Intelligent Design, Science & Religion
I recently attended an institutional wide meeting of the Smithsonian Astrophysical
Observatory where I work 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
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
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.
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