More Comments on ID and Religion-Science

Below are some comments I made to two of my brothers who included me in their discussions on Intelligent Design. They have formal theology training (one has a Masters in systematic theology from Pacific School of Religion and another has a Master of Divinity from Candler Seminary and is working on a PhD through Oxford) while my formal training is in science. One brother is in favor of Intelligent Design and the other sees problems with it theologically. Both are deeply devoted, spiritual Christians and they are also very careful, clear thinkers. The fact that these two brothers who love each other and who have given much thought to the theological implications of Intelligent Design can arrive at two different positions on this issue shows that the gulf or divide between the "two sides" of the debate is not as wide or stark as often described by some vocal advocates: rational intellect vs. out-of-date superstition or atheistic secularist forces of Satan vs. God-loving forces of light and truth (and some other more vitriolic descriptions I won't repeat here).

Again, as I noted in my other article, I am presenting this as my personal views and not as astronomy fact or scientific theory like all of the rest of the material on the Astronomy Notes site. Also, these comments are just the beginning stages of explanation or exploration of the ideas presented here.

God Creating Through Evolution

I see God creating life forms through the process of evolution. A biblical faith sees nature as governed by God. With this biblical view, evolution is the hand of God at work in His world. Natural events are the ways in which God accomplishes his purposes in nature. There is no necessary tie between the processes of evolution and atheism. [Father George Coyne, director of the Vatican Observatory, agrees in a recent article and over 10,000 Christian clergy across the nation agree: "For far too long, strident voices, in the name of Christianity, have been claiming that people must choose between religion and modern science ... this is a false dichotomy." (Clergy Letter Project, Feb. 12, 2006)]

Unfortunately, "evolution" has come to mean in many people's eyes the whole materialistic method plus the philosophy which says nature is autonomous and there is no God and there is no purpose to creation, much less to our lives. A materialistic faith sees nature as a great machine—autonomous. Some vocal biologists hold to a materialistic faith while other biologists hold to the biblical faith mentioned in the previous paragraph.

Vast Diversity of Life Plausible to This Astronomer

As an astronomer I am amazed at all that can be created with the simple inverse square law of nature called gravity. When one sees all of the intricate structure in Saturn's rings (density waves, resonance gaps, etc. created by small moons pulling on the fist-sized ring particles and all the amazing things we're still discovering about how gravity operates from the Cassini spacecraft now at Saturn) or the variety of shapes created by colliding galaxies or the sheer beauty of a gorgeous spiral galaxy, I don't think it so far-fetched that the process of evolution can create such diversity and complexity in the biological realm.

I'm not a biologist, so my understanding of evolution is a bit limited, but I do understand that it is a bit more complicated than Newton's law of gravity. Therefore, I'm not surprised that such complexity and diversity of animals can arise from evolutionary processes and changes in the DNA molecule. A bacteria's DNA contains around 44,700,000 possible blueprints (that's 4 raised to the power 4.7 million or about "1" followed by a million zeroes). Evolution talks about creating new genetic combinations from that huge probability space. It does not talk about where the probability space came from. Mammal-primate-human DNA is a bit more than a bacteria's DNA.

Science as Tool to Understanding the "How" of Universe

It is okay to use science as a tool in understanding the physical world that God has created (is still creating) while still viewing God as the author of creation. The tool assumes that everything that happens is the result of natural forces/processes without some sort of supernatural "God action". In order to use the tool of science I need to keep my focus which means that I won't be looking for a purpose or "design" of what I am observing. Science cannot tell the purpose or meaning of creation. For Christians + Jews, the Bible does that. For other religious faiths, their sacred texts do that.

Keeping focussed in order to wield the tool properly takes a lot of practice and I'd prefer the high school and lower division science classes stick to a purely, narrowly defined science curriculum without bringing purpose/God into the mix. The students will get the purpose-meaning from family and other places outside that brief 50 minutes/day of the science class.

I'm a methodological materialist when doing science like Gregor Mendel (Austrian monk often called the "father of genetics") and Georges Lemaitre (Belgian Roman Catholic priest who was the first one to use General Relativity to describe what would become the Big Bang theory) and the Vatican astronomers but I'm not a philosophical materialist who believes that the material world is ALL that exists—no God.

Intelligent Design as a "Dead-End" to Understanding the Universe

I personally see ID in science as a cop-out and a dead-end to deepening our understanding of the natural world. Because we don't understand something fully yet, doesn't mean we should throw up our hands and say that "God did it" and leave it at that—end of inquiry. Using the tool of science we look for explanations as if some God-action/miracle was not present. It is fine for ID advocates to point out that the known natural processes cannot produce some physical event or creature, but that just means we don't know all of the natural processes yet or fully the understand the natural processes that have been discovered. We can't say that proves that a God-action happened. (Neither can we say that the God-action did not happen.) I will use science's materialist assumption to find out more about the creation authored by God. Using that materialist assumption while applying the tool of science has actually led me to a greater appreciation for the artistry that surrounds us. But that appreciation for the artistry comes from my religious roots and I recognize that it is not a necessary result of scientific study.

Intelligent Design as Replacement for Evolution

Intelligent Design (ID) folks are wanting to replace evolution with ID as a valid science theory. The process of evolution including natural selection has been so well tested that is now considered a "law" of nature. ID as a science theory comes no where even close. Not teaching about evolution is very dangerous for our physical (medical) health as well as the health of our environment (God's creation). Evolution with natural selection is vital to our understanding of how viruses and bacteria change or adapt to our attempts to eradicate them with excessive, improper applications of antibiotics or how they spread in an increasingly mobile population across the globe.

Most ID folks lump evolution in with philosophical materialism and therefore, anyone supporting evolution is an atheist. So there is now a false dichotomy: we have to choose between "naturalism" (philosophical materialism) and "supernaturalism" (God) without the biblical view that God operates within nature.

Intelligent Design Advocates ARE Trying to Prove a Personal God

Intelligent Design (ID) folks are definitely trying to prove that God exists and that God is personal. They use science to do that to get "objective" proof of God. The school board members in my city certainly want to prove to the kids that God exists and then make the leap to the Christian/Jewish personal God. If they can prove God exists, then that will necessarily lead (they believe) to the personal God talked about in the Bible since that God is the only one known (or the very predominant one). Finally, it will be the God as viewed through a particular theological understanding of the Bible. They want to get rid of evolution because that will necessarily (they think) lead people to believe in their young-earth (usually) creationist view of God. (This is the "two models idea" described near the end of my other article.)

In Bakersfield, the school board members arguing for ID are fundamentalist literalists clergy of some local churches. One has said that all non-Christians will go to Hell, all atheists (his definition of atheists) are perverts, and the Earth and universe were created in six 24-hour days. Now of course we shouldn't lump all Intelligent Design folks in with these particular views, but a great many ID advocates do see this as a battle between good and evil in a world that has gone seriously astray. The goal of the Discovery Institute's Center for Renewal of Science and Culture (now called "Center for Science and Culture) as stated by its director several years ago is to promote Christian theism and the "overthrow of materialism and its damning cultural legacies."

When I was in grad school at the University of Washington, I went to a talk at the church I attended given by a physicist named Hugh Ross ("Reasons to Believe") who said that the Big Bang was proof that there was a beginning as described in Genesis and that necessarily meant that God was the spark. In the next sentence he said that this also showed that God is personal and is the one described in the Bible. That was a big leap in logic. People DO try to prove God exists using science and those that do are very popular to a large segment of our population (they are making lots of money).

Science: Interpretation of Nature. Theology: Interpretation of Scripture

David Wilcox in his recent book "God and Evolution: A Faith-Based Understanding" (2004. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press) gives a helpful distinction between fact and interpretation and where science and theology fall in that. He writes that science is the human understanding of nature. While nature cannot be in error, science (and scientists) can certainly be in error. Science is not nature itself. Along the same lines, theology is the human understanding of Scripture. While the Bible cannot be in error, theology (and theologians) can indeed be in error. "Theology is not Scripture itself. Like science, it is not absolute truth. It is prone to error." (p. 13) A conflict of nature and the Bible is actually a result of our flawed understanding of one or both.

He also advises scientists and theologians to not accept what they encounter at face value---a "literal" meaning (a seemingly obvious meaning derived from a first impression). While a scientist or theologian might end up accepting a literal meaning of a phenomena of nature or Scripture reading, a first impression should not "limit further exploration." (p. 14) After discussing what "the twelve tribes of Israel" means (there were actually 13), he says, " is possible for the perceived "literal" or face-value meaning of Scripture to shield us from understanding it true theological meaning." (p. 15) This is the same view as Marcus Borg's "more than literal meaning" discussion I use in my "The Truth of the Bible Is Metaphorical" article.

Other Articles on Intelligent Design + Religion - Science

  1. "Why not teach Intelligent Design in our schools? A passionate look at the controversy." This is the "my other article" I mention above. It also contains links to evidence for an old Earth–old universe in my Astronomy Notes online textbook.
  2. "The Truth of the Bible Is Metaphorical." A way of reading this sacred text for its "more than literal" meaning that is not inferior to a literalist view. As Charles Kimball states in his book "When Religion Becomes Evil", I take the Bible too seriously to read it literally.
  3. "Some Troubles of Intelligent Design: A Look at the Culture Battle Between Science and Religion" by Brett Strobel, one of the brothers I talk about in the introduction. He discusses the philosophical roots of Intelligent Design, the search for truth and science's vs. religion's sense of "truth", and the theological problems with Intelligent Design.
  4. Science Perspective on ID. My talk for the Norm Levan panel discussion on Intelligent Design at Bakersfield College on April 21, 2006

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last updated: July 8, 2006

Author of original content: Nick Strobel