Monday, November 27, 2006

"Intelligent Design": A strategic wrong turn...

Was it Bugs Bunny who used to say "I must have taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque"? Well, Intelligent Design is a theological Alberquerque if ever there was one.

I have just returned from a presentation on ID made to a parish group (not Catholic). I don't think there was anyone there who didn't believe that the world was created by God, or that the Bible wasn't true, but there were a fair number who were quite happy to continue through life accepting that there was no contradiction between this faith and an acceptance of the scientific validity of the theory of evolution.

But the speakers told us there was. You can't believe in evolution, because evolution is atheistic and "doesn't leave room for God". If you "believe in evolution" (note how this phrase puts acceptance of evolutionary theory into the same category as faith in God) you can't believe that the Bible is God's word, because the teachings of evolution contradict the teachings of the Bible. Thousands have lost their faith because they think evolution has shown that "there is no need for God". But wait: we can scientifically prove that there must have been an "Intelligent Designer", and therefore faith in God is possible because evolution is false.

How wrong-footed is this strategy? I would have thought that the truly responsible way of handling the situation (although it requires a degree of philosophical sophistication) would have been to show that there is no theological contradiction between faith in God as Creator and in the claims of evolutionary theory (whether Darwin was correct or not). By taking the line that evolution really is by necessity atheistic, you play right into the hands of Dawkins and co. You buy into their argument, you accept the "tiny God" who tinkers with his creation on weekends like we tinker with our car engines.

What worries me even more is that you buy into a theology of revelation which downplays the incarnation, the paschal mystery and the sacraments, and beats up the Scriptures until they look like the perfect book that came down from heaven. I have never lost my Lutheran emphasis (indeed, as a Catholic, I find this emphasis enhanced) which sees an analogy between the Incarnate Christ, the Eucharist, and the Scriptures. Luther used to say that the scriptures are like the "swaddling clothes" that Christ was wrapped in. I always took this to mean that, just as Christ was 100% human and 100% divine, and just as the bread and wine of the Eucharist are the true body and blood of Christ (this analogy works rather better in the Lutheran consubstantiation than in Catholic transubstantiation), so too the Scriptures are 100% human (with a fully human history and development and fragility and limitations) and yet 100% divine Word of God (thus the doctrines of inerrancy and plenary-inspiration).

When you begin to do some study into the ancient hebrew texts, you begin to realise just how intertwined the sacred text is with the very human history of the Jewish people. Nevertheless, it is the "Word of the Lord", as we say after every reading in the liturgy. In a sense, the words of the Lord to St Paul sums up everything about the way in which God chose to reveal himself: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor 12:9). In the weakness of the scriptures, in the weakness of the babe of Bethlehem and the crucified one, in the weakness of the bread and wine of the Eucharist--there God reveals himself. That's the God for me. That's the God I believe in. And evolution? Well, that's pretty messy as well, but even that I believe was 100% God's creation.

1 Comments:

At Friday, December 01, 2006 1:01:00 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

David,

The name of your site is great!

Back to the topic at hand: obviously, you have witnessed a straw-man presentation of the intelligent design concept. (Perhaps an unintended one.)

I disagree that ID is a “strategic wrong turn.”

Subtlety and distinctions are what is demanded of anyone who is going to bravely wade into the waters of the ID/evolution/creation issue.

Quote from David: …there were a fair number who were quite happy to continue through life accepting that there was no contradiction between this faith and an acceptance of the scientific validity of the theory of evolution. - End quote

This depends on which “theory of evolution” you are talking about. If we are talking about Darwinism or neo-Darwinism, it is absolutely impossible to take them seriously and still believe in a benevolent and omnipotent God.

Quote from David: Thousands have lost their faith because they think evolution has shown that "there is no need for God". But wait: we can scientifically prove that there must have been an "Intelligent Designer", and therefore faith in God is possible because evolution is false. - End quote

All concepts related to intelligent design are based on evidence, inferences, and statistical probability. If someone claims that ID can “prove that there must have been an "Intelligent Designer",” you can safely assume they are not familiar with the distinctions made by intelligent design theorists. ID does not give physical necessity, only evidence and a striking consilience of clues.

Quote from David: How wrong-footed is this strategy? I would have thought that the truly responsible way of handling the situation (although it requires a degree of philosophical sophistication) would have been to show that there is no theological contradiction between faith in God as Creator and in the claims of evolutionary theory (whether Darwin was correct or not). By taking the line that evolution really is by necessity atheistic, you play right into the hands of Dawkins and co. - End quote

You are absolutely right about this. Unfortunately for Dawkins et al, there is no evidence in biological science that leads to the conclusion that theism is wrong. There are many theorists and researchers who are using teleology to derive new ways of studying evolutionary concepts in biology and cosmology. (The scientific use of teleology and final causes are synonymous with the concept of ID.)

Mike Gene is probably the most notable of intelligent design evolutionists, and is currently researching what has come to be known “front-loaded evolution.” John A. Davison has set forth his views on directed evolution in his “prescribed evolutionary hypothesis.” Others discussing or actively researching evolutionary concepts from a teleological perspective are Michael J. Behe, Paul Nelson, Douglas D. Axe, Scott Minnich, Ralph Seelke, John C. Sanford, Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig, Richard von Sternberg, David Snoke, Albert D. G. de Roos, Todd C. Wood, David P. Cavanaugh, Michael J. Denton, Gerald Schroeder, John D. Barrow, and Frank J. Tipler.

Quote from David: You buy into their argument, you accept the "tiny God" who tinkers with his creation on weekends like we tinker with our car engines. - End quote

Unfortunately, what we have here is a fallacious argument of equivocation. Equating ID with the “tiny God” is terribly unsubtle. (All cards on the table: I don’t believe that God tinkers. At least, God does not tinker in a way that is a reasonable basis for a continuing scientific research program. I hold to a scientific view I like to call “a-point front-loading,” where an intelligence set all of the conditions for cosmological and biological evolution at the beginning of time. Of course, I personally hold that intelligence to be God, but physics and biology has not lead me to this conclusion. A conclusion of God comes from philosophical and theological disciplines. But I will certainly defend what you call “tiny God,” which is an easily defensible theological perspective.)

The idea (that a tinkering God=a tiny God) is equivocation to the point of fallacy. If you mean by “tiny God” that God is close to his creation and has personal contact with his creation, then you are demeaning a perfectly acceptable view of God. A God active in creation may offend your intellectual fashions, but your protest does not make your position any firmer. Likewise, an absent father who has no personal contact with his creation is not more “nobler,” which is often implied when folks speak of a “tiny God” tinkering, and a “BIG GOD” front-loading. From the other side our front-loading view makes orphans and bastards out of humans and all creatures.

In other words, more than hurling epithets is required to undermine the idea of a “tinkering God,” and more is required to promote our “bastard creation.”

Quote from David: What worries me even more is that you buy into a theology of revelation which downplays the incarnation, the paschal mystery and the sacraments, and beats up the Scriptures until they look like the perfect book that came down from heaven. - End quote

How does ID downplay such things? I am a Catholic, and I think intelligent design holds a key to knowledge about nature, and I see no such downplaying.

Quote from David: I have never lost my Lutheran emphasis (indeed, as a Catholic, I find this emphasis enhanced) which sees an analogy between the Incarnate Christ, the Eucharist, and the Scriptures. Luther used to say that the scriptures are like the "swaddling clothes" that Christ was wrapped in. I always took this to mean that, just as Christ was 100% human and 100% divine, and just as the bread and wine of the Eucharist are the true body and blood of Christ (this analogy works rather better in the Lutheran consubstantiation than in Catholic transubstantiation), so too the Scriptures are 100% human (with a fully human history and development and fragility and limitations) and yet 100% divine Word of God (thus the doctrines of inerrancy and plenary-inspiration). - End quote

I take it this has nothing to do with ID. If it does, please tell me how?

Quote from David: When you begin to do some study into the ancient hebrew texts, you begin to realise just how intertwined the sacred text is with the very human history of the Jewish people. Nevertheless, it is the "Word of the Lord", as we say after every reading in the liturgy. In a sense, the words of the Lord to St Paul sums up everything about the way in which God chose to reveal himself: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor 12:9). In the weakness of the scriptures, in the weakness of the babe of Bethlehem and the crucified one, in the weakness of the bread and wine of the Eucharist--there God reveals himself. That's the God for me. That's the God I believe in. - End quote

I know Hebrew, and I’ve studied a few extant texts, (including the wonderful Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia) but I take it this has nothing to do with ID, either. If it does, please tell me how?

Quote from David: And evolution? Well, that's pretty messy as well, but even that I believe was 100% God's creation. - End quote

Messy, you got that right. Currently, biological science teaches that the living world is, in origin, the result of chance mutations, with natural selection culling the beneficial ones (e.g. Darwinism, neo-Darwinism). There are scientific, philosophical, and theological problems with this view.

One scientific discontent with neo-Darwinism is that there has never been a single observed and well-documented occurrence of this process. There’s good reasons why this is the case. While this chance-based process may be a good idea in theory, it has been shown to be scientifically untractable in practice. How do you determine whether a mutation in the genetic code is random? How does one know it is not a process response to an unknown stimulus? How does a researcher distinguish between natural selection pressures, and internal process responses to unknown stimulus? These are important questions if one is to assert they have an “explanation” of how something happens in nature. I think there are good reasons to conclude neo-Darwinian mechanisms could affect living organisms, but there certainly is not enough evidence for the process to exclude all other possible explanations. Of course, there are more reasons to be scientifically skeptical of neo-Darwinism.

One philosophical discontent with a chance-based evolutionary account is epistemological. If our brains are the result of a process based on the cobbling together of chance variation for differential reproductive success, what good reason is there to think that my knowledge is true? Or, for that matter, anyone else’s? Of course, it’s all downhill from there for metaphysical evolutionism.

One theological discontent with a chance-based evolutionary account is ontological. If a chance-based evolutionary account explains all of the mundane and unique features of humanity, we are at bottom without meaning. Theology itself becomes impossible in light of this view. The idea that humans resulted from a chance-based process is an affront to all theological sensibilities. Only the most obtuse and quasi-occultish views would espouse such an idea. For this example, I will quote an individual you seem to admire, the Holy Father, Pope Benedict. “We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution.”

http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/homilies/2005/documents/hf_ben-xvi_hom_20050424_inizio-pontificato_en.html

Of course, we could talk about other evolutionary proposals that are not chance based, but that would offend the intellectual sensibilities of most scientists. Many biologists have proposed that evolution occurs by natural law, but they have been maligned by their fellow researchers for not towing the party-line.

Whether ID is a “strategic wrong turn” is a debatable matter. I think it depends on where you want to bring ID. If you want to bring it to the arena of ideas, I think that’s great. I don’t think it should be brought into the public school science classroom yet. But, give the ID researchers time. If the produce results, they’ll have earned a place in the science classroom, in my book anyways.

Also, I don't think everyone should embrace ID. Pluralism is a good thing in science. The more ideas, the more concepts, the more models being tested, the better.

A very important piece that touches on these points is: William Dembski (2002) What every theologian should know about intelligent design. Available at: http://www.origins.org/articles/dembski_theologn.html

I would love to provide more information and links for you in this comment, but I fear I have long been wearying you. The Pope has said much more on this topic, and I would present more quotes here if you would like to see them.

Warmest Regards,

Inquisitive Brain
inquisitive.brain@gmail.com

 

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