Essay / Misc.

A Dialog on ID

Hugh Hewitt has a friend who should have a blog. This friend, Dafydd ab Hugh, has written on the ID (Intelligent Design) issue. I have commented after numerous paragraphs. I hope we can continue this discussion. As Hugh points out the main stream media deals in stereotypes, the blogosphere has the chance to carry on stereotype busting discussion. It is just a more flexible style of media. The original letter is in black and my comments are in Packer-friendly green. (I should point out to Hugh that the Packers just won the NFC North while the Ohio teams just won, well, exactly nothing.)”Dear Hugh;The thrust of your long post on the war between proponents and opponents of “intelligent design” (ID) vice evolutionary biology (EB) is completely correct and, I think, beyond dispute: the MSM has an agenda of belittling anyone who believes in ID or doubts any aspect, no matter how small, of the current understanding of EB. They have no interest in researching the subject; and it is part of the larger and ongoing war against religion in general and Christianity in particular.This is an important point. Much of the discussion in the mainstream media depends on sneering and not on argument. If it is conceded that Christianity is worth talking about thoughtfully, the media blockade on intellectuals who are Christian will be broken. That said, and not to dispute anything you wrote, there is also another problem: too many adherents of ID likewise dismiss any scientist who supports EB (that would be all of them, by the way) as an atheist secular-humanist liberal who, many religious imagine, spends his free time plotting the demise of Christianity.Of course, there are people who believe in Evolutionary Biology (EB) who are religious. In fact, they are frequently trotted out on PBS specials to make this very point. Sadly, the science establishment treats them like “useful idiots.” They are only rolled out to make this single point. The rest of the time the mandarins of science and their public spokespeople act as if teleology (design) and biology are mutually exclusive. Groups like the AAAS and the NCSE often make philosophically naive pronouncements excluding design and purpose in biology that have semi-official status. Certainly the mainstream media treats them this way. Polarization is rarely a good thing — as a man who calls himself a practical conservative should understand better than most.Well, that sounds good, but I am not sure it is true. When one side has all the power, then polarization is sometimes the best way to get things moving. For full disclosure, I’m a secular Jew, a true agnostic (not an atheist in drag), a trained mathematician, a published novelist, and politically non-Euclidean… but voting straight Republican until such time as the Democrats are no longer a threat to freedom and democracy in America and worldwide.Hurrah! We have much common ground. For full disclosure, I am an Orthodox Christian (not an Episcopalian in drag), a trained philosopher, a writer of bad theater, and politically a traditionalist. . . who might vote for a monarch, but usually votes Republican until such a time as the Queen over the Water is restored to her rightful throne. Nevertheless (or maybe I should write “therefore”), I have to note that there is no conflict between ID and EB. Much as both sides want to turn the issue into a strict either-or, the two ideas happily exist side by side.EB covers only one subject: how, that is, the mechanism, by which life changed on this planet (and presumably others), becoming more complex and specialized as the eons passed. ID is concerned with an entirely different point: whether an intelligent God directed the creation of the universe, the world, and the life thereon. The point is that the most die-hard, evangelical Christian must acknowledge that God, being omnipotent, could have created a world in which evolution would occur, had He wanted to do so; and had He done, He certainly would have known exactly what creatures such a system would produce (since He’s omniscient). This process is just as correctly described as intelligent design as it would be if He made it all in a single nanosecond, or if he made it all in six literal, twenty-four hour days.I have known most everyone in the ID movement from the start. All of them would agree with most of this. In fact, they have made this very point again and again. God could have used EB, if EB is reduced to a mechanism The question is: “Did God do so?” ID scientists and philosophers want to be allowed to ask this question. Is the evidence for EB compelling without assuming it has to be true? Naturalism (the belief that nature is all there is, was, or ever will be) cannot be assumed to be true before the discussion begins. Theists want to be free to consider all the possibilities.The problem is that evolutionary biologists do not limit themselves in this way. Try getting hired or tenure at most places and ask this sort of question. I would be happy if Dafydd ab Hugh ran most universities. However, until then to ask ID folk to “mellow out” would unilateral disarmament. Similarly, any rational EBist should admit that science says absolutely nothing, indeed by definition cannot say anything, about how the physical laws of the universe got there in the first place.Indeed, that would be rational. However, few if any EBist says such things.Indeed, it says little about how life itself began, in the most basic sense… though that, at least, is subject to scientific inquiry. Thus, there is not a single tenet of EB that can logically deny that God could have intelligently designed all life by creating an evolutionary system that would, in the end, produce just the sort of creatures He wanted to see. And of course, EB can have no opinion whatsoever about whether the soul exists, and if it does, what its nature may be.Again, I wish most EB folk believed this. The question I have for Dafydd ab Hugh is this: are we allowed to consider whether EB is false? What if EB is not the mechanism God used? I have always been fascinated by the Bible, and have read the King James version cover to cover, as well as having read fairly extensively in the current Catholic Bible and the best current translation of Tanakh, the Jewish Bible. In addition, I have read various creation myths from other cultures — Norse, Greek, many African and South Pacific cultures, and so forth. One fact has always struck me forcibly… the astonishing parallels between the Biblical account of creation and the current understanding of EB, parallels which do not exist in the creation stories of those other cultures. The order in which Genesis describes creation as occurring is almost exactly the same as the order in which EB envisions the evolution of life — indeed, going back before life to the creation of the solar system itself.So much the better for EB, but the issue is simple. Is EB true, if naturalism is removed? If we don’t assume that only “natural” or non-personal explanations will count in Biology would science still embrace EB? I
think not and would point to the work of some of my friends. However, let us let the best theory win without any power plays by other side. I promise to fly to Alabama and defend any evolutionist fired for teaching Darwin, if Dafydd ab Hugh will publicly defend any ID theorist denied a teaching post for speaking his mind. Note, for two simple examples, that in Genesis, the first thing created is light, before the creation of the planet (clearly part of the separation of form from the void). Astrophysics and planetary physics concurs: the sun was created first, and the planets only coalesced after billions of years. Most other creation stories (such as the Norse) have the Earth being created first, and in darkness, until the sun is created later; others, such as Shinto, don’t address the question… but there are no stories of the sun goddess existing before the Earth exists. Only the Bible agrees with science.Likewise, in Genesis, humans are the last to be created of all the living creatures; in most every other creation story, humans are created either first or nearly first, and other creatures are created later. For example, in Norse mythology, the Earth is created in darkness and is ice-locked. Then a lump of ice melts, revealing a cow. The cow begins licking another lump of ice, finally revealing the first man. Other creatures come along later. Again, only the Bible depicts the creation of life in pretty much the order that EB tells us it evolved… a counterintuitive idea, since most cultures (including ours) believe that humans are more important than animals and plants, hence (one would think) would be created first.There are several other parallels, leading me to conclude that either the Hebrews who wrote the original passages in Tanakh were rather astonishingly insightful, or else they were — dare I say? — inspired in some fashion.Again, we agree. If biologists would admit that religion is a knowledge tradition as a group, then I would have little to say to them. If EB is a theory of how God did it, then let scientists look at all points of view. However if EB is accepted because personal causation is excluded by some prior philosophical principle, then I dissent.What do I mean by personal causation? One way of explaining the present temperature of my house would be through mechanics and chemistry. The workings of my heater seem to require (on one level) no appeal to intelligent causation. However, the setting of my thermostat and the existence of the system itself does require an intelligent agent (more or less me). Can biology consider this, at least at a similar level? Right now, the answer is “no.” If you do, the thought police come and begin to shout about “creationism” and sneer at you. Perhaps, we can move beyond that together. I may be wrong that biological organisms show signs of intelligent design or agency. However, all I am asking for is the right to teach the controversy and to have my point of view given respect. I respect EB and view Darwin as a world class genius. However, as a Platonist I am more impressed with Plato (Laws X) and his arguments. I hate to sound like Rodney King, but can’t supporters of ID and EB just get along? Instead of fighting, it seems like a more profitable effort for each to use the other: believers can use the extraordinary, divine beauty of evolution and the wonders it produces as further evidence for the existence of the God of the Bible; scientists can use the Bible to develop a moral core that elevates them from being merely human beings to actual persons, a morality that cannot possibly be supplied by science — which concerns itself with what is, not what should be. I get tired of hearing foolish errors from both sides… egregious misstatements of the facts and theories of science, biased misunderstandings of faith and philosophy.Perhaps if some highly religious scientist were to invent a drug that doubled everyone’s IQ, we would see that there is in fact no conflict between ID and EB.– Dafydd ab Hugh”This would be a happy world, if it becomes the real one, ID theorists will have to change very little. Leaders like Phillip Johnson have urged this very course. It is the EB establishment that treats EB the way fundamentalists are alleged to treat the Bible. Does Dafydd ab Hugh agree that I should have the academic right to ask if EB is true? Does he think that all people who dissent are fools or cads? I cannot help but think that Dafydd ab Hugh, and those like him, are the only way secularism can save itself. I have had many fine mentors in his tradition, good agnostics. I wish such intellectual openness were the norm. May it be so soon!

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