August 05, 2005

Creation, Intelligent Design, and Evolution

There's been a lot of talk in the blogosphere and elsewhere about Intelligent Design over the last few weeks, and I'm afraid that much of what I've seen is appears both sloppy and uninformed, to wit, many pundits have equated Intelligent Design with Creation Science. They are undoubtedly linked, in that both posit a Creator, but they are most definitely not identical.

Broadly speaking, Creation Science is the attempt to enlist scientific evidence to support the proposition that the Earth was created as described in the book of Genesis--that is, that it was created in six days some six-thousand years or so ago. No doubt I'm ignoring some subtleties, but I believe that's the general picture.

I've known fine and honorable people who find this to be a reasonable position; as for me, I've never found it intellectually acceptable. The conviction of science, based on innumerable observations, is that the universe is not thousands but billions of years old. I'm fine with that. The geological record indicates that the Earth itself is millions of years old. OK by me. Dinosaurs once roamed the earth. Okey-dokey. Current life-forms appear to have derived from simpler, more primitive life-forms.

I've no problem with any of that. When it comes to drawing sound conclusions from physical evidence, the scientific method is the best tool yet found. If the consensus of the brotherhood of geologists is that the fossil record shows that dinosaurs must have lived millions of years ago, I see no reason to demur.

Where I disagree with the hardline evolutionists is not on their observations and analysis, but on their philosophy, which is strictly materialist. Richard Dawkins' faith--I use the word advisedly--that random chance and time are sufficient to explain the world we see about us today is based on his belief that only the natural world, that which can be seen and felt and measured and experimented upon, is real--that there is no supernatural realm, that the supernatural is, in fact, inconceivable, that the Almighty cannot exist because He cannot be measured.

Perhaps he's right, but whether he is or not isn't a scientific hypothesis. You can't run experiments on God to see whether he exists or not; the idea is ludicrous on the face of it, rather like a character in a novel shouting his loudest in hopes of taking the author by surprise.

So though I cannot accept the Creation Science view, no more can I accept the strict materialist line either. I accept the fossil record simply because I don't believe that the Creator of the Universe is a liar. He speaks through His creation as he speaks through the Bible, and the two (as St. Thomas Aquinas taught) can never truly be in conflict.

So far as I can tell from my reading, the Intelligent Design crowd fall into my camp. On the one hand, they believe that the Almighty God created the universe and all that is in it; on the other hand, they accept the geologic record. The chief difference between the ID'ers and the strict evolutionists is not scientific but philosophical. Where the strict evolutionists take it on faith that evolution is the product of time and chance and natural processes, the ID'ers believe that the Almighty had a hand in things. The crux of the Intelligent Design argument, as I've seen it expressed, is that certain biological features are "irreducibly complex"--that is, they consist of a constellation of innovations which as a set are indeed very useful to the organism and enhance its ability to survive, but independently are neither here nor there. The example that I saw was the flagellum of a paramecium, which has many complicated parts, all of which are needed to make the flagellum work. Any one of the parts could have arisen as a mutation; but there would be no reason for it to have been preserved in the population long enough for the other parts to be assembled into a complete package.

I am not concerned here with defending this view, and especially not as I've stated it; I'm not a student of Intelligent Design, and might have presented it badly. My point is that the ID'ers are not intending to pooh-pooh or otherwise reject the fruits of scientific observation. Rather, they are pointing out places where they believe the best scientific explanations break down--and suggesting that those are the places where God might have taken a direct hand. In a sense, they are treating the geologic record as a whodunnit, and dusting it for God's fingerprints.

Myself, I think it's a losing game. Current science might not explain the cases they point out; not having studied it, I don't know one way or the other. If it does not, then the evolutionists have a job ahead of them--to explain, in a way that's more than hand-waving and invocations of random chance, just how these irreducibly complex features could have arisen. I wouldn't be at all surprised if, given time and chance, they come up with an answer that works--which would leave the ID'ers grasping at straws.

As I say, the basic proposition is not one that's scientifically verifiable one way or the other. But insofar as there is evidence for or against the supernatural, that evidence is surely in the plus column, for most men and women, in most times and places, based on the evidence of their senses and the world around them, have rejected the notion that the natural world is all there is. If you are strict materialist, you might well believe that you are right and the vast bulk of humanity through time has been wrong, that you are smarter than they are; and perhaps you're right. It must surely be comforting to think so, anyway. For my part, I'm confident that there is a God, that He did create the universe and all that is in it, and that His fingerprints are all over the place. Trying to find them is a worthy goal; but it's not mine. I'd rather take it for granted and move on.

But to return to my main point, the equation of Intelligent Design theory with Creation Science is simply false, and it doesn't behoove honest men and women to keep repeating it.

Posted by Will Duquette at August 5, 2005 09:12 PM