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November 20, 2005

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Brad Anderson

Hi, Chuck. I'm not sure I can speak adequately to the science behind intelligent design; I will say, however, that I know of a few Christian intellectuals who subscribe to it, but to my knowledge aren't trying to inject it into public school curriculum.

Sorry if this is long-winded. Let me begin by saying that I'm from Wichita, Kansas, so I'm fairly familiar with the debate. As far as it being in the schools, so far I haven't read anyone with whom I agree. For instance:

1. I tend to resist the subordination of the culture at large to the scientific method; while it is a useful tool for some things, it should not be used to answer questions for which it was not designed. Therefore, for scientists to suggest anything more about "why we're here," "how we got here," "what our purpose is," the implications of a supposedly "random" model, etc., is well beyond their purview. I also think they must account for the anthropic principle before they demand blanket acceptance of their theories - something on which the more sophisticated advocates of intelligent design have rightly cahllenged them. This, of course, brings up the point that these are theories we are dealing with (indeed, even multiple theories of evolution vying against each other), not proved facts. While the evidence is certainly overwhelming, as with theories in any other discipline, one must be open to *educated* criticism. This is especially true when scientists venture into the theological and philosophical. I am tired of the view that "science" is the end-all-be-all, the only legitimate way of knowing, and that it cannot be criticized, especially as a paradigm for culture.

2. This is simply poor theology on the part of those attempting to push it into the curriculum. Most (if not all) of them are conservative Christians who have a certain reading of Genesis and who tie the integrity of all of Scripture (Christology, soteriology, eschatology) to whether Genesis 1-11 is literally reliable. As we discussed in our systematics class, Chuck, theirs is a view of Scripture as a criterion of truth rather than a means of grace (and, indeed, they are also subordinating Scripture to the scientific method), and their exegesis is questionable to begin with.

3. Another viewpoint, incidentally related, is that of those opposed to the relaxing of science standards for economic reasons. I have in view the governor of Kansas here, when she argues that such standards will not allow Kansas students to compete or allow the state to attract high-tech industries (or something like that). This, again, is the view of education as job training, as preparation for the workforce and economic aggrandizement. No concept of stewardship of the intellect here, development of the mind as a good aside from its economic consequences. The Church should not accept such reasoning.

Sorry if these are vague or weak, but they have been floating around in my mind for some time.

zero

how is the culture at large being subordinated by the scientific method?

the science of biology is what describes life processes on earth.

for true scientists, there is no disconnect between god and science.

children in school here in america are going to be blown away intellectually through an education that is infused with pseudoreligion in the curriculum.

i have watched this issue of intelligent design debated on cspan more than once and no one who supports intelligent will respond clearly when point blank asked if this is religion. if it's a cause they support and want so badly they should be upfront about it not try to hide it while saying something else.

none of us, not the individual, the scientist, the clergy really know how god created this earth. we don't and maybe if heaven is full of answers to life's mysteries we'll find out then, if we are so blessed. for me, what's more breathtaking or beautiful than for god to have set the world in motion whether by a touch of his finger or evolution and watch it unfold over many many many many years? that in itself is intelligent design.

zero

wonder of wonders (cspan always comes through). as i write, cspan's washington journal (morning program) is all about the debate of intelligent design this morning.
right now, matthew chapman, the great-great
grandson of charles darwin is being interviewed and taking viewer calls. the morning journal will most likely replay a few times today since the house is in recess. check the schedule for times at
www.cspan.org

Matt

*sigh* In many ways I feel that I have lived the struggle between fundamentalist creationism, intelligent design, and naturalistic evolution. Majoring in biology in my undergrad and then getting a masters degree from a department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry while struggling to live out my Christian faith in an environment antagonistic to science has really pulled me in strange and interesting directions on this issue.

I find myself pulled between various positions. In some ways I sympathize with the ID supporters because they are serious about their Christian faith, but in all honesty I feel that they are resisting a "straw-man" caricature of evolution. They are desperately afraid of a reductionistic naturalistic evolution that excludes the work of a supernatural all-powerful being from the mix. Further, most of these folks are quite confused about the Creation account in Genesis and are defending a piece of literature on which they impose unrealistic expectations.

During seminary, I became much more comfortable asking the tough questions about science and theology. For me it all comes down to a question of Divine Action. How can God, descibed in Scripture primarily as Spirit, have any causal influence on a material world? Chuck will have to weigh in here on some of his thoughts worked out in relation to Pannenberg's field of power discussion (or read his book!). Geez, I could go on all day here, so let me just try to answer one of Chuck's questions.

Let the schools throw in the disclaimer that evolutionary thought does not exclude God from the world, but then simply describe evolution as the most reasonable explanation for the significant amount of scientific evidence displaying adaptive advantages seen among the species present in the world. So, no - don't teach intelligent design, unless you are doing so to describe the difference between the scientific method and philosophical explanations that are untestable by empirical methodology.

On that note, I'm really beginning to believe that most science courses teach Modernism more than "Science," since they neglect any of the more recent developments in the philosophy of science (eg. Polanyi, et al.). So this is really a much more complicated question than it seems at first glance. This would be a significant area where true advancement could take place. We could discuss the ideological commitments that fundamentally shape scientific research and thought. Maybe that's too much for high schools in Kansas (or anywhere for that matter)!

Press further on this...

Philip  Koplin

Well, for starters, there is no science to “intelligent design” (ID). It amounts to saying that wherever there’s an explanation put forward by scientists that someone finds unreasonable or difficult to accept, the most rational thing for him or her to do is to conclude that no scientific explanation is possible, or at least likely, and therefore it’s legitimate to invoke an “intelligent designer" whose mechanism of action is not necessary (or maybe not even possible) to describe.

The theological danger of ID is that it ties belief in a designer to what the believer thinks we do or don’t yet have a satisfying natural explanation for; once something has been explained, that’s one less thing to attribute to the designer, the supernatural actions of which would shrink as knowledge of natural processes increased.

ID should be taught as part of a social studies curriculum on the methods and aims of science and religion; the roles of science and religion in modern culture; the politicization of science through religious activism; comparative religious beliefs on the nature and origins of humanity and life; etc.

Matt

However, there are scientific questions behind ID, especially as Behe frames it. For instance, there is the question of irreducible complexity and functional intermediates that Darwin himself raised. I know scientists are working on these questions for complex systems such as the signalling complexes that activate T-Cells for example. However, we truly do not have evolutionary explanations for how such a complex system evolved through a series of advantageous mutations over time (even a great deal of time).

I just wanted to mention this so we know that we aren't simply dealing with wacko right-wing fundamentalists here. There are legitimate "scientific" questions that lie behind some of the questions IDers raise. We can smooth over the hard questions when we only talk about the politicization of science or religious activism as if we can be "totally objective" when viewing hard scientific evidence. The bubble of scientific objectivity was popped some time ago.

Matt

Also Philip, thank you for bringing up what many people describe as the "God of the gaps" approach. In this view, God only fits in where we still have gaps in the data. Someone like Willem Drees, who tries to reconcile profound scientific reductionism with theology, simply tries to push God back to origins of matter and the like - both areas where we have limited data. If I remember correctly, he calls these "limit questions," and argues this is the appropriate place to talk about God.

jerry

Brad: As one who has never felt comfortable with the notion of "ID", thank you for helping me further understand why.

Philip: Not sure I agree with your first sentence, but I do agree with the rest of your observations.

Matt: I now have a name ("God of the gaps") for what seemed to me the equivalent of the scientists in Jurassic Park using frog dna to fill in the "gaps" to bring back dinosaurs.

I look forward to (checking the cspan schedule :-) and the fine upcoming posts on this thread. I do have what I think is still a legitimate scientific question: what is the current status of the "origin of life" debate?

zero

at least in kansas, blown back to the scopes trial.

the great great grandson was clever in his thinking responding to callers who were promoting id. he said he thought about humans designing products, like cars, and how it's not one but several minds that have to come up with the car. so were there many gods to create the vast diversity of the earth? (whether that's his position wasn't clear, he was responding to an absurd question).

i consider myself a christian and have honestly never had a conflict between science and belief in god. as i said above, there's nothing inconsistent with believing god may have set the world in motion but it could be precisely evolution as his design, not seven days of the bible story.

after watching cspan this morning i watched a program on the animal planet channel with orangtans. how can anyone refute the similaries in humans and primates? and i got to wondering how people explain why people all over the world look differently from one another. adaptation to the environment. which is all evolution is....adaptation to one's environment for the maxmium chance for survival. it's elegant! and if life is god given, so is how life exists on the earth! no conflict.

Brad Anderson

Zero: Please don't misunderstand me. My first point was not at all intended to be "anti-science," but rather to criticize the absolutization of the scientific method (I am in theology now, but only after coming out of the social sciences). Western culture seems to be governed, among other things, by empiricism; this is especially true in the academy. Thus, only those things empirically observable and measurable are worth studying. One good critique of this is in Charles Malik's book, Christian Critique of the Universtiy. Ways of knowing are often limited to only those that hypothesize and test. Therefore, the presumption is that science as a discipline is ultimate; faith, for instance, is seen as secondary. Incidentally, Malik goes on to criticize the "creation science" movement for exactly the same thing. I agree with you regarding the "pseudo-religion" in schools, and I am trying to challenge the "pseudo-theology" in the evangelical church.

Matt: I symphathize with your struggles, my friend. I have shared them in multiple contexts. My resolution ultimately centered on understanding Genesis 1 as not about the process of creation but about theological rationale behind its ordering.

Jerry: How do you further understand why now? I wasn't clear on your statement.

Brad Anderson

Philip: I appreciate your response, but I'm not sure I agree with your characterization. If I may offer another point to consider here...

Most of the responses so far portray this struggle as between ID and evolution (or their proponents). This is how it is portrayed in the media, but I'm not sure it's correct. What is intriquing to me is the challenge ID makes to a literal reading of Genesis, the "creation science" approach. Basically, as I read it, IDers are essentially saying - in contrast to the "pure" creationists - that the gulf on this issue is not between belief in God and evolution, but between "theistic" evolution on one side and naturalistic evolution on the other.

For that reason, I welcome ID's presence, although I like Philip's suggestion of placing its discussion in another context. What I would argue is that science as a whole must ultimately be viewed within a larger theological and philosophical context.

jerry

Brad: further understanding in terms of:
1. (ID) being poor theology.To me, ID down grades God and His Omnipotence and sort of relegate Him to that of a "catalyst" to get life started and now He just sits back and watches. Irony of "free will" is that God has revealed just enough tho allow us to argue not only His existence/non-existence, but even the extent to which He may/may no exist.

2. A large force behind ID push I feel are conservative Christian lawyers like Jay Sekulow using creative legal approaches to get God back into public institutions (like schools). Whether or not God appreciates this "help", I don't think He really needs it.

3. I don't think Creationism (which I'd prefer to call it) should be mutually exclusive from science and even Evolution for that matter. I don't think science can ultimately prove or disprove the existence of God (nor should it). One of my business partners, who is a physicist responds this way, "so what, who cares?! - there is no conflict between religion and science". The precise (literal or figurative) meaning of Genesis 1-11 isn't of relevant importance to me as say, John 3:16.

4. I'm still interested in hearing more on "origin of life" :-)

Kate

Okay, I'm a little confused by the direction of the comments. Is the question what should be taught in public schools or what should be discussed in the scientific communities? Both are interesting but both are different.

Kate

The previous post was of questionable grammatical design but I hope my meaning was clear.

jerry

Kate: how can you discuss what should or shouldn't be taught in public school without a discussion on the subject matter in question?

Bill

I am a committed Christian (who happens to hold a PhD in biochemistry) and I oppose the inclusion of ID in schools because, if for no other reason, of it's clumsy manipulation by the Christian right to score points with their constituencies and sell books (I'm being rather cynical, I know). Also, as others of you have already alluded, ID strikes me as a rather confusing blend of scientific method, philosophical inquiry, and theological presuppositions. Rather than teaching ID and evolution in parallel, I think a far more constructive approach would be for schools to clearly teach that a cumulative case argument can be made for the truth of evolution, but that scientific truths, themselves, are evolving (in sometimes dramatic fashion) and fall short of 100% certainty. Teach children about the evidence supporting evolution, but also inform them that issues remain to be resolved (issues of irreducible complexity, functional intermediates, etc). Stimulate in children a spirit of inquiry and open-mindedness about our present scientific understanding of these matters.

Matt

Thanks Bill, I agree we should remain committed to "epistemic humility" (where did I hear that?) even when teaching science. Evolution is not a closed subject, but remains open to testing and must be open to ongoing conversation regarding issues like irreducible complexity and functional intermediates! That is not to say it isn't an elegant theory that fits a massive amount of data - it is just to say that it is not an untouchable monument. If it were, then it would not be scientific, but would instead be a biological "confession" so to speak.

Philip  Koplin

There are a few different approaches a proponent of “intelligent design” might take.

1. The first is to assert that an intelligent designer is responsible for the natural world and the laws that govern it, but doesn’t intervene with special mechanisms to move the natural world along, although, according to religious believers who ascribe to the designer certain additional attributes, such a designer might intervene in human history to fulfill certain “spiritual” necessities. The distinction Brad makes between "theistic" and “naturalistic” underscores that the issue of the evolution of the natural world is one of metaphysics, meta-science, even psychology: What constitutes a “satisfactory explanation”? This is not an issue science is going to resolve; some people will be satisfied when others continue to crave further answers. In any event, I don’t think this is what IDers are talking about; their claims are about the details of the naturalistic explanation, which is why they say their claims are “scientific.”

2. The second is the “gap” or “black box” approach, which I alluded to in my earlier post. Person A says, “There are gaps in our understanding of embryology,” then goes on to say, “For every gap, let’s insert a black box that gives us the appropriate consequence from the given antecedent; we can never know what the intelligent designer put in that black box, but the most reasonable approach to the problem is to assume that there is such a box.” Person B says, “There are gaps in our understanding of embryology,” then goes on to say, “Let’s make some hypotheses about how this might work, manipulate the genome of the fruit fly, do some breeding experiments, see how they relate to our hypotheses and possibly adjust them, do further experiments, etc.” Person B is doing science; Person A is not.

3. The third is to grant the possibility that science has a plausible set of mechanisms going from the origin of the universe to the arising of conscious life, but to state that either the entire chain is unacceptably improbable (Brad’s invocation of the “anthropic principle”) or (b) at least one of its essential links is logically incompatible with the naturalist assumption underlying the evolutionist enterprise (Matt’s “question of irreducible complexity and functional intermediates”).

a. The “anthropic principle” is a red herring; it’s based on the notion that, given the supposed improbability of our being here to even raise these questions, an explanation is needed to account for our existence in the face of that supposed improbability. In fact, there is no sensible way to calculate from first principles how improbable (or not) are any of the links in the chain leading to us. In any event, even if we could calculate that only in one of a gazillion possible universes would life as we know it have formed, what would that show? We are in that universe. So what? That no more demands an intelligent designer than the fact that once or twice in my life I’ve accidentally dropped a nickel and after bouncing on the ground it wound up standing on its edge rather than lying flat, a logically possible but spectacularly unlikely event that happened to have happened. It’s only the importance that we assign to our own existence that seems to call for an explanation of its supposedly unlikely occurrence; after all, if a different sperm had fertilized a different egg in any one of my female ancestors including my mother I wouldn’t be here to be writing this, the world would be different from what it is, and what would that prove?

b. The question of whether there are “irreducibly complex” mechanisms that rule out the standard Darwinian approach has already been debated at length; a quick Google will provide entrance to the literature; I think the issue has been answered effectively by the Darwinian side; others will presumably disagree. Similarly with the issue of “functional intermediates.”

The remaining question is whether people raising these questions are in fact offering a scientifically viable alternative to Darwinism or just attaching a few faith-driven pestering footnotes to an overwhelmingly well-established body of knowledge. I think the latter, though I certainly also agree with the need for "epistemic humility" when teaching science.

zero

in school, it is an untouchable monument.
this is really an issue of the separation of church and state. what bill says, thank you mr biochemist, states the case very well. if a parent wants a kid to know about id send them to a christian school or home school them with the understanding that the kid won't be adequately prepared in the sciences to compete in that particular field (or be willing in college to take a whole bunch of make up courses to be able to get a science degree). this gets to brads first point as well. when i hear people talk about god (as the christian god) in any context and how "god" needs to be brought back into the mainstream of society, i think to myself, this is america and we are a pluralitic society and there is no american god. there is only one's individual god. don't try to sneak a faction of the christian faith's god back into the schools.

Matt

Let me be perfectly clear. I am a practicing Christian, and I also think that the theory of evolution is the best unifying metanarrative for explaining and organizing a tremendous amount of scientific evidence. I have seen first-hand the advantageous effects of mutations in many a petri dish! :-D

Philip, do you think ones faith should be foreign to scientific examination?

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