Sunday, February 22, 2009

The problem with Intelligent Design ...

 ... "is not that [it] is wrong." So begins the 14th installment of Gordon Glover's video series on Christian education, evolution and folk science. Following that disclaimer, he proceeds to explain why a Bible-believing Christian like himself rejects the teaching of Intelligent Design in the science classroom. Christians are often perplexed when they hear of fellow believers (such as Glover and myself) who accept evolutionary science, but who oppose the teaching of Intelligent Design. The following image from Glover's presentation helps to bring the issue into focus. It is a quote from Isaac Newton, who did so much to advance our understanding of gravity and the laws of motion. While Newton understood planetary movements better than most of his contemporaries, there were aspects of these movements which he found baffling and inexplicable. In the face of such insurmountable mysteries, he made the mistake of turning to Intelligent Design, and divine intervention for an explanation.


In one sense, what Newton said may be true. But what he meant was that the mysteries of our Solar System could only be understood in terms of God's constant active power. Of course, we now understand the physics of our Solar System, and we see how God has put into place natural laws and phenomena by which these movements are governed. We no longer feel a need to appeal to the constant supernatural intervention of "an intelligent and powerful Being." We can be thankful for scientists like French mathematician and astronomer, Pierre-Simon Laplace, who rejected Newton's Intelligent Design theory and continued to pursue scientific investigation of the astronomical data. Laplace helped us to see how God was able to construct a Solar System which did not require his active supernatural intervention to "make it work". Of course, we all take Laplace's explanations for granted, today.

No believer I know rejects the idea of intelligent design, if by that we mean God is the ultimate architect and Creator of the entire cosmos. But many of us do reject the so-called "scientific" theory of Intelligent Design which is a thinly-veiled attack on evolutionary science. We are grateful to Laplace for refusing Newton's science-stopping explanation. And in the same spirit, we say "press on" to the evolutionary scientists of today (with many Bible-believing Christians among them) who continue to fill out our understanding of the natural history of life on earth. Their work will only be done unfettered by the philosophically and religiously driven theories of Intelligent Design.

The point is this: intelligent design may be good philosophy, and sound spiritual reality; Intelligent Design is bad science. 

If this topic interests you (or angers you!), I recommend Gordon's discussion of Intelligent Design in Lessons 13 and 14 of his series.

33 comments:

Stephen Douglas said...

Good stuff. Reminds me of this. (Ok, shameless plug.)

Cliff Martin said...

Honestly Stephen, I read your blog with religious fervor, but I never saw that post or the ensuing discussion. Gordons' video was my first (conscious!) introduction to Newton's I.D. blunder.

Hey everybody, do click on Stephen's link. He says it so much better than I do.

Stephen Douglas said...

Cliff, by no means can it be said that your post is inferior to mine. I think it's crucial that we make this point and I'm delighted to have you doing so with me. Besides, it wasn't original to me either.

I just thought it was funny that this story, which I plucked from a video, impacted you the same way it did me when you encountered it in a different video: "Hey, that would be a great blog post!"

And of course, your post provides yet more publicity for Gordon's series, which is justification in itself.

Rich G. said...

I just finished Gordon's video series to date, and I see the problem with ID that I was unaware of: that of prematurely reaching a conclusion. I had been under the impression that ID simply stated that God's general providence followed a (predefined?) plan of creation - I somehow missed the "then magic happens" step. (as an aside, I was sitting in an engineering hydraulics class and when the professor was ready to write out the final step of deriving an open-channel flow equation - one of my fellow students blurted it out for the whole class to hear).

I would have no problem with ID if it does not stifle a free exploration of the processes, properties and behaviors of our Creation. Maybe what is needed is a re-definition of what exactly ID *is*, so we aren't required to cede ground that materialistic atheism is the only alternative. Oh, well, I can dream, can't I?

Cliff Martin said...

I recently read Mike Gene's book, The Design Matrix. He holds to a different kind of I.D. in which God "front loads" the evolutionary process early in the creative process (creating potentials for genetic variation and protein machines) and then lets the natural processes take place over billions of years though which he did not need to intervene. Gene suggests some ways in which this kind of Intelligent Design might be tested. I like his approach, whether or not it is actually testable, and whether or not it proves to be true.

I'm with you. I think it is a shame that the I.D. movement spawned by Philip Johnson, et. al. has co-opted the concept of intelligent design and turned it into a force that discourages science. I would like to think that high school biology teachers have the option of telling students that evolution does not rule out the possible existence of a Designer and Creator, but that we will likely never find him through the scientific method. My guess is that many teachers do say such things.

Rich G. said...

a different kind of I.D. in which God "front loads" the evolutionary process early in the creative process (creating potentials for genetic variation and protein machines) and then lets the natural processes take place over billions of years though which he did not need to intervene.

This, coupled with the "fine-tuning" of all the other physical properties and constants of the universe, as if to simply provide us a suitable and habitable home, would lead one to a *very* Strong Anthropic Principle.

Cliff Martin said...

Hi Rich,

Yes. See my "Why I Believe" posts from last Fall, especially the first post on Fine Tuning and the second post on the Ordered Universe. The entire essay (including these two sections) can be found here.

Isaac Gouy said...

What do ID advocates say?

"The story of salvation by the cross makes no sense against a background of evolutionary naturalism. The evolutionary story is a story of humanity's climb from animal beginnings to rationality, not a story of a fall from perfection. It is a story about recognizing gods as illusions, not a story about recognizing God as the ultimate reality we are always trying to escape. It is a story about learning to rely entirely on human intelligence, not a story of helplessness of that intelligence in the face of the inescapable fact of sin.

There is no satisfactory way to bring two such fundamentally different stories together, although various bogus intellectual systems offer a superficial compromise to those who are willing to overlook a logical contradiction or two. A clear thinker simply has to go one way or another."

p111 "Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds" Phillip E. Johnson

Cliff Martin said...

And, of course, I totally disagree with Phillip Johnson. This entire blogsite stands in opposition to his myopic version of Christianity.

Isaac Gouy said...

(Note: I'm not trying to link you to ID - I'm asking you to be clear.)

cliff > This entire blogsite stands in opposition to his myopic version of Christianity.

Just in this discussion I can see that you object to his political activism - but what do you mean by "in opposition to his myopic version of Christianity"?

(Having read two of Johnson's books I don't think he's at all clear about what his version of Christianity is.)


cliff > I would like to think that high school biology teachers have the option of telling students that evolution does not rule out the possible existence of a Designer and Creator, but that we will likely never find him through the scientific method.

Do you think that talking about the possible existence of a Designer and Creator is teaching biology?

Cliff Martin said...

Isaac,

The very words you cited— "The story of salvation by the cross makes no sense against a background of evolutionary naturalism"—betrays a myopic Christianity, in my opinion. That would be because I see the Christian teaching of salvation to be entirely consistent with evolutionary naturalism. In fact, the concept of evolutionary naturalism excites me as a Christian, thought admittedly it has stretched the more conservative orthodox views I was raised in. These adjustments in understanding are, in my opinion, necessary for Christianity. What we believe must come into harmony with what we know.

Do you think that talking about the possible existence of a Designer and Creator is teaching biology?

An appropriate dose of humility might prompt a biology teacher to speak of mysteries that remain in his discipline (the Cambrian explosion, or abiogenesis, are examples), and that even as we search for every natural explanation we can find, the possibility exists that some supernatural super-intellect may be responsible for some aspects of the evolutionary rise of life, or the Big Bang. Given that such a possibility may be true, is it really somehow "more scientifically correct" to ignore it, to never mention it?

High School biology teachers could do much to diffuse the unfortunate evolution warfare in our culture. Rather than ignoring the 60% of Americans who disbelieve evolution, they could 1) acknowledge the possibility of the supernatural, and then by contrast 2) teach that the nature of science is to pursue naturalistic explanations wherever they might exist. I see no conflict between the two. But while certain secularists insist upon hush hushing number 1, their voice will never be heard by some on number 2.

Isaac Gouy said...

I asked a clear direct question - Do you think that talking about the possible existence of a Designer and Creator is teaching biology?

I think you have restated and expanded upon your original opinion without answering my simple question.

Cliff Martin said...

Well of course it is not teaching biology.

But then I've never had a science teacher yet who could avoid crossing the invisible line between science and philosophy. The two disciplines are inseparable.

Isaac Gouy said...

cliff > But then I've never had a science teacher yet who could avoid crossing the invisible line between science and philosophy. The two disciplines are inseparable.

My experience is a straightforward contradiction of your assertion - I've never had a science teacher yet who had time in their lesson to talk about the possible existence (or non-existence) of "a Designer and Creator" - they were science teachers because they were excited to teach science.


"This publication ... provides information about the role that evolution plays in modern biology and the reasons why only scientifically based explanations should be included in public school science courses."

xi, Preface "Science, Evolution, and Creationism (2008)", National Academy of Sciences

Cliff Martin said...

Isaac: I've never had a science teacher yet who had time in their lesson to talk about the possible existence (or non-existence) of "a Designer and Creator" ...

Oh I have. In fact, for what I have in mind, all science teachers have time. I do not have in mind the teaching of ID, which I obviously oppose. I'm talking of a simple, humble admission that science does not have all the answers; that some mysteries may never find natural explanations, in part because of the possibility of supernatural causation, outside the realm of science. Such an admission would:

1) take no more than a minute or two, maybe repeated once or twice during a term, and

2) break down the suspicion and resistance to science that many young people of faith bring to the science classroom, and open their ears to hear what science can demonstrate.

To object to this on the premise that "time would no allow" is unreasonable, and betrays the very "philosophical correctness" that puts many people of faith into an unfortunate defensive mindset. It merely perpetuates the divide and exacerbates the hostility.

Any good teacher will look for ways to disarm resistance to their teaching, and create fertility of mind, and an openness to new understandings. This is the art of teaching.

Isaac Gouy said...

cliff > I'm talking of a simple, humble admission that science does not have all the answers; that some mysteries may never find natural explanations, in part because of the possibility of supernatural causation, outside the realm of science.

If it's something outside the realm of science why would it have a place in the science classroom?

Would you support a clear statement once or twice a year that it's possible a Designer and Creator does not exist?


cliff > To object to this on the premise that "time would no allow" is unreasonable...

Actually it was straightforward statement of my experience.

Cliff Martin said...

Isaac: If it's something outside the realm of science why would it have a place in the science classroom?

For all the reasons I gave you. A teacher is not teaching if his students are not learning. Evolution has been taught in the classroom now for 50 years or more, and still 60% of Americans disbelieve it. Quite obvious, isn't it: teachers are not getting the job done. I am suggesting an approach that might disarm resistance just a bit. Do you disagree with my premise?

Here is "a straightforward statement of my experience": When my HS biology teacher taught evolution 40+ years ago, I turned him off. I considered evolution a threat to my faith. I have, since then, come to understand that 1) it was good science, and 2) it was not a threat to my faith. A simple statement like I have proposed might well have sped up my acceptance of evolution by 30 years!

Would you support a clear statement once or twice a year that it's possible a Designer and Creator does not exist?

Absolutely. Why not?

As a result of the methodology your espouse, students of faith who enter the biology classroom feel that they are already getting that message an hour ever day! Of course, they are mistaken. Of course, evolution is not saying that. But that has been the unspoken message to many students. And thus, they close their minds to good science. Do you think this is a good thing?

Cliff Martin said...

Isaac,

Maybe I should be more specific. Here is my own proposed model statement:

"Science simply cannot address the question of whether there is a Designer or Creator. There are good evolutionary scientists who believe in a Creator, and there are good evolutionary scientists who do not. The study of evolution makes no attempt to settle the question.

"There are many mysteries in biology. While some may ultimately have a supernatural cause, science is limited to searching for natural explanations only. So join me in searching for all the natural explanations we can find."

Actually, Steven Jay Gould said some things very similar to this. I would favor using one of his statements on the limits of knowledge when it comes to spiritual truth, or the supernatural. He says it better than I do!

Isaac Gouy said...

cliff > I considered evolution a threat to my faith. I have, since then, come to understand that 1) it was good science, and 2) it was not a threat to my faith.

Quite obvious, isn't it: the science hasn't changed, your understanding of your faith changed - change the preaching not the teaching.

Cliff Martin said...

Isaac,

You are correct. There is more than one problem to fix. I am trying to change the perception of believers from within the church. But believe me ... if you, like I, want to see a change in the landscape in America, if you wish to erase the overwhelming disbelief in evolution, the transition will happen much faster if biology is taught in a way that is not perceived as godless.

You have not responded to my central argument about good teaching disarming opposition to truth.

Isaac Gouy said...

cliff > You have not responded to my central argument about good teaching disarming opposition to truth.

Even in a private school, the physics classroom is not the place to talk about metaphysics, the biology classroom is not the place to talk about "the possible existence of a Designer and Creator" - in the likely absence of a philosophy class that conversation would find a home in religious studies.


This is about science - "... science is limited to searching for natural explanations".

This is not about science - "...[w]hile some may ultimately have a supernatural cause...".

Explaining what science is about is good science teaching - speculating about supernatural causes (can we really pretend that doesn't mean "God"?) isn't science teaching at all.

Cliff Martin said...

Isaac,

You still refuse to respond to my reasoning. Are you suggesting that "good teaching" is "good teaching" even if people do not learn? The best mathematics teachers I ever had were those who took time occasionally to point out how various math lessons might be used out in the real world. It was not teaching math. You would call it a waste of class time. I call it motivation for the student.

If you have a biology classroom half full of young people predisposed to turn you off as soon as you mention evolution, and at your disposal is a quote from Steven Jay Gould about the limits of science, and the compatibility of faith and evolutionary science, and if you knew that some of that resistance would go away if you did quote Gould once or twice, and that you would get through to more students and they would learn more ...

Really, Isaac, Do you not get it??

I am merely suggesting that a 5 minute investment in disarming an antievolution mindset during a 90 hour long biology course might be very worthwhile. Rather than just repeating your mantra — "the biology classroom is not the place to discuss it" — tell me please where my thinking on this matter is wrong.

Isaac Gouy said...

cliff > ... how various math lessons might be used out in the real world.

You haven't been talking about "how various [science] lessons might be used out in the real world" (we call that applied science) - you've been talking the "possible existence of a Designer and Creator" (we call that religion).


cliff > ... at your disposal is a
quote from Steven Jay Gould about the limits of science ...


That would be a statement about science.


cliff > ... the compatibility of faith and evolutionary science ...

As you know, that's an open question - it depends on what exactly each faith proclaims and the current state of scientific knowledge.

Let's remember that Steven Jay Gould simply dismissed "a local and parochial movement, powerful only in the United States among Western nations, and prevalent only among the few sectors of American Protestantism that choose to read the Bible as an inerrant document, literally true in every jot and tittle."

Cliff Martin said...

You haven't been talking about "how various [science] lessons might be used out in the real world" (we call that applied science) - you've been talking the "possible existence of a Designer and Creator" (we call that religion).

I KNOW! You dismiss my argument again with a statement of the obvious. My point was that a teacher may step out of his discipline to reinforce his teaching, to maintain student interest, to appeal to learning motivations, etc. The math analogy may not have been the best illustration. Maybe better would be my chemistry teacher who would occasionally tell a non-chemistry related joke for no other reason than to relate to his students, build rapport, and maintain student interest in the class. Was this, in your book, a bad, time-wasting practice?

Please, Isaac, just answer yes or no. If a statement intended to disarm a theistic-based resistance to evolution could effectively open thousands of minds to the study of evolution, would that be a good thing?

Cliff Martin said...

cliff > ... the compatibility of faith and evolutionary science ...

As you know, that's an open question - it depends on what exactly each faith proclaims and the current state of scientific knowledge.


Again, you side step the question. Yes, many people have a faith that is wholly incompatible with evolution. That is beside the point. The point of the Gould statements, or the one I offered a few comments back, is that the science of evolution does not presume the existence or non-existence of a Creator/God. Nothing in evolution proves or disproves creation, design, or a Creator or Designer. These questions are beyond the scope of science. And that is why many evolutionary biologists are theists, and many are atheists.

Tell me, what is the harm in that statement. And do you not agree that it might be very helpful for some young people to know that?

Isaac Gouy said...

cliff > Please, Isaac, just answer yes or no. If a statement intended to disarm a theistic-based resistance to evolution could effectively open thousands of minds to the study of evolution, would that be a good thing?

You've asked for a blank check - no.


cliff (later) > Tell me, what is the harm in that statement.

It isn't about the statement - it's about where you want the statement to be read.

Isaac Gouy said...

cliff March 21, 2009 8:49 PM > Well of course it is not teaching biology.


isaac '... you've been talking [about] the "possible existence of a Designer and Creator" (we call that religion).'

cliff March 26, 2009 10:04 AM > I KNOW! You dismiss my argument again with a statement of the obvious.


I'm confident you also know what I'm about to say, but you don't seem to be using that information to evaluate your own reasoning.

Why isn't intelligent design in the science classroom? Because it isn't science it's religion.

Why isn't special creationism in the science classroom? Because it isn't science it's religion.

If a statement you have acknowledged is obviously not about biology and is obviously about religion were accepted in the biology classroom then what possible reason could there be for not accepting other peoples statements about religion in the biology classroom?

Cliff Martin said...

Isaac,

Acknowledging the possible existence of a Designer and Creator is hardly the same thing as teaching ID or Creationism.

But let's try approaching this from a different angle.

Millions of Americans believe that "evolution = atheism". Do you think their assessment is correct? If you believe it is correct, you reject clear statements by people like SJ Gould, and there is no need for us to discuss this further.

If he/she is convinced that evolution = atheism, do you agree that a person of faith will be highly resistant to the teaching of evolution in a biology classroom?

If you agree that "evolution = atheism" is a misconception (as I do, and Gould does, as Ken Miller does, as Francis Collins does, etc.), then how would you propose we dispel the notion in the biology classroom?

Or do you feel that it is better not to try? Is it better to use the approach that has gotten us to the point we are today: the only industrialized nation that has a higher rate of evolution denial is Turkey!

Give me your idea (if you have one) about how we can break down theisitc resistance to evolution at the High School level?

Isaac Gouy said...

I didn't ask whether they were the same thing - please answer the question I asked:

If a statement you have acknowledged is obviously not about biology and is obviously about religion were accepted in the biology classroom then what possible reason could there be for not accepting other peoples statements about religion in the biology classroom?


evolution = atheism No
highly resistant Yes
dispel the notion Upstream
better not to try No
break down resistance Change the preaching

Cliff Martin said...

Isaac,

... a statement you have acknowledged is obviously not about biology and is obviously about religion ...

Your premise is mistaken. To make a statement that there are theistic evolutionists and atheistic evolutionists, and that evolution leads to neither belief nor non-belief in a creator/designer is not "obviously" about religion. I don't consider it about religion at all. I have suggested that we could use statements made by atheistic evolutionary biologist, Steven J Gould, and you still object.

Your answer, "Change the preaching" is nice, but completely unrealistic. The preachers are Creationists, or did you not know that? From where I sit, the preaching will not change across the board in evangelical America for at least another 50 years. So we will, for the next 50 years, have more students entering the biology classroom predisposed to disbelieve their teacher because they think evolution is atheistic. I am suggesting that we simply inform them that it is not.

This discussion, it seems, is leading no where, so lets just call a truce, okay?

Isaac Gouy said...

cliff > Your premise is mistaken. ... I don't consider it about religion at all.

When I wrote "you've been talking the "possible existence of a Designer and Creator" (we call that religion)" you quoted those words and answered - "I KNOW! You dismiss my argument again with a statement of the obvious." March 26, 2009 10:04 AM

What you considered a statement of the obvious yesterday, you don't seem to agree with at all today.


cliff > I have suggested that we could use statements made by atheistic evolutionary biologist, Steven J Gould, and you still object.

I had no objection to "a quote from Steven Jay Gould about the limits of science" March 26, 2009 9:35 AM

I'll talk about quoting "the compatibility of faith and evolutionary science" below.


cliff > The preachers are Creationists, or did you not know that?

I try not to presume.

"Creationists" seems to cover a variety of beliefs, but if the preachers and children believe some of the things mentioned by Gould as examples of "scientific creationism" it would be seriously misleading to suggest to them that Gould regarded their beliefs as compatible with "evolutionary science".

"I am both angry at and amused by the creationists; but mostly I am deeply sad."

Stephen Jay Gould Evolution as Fact and Theory

Cliff Martin said...

Isaac,

You must spend a lot of time poring over the comment thread! Now I must clarify my words for you. When I said "I know", I was agreeing with your objection that the analogy did not fit perfectly, that I had in fact been been talking the "possible existence of a Designer and Creator", and not "applied science". (This was the basis of your objection.) I was not declaring agreement with your full statement including your assessment that the "possible existence of a Designer and Creator" is "religion". That is your opinion, oft stated, and I do not now agree, nor have I ever agreed. Please.

When I talk about using Gould's remarks, I am referring to the many things he has said about the inability of science, particularly evolutionary science, to prove or disprove the possible existence of a Designer/Creator. I thought that was clear. I know you have no objection to his comments on the general limits of science. You apparently do object to his comments about theism. Why do we have to continually cover the same ground??

cliff > The preachers are Creationists, or did you not know that?
Isaac > I try not to presume.


Are you serious? Are you telling me that you did not know that the great majority of evangelical preachers are anti-evolutionary? Wow. No wonder you think your concept of "change the preaching" is such a simple and great idea. I gave you credit for being more informed than that. Perhaps now you will understand why your idea is hopeless.

Gould, to my knowledge never suggested that creationism and evolution are compatible. In fact, I know of no one who makes such a claim. Gould speaks of the compatibility of theism and evolution. There is a difference. Some of his statements would go along way toward dispelling the resistance to evolution for students who believe it God. I think that would be a good thing. And you, apparently, think that would be a waste of time. Yet you have no other solution in mind beside asking anti-evolutionary preachers to stop preaching what they believe.

I'll let you have the final word ...

Isaac Gouy said...

cliff > I was not declaring agreement with your full statement including your assessment that the "possible existence of a Designer and Creator" is "religion". That is your opinion, oft stated, and I do not now agree, nor have I ever agreed.

'Well of course it is not teaching biology." March 21, 2009 8:49 PM

If "the possible existence of a Designer and Creator" isn't about biology and it isn't about religion - what is it about?



cliff > Some of [Gould's] statements would go along way toward dispelling the resistance to evolution for students who believe it God. ... asking anti-evolutionary preachers to stop preaching what they believe.

You're mixing up the completely general case of "students who believe in God" with the very specific problems faced by students whose understanding of their faith requires them to believe dead science -

"Around 1830, 1870, and 1930, respectively, Genesis creationism, novelty creationism, and anti-selectionism were discarded, consigned to the large vault of dead science."

p22 Living with Darwin


If the students understanding of their faith requires them to believe dead science then teaching modern science will undermine their faith.