by Brett Strobel
This article was originally published on the UMOI Message Board on January 29, 2006 and updated on March 12 and 13, 2006. Selecting the links in this article will bring up the links in another window. Brett Strobel is a United Methodist minister currently serving as pastor at Newman UMC in Grants Pass, Oregon, USA. Brett Strobel recognizes that his article is a draft---a work in progress, but rather than wait for it to be perfect, he wanted to get these ideas out there in the Intelligent Design discussion/debate. At the end is a link to where you can leave him comments on this article.
Quick Jumps to particular sections: (select the link to jump to that section in this article)
|1. Introduction||2. A Diplomatic Medium|
|3. Scientific Discourse||4. What Is Truth?|
|5. Intelligent Design||6. Pseudo-Science and God of the Gaps|
|7. Some Theological Problems of ID-as-Science||8. Back to the Diplomatic Medium|
There has been a lot of fuss over the last few years about an idea called Intelligent Design. For months now it has been embroiled in the courts in Pennsylvania in an inverse rendition of the 1925 Scopes Trial. Apparently the Dover Area School Board tried to require 9th grade science teachers to read a brief statement during biology class telling students that evolution was ``just a theory" and inviting them to consider alternatives— namely Intelligent Design. The text recommended for students to read was a book published in the 1980's called Of Pandas and People (reissued in 1993). In a rather lengthy ruling, the Judge John E. Jones declared that the school board's actions were a secular pretext to introduce religion into the public school system.
No doubt we have not heard the last of it. In a recent poll conducted by the Pew Forum, 83% of Americans believe that life was created by either God or a higher spiritual power. While 48% believe that life evolved over time, nearly as many as 42% say that human beings and other life have existed in its present form since the beginning of time. What was interesting is that even though nearly half of the population subscribes to evolution, 64% support teaching creationism along with evolution in the public schools, while only 26% oppose this idea. (See: http://pewforum.org/docs/index.php?DocID=115#3 -- link will appear in a new window)
There seems to be a thousand and one lengthy issues interwoven into the nexus called Intelligent Design. I should probably confess that it was my favorite argument in my philosophy classes in college. And I still hang onto it because I believe that the universe has a purpose, that we exist with intent and that there is significance to life. Yet the current issue has troubled me, as though hearing your favorite song sung wrong. Maybe it has been in the tone of the debate, or the force with which it is being played out in the public square. So I am trying to come to grips with a beloved tune that is somehow dissonant.
I should probably warn you that this is a mildly lengthy article, so I hope you have some time to read through it. There numerous articles 'out there' that argue from the scientific side of things. I take a little different tact and look at the problems from a theological angle. My 'thesis,' as such, is:
While mainline Christianity has found a workable medium between the polarization of the culture wars between science and religion, the tension seems to show itself in a dulled appreciation for the distinctiveness of scientific discourse. This is quite possibly due to a confusion over the meaning of truth that has been largely informed by the enlightenment. Intelligent Design has a long philosophical history which not only has a few problems of its own, but also creates theological problems when it is pushed as scientific evidence. In the end, though I believe that science and faith are compatible as long as each discipline doesn't seek to denigrate nor impose its own criteria upon the other.
As mainline Protestants, we are caught in the polarizing tension of the culture wars taking place. We hold firmly to our belief in God, Almighty Creator of heaven and earth. Yet we also believe in the veracity of science. So we find a happy medium with evolution being the means and God being the mystery-power behind it all-- a nice diplomatic solution move to an old dispute.
This is not terribly surprising since religious teaching holds to the conviction that nothing exists outside of Providence. From a theological perspective, science is part of the ``order of things" and ultimately is not a threat to God. To put it simplistically, science is a particular means by which we come to know the physical universe. Science is governed by certain principles that erect distinct and uncompromising barriers between where it will engage in its discipline and where it will not— namely materialism. Again, this is no threat to the more numinous of convictions. It is simply one way of coming to ``know" the universe. Indeed there is a solid tradition of religious acceptance of science of which I will not go into in too great a detail. I will just pull out a few examples from a very large hat.
Back in the 19th century, when the squabble between science and religion took hold with the populous, the Victorian author, Charles Kingsley, wrote a children's book entitled Madam How and Lady Why. He wrote, ``One man walks through the world with his eyes open, and another with his eyes shut; and upon the difference depends all the superiority of knowledge which one man acquires over another." He goes on to say, in staunch Victorian moralism, ``using your eyes, or not using them, is a question of doing Right or doing Wrong. God has given you eyes; it is your duty to God to use them...God's Book, which is the Universe, and the reading of God's book, which is science, can do nothing but good, and teach you nothing but truth and wisdom."
While the optimism towards science as an expression and aid of human progress became suspect in the 20th century (i.e. it application in developing weapons of massive destruction) the compromise is still appealing. It is fairly simple: science explains the `how' and religion the `why.' Martin Luther King Jr. noted that the conflict is not between science and religion but between ``scientists and religionists." This is because their ``respective worlds are different and their methods are dissimilar. Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives [humankind] knowledge which is power; religion gives [humanity] wisdom which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals. They are complementary." (Martin Luther King Jr., A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart.)
Nearly 70 years ago, Pope Pius XI formed the Pontifical Academy of Science with the injunction to ``serve the truth." This charge was made in the full confidence that truth cannot contradict truth. In an address to the Academy in 1996, Pope John Paul II reaffirmed that ``there was no opposition between evolution and the doctrine of the faith about man and his vocation...It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favor of this theory." With the overwhelming evidence that supports the evolution theory we are called upon give it serious attention and not dismiss it. Why? Because it deals with the conception of human beings. Science enables us to probe deeper into the physical nature of humanity which is created by God. It gives us certain lenses of clarity not afforded by other disciplines of truth.
In the closing pages of the Origin of the Species, Darwin indicates that he didn't believe his theory marked the end of religion. He saw that his theory would give us an insight into how the creator inscribed functional laws onto creation. ``To my mind it accords better with what we know of the laws impressed on matter by the Creator that the production and extinction of the past and present inhabitants of the world should have been due to secondary causes, like those determining the birth and death of the individual. When I view all beings not as special creations, but as the lineal descendants of some few beings which lived long before the first bed of the Silurian system was deposited, they seem to me to become ennobled." (Charles Darwin, Origin of the Species.) While this creates certain challenges for religion to rethink certain doctrines, it doesn't necessarily negate religious faith altogether.
As we can see, at least from a religious perspective, science and religion are compatible and even complementary. Religion can interpret scientific discovery to deepen its own understanding. There are some scientist/theologians (i.e. John Polkinghorne) who are taking the ``diplomatic medium" a bit further by developing a ``theology" whose aim is not to rival science but act as a complement offering a wider, more profound context of understanding.
The problem seems to arise with the inverse: when people are calling for science to validate religious convictions. Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, ``In science, convictions have no rights of citizenship, as is said with good reason. Only when they decide to descend to the modesty of a hypothesis, of a provisional experimental point of view, may they be granted admission..." (Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science: Book 5) The reason of course is that, as Martin Luther King Jr. pointed out, the respective worlds are different and the methods dissimilar. The language of science and the language of religion are distinctive from one another. Problems arise when the languages are confused.
For instance, ID proponents have used the phrase, ``evolution is just a theory," as though this is sufficient grounds to chuck the whole thing out. This seems to amount to as much sense as saying, ``music is just a theory so stop listening to the radio, CD's and iPods." A scientific theory is distinct from the colloquial use of the word theory. The word `theory' commonly means a `hunch' or `abstract speculation.' When science talks of a theory, it doesn't mean that. A scientific theory is a set of principles devised to explain a series of related facts or phenomena. It is tested repeatedly and can be used to make some pretty accurate predictions. A scientific theory and a theory as hunch are not synonymous. The dilemma in the ID debates seems to arise from a reckless mixing of scientific and religious discourse. Scientists appear to be more in tuned with this error of ambiguity in language. Why others are not as aware of it might be due to a lack of understanding of the parameters of scientific discourse.
Science has very distinct `boundaries' that it must fiercely maintain for its own integrity and function. The primary boundary established is that science strictly deals with the material universe. It observes the physical nature of things, discovers patterns, articulates those patterns in a theory, and then constantly tests those theories in a variety of circumstances. As such it is an empirical discipline— a kind of tangible `play' where the goal is to discover the facts of substance no matter how large or minute. And since it deals with observable, physical facts, the immaterial is (tongue in cheek) immaterial—that is to say `superfluous' to its endeavors. This is not to say that immaterial matters such as convictions, values, beliefs, etc. are neither insignificant nor untrue in themselves. It only means that they cannot be subjected to scientific method. The scientist seeks to establish`objectivity' in method that is not shaped by intellectual constructs of values. Scientists aspire to understand the operation and constructs of the natural world that is independent of philosophy, ideology, or religious belief.
Now this does raise a question as to whether actual objectivity is possible since all human observation is made from a human perspective. We cannot stand outside of our humanity in our observations. Werner Heisenberg drove this point home in his experiment with atomic particles. He noted that the more we try to determine the position of a particle the less we can determine its speed and vice-versa. He went on to conclude that science doesn't describe nor explain nature in itself, rather it reveals nature as exposed to our method of questioning. In other words, the results of scientific inquiry depend upon the types of questions asked by the scientist. This is why good scientists yield to peer review— they allow room for their studies to be critiqued and to have new questions asked. Any scientist worth his or her salt never falls so in love with their hypothesis that they aren't able to let it go for the sake of the scientific endeavor. Heisenberg's reflections merely pointed out that science is a human-laden pursuit. This is also why a scientist's `universe' is statistically provisional and not absolute. Rigorous questions are still the best tools of the trade that must be applied with meticulous discipline.
One aspect of this discipline was articulated by Sir Karl Popper, a 20th century philosopher of natural and social sciences. He argued that scientific theories/models/explanations must make testable predictions and be falsifiable in principle. The approach is deductive. The scientist seeks to disprove the postulated rule. The lack of contradictory evidence becomes collaborative of the theory. Science has found this to be an important discipline as it seeks the `truth.'
So what is truth? Now that is a big question— a really big question. Countless books could be written....countless book have been written exploring this question, and I won't even begin to assume I have the answer. What I can do is try to offer a snapshot out of a montage the size of Alaska.
When Pilate asked Jesus this question, it was a sarcastic question because it lacked sincerity. But that doesn't change the fact that it is a good question. For this discussion, we might want to rephrase it slightly and ask, ``What do we mean by `truth?'" When science speaks of `truth,' it is a qualified truth, e.g. scientific truth. This is where people often stumble and quite easily might be at the root of the culture wars that have preoccupied western society for the last two-plus centuries.
There are two types of truth: denotative truth and connotative truth. When people use the word `truth,' they usually do so denotatively. It is truth that directly or literally describes something. It is truth that is an archetypal absolute— singular, static and unremitting. To speak of `qualified truth' or to turn it into a plural (i.e. truths) or even to substitute the definite article `the' with the indefinite article `a' often invites the accusation of relativism. This happens when `truth' is only viewed from its denotative, static meaning. The American Heritage Dictionary gives five definitions of truth: ``1) Conformity to fact or actuality. 2) A statement proven to be or accepted as true. 3) Sincerity; integrity. 4) Fidelity to an original or standard. 5) a. Reality; actuality. b. often Truth: That which is considered to be the supreme reality and to have the ultimate meaning and value of existence."
As we can see, the first two definitions (and possibly the fourth) are denotative truth that has largely been shaped by the enlightenment and is used in the methods of science. The enlightenment model of truth is such: through a disciplined method (with objectivity as its aim) truth maybe discovered and tested– e.g. empirically verified. There is a direct and literal relationship between the discovery and its referent--ergo denotative. This is a very satisfying type of truth— there is certainty, predictability and reproducibility...and a certain amount of emotional stability thereof. The difficulty arises though, when the only valid truth is denotative truth– e.g. positivism.
Drawing upon the empiricism of John Locke and the scepticism of David Hume, positivism was founded by French philosopher Auguste Comte in the early to mid 19th century. The fundamental principle of positivism is that all knowledge is derived from sensory experience and thus sensory experience is its sole and supreme criterion. Positivism posits all meaningful utterances of truth in the realm of empiricism. As such, the only valid truth for Positivism is denotative truth. It seems that the proponents of ID are unwittingly giving obeisance to Positivism. Intelligent Design-as-Science (e.g. subjecting the theological and philosophical claims of Intelligent Design to scientific discourse) seems to appeal to this as the only valid means of truth. The more and more ID advocates appeal for scientific legitimacy, the less and less they will be able to rely on metaphysical justification and understanding which is centered in another type of truth—connotative truth.
Connotative truth is indirect, suggestive and intuitive. It is truth that is metaphoric and symbolic. This is the type of truth we use to explore the numinous, the psychological, the ethical, the meaningful, the religious and the spiritual. While denotative truth deals with the outside world, connotative truth deals with the inner world of soul. In a sense, the religious experience of truth is in another direction from the enlightenment or empirical model because it is an intuitive model and it does not need this empiricism for legitimacy. The religious experience says that through disciplined methods (i.e. prayer, meditation, worship, service, etc), with spiritual illumination as its aim, the person experiences being discovered by `truth' and tested by that `truth.' Truth, from a religious perspective, is connotative and dynamic (as opposed to static) when it comes to numinous discoveries. One might even go so far as to say that truth is not so much the aim of the spiritual quest as it is the tool of it— not the ends, but the means.
To understand what I mean by this, it might be helpful to look at the Greek word for truth— alethia, meaning to uncover or reveal. Truth is an `openness.' In The End of Philosophy and the Task of Thinking, Martin Heidegger writes that, ``the path of thinking, speculative and intuitive, needs the traversable opening...We must think of aletheia, unconcealment, as the opening which first grants Being and thinking and their presencing to and for each other. The quiet heart of the opening is the place of stillness from which alone the possibility of the belonging together of Being and thinking, that is presence and perceiving, can arise at all." In some regards, viewing truth as a 'dynamic of discovery' seems to be much more helpful than viewing truth as an archetype in the conversation between science and religion. One point is that it allows us to speak truthfully both of `denotative truth' (scientific) and `connotative truth' (metaphoric) without getting our knickers in a twist.
Scientific truth is an accurate understanding of the physical or material order, a.k.a nature. This is a truth that can be tested through experimentation and provides us with reliable predictions. It is the stuff scientific inquiry is made of. With this in mind then how do the claims of Intelligent Design measure up to scientific inquiry? To answer this, it might be helpful to first briefly look at the history of Intelligent Design.
For any student of philosophy, the term Intelligent Design is nothing new. Its history is embedded in the teleological argument for the existence of God. It was articulated in St. Thomas Aquina's Summa Theologica as the ``fifth way" for proving the existence of God. ``We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end. Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica; Prima Pars)
In 1802, the British theologian William Paley wrote Natural Theology, in which he used natural history, physiology, and other contemporary knowledge to build on the teleological argument. In this seminal work Paley offered the analogy of a watch. By looking at a watch, one can tell, by inference, that it had a maker and was made for a purpose. It's purpose was not in itself sufficient cause for its creation. Rather purpose presupposes an agency for its creation. The agent must have sufficient capacity to comprehend the purpose as well as how to functionally manifest this purpose materially and then the power to contrive its creation. He then argued, by anaology, that certain contrivances are discoverable in nature such as the eye, ear and the larger workings of the whole animal.
The complex functions of the eye is used by Intelligent Design proponents such as Michael Behe and William Dembski in their argument of irreducible complexity. They argue that certain complex systems such as the immune system, blood clotting, visualization, and bacterial flagella cannot function if a single component is removed. The `chance' evolution of these functions, they claim, is statistically improbable and thus point to a design. Scientists are challenging the scientific premises of these claims and I'll let them have at it.
There are a couple of problems raised by the teleological argument and I will only briefly touch on these. The first is pretty straightforward. The argument of design does not provide us with a monotheistic God. It is just as reasonable to argue for a committee of designers like you'd find at Roll Royce or Lockheed. Likewise, it is just as plausible to argue for Intelligent Designers (in the plural) as to argue for Intelligent Designer (singular). In addition, the furthest we might possibly go with the conclusion of the teleological argument is Deism— the Designer(s) wound the cosmic clock and then left the shop. There seem to be no provisions in the argument for a continued involvement with creation.
The second problem of the teleological argument was expressed by David Hume, a Scottish philosopher of the 18th century. Hume objected to the analogical method as a means of convincing proof for the existence of God. He was opposed to the a posteriori reasoning behind the claims being made. To understand this a little better let me take a brief detour.
A posteriori and a priori refer to the basis on which a proposition is known. In a posteriori reasoning, `X' is known on the basis of experience while in a priori reasoning `Y' is known apart from experience. I.e. ``The streets are wet from the rain," is a posteriori knowledge— for me to know that this is true I would need to look out the window and see it raining on the roads. The mathematical proposition ``six plus six equals twelve" is a priori— I can grasp the truth of the statement by simply reflecting upon it. A posteriori reasoning is inductive— one moves from the specifics or particulars to the general, from the effects to the causes.
The analogy of the watch is an a posterori argument which Hume found unacceptable in trying to prove the existence of God. He claimed that one proportionally diminishes the viability of the evidence the further one strays from the similarity being drawn. In other words, an analogy is a comparison based on similarities. The analogy breaks down when the two comparisons become dissimilar. There is an extreme dissimilarity between a watch and the natural world, and between the craft of a watchmaker and creative activity of God. One cannot infer infinite causes from finite effects, Hume argued. (Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion; 1779)
One might ask, ``Why can't one extrapolate from creation to a Creator?" A pretty straightforward question. The problem is in the phrasing of the question. It is a tautology. The terms ``creation" and ``created order" imply an intention and agency behind it— a.k.a. a creator. However, this is what is in dispute. The question is whether the physical universe is the product of a Creator, or is there another equally plausible explanation for its existence? Evolution is a plausible explanation which does not require a creator.
Personally, I am not a Hume fan by any stretch of the imagination but he does have a point if we wish to only talk about God on a literal, scientific level.
The difficulty at hand though is the proponents of Intelligent Design wish to assert it as a scientific theory. A complaint raised by scientists is that ID-as-science does not explain the mechanism of Intelligent Design. Neither does it offer sufficient evidence in support of the ID theory nor any methods by which the theory may be tested. Remember Sir Popper? —scientific theories/models/explanations must make testable predictions and be falsifiable in principle if it is to be considered by science. Intelligent Design offers little that a scientist can sink his or her materialistic teeth into. This why it is considered a pseudo-science— it uses scientific dressing to make supra-scientific claims.
It begins with the premise of a `designer' which cannot be tested. Further more, any such issue of a designer needs to be explored for the sake of veracity. For instance, it is not enough to say that something was designed, but implies that a `power' is needed to implement the design. What is the nature of this designer? How can we verify the claims made of and about the designer?
Intelligent Design has often been described as a `God of the gaps' idea— if we can't find a reason or explanation, then we use God to fill in the gaps in our knowledge. The problem with this is, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer described, is that as we make more and more discoveries which fill in the gaps, God becomes more and more irrelevant and less and less convincing. God is pushed to the margins. God ought not be appropriated as a mere explanation, despite what various bumper-stickers proclaim.
Bonhoeffer wrote, ``God is no stop-gap; he must be recognized at the center of life, not just when we are at the end of our resources...The ground for this lies in the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. He is the center of life, and he certainly didn't `come' to answer our unsolved problems." (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters from Prison) He raises theological concerns when proponents push ID-as-Science. The first is do believers really wish to hand over their beliefs and convictions to the authority and scrutiny of science? Does religious truth need to be legitimized by scientific truth? Such a positivist move would, in the end, be self-defeating since metaphysical claims cannot be verified and validated empirically. Besides, if science were to have the final say in this matter, what kind of God would we be left with?
For science to consider `God' at all, it must do so from a materialist standpoint since that is the nature of scientific discourse. Ergo, God must be considered as a factor of nature— a being who has super intelligence and power, but nonetheless natural. Unfortunately, many people unwittingly have this view of God. They misconstrue the idea of the imago Dei to mean that if humankind is made in the image of God then we can infer literally that God is like humankind but only bigger. The idea of God's transcendence becomes merely a poetic superlative. God becomes merely one being amongst many, albeit a super-being. This view however is reductionist. It is henotheistic and not monotheistic. There is a difference.
Henotheistic means `one amongst many' while monotheism means `singular'— `there ain't none like it.' Biblically we can find examples of both. In early Israelite theology, God was above all other gods and Israel was not to worship any of the other gods before YHWH. In other words, there is an implied acknowledgment of other gods besides YHWH. (Exodus 20:3, Psalm 82:1ff) However as Israel deepened in their understanding of God, they moved towards a monotheistic belief. This is expressed at the beginning of the sh'ma prayer, ``Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one." (Deut. 6:4)
These two modes of theism might be made more clear by seeing how idolatry relates to the two. If God is one among many (e.g. henotheism) then idolatry is understood as a competition for God-ship— the other gods are a threat and rivals to YHWH. However, if God is singular (monotheism), then YHWH has no rival. Idolatry is simply a lie. It is worshiping that which is not God as God. Hence you have the prophets, et al., speaking of idols as being merely wood and stone, works of human hands that neither breathe, nor hear, nor see, nor know. (Isaiah 37:19; Ezekiel 20:32; Daniel 5:4, 23; Habakkuk 2:19; Romans 1:23-25; Revelation 9:20.) Because of the immutable distinction of God from all things, we need to be very careful when referring to God as `a being.' The theologian, Paul Tillich, took great pains to argue that the `being' of God could not be understood as the existence of a being alongside or above others since doing so would make God ``subject to the categories of finitude, especially to space and substance." (Systematic Theology I) Karl Barth also was very clear when he wrote that God was that which we do not know. There is an infinite qualitative difference between humanity and God. (Epistle to the Romans) By subjecting God to the realm of science is to put God on a par with other 'beings' thereby reducing (if not eliminating) that infinite, qualitative difference.
As Christians, we are monotheistic. The wisdom of our faith and the insight of theologians has repeatedly proclaimed that God is singular and dwells in deep mystery beyond our comprehension and imaginings and is yet accessible. Because of this, we can speak of God, but we do so metaphorically. However, metaphor is not scientific discourse in the strict sense. ID proponents seem to be dissolving the distinction between religious metaphor and scientific literalism in their desire to submit the claims of faith to scientific discourse. In doing so the religious understanding of the transcendency of God becomes corrupted.
ID-as-science subjects the infinite God to the categories of finitude. It not only opens the door to scrutinizing the Designer, but also its qualifier `Intelligent.' The term intelligent is largely an anthropological term. Yes, it is true that we speak of the `intelligence' of animals and even machines (e.g. computers), but it is done comparatively to how we understand our own intelligence. The question is how appropriate is it to compare divine intelligence with our own? At what point does the analogy break down? `Intelligence' as metaphor is another matter all together, but ID proponents are not wanting this. Beside, how would one go about devising and scoring an IQ test for omniscience? When we speak (metaphorically) of divine ``intelligence" we do so realizing that there is a qualitative difference from that of human intelligence both in its nature (e.g.1 Corinthians 1:19-25) and in its scope (e.g. Psalm 139:6,17-18.) The Divine `intelligence' (which is the creative powers behind the universe) is an `intelligence' far different —categorically unique— from what we normally understand as intelligence. Again, it is a language that is qualitatively different from scientific discourse.
Science is a literalistic, materialistic language. When we engage in God-talk we do so with the symbolic imagery of metaphors. To speak of God scientifically is to speak of the ``being of God" materialistically. The problem is presenting theological claims as though they were scientific evidence. As I have already shown, the history and assertions of Intelligent Design are derived by a different discipline from that of science. It may help us to give a meaningful framework for understanding the discoveries of science, but it is not scientific per se. The danger of asserting ID-as-science is, theologically speaking, idolatry. Now I seriously doubt this is the intention of ID proponents. I would imagine that this the farthest thing from their minds. Nonetheless, idolatry is a serious danger when ID-as-science is followed to its logical conclusion. It literalizes the symbolic language of faith and thereby compromises both scientific and religious discourse.
A scriptural passage that has been used to support ID-as-science comes from Paul's Letter to the Romans: ``Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made." (Romans 1:20) The error behind quoting Paul in this manner (e.g. proof-texting) is that Paul was not making a scientific statement. The principles and disciple of modern science wouldn't exist for several centuries after Paul. So it is a mistake to use it as a brace in their argument.
Instead, it is important to see that Paul was making a statement of faith which is a different form of discourse and apprehension from that of science. His faith is subject to a different set of `rules' from that of science. It gives him a different perspective that enables him to imbue nature with numinous meaning and significance. As such he can look upon nature as `creation' —the tactile handiwork of the invisible God. Paul is making a metaphysical confession. So, with all due respect to Hume, Paul may infer traits of the infinite through the finite because faith operates by a different set of `rules' from that of science. Faith gives us the `permission' to do that without appealing to scientific truth for validation and legitimacy.
Now it is quite possible to look at nature and to profoundly appreciate its beauty without making that `leap of faith.' However a religious perspective qualifies that appreciation. It gives a particular meaning to that beauty, a certain relevance to that sense of adoration which shapes our world-view. When I peer into the vastness of the night sky and see the billions upon billions of stars I am filled with a sense of speechless awe. When I gaze at the delicacy of a spider's web bejewelled with droplets of dew catching the sunlight I marvel at its beauty. When I take the time to ponder the conception of a single human life, of how a single cell can divide and reenact the billion year stages of evolution in utero in a period of less than nine months, I am astounded. Then when I contemplate the random shuffling of DNA making it a 1:10 to the power 3, 480,000,000 (that is 1 followed by over 3 billion zeros) possible combinations of an individual becoming that individual, my head reels in amazement; and that is not even adding in the equation of historical circumstances. There is certainly enough in creation to make us want to pause and worship, but it is important to remember that such a response is an act of faith.
Science might balk at this use of statistics to deepen a sense of metaphysical wonder and we should be guarded from a misappropriation of statistics. Nonetheless, faith likes to grab a hold of these mind-boggling images as an expression of that speechless awe. What is imperative to keep in mind though is that such exclamations are made from the realm of religious not scientific discourse. The understanding derived by the sciences can inform our faith in ways that no other discipline can which is cause for celebration not suspicion. Nor is there any need to legitimize utterances of faith with science.
I think we do ourselves a disservice when we take the positivist position and make scientific truth the only viable truth. To do so would be to cut off our noses to spite our faces. Science would give us the explanation but we'd miss its meaning. Paul warns us against being too shallow with deep truth. We can speak truthfully about faith experience without having to force it into secondary school science curriculum. When God is made to be a factor of nature we exchange ``the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles." (Romans 1:23)
Scientific discoveries can give us a new insight into creation that was closed to us before. The task of our Christian faith will be to understand the meaning of those discoveries in the context of our belief. We need not compromise nor try to change the rules of science nor the nature of faith in order to remain faithful. We can live, quite deeply, as religious beings and still allow science to be science.
Faith takes us into the penetralium of mystery and existence where we can no longer be content with half-knowledge. We seek a deeper knowing that encompasses a meaningful cohesion of the tactile and numinous. We are, as John Keats wrote, ``capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason." In the end we can gaze at the vastness of space and peer into the minute quantum universe and ask, ``What is humankind, mere mortals, that You, O God, are mindful of us?" (Psalm 8:4)
Congratulations! You made it through my meanderings. I would certainly welcome your thoughts in the matter. Take a moment and let me [Brett] know what you think. Thank you for reading.
last updated: July 8, 2006 (fixed link to Astronomy Notes home)