or signs of design and intelligence', from scattered passages in his work we may conclude that what Reid had in mind are such features as contrivance, order, organization, intent, purpose, usefulness, adaptation, aptness of means to ends, regularity, and beauty. So, from the presence of these features in objects, so the principle tells us, it may be inferred that those objects are designed, and hence that a designer of those objects exists. According to Reid not only artifacts like hammers, watches, and houses etc. display the indicated features; he held also 'that there are in fact the clearest marks of design and wisdom in the works of Nature',3 one example of which is 'the structure of the human body'.4 Reid's principle, then, licenses the inference that whatever displays such marks, is designed and brought forth by an intelligent cause, either human or divine.

1 For an assessment of Reid as a scientist, see Paul Wood, 'Thomas Reid and the
Culture of Science', in: Terence Cuneo & René van Woudenberg (eds), The Cambridge
Companion to Thomas Reid
, Cambridge, 2004, 53–76.

2 Thomas Reid, Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man (ed. D. Brookes), Edinburgh
2002, 504.

3 Reid, Intellectual Powers, 509.

4 Reid, Intellectual Powers, 510.

-245-

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