Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Follow-up on "Color Me ID Cynical"

My friend Paul posted a thoughtful comment on yesterday's post. I was going to respond in the comments, but my response grew to the point where I decided it merited a post, saving me from thinking about what I was going to blog today,

Paul wrote:
In the UK, ID hasn't made the political waves it has in the US - the out of date opinions expressed on "Horizon" and in "New Scientist" were about as significant as it has got. But then society as a whole is far more secular, and whereas Christians in the US are trying to be heard in schools, Christians in the UK are more concerned with the fact that the expression of any absolute belief is likely to face imprisonment within the next few years (except the absolute belief in relative truth).

From an apologetic point of view, I think that ID can remove what people want to hang their hats on. However, there is an issue of science - ID in my opinion embodies a metaphysical alternative to philosophical naturalism. That is, the scientific consensus at the moment is that there is uniformity of natural causes within a closed system - which means that there is no external agency, and we are part of the system. ID means that science can be carried out in an open system - human intelligence needn't be just the product of the system (which has a major epistemological impact - how can we know anything if we are part of the system?), and the origin of things can lie outside the system, rather than through some internal bootstrapping process.

Creationism has an open system. But whereas creationism starts with a prior commitment to a text (the Bible, or other) - which means that it has an empirical predisposition to squeeze results to fit a particular interpretation - ID starts with no such prior commitment. It simply accepts the possibility that the system may be open. Naturalism has to exclude that possibility - it is as committed to a particular interpretation of results as creationism.

Since, IMO, we have no a priori way of knowing whether we are part of the system, or whether there is a God, and ID is the only game in town which works on this basis, that's where I am at the moment. If I could find other science being carried out that wasn't philosophically naturalist and didn't have a prior commitment to a text, I would take it seriously.

I just don't see what's wrong with this simple approach:
  1. Do science, motivated, if you will, from an ID perspective. There are many believing scientists who are motivated, to varying degrees, by what science reveals about creation. In physics and related disciplines, not only is it not unusual to have such a perspective, it is (was) not all that rare to express it among atheistic colleagues. (Alas, thanks to the US ID movement's Keystone-Cops-like political antics, believing scientists at public institutions/national labs are probably less inclined to speak freely.)

  2. In the proper venues discuss how those scientific results bring glory to God. This can be on blogs, in books, in churches, at Christian clubs on colleges, sometimes even in normal seminars at a college, which is still somewhat possible. (Alas, thanks to the US ID movement's Keystone-Cops-like political antics, it is virtually impossible for this to happen in the public schools.)
This approach worked for centuries! Admittedly I have a personal bias—as an unbeliever I was evangelized by a nuclear physicist who gave the first fine-tuning lecture I ever heard. He:
  • Never once claimed what he was doing was science, although it was clearly about science.
  • Never once pretended it wasn't also about God.
  • Generated lively and polite debate among believing and non-believing students.
  • Generated complaints from nobody.
  • Sparked the interest, for at least one lecture, of the subset of students who tended to fall asleep.
  • Oh, as a bonus, he actually did first-rate science rather than just talk about it. (Thank's Bill W.)
Contrast that (now possibly career-ending) approach with stickers in text books, cult-like followings, and courtroom debacles.

The ID movement is so tainted by its political maneuvering, including its rather transparently false insistence that it has nothing to do with God, that is has polarized the issue of science and religion and given a platform to lunatic-fringe bigots such as Dawkins. Today, everything is much, much worse for believers in science—not in spite of the ID movement, but because of it.

Science, by its nature, approaches problems presupposing that we can, if we look hard enough, find a naturalistic explanation. Christians who do science should take the same approach—at least until such time that they devise a way to test for a discontinuity. We should not claim as science that the absence of a scientific explanation for something is tantamount to proof that it is inexplicable. It is perfectly reasonable to highlight such things as biological micro-motors as evidence of design—it is not proper and (as we have seen firsthand) not productive to claim such apologetics amount to science and deserve legally sanctioned placement in science curricula. Likewise, it is proper to point out the amazing fine-tunings present in the universe and to proclaim such as evidence for a creator—it is not proper to say that what you are doing at that moment is science and that it has nothing to do with God.

One approach is honest, and it gives glory to God. The ID political approach is inherently deceptive, hinging entirely on the thinnest of technicalities (the designer could be a super-alien) and gives no glory to God.

The ID community is also schizophrenic in that it claims to be "all about science" but it strongly (I mean very strongly) discourages examining the age of the earth from a purely scientific approach—which is odd if ID is indeed all about science, but understandable if it is really a political movement that doesn't want to splinter its base.

A shorter response to your comment might have been: I don't disagree, and in fact we are in agreement of sorts: there is nothing wrong with ID (there is a great deal wrong with the ID machine)—but there is no point in making the false claim that ID is science in the accepted sense of the word. Either change the definition of science (you wouldn't be alone in that effort—cosmologist and anti-IDer Leonard Susskind has hinted that the requirement of faslifiability is, perhaps, antiquated) or say: whatever ID is, and however valuable it may be, it is not science.

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