I must thrive on controversy or something. I’ve got posts on speaking in ‘tongues‘, sexual ethics and now –if those weren’t enough– I’m posting on the evolution/creation debate… Sigh… Where to begin!!??
Where I’ve come from
Since I like honesty, I’ll start with a very short (and therefore un-detailed) review of how I’ve thought in the past, and where I’m at now…
Growing up, I didn’t think too much about evolutionary theory. I believed God created all things, and assumed that He did it like Genesis 1 & 2 said. Years later, the topic would become of greater importance to me. I listened to radio programmes, read a few books, looked at websites, etc., etc., and convinced myself that evolution could not be true. I happily enjoyed debating about it, and pointing to ‘holes’ in Darwinian theory… The title ‘six-day young-earth creationist’ would have been proudly worn by me, and any Christian who dared think that ‘macro-evolution’ could have happened would have gotten dis-approving looks from me.
More recently, however, I’ve taken a much more ‘I have no idea’ kind of approach to whether or not life as we know it has come about by way of Darwinian processes. My current view of Genesis 1 & 2, is that these chapters are not scientific explanatory reports, but rather theological poetic texts which were not written to explain exactly how creation ‘happened’, but rather to (beautifully, if you ask me!) contrast the Creator God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob with all of the gods of the nations around them. I could go on, but that’s enough for a ‘very brief’ review!
Why this post?
Firstly, I am still interested in such conversations; though at the same time, I’m saddened by the unhelpful ways they are sometimes carried out. Secondly, this interest and sadness have found me discussing such things with some atheists. As we discussed my last post (which was more of a philosophical suggestion concerning the value(s) which underlie ethics and morality) we eventually stumbled onto things to do with evolution. I thought that the conversation was too big to have there… More specifically, I wanted to discuss my thoughts on ‘Intelligent Design’ (I.D.).
I.D. (which enters conversations about cosmology, abiogenesis and evolution) is called a lot of things by a lot of people. ‘True science’ by fundy young-earthers, and ‘Religions’ desperate attempt to attack real science’ by others. Here are my thoughts, which –perhaps not surprisingly– are located somewhere between these two…
The biggest criticism of I.D. is that it is not a testable theory. A big problem is that the evaluation of that statement is confused by various expressions of what I.D. is. If I.D. is a theory which makes suggestions about how the universe or complex organisms came to be, then it can only be ‘tested’ in a mental-experiment kind of way, which may prove quite useful to philosophers and logicians. On the other hand, it offers no empirically testable theories, so –in a very important sense– it is not a theory at all, but rather an assertion.
Natural science, you see, is what natural science is. It seeks to explain things by natural causes, so you can see why a ‘theory’ about a super-natural ‘designer’ is no longer in the domain of natural science. Positing all day long about a designer leaves nothing to empirically test, and thus no way for natural science to even begin to do its thing. Therefore, the idea that the universe and/or complex organisms are designed is one of many ideas that can never be verified, tested or developed by natural science.
A confused mess
Now, having said that, there remains a great deal of value in critiquing Darwinian evolutionary theory – or any other theory for that matter! What I suspect is happening, however, is that the whole ‘I.D.’ movement –with it’s implicit (sometimes explicit!!??) agenda to ‘prove’ the existence of the Designer– actually ends up stifling and confusing what sometimes could be fruitful critique of Darwinian theory.
The comments on this article show how immaturely and impatiently the I.D. crowd react when scientists change their opinion on something. This does not encourage fruitful dialogue.
A new documentary by Ben Stein called ‘Expelled‘ will highlight several controversial scenarios involving abuse or firing of scientists and instructors who subscribed to I.D. ideas. Debates rage about the legitimacy of the tenure denial of seemingly qualified astrophysicist Guillermo Gonzalez, or the dismissal of Caroline Crocker. (Two quick examples of firings that seem more justified (or at least to be expected?) are that of Kris Helphinstine and Nathaniel Abraham.)
An unfortunate example to me is the firing of Richard Sternberg for publishing an article by I.D. proponent Stephen Meyer. Sternberg himself finds I.D. flawed, but published Meyer’s article because “evolutionary biologists are thinking about this. So I thought that by putting this on the table, there could be some reasoned discourse.” Like all such situations, there is no doubt more to the story than the public will ever know, but the firing of Sternberg (himself neither an evangelical, young-earth creationist or even a theistic evolutionist!) seems to me extreme.
So, as far as I’m concerned, one of the most disappointing things about I.D. is that it has simply gone too far too often. It seems that because of the attempts to use it to ‘prove’ a God, they have created justified suspicion in the natural science community. What a shame. As far as I’m concerned, it’s silly to think that natural science could ever ‘prove’ God.
The assertions that the universe looks ordered, fine-tuned or designed are assertions that I find compelling, but these assertions give natural science no counter-theory, no alternative-hypothesis, and no way to even begin to test for the implicitly suggested Orderer, Fine-Tuner and/or Designer.