December 27, 2004

Stupid Critiques Don't Make "Intelligent Design" Scientific

Hugh Hewitt attacked a Washington Post article on a school board battle over the introduction of "intelligent design" into the curriculum.

Hugh was half right. As a piece of sloppy agenda journalism, the WaPo piece deserved a bit of fisking.

However, as this persuasive post argues, Hugh hardly makes a substantive case for "Intelligent Design" as a scientific proposition. Evangelical Outpost offers a thoughtful post on the question.

"Intelligent Design" is not an explanation for anything, but a non-testable inference from the complexity of the universe that there must be a designer, i.e. a creator god who is responsible.

It's an offshot of creationism, but retreats from Biblical inerrancy into a very general conclusion that there's some kind of Creator. It's really a weak form of Deism, at best, because the Intelligent Designer could have set the universe in motion according to scientific laws, and after that need not be further involved in controlling events.

I'm reminded of a hymn by Joseph Addison, set to lovely music by Haydn, that we used to sing in compulsory chapel at boarding school:

The spacious firmament on high,
With all the blue ethereal sky,
And spangled heavens, a shining frame,
Their great Original proclaim.

It's not a new idea at all, actually, but it's not a scientific idea at all.

There's no doubt that current hypotheses about the origin of elementary particles and the universe, involving eleven-dimensioned superstrings and such, and possible parallel universes and so on, are more bizarre and alien from everyday experience than is the concept of a Father God, and for the average person require as much or more of a leap of faith than believing in an omnisicient, omnipotent God who is both benevolent and loving toward his creatures and at the same time allows them to be drowned en masse in tsunamis.

So I don't fault those who believe in a Creator. I can't refute them, and their belief may buttress the social order better than does my skepticism. I'm not, however, persuaded that religionists can prove what I can't refute, or that applying Occam's Razor (do not multiply entities needlessly), a Creator is required to prove any known process or set of facts, or adds anything to any scientific theory.

I'm not necessarily personally happy with this view of things, any more than I am with presbyopia, hearing loss, or my mortality. That we still live on Dover Beach and haven't figured out how to live morally or meaningfully in world of weakened or absent religious faith is an unfortunate reality, but our unhappiness and loneliness in the universe neither brings a Supreme Being into existence nor proves Him a creature of human imagination.

The question that began the discussion is, if we must have public schools, should we teach Intelligent Design in science classes? The answer, it seems to me, is no, and the reason is that whatever it may be, ID is not a scientific concept, but a weak form of creationism, a religious concept which could then be taught in a philosophy or comparative religion class, but not in a science class.

Obviously, these thoughts are not the last word on the issue at all. No doubt we'll be returning to this topic.

No comments: