Monday, January 31, 2005
Intelligent Design...Time to Wade In
Well, with all the furor, and with the opportunity presented by Through a Glass Darkly's calling of a Blog Carnival on the topic, I figure it is time to wade into the discussion. For the record, I have some qualifications in the matter. I have a Masters Degree in Chemistry, which should give me some basic science chops. I came close to a Masters of Divinity as well, but God had another career in mind for me, which should give me some Christianity chops. By the way, it WAS NOT bad grades in seminary that let me know God wanted me elsewhere -- those grades compare well with my chemistry grades, and they were pretty darn good.
Here are a few of the links that I have particularly enjoyed on the whole ID thing. There's this one from Evangelical Outpost; this one as well. Then there is this one from A Physicist's Perspective, this one from Ex Nihilo, and finally this one from In the Agora. Great reading, great intellectual exercise. But I wonder, what is all this discussion is really about. What are we trying to do? Where are we trying to go on this issue?
I think this is a big deal because evolution appears to contradict the cosmological argument for the existence of God. The cosmological argument is one of the five basic philosophical arguments for the existence of a deity, probably the most accessible of the arguments, and subsequently one of the most appealing. This is essentially the argument that Paul makes in Romans 1.
Unfortunately, I think all of this is "much ado about nothing," or at least a huge discussion over a minor matter. I think those of us on the Christian side of things are making this into a far bigger deal than we need to, and I think those on the evolution side of things are overstepping their boundaries. Pharyngula has a very cute little parable in which he appears to share my sentiment on the matter. (HT: Evangelical Outpost)
I want to make this point by approaching it from two different directions. The first direction is that philosophical arguments for the existence of a deity are just not that important to the advancement of the Gospel, or in the final analysis to personal faith. The second direction, is by analyzing what scientific theories do, and do not do, to reveal that evolutionary theory is not de facto an argument against God.
Considering first the importance of philosophical arguments, or apologetics, to advancing the Gospel and to personal faith. Apologetics are often a large obstacle in the road to a relationship with Jesus. Many are the testimonies that discuss the need to have some sort of "proof" of a god before the individual could consider the God of Christianity. However, for the vast majority of people who include such concerns in their testimonies, confess that once they have established their relationship with God, that relationship was much larger than could possibly be contained in some intellectual exercise.
The most influential apologist of the 20th century, C.S. Lewis, whose testimony is very much based on finding an appealing apologetic, admitted in his recount of the greatest personal crisis of his life, the death of his wife, A Grief Observed, that those apologetics were pointless in the face of his despair. Lewis concedes in that book that his faith, his personal surety - developed through personal experience, that there was a loving God in his life, was all that kept him faithful in a time when life was simply senseless.
Such testimony tells me that while apologetics may be an obstacle to creating belief in the non-believer, if we cannot overcome that obstacle with the cosmological argument, there exists a path around it. That path may be more difficult, it may be harder to find, but if in the end faith matters more than intellectual ascent, then there is a way to build the faith regardless of the intellectual objections.
I shall now turn my attention to the matter of what science does and does not do. I have seen lots of stuff about theories being "falsifiable" or not. I am afraid, I don't get it. I'll explain science as I understand it.
The first step in any scientific endeavor is to define the "system" to be studied. By system, we mean the something like "the motion of celestial bodies" or "balls falling from towers." A system is the object of study and all the variables that can influence it.
Once the system is defined, one then tries to devise a model, or theory, that described the behavior of the system. In the case of the hard sciences, physics or chemistry, that model will likely be mathematical. In the more descriptive sciences it may or may not be mathematical. For example, geologist may develop a mathematical model for the behavior of a fault or they may simply come up with a descriptive model.
Once the model is developed, science tests the model. This is done by using the model to form a hypothesis, that is some statement about how the system will behave under conditions not previously observed, and then performing an experiment to see if the hypothesis was in fact correct. If the hypothesis was correct, the model remains intact. If the hypothesis was not correct, the model must be modified, or discarded in favor of a new model.
Note; however, that all of this begins with defining a system. Of necessity, no system definition can include a caprious and outside variable or influence, or one can never formulate a model.
God is, by definition, supernatural -- that is to say, outside the system. Thus no scientific system or model can ever include God. That statement; does not mean that God does not exist, it simply means that because God is outside the largest system we can define, the physical universe, he cannot be a part of the scientific process. In fact, this affirms that God is supernatural and not subject to our understanding -- a fact that I personally take great comfort in.
This all being said, when someone, scientist or otherwise, asserts that evolution says there is no God, they are overstating what science can or cannot say. Evolution does not allow for God, but then neither does any other scientific model, or theory. Any theory that proports to , has left the realm of science and joined the realm of metaphysics. Any theory that claims to disprove God has similarly entered metaphysics.
To my way of thinking, asking to teach any theory that allows for control outside the system, leaves science, but so what. Science teachers should not be allowed to say that science shows there is no God either. Why try to insert Intelligent Design or Creation Science, or any other thing of the sort?
We should fight the political battle here, but let's change the battleground. Rather than try and get God's role in creation somehow inserted into the curriculum, why don't we work to limit the curriculum, so that it is God neutral -- which is what evolution really is. Science has nothing to say about God -- he is outside the realm of science, definitionally.
If we can have that taught, then we leave the discussions about God where they belong, in the philosophy class, or in church. I for one have complete faith in our ability to spread the Gospel, as long as the schools are not fighting us. I think this gives us a way to stop the opposition without stopping the science. That should satisfy both sides of this debate.
UPDATE: the next morning
To make my final point a little simpler, allow me to restate it this way. When anyone claims that the theory of evolution says there is no God, they are making a claim that is as much based on their personal religious and philosphical convictions as is a Christian's statement of faith. They are not making a statement of science -- call it a "statement of afaith."
If religion has no place in the classroom, then neither does "noreligion." Both are statements of belief, not science.
With this argument, we level the playing field. I am certain the church can prevail on a level playing field.