August 3, 2005

The Un-Intelligence of Intelligent Design

This is not going to be about "the scientific merit of Intelligent Design vis-a-vis Evolution." I hate the word "vis-a-vis" and I think that argument has a pretty clear result.

I would like to address two points. First is the idea that, as Bush said yesterday "part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought." Second is the place of the God vs. Darwin debate in society and why it is so important to religious conservatives.

Bush's argument, which echoes what a lot of other conservatives are saying, that students "ought to be exposed to different ideas," is a bastardization of multicultural pluralist politics. It ignores the essential difference between what something like science does and what something like history or literature does. Science attempts to identify things that are invariably repeatable experimentally and empirically verifiable. History or literature does not and should not attempt to find laws that apply universally and invariably, mostly because those laws do not exist. Human beings make choices that render all-encompassing models impossible.

It is not simply a difference between objective and subjective--those are loaded terms and increasingly difficult to separate the more we ponder their meaning. It is a difference in goals, in methodology, and in purpose. The mission of science is to limit different perspectives to the perspective that works the best.

Science is in this way much like grammar. While I fully recognize the right of other people to speak how they would like, what should be taught is what works the best in our society--standard grammar. Science, like language, is primarily functional, not speculative. If the focus is function, one should use the best tools. ID is not a good tool to improve scientific understanding. ID is scientifically sterile--it does nothing to help us understand what may have happened or is happening or will happen in any way that can actually produce new physical or material benefits.

The importance of the ID vs. evolution debate is rather curious to me. Honestly, I'm not sure why Christians are so eager to make their stand in an arena (biology) where there is such overwhelming evidence contrary to their theory. Sure, not everything is fully understood about the mechanics of evolution, but those gaps fit in pretty nicely in the overall model and we pretty much know what kinds of things will go in those gaps.

What I think is the driving force behind the choice of evolution as a target is the ideological importance of establishing God as prior to and therefore immanent in the physical world. Having their creation story accepted gives validation to the entire way their world is oriented--it is not so much the first plank of their ideological platform as it is the keel of their ship--the center line and orienting principle.

There are other areas besides biology that have more effect on the actual process of everyday life--biology can be sort of ignored, but language, for instance, can't. It would seem if they really wanted to establish the presence of God in the world, they would advocate that our language be taught as intelligently designed, not our biology.

The point is, creation stories are over-privileged as central to the orientation of our various worldviews. If one de-centers the origin of life as the most important element of society, Christians would see that it really doesn't threaten their worldview or their way of life to teach only evolution in schools. They could teach that God's hand is behind evolution in the same manner and place as they may teach God's hand is behind ethics or behind our nation's history or whatever--in the privacy of their own homes.

Those religious conservatives who are arguing for ID, quite simply, are misusing the wrong arguments for their position and are focusing on the wrong thing. There are things that matter pragmatically far more than God's activities in the process of life. We're going to have an argument between the secularists and the religionists--let's at least make it count.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:08 AM

    Unless of course it turns out to be true that an infinitely superior being exists who created the universe and all life within it. Now, wouldn't that indeed be the ultimate quest for science? We seem to want to know if there is life on other planets, even as far away as planets in other galaxies, and everyone agrees it is the domain of science to look into that possibility. I am aghast at the lack of intellectual curiosity regarding whether or not a series of haphazard events TRULY is responsible for all that exists, or whether something else is going on, specifically the possible existence of "someone else" who knows a lot more and can do a lot more than we puny little earthlings can know and do. Indeed, there seems to be a lid shut tight in academia against entertaining any notion of even looking into this matter scientifically. Perhaps for fear of being labeled religious? If it turns out to be true that this universe is not as we think and that there is a very superior entity in control of it, would that be a religious notion or a concrete fact? I mean, it either IS or it ISN'T so. And if it IS so, then it's concrete and within the domain of science. We exist, so why do we think it so silly that an infinitely superior entity also exists? Why isn't science/academia even willing to run the numbers on this question?