A couple of weeks ago I posted on the book by Karl Giberson and Francis Collins The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions and posed a few questions… specifically What arguments against evolution do you find convincing? Why? and What arguments would you like to see discussed on this blog (in future posts)? A number of comments asked questions and made requests for future posts. These questions could be grouped into two general categories – theological questions and scientific questions. The theological questions centered primarily on sin, death, and what it means to be human. These are key questions – and we will return to them in future posts.
The scientific questions centered on evidence for evolution and on the objections and alternatives raised by the proponents of Intelligent Design. Questions were raised about the issues of time, the reliance on millions or billions of years for processes to occur, the complexity of biological systems (and they are exquisite and beautifully complex), self organization, the development of species, and the concept of irreducible complexity. Again, these are all important questions.
I would like to start a discussion that touches on these issues – but I would like to start the discussion not with science, but with philosophy.
Why do you think Intelligent Design is an appealing concept – either to yourself or to others?
What is intelligent design arguing against and what is it arguing for?
I have a book, Intelligent Design Uncensored by William Dembski and Jonathan Witt, that was sent to Scot by the publisher. Scot passed it on to me. This book is a discussion of various ideas in Intelligent Design, but one thing seems clear from the tone and tenor of the argument. The motivation for Intelligent Design is not scientific, it is philosophical and theological. The opponent is philosophical naturalism. At the end of the book, summing up the arguments, Dembski and Witt write:
This book began with a question: Are the things of nature the product of mindless forces alone, or did creative reason play a role? The question is fundamental because so much hinges on it. Are humans worthy of dignity? Are they endowed with certain unalienable rights? If humans are the mindless accident of blind nature, entering and exiting the cosmic stage without audience, in a universe without plan or purpose, what right do we have to puff ourselves up and talk of human rights and human dignity, of meaning or value or love? In such a cosmos, love is but a function of the glands, honor and loyalty nothing more than instincts programmed into us by a blind process of random genetic variation and natural selection. Such a cosmos is ultimately meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
At the heart of this book is a conviction rooted in reason and evidence: the evidence of nature points away from such a pointless universe and toward a universe charged with the grandeur of a design most remarkable. (pp 153-154).
This is a sentiment with which I agree. I am a Christian because there is evidence within creation for a creator. The heavens declare the glory of God. The intricacy of a biological cell and the formation of a child likewise declare the glory of God.
Giberson and Collins also agree with the sentiment behind this paragraph. The statement coming out of the Theology of Celebration Workshop last November emphasized this point. The term scientism encompasses the philosophical naturalism that motivates Dembski and Witt.
In contrast to scientism, we deny that the material world constitutes the whole of reality and that science is our only path to truth. For all its fruitfulness, science is not an all-inclusive source of knowledge; scientism fails to recognize its limitations in fully understanding reality, including such matters as beauty, history, love, justice, friendship, and indeed science itself.
But is opposition to philosophical naturalism enough? It seems to me that the intelligent design movement, at least as described in this book, is not so much a search for intelligent design as it is an argument against evolutionary mechanism in creation. The way to undermine philosophical naturalism, they seem to feel, is to undermine evolutionary biology. The second chapter, entitled The Design Revolution, places the blame for philosophical naturalism on Darwin and his theory, at least it places much of the blame here. “Ground zero” notes Dembski and Witt “in the controversy has been intelligent design’s challenge to modern Darwinism. This is because Darwinism is the lynchpin of modern materialism.” (p. 24). Later chapters develop the theme, chapters with titles like The Poison of Materialism, Breaking the Spell of Materialism, and The Book of Nature, Lifting the Ban.
In future posts I will consider some of the positive arguments for design, most importantly Michael Behe’s proposal for irreducible complexity. But today I would like to pose a question about the necessity, or even the wisdom, of a strategy for combating philosophical naturalism that uses as a main thrust negative arguments against evolutionary biology.
Is it important to undermine evolution and the theory of evolutionary process that has grown out of Darwin’s early observations? If so why?
About a month ago Kathyrn Applegate posted a reflection on a disagreement between Richard Dawkins and Craig Venter, and the way this disagreement was presented by William Dembski: Dueling Scientists and the Tree of Life: Analyzing the ID Response. The issue here isn’t that Dembski disagrees with evolution and supports intelligent design, but that he twisted the event to support his point. A couple of years ago I posted on Tiktaalik roseae and Friends again concerned with the way scientific evidence was presented, inaccurately and selectively, in the desire to undermine evolutionary biology. In my series on Stephen C. Meyer’s book Signature in the Cell most of my concern with the book was with the rhetoric and the rather loose method of dealing with the sophisticated arguments for evolution and the arguments made in origin of life research. One of the features of Intelligent Design Uncensored that disturbs me is again negative argument against “Darwinism” using rather loose methods of engagement. The science is not treated fairly.
As most readers here know, I find the evidence for evolution overwhelmingly convincing. In Dembski and Witt’s book those Christians active in science, convinced by the evidence, are cast as compromisers, either deceived by or bullied into, assent to the consensus scientific approach. The book is difficult to read because of the demeaning rhetoric. Now those who write from the perspective of evolutionary creation are often guilty of the same offense – the rhetoric against others, including fellow Christians, damages the opportunity for real conversation. This is not a problem confined to one side of the discussion. But it is a real problem.
If you believe that evolution is not true, as Dembski and Witt do, what is the best way to go about making the point?
How should Christians approach these disagreements and issues?
What kinds of ethics should govern our engagement?
If you wish to contact me directly, you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net