Intelligent Design, Science & Religion

I recently attended an institutional wide meeting of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in which there was an open discussion of sponsorship of non-scientific talks by SAO. The main concern had to do with lectures which alluded to religious ideas. For being a government institution Smithsonian is not allowed to take official stands in the area of religion. Yet given the controversies we have today with the Intelligent Design vs Evolution, Young Earth Creationism vs the measurement of ages of the the universe, the earth, species and civilization which scientists have derived, it would seem desirable that there would be some public discussion between the two sides. For there seems to be generally a great deal of misunderstanding concerning these issues.

For example many scientists are ignorant of the distinction between the Intelligent Design movement and that of Young Earth Creationism. So also many of those movements are ignorant of the facts constituting evolution as well as the facts concerning the issue of the age of things.

For decades, long before the intelligent design movement, I've been using and continue to use what today is referred to as Intelligent Design in discussing evidence for God's existence. The Bible also advocates the idea of such evidence being available.  "For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities— his eternal power and divine nature— have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." Rom 1:20 The Bible advocates the idea we should be able to infer God's existence from the evidence in nature. The idea is that scientific observations of nature would seem to suggest the existence of God.

I found it interesting that at the SAO meeting many of the scientists in expressing their personal opinion were troubled by the idea advocated by the ID community - namely that the scientific evidence "seems to suggest" an intelligent designer.  Yet the idea of some fact of science "seeming to suggest" another fact is part of the scientific process. For example SAO is involved in the search for extrasolar life - life outside our solar system. In the process of doing so they're looking for earth-like planets, and in analyzing the light reflected from its sun they're looking for spectra associated with organic processes. For such would "seem to suggest" the presence of life.  So I don't see what their problem is with the Intelligent Design position.

Intelligent Design in the Classroom?

One of the objections to "Intelligent Design" being taught as science is that it purportedly adds nothing to science. In other words for them to infer that "God did it" ends the search for explanation and scientific inquiry. Yet by analogy consider the fact that through scientific means we are searching for extrasolar life - and ultimately even intelligent life. Now what if evidence of such intelligent life is discovered? Should we not teach that fact in the class rooms for fear that it would end all scientific inquiry into the question? And what if an intelligent designed is inferred? It still leaves open the question for scientific inquiry as to how God did it. Or if the religious implications are the concern then just leave the term "God" out of the discussion and speak simply of an intelligent designer and let people infer what they may.

Young Earth Creationism

But as for Young Earth Creationism, the YEC gang tends to have a much different perspective on science and on this idea of making inferences. The YEC position is much more an argument over the interpretation of Genesis than it is about the interpretation of scientific facts. Science is about what happens. It's inferences deal with what will happen in that it is predictive and what did happen in that it deals with the realm of history. But religion also deals with the realm of history, and in that realm there may be conflicts between science and religion. The facts of history and life inferred from indepth scientific investigations do not "seem to suggest" what is advocated by the YEC position. Much as with the Flat Earth position the YEC position is counter-intuitive to the known facts derived by scientific inquiry. Their only strength is in keeping people ignorant of the facts by misrepresenting and underrepresenting the facts while shielding themselves from skepticism under a cloak of religious zealotry. For more on YEC see http://www.bcbsr.com/topics/yec.html

Intelligent Design vs. Evolution

While the present movement which refers to itself as "Intelligent Design" or simply ID presents itself as if in conflict with "Evolution", the idea of an intelligent designed being inferred from the facts of nature does not necessarily conflict with evolution per se. It disturbs me that, due to indoctrination, most Christians have misconceptions as to what constitutes "evolution" and the facts of evolution, as if evolution implies atheism. First of all there's a difference between the fact of evolution and the theories as to how evolution occurred. I mention some of the facts of evolution at http://www.bcbsr.com/survey/genint.html#Evolution To bottom-line it the fact is that the evidence "seems to suggest" a common biological line of descent not only within species but between species. In other words if one were to study the scientific data objectively, one would would be led to infer the evolutionary theory of common origin. While many may argue that such a theory conflicts with the Bible, such arguments are not really about the facts of science but about interpretations of the Bible.

As ID claims their arguments not to be based on what the Bible says, but rather upon inferences of science, they cannot argue against the theory of common origin other than in the realm of science. And why should they? There's nothing inherent in the idea of common origin contrary to intelligent design per se. In fact, is there any conflict between evolution and intelligent design to speak of? Not unless you make presumptions about the manner in which God chose to do things.

At this point concerning the fact of evolution, science can only tell us that the evidence points to a series of events which led to life as we know it presently. It doesn't really say that such events were likely or unlikely or even the precise nature of those events. Evolutionary science does not take a stand as to whether God did it or did not do it. It only presents the facts. Were such events directed by God? I can only sit back and infer that given the results, the process was a series of unlikely - God-directed - events which led to life as we know it. Thus we can infer an intelligent designer. But such events are often associated with the word "chance". For whether its the issue of mutation or due to environmental cirucmstances one individual's DNA propagating to the next generation or not, "chance" is involved. It disturbs me when well-meaning Christians seem to think that "chance" is contrary to God's working as if "chance" were another God.  Don't such Christians believe that God is involved in the outcome of such events? The God of the Bible is not one who just sits back and watches his creation as one watches a TV. God of the Bible is intimately involved in the outcomes of all things. Even toss a coin. Is the outcome a working of God? It certainly is. "The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD."Pr 16:33 Thus rather than a conflict, evolution may simply be a description of what the Intelligent Designer (God) did.

But as for those who would argue that God didn't do it that way because an intelligent designed wouldn't do it that way, one is simply saying that the scientific evidence does not point to an intelligent designer. Furthermore the Bible shows that often even the godly underestimate God's workings,  like Job 38:4+ the Lord says to Job, "Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand ....  Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this. What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside? Can you take them to their places? Do you know the paths to their dwellings?  Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years!" It seems God is often bigger than many make Him out to be.

Faith & Likelihood

Now as I said science and religion - or the Bible in particular - may clash in the realm of history. Yet there is not necessarily a conflict between the two. For why should there be? The God of the Bible, the God of History,  is also the God of science, as He is also the God of Chance events - and God of everything else as well. But while we may not be able to prove God's existence apart from faith, realize that intuition is part of what constitutes faith. The idea of something "seeming to suggest" another is part of the activity of faith. Such activities of faith we find not only in the realm of religion but even of science and history, though they may not refer to such as religious faith. But in all cases we would hope such faith not to be overly presumptuous, but rather have a firm basis in fact. Of the religious faiths, Biblical faith is arguably the most well founded.

Getting back to the ID idea, what really leads us to conclude an intelligent designer is the issue of likelihood. But while it may be intuitively obvious, the unlikelihood for life occurring apart from intelligent intervention is very difficult to calculate in a mathematical sense. Furthermore consider stochastic events (those characterized by a probability curve) such as the tossing of a coin. While one could claim the probability curve is predictable, one can say nothing of the outcome of individual events. (That's how God really screws up gamblers) Thus one can never really disprove divine intervention into such events.

Conclusion

Given the present controversies it would be best if all parties were better informed on all these subjects For as Paul writes on a related issue, "They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm." 1Tim 1:7

The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources Feb 15,2016