(In)credible "intelligent design" -- what should science teachers be teaching?

Over at Mirror of Justice (described as "A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory."), the creationism/ intelligent design/ evolution debate gets a mention because of another NYT op-ed, not Schonborn this time but Paul Krugman.

I am 100% with Rick Garnett when he writes:

I suspect that their support does not reflect a considered judgment that "evolution is just a theory" or that "God designed the universe" is "science", but rather a concern that "evolution" sometimes serves not as the fundamental (and fundamentally sound) account of the universe's history and development, but as a kind of religio-philosophical creed. That is, I suspect that most who harbor some sympathy with the Intelligent Design movement have no interest in introducing religion into science classes, but simply in making sure that science is not made into a religion.

Whilst this seems to be a non-issue for us here in Singapore, I think it teaches us some important lessons. Perhaps the most important one is the danger of conflating science with scientism -- where philosophical(typically metaphysical) claims are made that aren't warranted by science.

For more reactions to the Cardinal's op-ed, see these articles at Societas and American Thinker.


Daniel said...

One of the reasons why science is so undependable is that when it comes to something that cannot yet be explained, the scientist who can best convince his peers wins... which kind of makes it like philosophy, doesn't it?

Regarding the intelligent design theory, would scientists even be supportive of a theory that proposes that there is at least one being of superior intelligence over humans?

There is no need to claim that being to be an omnipotent, omniscient God, for that would be the image of god derived from philosophy. Simply a God who is superior to man in some way and wants to be in a relationship with man is sufficient to fit the image of the Christian God.

ChrisYeo said...

Dear Daniel, I have some clarifications to make:

First, there is philosophy, and then there is philosophy. Philosophy as I know it is based on clear reasoning and principles which are accessible by all and quite dependable. There are other ‘philosophies’, preached by charlatans, which claim all sorts of things but are based more on emotion and manipulation. So what makes science dependable or undependable is not that it is a ‘philosophy’, nor is it because scientists try to convince their peers. It is simply what sort of foundation science is based on. And from what I understand of science, it is based on a very reliable principle of only making claims that can be supported by observable fact. Chris Ow makes a good point that some scientists go too far and make metaphysical claims which are not warranted, but this hardly makes science thereby undependable. No, scientists don’t go around convincing their peers of things they cannot explain without some reasonable evidence.

You’d be surprised how many scientists actually believe in a God. There is a lot of evidence in science that tells us that the universe and life (us) is very, very unique, so unique in fact that some are convinced that only an intelligent designer could have created it. This is the main reason why ex-atheist philosopher Anthony Flew not believes that there is a god. I think that in fact, many scientists would be very supportive of a theory that suggests a higher being, but scientists don’t work by the principle of just what they want to believe. They have to find the evidence to support the theory, and so far, the creationist argument for intelligent design simply doesn’t have good enough evidence yet.

Lastly, you say that there is no need to claim God to be omnipotent or omniscient. But this idea of God is not simply due to philosophy; it is implicit in the bible. How else would you make sense of “nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37), and Psalm 139?

ChrisOw said...

Yes, I agree with Chris Yeo that it is unwise to use 'philosophy' too loosely here. [In fact, I find myself in agreement with much of what he has said above.]

In some (colloquial) sense, one might consider science a philosophy, but of course, scientists and philosophers are not likely to write (or speak) thus.

Consider this: the science of philosophy is philosophy; the philosophy of science is also philosophy. Now of course, the question, "What is philosophy?" is itself a philosophical question, and like all other philosophical questions, it defies pat answers. There are several questions that arise here (and they are all philosophical ones).
1. What is science?
2. What is philosophy?
3. What is the relationship between the two?
Note also that the behaviour of some scientists (who claim certain metaphysical conclusions) does not in fact answer question 1. There is a distinction to be made between what science is, and what (some) scientists do in the name of science.

On the God question:
I think your claim, "Simply a God who is superior to man in some way and wants to be in a relationship with man is sufficient to fit the image of the Christian God." might be a little vague and overhasty.

In what way is God supposed to be superior to man? Definite or Indeterminate? Difference of kind or degree? In principle unknowable or knowable?

Isaiah 55:8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD.

Isaiah 55:9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Are we to determine the sufficiency of our concept(s) of God, or are we to submit in humility before God's self-disclosure?

Daniel said...

Dear Chris-es,

When a scientist wishes to explain an unexplained phenomenon, he digs up information and data and formulates an explanation based on what he has found and is available to the scientific community. Whether that is objectively true or not, no one knows. All that is known is that the most convincing and simple answer is held to the be the truth, until a better one can be found.

While scientists base their findings on observable fact, logic and deduction, do philosophers not do the same? Philosophers also look to reality to explain their out-of-reality theories, don't they? They also use logic and convincing argument to win over their peers, don't they?

I think both of you missed the point completely about God and the Bible. The whole message of the Bible is that God is in relationship with his people.

His omnipotent and omniscient qualities are deduced through philosophy and only through a philosophy guided by the Holy Spirit, which enables humans to think with the mind of God, even if only for an inspiration.

But even this, pales in comparison to the fact that God wants to be in a relationship with man's body, mind, heart and soul, not just his mind.

We can be quite sure that it is not the sudden realization that there is an intellgent being out there that converts a person into a believer. That has never been a reason for conversion as the evidence had always been there. Conversion always takes place through a direct personal encounter with Christ, because God is a personal God, a God who desires relationship with his people.

When we forget this, we lose the uniqueness of Christianity - a religion where God first reaches out to humans.

ChrisYeo said...

Hi Daniel,

I admit I was too strong in writing that an omnipotent etc. God was implicit in the bible. I had meant that it at least seemed to be strongly suggested by the bible, but I couldn't edit the comment. Maybe you are right to say that God is perhaps not all-powerful. We could be more open to the idea.

Science & Philosophy
From what I seem to understand, you are firm in saying that both Science and Philosophy are undependable and "out-of-reality". That's fine; you're entitled to your view. I just hope that readers of this blog realise that the world out there (science) and our powers of reasoning (philosophy) are also part of our reality, and thus our experience of God. They are not things to be rejected for God. God created everything such that we may find Him in everything.

I believe that many Catholics, and many others who are searching for Him, would not want to reject science and philosophy for God, because they, as I, sincerely believe that science and philosophy tell us real things about the world. We have to be cautious about some things, but yet we cannot reject science and philosophy with the blanket terms "undependable" and "out-of-reality". I think that Pope JPII would have been in accord with this view.

The world out there is real. And science does tell us some things about that world. And so does philosophy. The challenge for us on this blog of "Young Thinking Catholics" is to ask ourselves - how do we reconcile what the world tells us and what our faiths tell us?

Daniel said...

Hi Chris,

Ah, no, that wasn't exactly what I was saying.

Science seeks to explain the "how" of the things of reality. Take the idea of how the universe came to be. Science, through evidence found in reality, seeks to explain how the universe came to be, formulating mechanisms of the process. However, if science denies the reality of God, then it will deny all evidence of God as well. That is what some scientists do, stubbornly refusing to admit that there is a God from the evidence they have discovered, and choosing to erase or ignore that evidence because of the preposity of that idea. What these scientists are often left with is a mechanism or theory with a big hole that can only be filled up with the idea of God. That is why some scientists theorise the existence of the "cosmos" as a sentient being or something similar, all in the hope of replacing God with something else less "godly".

Conversely, philosophy too cannot erase the idea of God. Philosophy deals with "what" reality or the universe is. It is largely unconcerned with the "how", "where" and "when" for it leaves that to science. If philosophers starts out presuming that God does not exist and ignores all conclusions that point to the idea of God, they end up going around in circles with hypotheses that make no sense.

I am not against science or philosophy. Far from it, I see both as God's way of revealing himself to us. But to engage in either subject when denying the existence of God from the start, yields empty results because they are meaningless. It is religion that puts the "why" and "who" into both science and philosophy. And only through accepting that there is a God and being guided by the Holy Spirit will we be able to understand why we engage in science and philosophy - to understand how and what our reality is.

ChrisOw said...

Here are relevant texts:

John Paul II, Fides et Ratio.
5. On her part, the Church cannot but set great value upon reason's drive to attain goals which render people's lives ever more worthy. She sees in philosophy the way to come to know fundamental truths about human life. At the same time, the Church considers philosophy an indispensable help for a deeper understanding of faith and for communicating the truth of the Gospel to those who do not yet know it.

CCC 159: Faith and science: "Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth." "Consequently, methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are."

CCC 283: The question about the origins of the world and of man has been the object of many scientific studies which have splendidly enriched our knowledge of the age and dimensions of the cosmos, the development of life-forms and the appearance of man. These discoveries invite us to even greater admiration for the greatness of the Creator, prompting us to give him thanks for all his works and for the understanding and wisdom he gives to scholars and researchers. With Solomon they can say: "It is he who gave me unerring knowledge of what exists, to know the structure of the world and the activity of the elements. . . for wisdom, the fashioner of all things, taught me."

CCC 2293: Basic scientific research, as well as applied research, is a significant expression of man's dominion over creation. Science and technology are precious resources when placed at the service of man and promote his integral development for the benefit of all. By themselves however they cannot disclose the meaning of existence and of human progress. Science and technology are ordered to man, from whom they take their origin and development; hence they find in the person and in his moral values both evidence of their purpose and awareness of their limits.

ChrisOw said...

Some excellent essays published in Commonweal. The first two by Orthodox priest John Garvey. The third by Georgetown Theology prof John F. Haught.

Intelligent design: don't count on it - Of Several Minds
This brings me to the problem I have with "intelligent design," presented as something to be taught as if it were a science, or as if it could be presented as a serious alternative to evolutionary thought. I can see the objection to a certain sort of Darwinism; I would object loudly if I were to come across a high school text claiming that evolution means--even proves--that God is not the creator, as some Darwinists believe. Still, any teaching of evolution was opposed by creationists, on the ground that it didn't square with a literal reading of the Bible. This has properly been rejected by most school systems. Some advocates of creationism have taken comfort in the advance of the intelligent-design arguments, which seem to give scientific credibility to an argument for the universe's origins that allows for--well, demands--the idea that it was deliberately made; in other words, a scientific argument for the place of God in explaining the universe. I don't agree with those who believe that intelligent design is a simple substitute for creationism. Far from being based in a biblical vision, the case for intelligent design seems to lead at best to a kind of deism. Whatever the intention, however admirable the motives of those who advance the cause, it isn't science. The appropriate reductionism of science demands that you don't drag God in to explain things. This is not because God is not real, but because the reality of God is beyond science's ability to know--just as what makes a particular loving relationship full of mystery and depth is beyond science.

‘Intelligent' Design?
The problem with the God rejected by Darwinian atheists and the God of those who believe in intelligent design is that neither is particularly biblical. (By the way, I think it is fair of those who believe in intelligent design to complain that they are not, as some allege, a wedge into the schools that will lead eventually to teaching biblical literalism. This is not, in fact, part of their argument, and the intelligent designer they posit has little to do with the God of the Bible.) The intelligent designer seen by both camps--rejected by one, accepted by the other--is essentially the God of the deists, a generally benign designer compelled to create the best of all possible worlds, a world in which profound flaws and seemingly mad design would be unthinkable.

Another take by John F. Haught
Darwin & the Cardinal
Many Catholics would be surprised to hear that the Darwinian theory of evolution is incompatible with Christian faith. Yet this was the central contention of a recent New York Times op-ed piece by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna (“Finding Design in Nature,” July 7). “Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true,” the cardinal wrote, “but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense--an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection-is not.” A front-page story in the July 9 Times (“Leading Cardinal Redefines Church’s View on Evolution”) explained that the op-ed article had been solicited and submitted by the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based group that advocates teaching alternatives to evolution. Does Schönborn’s essay mean that the church has changed its position on evolution?

In a word, no.

irene said...

i'm currently taking a module in biotechnology. yes, the more we study sciences, the more we may think that god is very absent from it all cos everything can be scientifically explained. (the evolution thingy and all)

BUT, again, that's all a matter of perspective. for me, god is still there at the root of things. cos no matter what, scientists still cannot artificially create life. they still haven't found out exactly what makes a cell tick, why processes happen as they happen. that's the hand of god still manifesting itself in science.