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John Maynard Keynes on Why the "Argument from Design" Is Not to Be Confused with Theology

Yesterday ENV pointed out the story of Charles Darwin's great-great-great-granddaughter, Laura Keynes, a self-described Catholic apologist who, as an agnostic, got turned off by New Atheist intolerance and decided to pursue an authentically skeptical course of thought inspired by Darwin himself. She thereby found religion.

The article where she's profiled, in the British Catholic Herald, also mentions that she is from a sort of skeptical aristocracy, well known in England:

Although Keynes hails from Britain's sceptical "intellectual aristocracy" -- a web of families including the Galtons, Benns, Keynes and Darwins -- among her family members was a 17th-century Jesuit, Fr John Keynes, who wrote "A Rational Compendious Way to convince without any Despite, all Persons Whatsoever dissenting from the True Religion."

Presumably the Keynes family referred to there includes the economist John Maynard Keynes. Which is interesting in itself because a correspondent just sent along a nifty quote from Keynes that nicely defines the "argument from the design" and explains why it's not to be confused with theology:

4. The discussion of final causes and of the argument from design has suffered confusion from its supposed connection with theology. But the logical problem is plain and can be determined upon formal and abstract considerations. The argument is in all cases simply this -- an event has occurred and has been observed which would be very improbable � priori if we did not know that it had actually happened; on the other hand, the event is of such a character that it might have been not unreasonably predicted if we had assumed the existence of a conscious agent whose motives are of a certain kind and whose powers are sufficient.

The source is Keynes's 1921 book, A Treatise on Probability, p. 340, which you can find free at Project Gutenberg.