Saturday 22 October 2005

Aussies say "No" to Intelligent Design

In a display of good sense, Australian scientists have published an open letter condemning the suggestion that Intelligent Design should be taught in schools as a scientific theory. The open letter, representing over 70,000 scientists and science teachers, states: “While science is a work in progress, a vast and growing body of factual knowledge supports the hypothesis that biological complexity is the result of natural processes of evolution.” In contrast, the letter states that Intelligent Design is being promoted on the basis of religious and political agendas, not on the basis of empirical evidence.

My own objections to Intelligent Design are theological: the entire theory rests on bad theology. But it is also bad science, or rather pseudo-science: it is ideology masquerading as science. So it’s good to see the scientific community taking a stand against it.


Anonymous said...

I'm not an advocate of Creation Science or anything like that but I really don't see the problem in schools being (a) more critical of evolutionary theory, and (b) informing students that science does not preclude the possibility of a creator. Remember that, e.g., the case in the Pennsylvania courts right now is simply about the right to give students a short statement that there are gaps in evolutionary biology and some believe that certain aspects of creation seem to point to the existence of a creator. That's a pretty benign statement and I don't see why students shouldn't be made aware of that. Evolutionary theory isn't scientific law and until it achieves that certainity, it shouldn't be treated that way in our schools. Students in our schools should be exposed to discussions of the intersection of faith and science. It is possible to have this discussion without being naive, anti-religion or anti-science. Students should learn to understand the respective domains of religion and science.

Anonymous said...

Over at my blog I've got a brief post on this.

What might be of interest to people are the links to an article in The Bulletin and an interview with Peter Jensen on the subject.

One of the interesting things that the ID debate has brought to my mind is the arbitrary line we draw between areas of knowledge. The interdependence of science and philosophy and ethics seems to be ignored and we protest because "philosophy" (or religion) is being taught in the science classroom.

Ben Myers said...

Thanks for these thoughtful comments. Ken, I agree with you that "students should learn to understand the respective domains of religion and science" -- but it seems to me that this is not achieved by making science teachers say a few words about the possibility of a "creator".

Precisely because religion and science are different fields with different objects of inquiry, each field should keep to its own proper task. Scientists shouldn't try to pass judgment on whether or not there is a "creator", and religionists shouldn't try to pass judgment on the methods and conclusions of science. And it seems to me that the proponents of Intelligent Design are simply trying to hijack science with a religious ideology. This kind of strategy is the very opposite of "understanding the respective domains of religion and science"! It would be like chemists or biologists lobbying to determine the way exegesis is taught by professional biblical scholars.

Anonymous said...

Yes, but there seems to be a definite overlap of subject matter between the disciplines of theology and science because they both speak about beginnings.

The one creation science argument that really got me thinking (in spite of my dislike of their fundamentalist approach)was that evolution presupposes death before the existance of man. This seems incompatable with the Christian belief that death entered the world *after* Adam and Eve sinned. So unless Adam and Eve sinned in 'ape form' it doesn't seem to make sense.

Ben Myers said...

Hi Josh. Well, I suppose it depends on how you interpret the Genesis fall-story. I myself don't see any reason to interpret it as a literal account of a historical event. Rather Adam is us: he is the human being who is also the sinner.

As for the question of death, I don't think that Genesis 1-3 is trying to say that there was once a Golden Age which then ended when people sinned. Rather I think the point of Genesis 3 is that human beings are immediately sinners. (Of course, Gen. 3 and Gen. 2 are really the same single narrative: it is not a narrative of creation-then-fall, but of creation-and-fall.) Death is immediately part of human existence, because we no sooner begin to exist than we find ourselves sinning.

In Karl Barth's words: "There never was a golden age. There is no point in looking back to one. The first man was immediately the first sinner" (CD IV/1, p. 508).

Anonymous said...

Ben: I don't think that sort of strict segmentation is useful. First, it's only a single statement and it's hardly inaccurate; it simply expresses a belief that, in point of fact, many scientists actually hold. It appropriately puts the discussion in context and it shows some sensitivity. I know in my High School biology classes, except for one, all aspects of evolutionary theory were presented more as scientific law than theory. For altogether other reasons, it wouldn't be bad to encourage some healthy skepticism and some openness towards theocentric science. Second, I think it is far past the time for interdisciplinary awareness. The blinders are what cause the type of ignorant debate we have going on now. On one side, you've got evolutionists with next-to-no religious, and sometmes even ethical, sensitivities and on the other side you've got theologians and ethicists who have only a rudimentary understanding of science. That ought to change and it won't as long as we continue to uphold the artificial barriers to protect our disciplinary purity. Now, perhaps it shouldn't be the science teacher making the statement but a theologian giving a class on integration of faith and science but, quite frankly, I'd prefer to see science teachers who are actually capable about thinking in these terms rather than the general tendency towards hostility. I, at least, am not asking them to change the scientific method. I only would like them to show some humility in their discipline and theories.

Ben Myers said...

Ken, you write: "I know in my High School biology classes all aspects of evolutionary theory were presented more as scientific law than theory," and you say that it would be good if school students had a "healthy skepticism" about evolutionary theory.

But don't forget that "theory" is a technical scientific term. Biological evolution is a scientific "theory", but this doesn't mean it's a mere hypothesis or a speculation, nor does it mean that it's in need of further empirical proof. Should we also be encouraging students to have a "healthy skepticism" about the theory of gravity or electromagnetic theory or quantum theory? If we did encourage this kind of skepticism, we would simply be misunderstanding the technical meaning of "scientific theory".

Anonymous said...

Gravity is not theory. It's scientific law. It's called the law of gravity not the theory of gravity.

I'm well aware, Ben, that theory is a technical scientific term. So is the term law. Good science depends on skepticism, even skepticism of generally accepted theory.

Fundamentally, I'm most disconcerted with the assumption that religion doesn't have a role to play in science. Many questions asked by scientists are influenced/affected by certain epistemological assumptions about the universe. If one of those assumptions is that God does not exist, it immediately effects the nature and type of questions asked. This limits scientific investigation and this is where philosophy and theology must intersect with science: at its core. Scientists ought to be aware of how their research is conditioned by their epistemological assumptions. I am not suggesting a change to the scientific method; I believe firmly that science is the investigation of natural phenomena. Rather, I am suggesting that maybe science that reflects more honestly on its own epistemological assumptions may actually begin to ask exciting and different questions when it tolerates alternatives to the prevailing atheism and hostility to religion.

Ben Myers said...

Hi John. "Dr Michael Denton ... told a largely Christian audience that belief in literal Genesis was foolish" -- I would agree with him, but not primarily because of any commitment to making Genesis "fit" with modern science. Rather, I think that the kind of scientific reading of Genesis that you're proposing rests on a basic misunderstanding of what Genesis is actually trying to say. Genesis should be interpreted as theology and proclamation, not as a scientific textbook. Thanks for your point of view though.

Fat said...

If one looks at the world believing that it all just happened then you'll see the world but if you believe that the universe and all that is in it was and is being created by God then you will see the wonder and splendour and order and love and purpose that is Him in every atom, every relationship and every physical law that you explore.

I believe in science and scientific endevour because I trust in God and I believe that when all is known that can be known we will not find chaos and chance but we will find order and purpose and ultimately we would find God.

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