Moderate Politics from an Extreme Personality

Location: New York City, New York, United States

To know nothing of what happened before you were born is to remain ever a child. -Cicero ************ Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue. -Barry Goldwater

Sunday, May 15, 2005

The Case for Intelligent Design

Yeah you heard me. After my old friend Michael Phillips initially claimed to be down with intelligent design, he later cowardly backed down from his support after pressure from some members of the NYU blogosphere, including my friend and old lab partner from Lessons from the Biosphere Shaun-who can vouch for the small amount of scientific credentials I have ;). Therefore, I decided to take up the mantle of defending intelligent design and its incorporation into the scientific dialogue. Praise the Lord and pass the verbal ammunition. Anyway Mikey, if this is all it takes to get you to abandon yor commitment to a controversial stance; I fear for your clients once you are out of law school and enter the legal field.....;). Oh I am just funnin ya, don't take that personally, you are great.

Before I go into my argument, I would like to talk about my religious background and how it has affected my views on the origin of life. I was raised as an Evangelical Christian, with all the blockheadedness that entails. Not that I ever doubted the fact of evolution (although it was pretty fun making liberal secularists think I did). Anyway my intellectual and open minded nature eventually made me get religion (by becoming less religious) and becoming a mainline Protestant. I believe in God, and I believe in science. I do not see that as contradictory. Well onto the question of intelligent design.

The basic argument of the proponents of intelligent design is that the complexity of nature, life and its components (ie cells, tissues, atoms etc) is too great to be simply be explained as a result of random chance. Let me be clear, the idea that the universe was designed by a higher creator being is not a theory, not yet anyway. As was drilled so thoroughly into me in 9th grade Math class, a theory is a hypothesis that can be logically and/or empirically proven, like the SSS Theory for congruency of triangles. The intelligent design hypothesis is an idea whose arguments I am only vaguely familiar with, so I am not arguing for the veracity of intelligent design. I am arguing that it is an idea that should be legtimately investigated and considered. We might not be able to experiment with or empircally prove/disprove the existence of a planned universe right now, but who knows what the future holds. While I don't think that God or whomever will suddenly appear in the near future and loudly declare "I created all this!!!!", historcally our knowledge of the universe, and ability to acquire it has accumulated to the point that many outlandish ideas have been scientifically proven in the past, and certain ideas that were considered obvious were disproven.

For example, the idea of spontaneous generation was only disproven when we had the technology available for it. The germ theory of disease is another scientific idea that was only able to be proven after we had the equipment for it. In both cases, the truth was not regarded as such at the time because it contradicted what was observable. As technology advances, we may one day observe the heavens and gain more insight into our origin. Until we know that their is no creator of life, debating the existence of such a creator and the validity of intelligent design is legtimate inquiry.

Lastly, Mike did point something out in his second post that I would like to further address:

In teaching our children and ourselves, we should no sooner require theology departments to edit Moses' parting of the Red Sea to conform to the laws of physics than we should inject God's power into basic algebra. [2x+Jesus=38.]

While the relation between the divine and mathematics is something I am not familar with, I do know that their has been a movement among religious circles to naturally explain quite a few biblical events. The parting of the Red Sea and the Plagues of Egypt being among them. While this does not prove the existence of God, it indicates that science and religion are not as diametrically opposed as one would believe. Afterall, in many ancient societies, priests were the ones in charge of deciphering and explaining the natural world and its phenomenon. While a lot of theological nonsense was written, some real knowledge was discovered. In fact, one can argue that science evolved from religion. The idea of whether we were created by an intelligent entity should not just be a question for the churches.


Blogger n* said...

"Let me be clear, the idea that the universe was designed by a higher creator being is not a theory, not yet anyway."

How can it ever reach such a point? It is an article of faith, and thus, non-falsifiable. Falsifiability is the crux of theoretical discourse, and when it pertains to the science, it's theories that are taught. You have a decent amount of faith in technological advancements, but ID doesn't stem from the same circumstances as any of the examples you provide (note: spontaneous generation is not completely disproven). For instance, imagine picking up, or analyzing any object and thinking to yourself "guhdamn, this is complex, some omnipotent being must have created it."

2:15 PM  
Blogger TAYLOR said...

Thank you for your response Neil. Can you give me more detail about spontaneous generation not being completely disproven?

2:28 PM  
Blogger Karl said...

We might not be able to experiment with or empircally prove/disprove the existence of a planned universe right now, but who knows what the future holds.

I thought about this approach you are taking to the argument for a few moments, and I came up with this: would you be okay with science teachers teaching (not discussing--teaching) "theories" about esp, teleportation, and, I don't know, mutant healing? Maybe a day or two spent on weather control? Those are all at least as close to science as ID (probably closer).

The other problem, as Matt pointed out in his response to Mike's initial acceptance of the theory, is the way in which it (most likely intentionally) subverts real science, to the point where the definition of science could be realistically questioned. Let's be clear here: You believe in God, you know of science. Odd grammar aside, they are two different modes of thinking. The strength of science's theories do not rest on your belief in them. But consider this (a question once asked of me by Mike, several years ago): if you were born in India, would you still be Christian?

7:15 PM  
Blogger TAYLOR said...

Well Karl, I would not be uncomfortable at all with topics like ESP being discussed in the classroom, if they are relevant to the subject being taught. I mean don't get me wrong, I don't think the classroom should deal with these subjects at the expense of other more relevant ones, but I see no harm with introducing them into the classroom as long as they are dealt with factually.

Anyway my profession of Christianity is incidental in this debate. I am not advocating that students be taught the Judeo-Christian view of creation and the origin of life. As a person of faith, I believe in God. However, my belief in God is incidental to this question. ID is a hypothesis about how the universe came to be. It may not be true (my religious belief tells me it is), but I think it can be exlpored without having theological implications, if it is approached that way.

9:55 PM  
Blogger Shaun said...

Not to take issue with your belief, Taylor, that science and religion are not diametrically opposed, but what is it about the explanation of Biblical phenomena with science that furthers this belief? If there was substantial evidence that the plagues of Egypt was a series of natural causes and effects set off by the crimson tide, how does this further religion or enhance its compatibility with science? Would it not be science winning out?

12:51 AM  
Blogger n* said...

Spontaneous generation, last time I checked (7th grade?) was not disproven for original creation. That is, the first lifeform(s) that emerged. Again, that's scientific and at least promotes further inquiry; creationism would say God put some lifeform down there and stuff happened; ID would probably say that life is all just so complex, it's better not even to investigate it, because it was divinely inspired, or designed.

11:30 AM  
Blogger TAYLOR said...

Shaun, when scholars and "experts" dispute even the occurence of certain biblical events, being able to explain them in the context of science and/or archeological and historic record increases the credibility of the biblical text itself. For example, many historians attacked the credibility of the bible by saying that the Hittites did not exist. That argument is not made anymore. I do not feel the scientific explanation of biblical events weakens the narrative.

Neil, I do not see how advocates of ID saying "life is too complex, it was probably pre-designed, let's not investigate it". I feel that you are projecting your prejudices as to what you feel ID is. Advocates of intelligent design believe that life and the universe were divinely created based on the many complexities and coincidences of life. That is a hypothesis and a reasonable one(apart from religion). It can be debated and discussed. Frankly I do not see how spontaneous generation for the original creation is any more scientific than intelligent design. Exactly what aspect of ID shuts down debate on the origins of life and the universe? And how is spontaneous generation any more amendable to it?

Lastly, it seems many opponents of ID feel that the proponents of it want to teach Judeo-Christian theology and that is far from the case. The intelligent design hypothesis can be divorced from theological matters. It is simply a hypothesis of origin that assumes a planned universe and justifies it based on observation, not theology.

9:38 PM  
Blogger Shaun said...

With the Hittite example in mind, perhaps we could each reform our position to say it depends on the example. Whereas the Hittite example is a case of science affirming the Bible, I still say the Plagues of Egypt example, where events are postulated as courses of nature rather than extraordinary acts of God, is a case of science trumping Biblical narrative.

5:03 PM  
Blogger TAYLOR said...

The Hittite example is more a case of history affirming the bible than science affirming it. As for the Egyptian Plagues, I do not see how their scientific explanation hurts theological credibility. For years scholars with a secular bent have questioned whether they even occured or how they could possibly occur (in the case of first born death especially).

This whole thread reminds me of the Simpson episode where the judge rules that science and religion must stay 50 feet away from each other. Why? Maybe some of the folk traditions of our major religions were rememberances of certain long ago events (I am thinking specifically of the Great Flood). Events that if inquired into scientfically may reveal a lot about human and civilizational origins. Ignoring these traditions and calling them irrelevant to real knowledge seeking would be tragic.

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