Jonathan Field - Maker of Random Stuff

Intelligent Design

So a devout Christian family member sent me this article about Intelligent Design this morning. I wrote back the following, which I thought I’d post because I think it sums up my thoughts well.

My first thought is just to say that as a secularist, I live up to one of the highest moral codes of anyone I know. And this is true of most secular people — as a group I would say that secular people usually live to higher than average moral standards. And I would also refer to mankind’s bloody religious history to show that answering to a god does not keep most people from doing terrible things. So the claim that secular science is afraid of having to answer to a high moral authority (from their second paragraph) doesn’t make sense to me.

But onto the main topic: I have nothing against people believing in Intelligent Design. I just think it is a pretty odd thing to teach in schools, because it doesn’t actually teach anything specific. It’s just like saying “we got here by magic”. Even if evolution is wrong, at least it’s a specific attempt to explain how all this could happen.

It is true that a degree of faith must be exercised in any belief, scientific or religious. The main difference between science and religion, as I see it, is that science can admit it is wrong when new facts present themselves. That is because science is simply the search for the truth, and has no belief to protect. Science has been wrong many times throughout history, but when someone can demonstrate that it is wrong, science is updated. In other words, truth is more important than belief. Religion, on the other hand, holds belief and truth as the same thing, so new evidence is discarded or ignored or marked as blasphemous.

As a admission of guilt on the above point, some alleged scientists, like the followers of any belief system, don’t live by the core principles, and so they might dismiss or ignore bits of truth that they don’t like. But fundamentally the core of science is discovery and learning and refining our understanding of the world, and those people are just practicing bad science.

As a point to remember about science; many Intelligent Design proponents talk about science as though it was some kind of annoying fringe belief system that they’d like to see go away. But these same people drive cars, use cell phones, live in heated, air conditioned houses, drink purified water, eat safe food, and take medical treatment when they are ill. All of these things are a direct result of scientific study over the past few centuries. For all the amazing things that scientific study have brought us, I would expect a little more trust and appreciation. Religion had complete control of the world for thousands of years, but it wasn’t until the scientific method grew in popularity that things started getting notably better.

And though nobody can prove the theory of evolution, it is based on some pretty convincing evidence. Not the least of which is that we have actually observed small-scale evolution in our lifetimes: the adaptation of bacteria and insects to be resistant to our antibiotics and pesticides. So we do know for sure that this type of evolutionary adaptation takes place, at least on a small scale. This, combined with fossil records and genetic research makes a pretty strong case for the full theory of evolution.

But I should also say then, that science and religious beliefs are not incompatible! In fact, many Christians these days believe that the creation story is a metaphorical account of evolution. It is obvious that many of the stories in the Bible are not literal; Jesus used parables to illustrate many points. Might that be the case with the story of creation?

The Bible talks about many plagues without describing the underlying biological mechanism of bacterial infection. When bacteria was discovered, did this contradict the Bible? Apparently not. So who says that God didn’t use the biological mechanism of evolution to create life on earth? And as it turns out, the creation story describes the order of events as they would happen in the scientific version, including evolution: after the light and dark, and the earth and water, simple living things like plants appear, then more advanced creatures like fish, then birds, then mammals, and finally man. Taking a big-picture view, the two accounts line up rather nicely.

Science can’t prove or disprove the existence of a god. I personally don’t believe in one, but that has little to do with my scientific faith. Science is just there to explain how all these things in the physical world might have happened. Intelligent Design might be true, but it can’t be a part of the scientific discussion because it doesn’t actually explain anything. Maybe they’re right, maybe everything was intelligently designed, but that doesn’t contradict any point of science or require inclusion in science textbooks.

When Intelligent Design proponents can explain to me where the creator came from, or how the mind of God gets around the problem of “irreducible complexity” which they claim is the flaw in the theory of evolution… well then we can talk, because their explanation would naturally be part of science.

At least, that’s how I see it.

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3 Responses to Intelligent Design

  1. Intelligent Design

    Apart from whether or not Christians are right about intelligent design, I alway thought it was funny that they wanted it taught it schools. Why in the world would you think that should be taught in PUBLIC school? Aren’t there plenty of private religious schools, or at least Sunday School (which I dutifully attended).

    Even in a whitebread vanilla town like Norwood we still knew plenty of people of different racial/ethnic/religious backgrounds who would certainly have no connection with the religious underpinnings of intelligent design. It just seems so insulting to so many of our friends, to try shove this crap down their throats.

    And doesn’t it all seem a bit lazy, too? I mean, if you want to teach your kid intelligent design, fine. But don’t make the schools teach the OTHER kids that stuff, too.


    • Re: Intelligent Design

      I sympathize with your Western dilemmas. As a boy, my school taught many controversial subjects but we soon learned that no matter what crap someone tries to shove down your throat there is no debate that cannot be won when you have studded Nunchaku and reflexes like a mountain tiger.

      –the faceless ninja

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