Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The End of Intelligent Design?

Stephen M. Barr, professor of physics at the University of Delaware, has some thoughts on...The End of Intelligent Design? He opens up with this stirring assessment:

What has the intelligent design movement achieved? As science, nothing. The goal of science is to increase our understanding of the natural world, and there is not a single phenomenon that we understand better today or are likely to understand better in the future through the efforts of ID theorists. If we are to look for ID achievements, then, it must be in the realm of natural theology. And there, I think, the movement must be judged not only a failure, but a debacle.
The ID claim is that certain biological phenomena lie outside the ordinary course of nature. Aside from the fact that such a claim is, in practice, impossible to substantiate, it has the effect of pitting natural theology against science by asserting an incompetence of science. To be sure, there are questions that natural science is not competent to address, and too many scientists have lost all sense of the limitations of their disciplines, not to mention their own limitations. But the ID arguments effectively declare natural science incompetent even in what most would regard as its own proper sphere. Nothing could be better calculated to provoke the antagonism of the scientific community. This throwing down of the gauntlet to science explains not a little of the fervor of the scientific backlash against ID.
The older (and wiser) form of the design argument for the existence of God—one found implicitly in Scripture and in many early Christian writings—did not point to the naturally inexplicable or to effects outside the course of nature, but to nature itself and its ordinary operations—operations whose “power and working” were seen as reflecting the power and wisdom of God.
But whereas the advance of science continually strengthens the broader and more traditional version of the design argument, the ID movement’s version is hostage to every advance in biological science. Science must fail for ID to succeed. In the famous “explanatory filter” of William A. Dembski, one finds “design” by eliminating “law” and “chance” as explanations. This, in effect, makes it a zero-sum game between God and nature. What nature does and science can explain is crossed off the list, and what remains is the evidence for God. This conception of design plays right into the hands of atheists, whose caricature of religion has always been that it is a substitute for the scientific understanding of nature.

The name of this form of apologia: "The God of the Gaps".

The ID movement has also rubbed a very raw wound in the relation between science and religion. For decades scientists have had to fend off the attempts by Young Earth creationists to promote their ideas as a valid alternative science. The scientific world’s exasperation with creationists is understandable. Imagine yourself a serious historian in a country where half the population believed in Afrocentric history, say, or a serious political scientist in a country where half the people believed that the world is run by the Bilderberg Group or the Rockefellers. It would get to you after a while, especially if there were constant attempts to insert these alternative theories into textbooks. So, when the ID movement came along and suggested that its ideas be taught in science classrooms, it touched a nerve. This is one reason that the New Atheists attracted such a huge audience.

Skeptic Magazine put out an issue addressing the Holocaust Denial / Historical Revision movement, examining the types of argument they make. The comparison between Holocaust Denialism and Evolution Denialism are striking, to say the least.

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