Saturday, February 16, 2008

The intelligent designer's thorn

Having researched and studied both sides of the evolution/intelligent design fiasco (known affectionately as a controversy, I suppose), it has recently occurred to me the underlying reason for the intelligent design supporter's reactionary and often pugilistic response to the so-called "materialistic and godlessly evil theory" of evolution (and let us not forget, lest history repeat itself, that this is not the first time science and religion have quarreled). In order to arrive at the cause of this animated name-calling, I pose the following question: why is it we can't detect God in the natural world?

The simple answer, of course, is that science, our methodology for detecting and dissecting the natural world (including, of course, the entire universe and all aspects of it which we can scientifically study), is, by definition, limited to said natural world. God, being supernatural, is thus (also by definition) outside of the realm of science, and thus would not be discovered in the same manner. This leads us, however, to a slight conundrum. Consider Romans 1:20, wherein Paul states that "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." To the liberal spiritualist, this is true in the sense that we "feel" God's qualities, as opposed to "seeing" them, and no controversy seems to exist (though this does not provide an adequate solution). To the intelligent design supporter, however, we surely must be able to "see" - in a scientific sense - God's handiwork in the natural world (in the same way we can see man's handiwork in the faces on Mt. Rushmore, one of Dr. Behe's favorite examples).
The thorn in the ID supporter's side arises thus. If more and more of the world can be explained by natural means (and I'm not at all reverting to the argument that people now are more intelligent than any other time, because we're not, but we do have a much broader and deeper knowledge base) and we end up merely "detecting" God in the shadowy psyches of human beings, where does that leave us? Science can't, as we determined, prove or disprove God, but how do we know the "why" of what we are discovering? If we leave science to deal with the natural, it becomes solely an act of philosophical argument to prove God's existence, and we all know that philosophy leads to pointless sophistry, and truths are reduced to opinion (or, conversely, opinions are elevated to truths) - and here is where we are certainly not any more "learned" than in ages past. I am convinced (as a scientist) that intelligent design is not science, but the believer in me asks, shouldn't science, existing as a method for us to experience the natural world (as it has been "created"), convey to us things about God, and if not, are we left with no remaining argument against a scientism-like philosophy? Is God "demoted" to being simply a Force in the realm of the "heart" and "soul," completely segregated from natural existence in the same way that feelings, beliefs, preferences and philosophy are? Is this why the intelligentsia have such a problem "taking it all on faith," since feelings hold no sway in science (nor should they)?
Do we truly lose anything, as the ID supporters fear, by accepting that science and God are, in a sense, eternally and consistently exclusive to completely separate facets of existence?

"See the thorn twist in my side...."

Recommended books:
The Language of God (Collins)
The Blind Watchmaker (Dawkins)
The Real Face of Atheism (Zacharias)
What is Life? (Shrodinger)
Recommended viewing:
Flock of Dodos: The Evolution - Intelligent Design Circus (Olson)


  1. Very well put. I agree that neither side of the camp can disprove the others arguments. The problem as you have stated (i think), is that there are persons on both sides that feel there is an argument. You cannot compare the natural science with the belief in the supernatural. It's an apples and oranges thing. Science answers questions about the tangible things that surround us. You cannot write hypothesis on that which cannot be measured (spiritual/supernatural). I am of course speaking of Intelligent Design. Maybe I am missing the whole point?

  2. I'm afraid that (as poignant as your statement may be) a very real problem between these two sides is this idea that one can prove or disprove the other's stance. If I'll be excused a rather sweeping generalization: We scientists tend to be arrogant and won't hear spiritual arguments as legitimate (even outside the scientific arena) and often make the mistake of assuming that science defines all there is; creationists and ID supporters accept only those scientific conclusions (or philosophical over-extensions of said conclusions) which bolster their opinion, disregarding other completely valid scientific facts. In such a case, where the two "sides" cannot even agree upon what is to be considered the basis of the argument, we're reduced to mere frustrated bantering.

  3. One really has to be very careful with regard to the separation of pure science from scientific philosophy. ID is a philosophy, not pure science, and should be labelled as such. Irrespective of what beliefs you subscribe to, valid scientific conclusions are irrefutable: the world doesn't alter its properties based on your personal philosophy. A measurement of, say, the charge-to-mass ratio of an electron will be independent of the observer and his philosophy. Aside from some inevitable systematic error (which can be evaluated), there can be no argument. This is the realm of science, the role of which is to provide two things. The first is the reliable and quantifiable measure of physical properties. The second is to generate robust models, which provide testable reproduction of data, have quantitative predictive power and, in the best cases, provide some sort of intuitive insight into the physical system. ANYTHING beyond this is purely philosophy.

    The mechanisms of evolution are scientifically testable models (not least through genetic profiling). ID, however, is a philosophy based on scientific results, in that it only provides a philosophic interpretation of the concrete things that science tells us. It is not to be compared with science, for it is obviously not a measurement, nor is not a model (for it doesn't testably reproduce data (it doesn't even deal with data) and it provides no predictive power whatsoever. Furthermore, it fails to provide any kind of insight into the mechanisms within the physical world). There is no argument - science and ID have no overlap at all.

    We should not be looking for God in the natural world, for though we might get passing glimpses in the things we see (glimpses which are derived more from our own perception than from the physical thing we witness), it is not here that He is to be found (think of the Lewis-inspired argument of detecting hints of the architect in the design of the building - though one may get hints, you'd certainly not expect to be able to reconstruct the architect from knowledge of the details of the building). This is the primary difference between 'pagan' religions and the main monotheistic religions - a separation of God from the natural world. It is Man that is made in God's image, and it is there that we find our strongest 'evidence' for God. It is Man who is the anomaly, Man who does not quite fit in the natural world. It is Man alone, of all the creatures on this earth, that has uniquely the God-like ability to inventively create.

  4. I'd like to add a quote by a (modestly) well-known physicist:
    "Let me briefly mention the notorious atheism of science which comes, of course, under the same heading. Science has to suffer this reproach again and again, but unjustly so. No personal god can form part of a world model that has only become accessible at the cost of removing everything personal from it. We know, when God is experienced, this is an event as real as an immediate sense perception or as one's own personality. Like them he must be missing in the space-time picture. I do not find God anywhere in space and time - that is what the honest naturalist tells you. For this he incurs blame from him in whose catechism is written: God is spirit." - E. Schrodinger, Mind and Matter


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