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Thursday, February 21, 2008

I believe that the universe was designed intelligently, but I don't believe in the Intelligent Design movement

My wife asked me, "What is your problem with Intelligent Design?" I am trying to post my answer, more or less as I gave it to her.

I believe that the universe, the earth, living things, and humans are here because they were planned by an omnipotent, omniscient, eternal God. I can't prove this. People much smarter than I, with larger audiences, have not been able to make a knock-down argument for this proposition. Hebrews 11:3 implies that I comprehend this by faith. Some people do not believe in such a God. Not surprisingly, they see the same evidence that I do, and come to different conclusions. The converse is true of me and my fellow believers, of course. In other words, I believe in an intelligent designer.

Over the last twenty years or so, a movement has grown up. It calls itself the Intelligent Design movement (ID). I have problems with it, and a lot of other people, some of them Christians, also do. (Here's a recent example of a Christian who has such problems. He has said some of the same things I am, and more.) Why do we have problems with such a group? Here are some of the reasons.

1) ID claims that it is possible to scientifically prove that God designed things. On the face of it, that would be extremely difficult, especially for biological phenomena. An IDer may say (one, Michael Behe, did) that blood clotting is so complicated that it couldn't have come about through random mutation and natural selection. However, even if such an origin couldn't be fully proposed when Behe wrote his book, this isn't a knock-down proof of ID. It is always possible that a plausible path for the origin of blood clotting mechanisms by natural selection will be found. That's what has happened to most or all of the "proofs" in Behe's book.

Being as generous as possible, the number of peer-reviewed scientific articles showing scientific evidence for ID can be counted on one hand. The less generous would say that it would take five less fingers than that. (Behe himself, in his testimony in the Kitzmiller case, agreed that, at the time, there was only one. To be fair, he also said that there were few, if any, peer-reviewed articles showing that what he calls irreducibly complex structures could have arisen by natural selection.)

I believe that the proof for an intelligent designer is not a scientific matter at all. It's a religious or philosophical matter. (ID has also made it political.) Trying to prove God's design in a laboratory is like trying to fry eggs in the shower while the water is running. It's not an appropriate place to do this, it won't work, and it may mess up the shower.

[Added April 18, 2009: Here's an e-mail exchange between a person who doubts ID, and Casey Luskin, a prominent ID advocate. Luskin fails to come up with experimental evidence for ID, and the doubter points out how difficult, if not impossible, such evidence would be to obtain.]

2) ID claims that it is scientific, not religious. A recent court case (presided over by a church-going Republican judge, if that matters) denied this. And no wonder. The Discovery Institute, the most important ID institution, published the "Wedge Document," which lays out ID's strategy. One of the "Governing Goals" is "To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God.” (p. 15 of the document from the previous link.) If that isn't religious, I'm not sure what is.

A statement of the Discovery Institute's Science Education Policy, published in June, 2009, uses the phrases "scientific theory of design," and "scientific debate over design," both referring to ID. (This paragraph added August 7, 2009.)

Why claim to be scientific, not religious? I'm afraid that the answer is to deceive. The court case cited in the previous paragraph was over an attempt to have ID included in public school science classes. If ID is religious, it doesn't belong in a science class.

(Added March 2, 2009. See here for a discussion of the lack of scientific evidence for ID.)

Lest there be any doubt, I believe that God did design nature, and human beings.

3) ID is often presented (to conservative religious publics -- it was not presented this way in the court case) as compatible with young-earth creationism, when it isn't. When the South Carolina state legislature considered legislation that would have opened the door to presenting ID as an alternative scientific theory, at least one legislator hoped, apparently encouraged by IDers, that this would mean teaching that the earth was only a few thousand years old. But the leaders of the ID movement have said that they believe that the earth is probably very old, and two of the main young-earth creationist organizations have severely criticized ID. (See here for documentation.)

Again, this tactic is deceptive.

God doesn't need these sorts of defense.

I thank my wife for the questions. Thanks for reading.

4) ID comes close to, or does, advocate God-of-the-gaps theology. That sort of theology is dangerous, because it restricts the activity of God to things we can't explain. The problem with that is that the more we think we understand, the less room there is for God, which is nonsense. If there is a God, He did things we can explain, as well as things we can't. (This point was added on July 3, 2010.)

* * * * *

April 18, 2008. On this date, I modified the introductory portion of this post. There were no changes past the first paragraph.

June 2, 2008. On this date, I became aware of Behe's testimony about peer-reviewed articles in the Kitzmiller case, and added the parenthesis to the second paragraph under point 1).

February 28, 2009. I added a link to a post explaining my problems with Young-Earth Creationism.


benjiovercash said...

Thanks for posting this, Dr. LaBar. I don't know as much as I probably ought to know about the ID debate, so this is very helpful.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Benji!

Keetha said...

I have lots of thoughts about these posts - - - -

Primary among them is this: One thing I have noticed by some in the "push creation movement" (My own title for it) is that I've repeatedly noticed a dogmatic attitude which states flatly "facts" which not only may not be true, but are certainly not backed by good science - - - yet they are STATED as if they are both.

That kills me. That only makes Christians look like idiots and furthers the world's impression of us as such.

Also, well meaning Christians, who don't know science, BELIEVE these statements and go around SPOUTING them as truth. Makes my stomach curdle.

Keetha said...

I, on the other hand, do know science as I was taught by the BEST.


Martin LaBar said...

Yes, and not only that, but they are keeping their children out of public schools because of this issue, too. And, I am afraid, we have/are raising a generation of pastors who have been taught that young-earth creationism is what the Bible teaches, without a doubt. God help us all.


Rob Rumfelt said...

I, too, believe that God designed the universe, but with God one can't define design in any human sense at all. Just read Isaiah 55: 8-9.

Unless ID proponents know the mind of God, I don't see how they can "prove" He designed our universe or anything else.

God is far more wondrous than we can even begin to imagine.


Martin LaBar said...

That passage is the one about God's ways being higher than ours.

Thanks, Rob!

Anonymous said...

"they are keeping their children out of public schools because of this issue"

What!? Christians home-schooling their children? Things just couldn't possibly get any worse! ...

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Anonymous.

I didn't say that there was anything wrong with home-schooling. Home-schooling may be the best way to go.

But what if parents home-schooled their children because the public schools taught that the earth was spherical? Wouldn't that be a bad (even if sincere) reason for home-schooling, and wouldn't the products of that home-schooling have a serious gap in their scientific education? Teaching children that the earth is less than 11,000 years old, with no fair consideration of the evidence for alternative views, or no consideration of alternative views at all, also is not a good idea, for similar reasons. This is especially true because even the leaders of the ID movement agree that the earth is much older than that.

Thanks for your comment.

Michael said...

I’m confused by your 3rd reason for objecting to Intelligent Design. You state “ID is often presented as compatible with young-earth creationism, when it isn’t,” yet you also state, “the leaders of the ID movement have said that they believe that the earth is probably very old, and two of the main young-earth creationist organizations have severely criticized ID.”

I’m assuming your objection is based on the misinformed South Carolina legislators. You say the misinformation was “apparently encouraged by IDers” but you do not back up that claim.

Martin LaBar said...

Thank you, Michael. You are correct that I did not back up that claim, and that I should have, or not made it.

I have seen advertisements for seminars/workshops/whatever in churches which indicate that they will be presenting ID and YEC as if they were one and the same thing. I can't quote from one, though. Sorry.

You are right that the objection, in part, was based on the misinformed SC legislators. But these legislators got this impression somewhere.

Thanks for the constructive criticism. I'll try to keep an eye out for evidence that I can cite.

Michael said...

From the experience I have, it seems that YEC supporters (not the higher-ups in the movement such as AIG, but rather the “regular church folk”) are more apt to let ID stand beside YEC than the other way around. ID isn’t necessarily hostile to YEC, but I don’t think ID’s leaders would be thrilled to be grouped with YEC. Some of them have devoted at least some time and writing to dispel any differences. The average church goer probably doesn’t know the difference between the two (and it would seem that Darwinists would just as well keep it that way).

Martin LaBar said...

I think you are right about the rank and file vs. the "higher-ups."