I find little to complain about in Dr Torley's account of univocity and intelligence as a pure perfection in Scotus. It's accurate enough for his purposes. I'm less sure, however, about his attempts to apply these notions to ID.
First of all, the ID definitions of "intelligence" seem very unscotistic and unscholastic to me. Consider the following:
Intelligent Design. The study of patterns in nature that are best explained as the product of intelligence.
Intelligence. Any cause, agent, or process that achieves and end or goal by employing suitable means or instruments.
Design. An event, object, or structure that an intelligence brought about by matching means to ends.
These definitions seem to be designed to lead to the desired conclusion from the outset, but they're very odd. On the one hand, since any pattern in nature whatsoever is, insofar as it is patterned, intelligible, one might use a metaphysical argument to infer an intelligence: any intelligible in potency, the argument might go, implies a prior intelligible in act, that is, an understanding intelligence. But this applies as much to non-living things as to living ones. The ancients argued to God from the regularity of the motion of the heavenly bodies without examining their structure for complex specified functional information.
Furthermore, I'm not at all sure about the definition of intelligence as something that achieves ends by employing means. I suspect that one could argue that computers and elephants and Venus flytraps are intelligent by this standard. But traditionally intelligence is defined in terms of the act of understanding, that is, in the particular way that the forms of intelligible things are objectively apprehended by the intelligent thing, and in terms of intentionality. My computer neither understands nor intends, but it matches means to end in accordance with its programming - doesn't it?
By the way, every "scientific" attempt at defining intelligence in terms of some marker-activity like the use of tools, communication, problem-solving, etc., has always seemed wildly off the mark to me. These all may or may not be intelligent activity. But unless the activity is also intentional and objectively apprehensive, it's not indicative of intelligence per se. In my estimation the best marker for intelligence is still the capacity for abstraction.
Similarly, the definition of "Design" seems much too broad. When an angry monkey throws feces at me to make me go away or a hungry monkey throws a rock at a banana clump, isn't this matching means to ends? When a bird looks for twigs to build a nest, isn't it matching means to ends? But I don't think we want to call either the feces-volley or the nest indications that the monkey or the bird are designers. And, as I indicated earlier, when looking at the world of nature I'm not sure how the intelligibility and order in the world of physics is either more or less indicative of "design" than that in the world of life: both non-living physical objects and living things exist and come to be by nature, which exhibits a marvelous order and intelligibility.
Because of this I'm not sure the attempt to bring in Scotus does any good. Dr Torley writes:
Duns Scotus distinguished God’s intelligence from ours on the grounds that God’s is essentially infinite, while ours is finite. . . . The underlying idea here is that an intelligent enough Designer can create any effect, no matter how complex. That does not mean that the difference between God and humans is merely one of degree; it simply means that the term “intelligent” has the same meaning when predicated of God and ourselves, notwithstanding the infinite disparity between God’s intellectual capacities and ours, and the utter dissimilarity between the way God thinks and the way we do.
This is fine, but when we're talking about the ability to create any effect, we have to take into account what sort of thing the effect is, and a created tree, whether created in toto and ex nihilo, or put together out of pre-existing parts, or evolved over millions of years, or whatever, is still as much a natural thing as a star or a rock, and a created jet plane or laptop computer or water-driven mill is an artifact. And since the tree is natural, and since the parts of the tree are formed by the tree as a whole, therefore all its parts are natural, and the existence of all its parts is accounted for by the existence of the whole. It seems to me that any discussion of the origins of the tree must recognize this.
Anyway, the notion that we can think about God as a designer in the way that we can think of men as designers, because there is a univocal conception of intelligence as a pure perfection, seems to be the only actual attempt to use specifically Scotistic notions in Dr Torley's long post. It doesn't seem to me that it's very successful, not because I think he's necessarily distorting Scotus so far as univocity or pure perfections go, but because, as it seems to me, the notion of a living thing, or a part of a living thing, as machine-like in the relevant sense, is misguided. And if living things are not machine-like, then we cannot infer machine-like origins for them.
So what would a Scotist say about the origins of life? For myself, I would say nothing. As I said before, I'm no biologist. So far as I know there may well be natural laws which can be discovered scientifically which account for the origin of life on their own. Or perhaps there are no such laws and only a non-natural origin of these natural things can be posited. That seems to be an empirical question. If scientists can show life arising from non-life naturally, let them! If they can't, then don't take their stories for granted.
As a metaphysician, I would insist that act is absolutely prior to potency, and that being does not arise from non-being. So any account of life's origins would have to cope with that. From my layman's understanding it appears that naturalistic Darwinism fails in this regard. But to say that doesn't automatically mean embracing ID as Torley presents it. It seems to me that one can admit as a point of metaphysics and theology that God is the creator and architect of the world without taking any stance whatsoever on the manner in which the first instances of certain kinds in the world came to be. God is the first cause of all that is, and in his Providence governs every event in the universe without exception; but does this mean that a given living cell was made by natural forces, like Mt Sinai, or by the immediate writing of the finger of God, like the tables of the commandments? Or neither? In any case it's not clear to me that a thing that, if it is to be at all, is a natural kind, like a tree and not like a jet, must be understood as having been (at least in its first instance) assembled, as Dr Torley says.
None of this is to say that I side with everything Dr Feser says in this debate. I do not admit, for instance, that when God makes something this is to be understood as God "conjoining an essence with an act of existence", since I have severe doubts about the real distinction and composition of essence and existence. Perhaps more germane to the subject at hand, I have a lot of sympathy for interlocutors like Lydia McGrew who object to the Thomistic account of generation, in which the new thing annihilates and replaces the substantial form of the old. It seems to me that there is a real case to be made here that the Thomistic doctrine of the unicity of substantial form is difficult to reconcile with many facts about the natural world; I would argue that a Scotistic plurality of substantial forms is much more consistent with both observation and common sense. That's a metaphysics debate for another day, however, and doesn't seem to have any bearing on the critiques presented either by Dr Feser or myself here.
Finally I want to emphasize once more that I am a novice to this debate and have been working out my thoughts in these posts for the first time. I've never read an ID book and can't claim to be conversant with the range of positions. This is a response to Dr Torley's recent post alone. My views on ID, evolution, etc., are subject to refinement and revision. Just today I was at the local used bookstore and picked up a copy of Mere Creation: Science Faith & Intelligent Design, a collection of essays on ID by various contributors and edited by William Dembski. So I may read it and have something more intelligent to say about the subject in the future. Or perhaps not!