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No Fear — The Most Important Thing About Intelligent Design

2006.10.04   prev     next

IF, as an ID proponent, you had to name the one most important thing to come out of the Intelligent Design movement, what would it be?  Michael Behe’s irreducible complexity? William Dembski’s Law of Conservation of Information? Stephen Meyer’s publication on the functional isolation of proteins? All of these are great, of course, but I’d have to take a pass on all of them. To me, the most important thing about ID, first brought into focus by Phillip Johnson in his ID-founding book, is simply the idea that Darwinian evolution should be evaluated the same way — with the same scientific methodology — as any other theory.

Let me explain: Currently, there are a large number of religious fundamentalists who reject evolution, primarily for religious reasons. Often, these people are called “anti-science.” But are they? For the most part, no, they’re not. Religious fundamentalists, by and large, appreciate the marvels of technology that science has produced. They like modern medicine, food, transportation, communications, computers, movies, and TV. And when it comes to evolution, they don’t feel that they are anti-science there, either — their methodology just shifts to a different mode. Fundamentalists believe that our creator-God has designed us to practice science (among other activities). That seems logical; if we were designed, then sure — we were probably designed to do science. But the fundamentalists take it further than that: They believe that if we weren’t designed, and were an unintended, accidental byproduct of nature, then human science (nay, human existence) would be meaningless and pointless. So, in the interest of protecting the project of human science from losing its meaning and purpose, they must conclude that humans were intentionally designed. Notice the sharp difference in methodology as compared to most scientific pursuits:

  • To build a better mobile phone: Use evidence, logic, and math to find the answer.

  • To cure diabetes: Use evidence, logic, and math to find the answer.

  • To make a better image sensor for cameras: Use evidence, logic, and math to find the answer.

  • To find out whether the human body was intentionally designed: Sense a threat to the purpose of science, and protect science by insisting that humans were designed.

The religious fundamentalists think they are acting in the best interest of science, but they are actually abandoning the scientific method, out of fear of what might happen to science if a certain conclusion was reached.

The primary thrust of Johnson’s Darwin On Trial is that the Darwinists are in the same boat as the religious fundamentalists; indeed that Darwinism has become just another kind of fundamentalism, masquerading as science. Darwinists believe that to discover that humans were designed would be to ruin science, by breaking the 100% natural, causal chain of events on which, in their view, science depends. In the mind of the typical evolutionist, science would somehow come to an end, or at the very least be massively corroded with unscientific junk, if it was ever allowed to draw a conclusion that natural laws were, at any time in the past, deviated. This evolutionist logic is simply the mirror image of that employed by its religious opposition:

  • To build a better mobile phone: Use evidence, logic, and math to find the answer.

  • To cure diabetes: Use evidence, logic, and math to find the answer.

  • To make a better image sensor for cameras: Use evidence, logic, and math to find the answer.

  • To find out whether the human body was intentionally designed: Sense a threat to the integrity of science, and protect science by insisting that humans were not designed.

The most important thing to come out of the ID movement — even if mutation-selection evolution were to somehow, ultimately prove correct — is that there shouldn’t be a special, different methodology for questions of human origins. It should be the same as for any other scientific question:

  • To find out whether the human body was intentionally designed: Use evidence, logic, and math to find the answer.

The emotion relevant to science is curiosity. Other emotions just get in the way, and one of those emotions is fear. Both the religious fundamentalists and the evolutionists fear that something horrible might happen to science if the question of human origins was explored in the usual, scientific manner, and on the basis of this fear they justify a forced conclusion, one that will supposedly protect science from harm. But the truly scientific way to approach questions of human origins, and the unique thrust of the ID movement, is simply to apply the same, old, standard, science methodology consisting of evidence, logic, and math, and to see where it takes you, regardless of what that might or might not do to the human project of science, or to any other aspect of human society.

Strangely, even the leaders of the ID camp often view the science of origins through a lens characterized by marked, phobic dread of major consequences to social harmony. Johnson suggests that belief in evolution justifies infanticide,1 and might lead to people losing interest in reading each others’ writings.2 He also apparently believes that Darwinism corrodes away the rationality of the arguments of its proponents,3 which would presumably include all scientists, if science is allowed to lead us to the conclusion of Darwinian evolution. Dembski insists, without logical explanation, that free choice is the defining characteristic of intelligence,4 and that intelligence must transcend material mechanisms,5 apparently convinced (like Johnson) that strictly deterministic creatures could not practice a rational science. He also expresses fear that an unattractive model of human science cannot prosper.6 After considering these messages from their own writings, one wonders if the ID leadership, in the persons of Johnson and Dembski, really wants to lead the movement in a scientific direction.

Might a strictly scientific approach to human origins bring about unpleasant social consequences, and cause some scientists to lose their nerve and abandon science? Are such fears in fact justified? Perhaps they are, at least to a degree. But we can find new ways to deal with such social problems, that do not require deviating from the scientific method. Nations that fail to practice science can fall by the wayside, overtaken by those that do embrace it, and this can happen irrespective of what science shows us about how and why we are here. Within a nation, some individuals may throw up their hands and refuse to cooperate with social productivity because they don’t like the discovery that humans were/weren’t designed, but those individuals can be identified and dealt with — our governments already deal with destructive individuals whatever their motivations.

Science is, and always has been, about finding out the truth. And that remains the case even when the truth is something we didn’t necessarily want to find.

 

1 The Wedge of Truth, pp. 111-17

2 Reason In the Balance, p. 64

3 Objections Sustained, p. 66

4 e.g. The Design Inference, p. 62

5 The Design Revolution, p. 193

6 ibid, pp. 27-28

 

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