Sunday, November 2, 2008

422)Part 2, Peter McKnight: Religion in Disguise; Intelligent design stumbles by revealing itself as religious theory.

The following article is the second in a series of four articles on Science and Religion by journalist Peter McKnight:

Religion in disguise
Intelligent design stumbles by revealing itself as religious theory

Peter McKnight
Vancouver Sun columnist
Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The religion that is afraid of science dishonors God and commits suicide.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Given the often amicable relationship between science and religion throughout the history of Islam and Christianity, the current hostilities, centred around creationism and evolution, seem something of a historical anomaly. And many commentators suggest that they are also a geographical anomaly, in that the promotion of creationism and intelligent design is restricted to Islamic countries and the United States.

But the latter suggestion is not quite true. While creationism and ID enjoy more "official" support in Islamic countries than anywhere else, and while the U.S. has been the epicentre of the creationism-evolution wars, battles have also been fought in many European countries, Australia and Canada.

Witness the 2007 Ontario provincial election, when Progressive Conservative candidate John Tory, in an effort to bring parochial schools within the purview of public education, echoed the American sentiment that evolution is just a theory, and hence advised that schools should teach "that there are other theories that people have out there that are part of some Christian beliefs."
Or witness the 2006 controversy in Quebec, after the Ministry of Education, knowing some independent schools were teaching creationism, ordered the schools to teach the theory of evolution or close their doors.

Suffice it to say, then, that the creationist movement has been highly successful in its efforts to influence education in Canada. And this is all the more astonishing given that the creationist movement was itself created only about a century ago.

Many people believe that young Earth creationism - the dominant form of creationism, which maintains that God created the world, in roughly its present form, in six literal days some 6,000 years ago - was widely accepted until the advent of modern science. Yet the young Earth creationist movement is of a much more recent vintage.

Most early Christian theologians accepted that parts of the Bible, including the creation story in Genesis I, were meant to be read allegorically, rather than literally. For example, in the fifth century, St. Augustine argued against a literal six-day creation in The Literal Meaning of Genesis. Augustine also displayed a wonderfully scientific mindset, remarking that we should be willing to change our minds in light of new information, and should be wary of reflexively interpreting the Bible literally, for it could discredit the faith.

Nevertheless, the Protestant Reformation, beginning in 1517, began to emphasize Biblical literalism. The core belief of young Earth creationism was established in 1650, when Anglican Archbishop James Ussher recorded Biblical genealogies and concluded that the world was created in 4004 BC, a date accepted by many fundamentalist Christians today.

However, the increasing development of geology in the 19th century cast doubt on Ussher's chronology, and by the mid-19th century, few evangelical Christians accepted a young Earth.
That began to change in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with the rise of Christian fundamentalism. For 20 years between 1878 and 1897, American Presbyterians held an annual Niagara Bible Conference, and in 1910, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church presented the "five fundamentals," one of which was Biblical inerrancy.

While not all "fundamentalist" Christians at the time accepted a young Earth, many Christians grew concerned about the impact of teaching the theory of evolution, which was blamed for, among other things, atrocities committed during the First - and later, the Second - World War. Consequently, Christians successfully lobbied for statutes prohibiting the teaching of evolution, such as Tennessee's Butler Act, which was the focus of the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925.

It's important to note that, at this time, most opponents of evolution didn't even pretend that their objections were based in science. Rather, their concerns were explicitly moral and religious in nature, as they were concerned that science, and particularly the theory of evolution, led to the loss of Biblically-based morality. And this remains the primary concern of Christian creationists today.

One of the few people who attempted to provide a scientific basis for young Earth creationism in the early 20th century was George McCready-Price, a New Brunswick-born member of the Seventh Day Adventist church. Despite minimal scientific training, McCready-Price wrote a series of books in the early 20th century in which he argued that all fossils were produced by the Great Flood ("flood geology").

McCready-Price's work was savagely attacked by geologists at the time, and while his arguments were used in the Scopes Trial, they didn't become influential among creationists at the time.

New texts taught evolution

But fearing that it was losing the space race to the Soviets in the late 1950s, the American government began developing new science textbooks that emphasized, among other things, the theory of evolution. That led to an equal and opposite reaction from creationists, and in 1961, hydraulic engineer Henry Morris and theologian John Whitcomb published The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and Its Scientific Implications, which revived McCready-Price's already discredited work.

Morris is often considered the father of creation science, which reveals just how young the movement is. And although, unlike McCready-Price, Morris was scientifically educated, he was similarly attacked for his lack of knowledge of geology, as well as for misquoting sources.
The attempt to provide a scientific basis for a Biblical belief already discredited by science placed Morris and other creationists directly in conflict with most of modern science - not merely with evolutionary biology, but with cosmology, geology, paleontology and so forth. Consequently, instead of marshalling evidence for a young Earth, creationists spent - and continue to spend - most of their time attacking the sciences.

Hence geochronological methods used to date rocks, fossils and sediments must be fundamentally flawed because they suggest the Earth is much older than 6,000 years. Similarly, cosmologists must be mistaken in maintaining that we see light coming from stars and galaxies millions and billions of light-years away.

Further, following Morris's and McCready-Price's discussions of fossils, many creationists suggest that any gaps in the fossil record, and any gaps in our knowledge, reveal not just the incompleteness of the theory of theory of evolution, but also open the door to discussion of divine action. For if we lack evidence as to how a given species originated, then we can always assume that the hand of God was at work in bringing that species into being.

This "God in the gaps" theorizing is, however, extremely dangerous for believers, since new discoveries frequently fill in the gaps in our knowledge, and thereby leave less and less for God to do.

Interestingly, it is this very theorizing that led Richard Dawkins to declare that "Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist," since, according to Dawkins, Darwin finally provided a non-theistic explanation for complex biological design - that is, Darwin filled a gap in our knowledge which rendered appeals to God superfluous. Suffice it to say then, that as science progresses, God in the gaps theories, far from proving the existence of the divine, may squeeze God out of the picture.

Nevertheless, creationists continue to attack the perceived weakness of the theory of evolution by emphasizing that evolution is a theory, not a fact. And if this is so, we ought to give equal time in science classes to alternative theories of origins, including creationism. Creationists don't follow this reasoning through, however, since they rarely advocate for inclusion of the creation stories of other religions.

Further, when creationists attempt to discredit evolution by saying it's "just a theory," they reveal their ignorance of what we mean by a scientific theory. While, colloquially, we might use the term "theory" to describe something that is less than certain - less than a fact - in science, a theory is "bigger" than fact: It is a framework of ideas that allows us to interpret and explain the facts and to make predictions that we can test. To say evolution is a theory is not to reduce its stature, whatever creationists might think.

Despite these problems, creation science remains popular. But it died, in name at least, in 1987, after the United States Supreme Court issued its judgment in Edwards v. Aguillard.

At issue was a Louisiana law that required that creation science be taught alongside evolution - the result of creationists successfully lobbying for equal time. The court, however, declared the law unconstitutional, thereby forbidding the teaching of creation science.

But creationism lives on, as proponents merely changed the name of the theory, from creation science to intelligent design. Indeed, after the court's judgment, the words "creation science" were literally replaced with "intelligent design" in the creationist textbook, Of Pandas and People.

ID theory deeply problematic

To be sure, ID has taken on a life of its own since Edwards v. Aguillard. In contrast to young Earth creationists, ID theorists make no claim about the age of the Earth. Instead, they suggest that the supposed design in nature reveals the existence of a designer, much as the discovery of a watch suggests the existence of a watchmaker.

This is not a new argument - it is a form of what is known as the "teleological argument for the existence of God" or "the argument from design," which has existed for millennia, received much attention among the medieval Scholastic philosophers, and was popularized in Christian apologist William Paley's 1802 work, Natural Theology (a book that influenced a young Charles Darwin.)
Yet the theory is deeply problematic. Although ID theorists believe that the designer is the personal God of Christianity, they resist saying so officially for fear that their theory will appear religious. So they admit that the designer could be an advanced alien race. This means that ID doesn't necessarily get us to God.

Design theory also doesn't get us to science: A scientific theory must yield testable hypotheses, and to do so, it must possess predictive power. Yet since we don't know what the designer is or how it operates, there is no way of predicting what it will do next. We therefore have no hypotheses to test - no way of knowing whether the evidence supports or refutes the theory - and hence nothing for scientists to do. This explains why ID has produced no research program and published no empirical studies in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Despite these problems - or perhaps because of them - ID theorists, much like their creationist forebears, have focused on attacking modern science. The attack began in 1991, when University of California, Berkeley law professor Phillip Johnson published Darwin on Trial, which became the template of the ID movement.

Then in 1996, the Seattle-based Discovery Institute opened its Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture (now the Center for Science and Culture) with the express purpose of promoting ID. The centre has proven highly successful in this regard, convincing many politicians to consider laws favouring at least the mention of ID in biology classes.

Although the institute claims that ID is not at odds with science, an institute paper known as the Wedge document makes the anti-scientific nature of the movement explicit. According to the document, the two governing goals of ID are: "To defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural and political legacies," and "To replace materialistic explanations with a theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God."

This document therefore makes two things clear: First, similar to young Earth creationists, the ID theorists primary concern is with what they believe to be the ethical consequences of modern science, or what they call "scientific materialism." And second, for the foregoing reason, they desire to overthrow modern science, or scientific materialism.

At issue here is a normative rule of science called methodological materialism (or methodological naturalism), which states that when explaining the world, scientists must limit themselves to natural causes - to matter, energy and the interaction of matter of energy. Consequently, scientists must avoid recourse to supernatural causes, such as God, karma and so on.

This resistance to relying on supernatural causes dates all the way back to the earliest pre-Socratic philosophers and for good reason. First, since science concerns itself with the study of the natural world - and leaves the supernatural to theology - it stands to reason that it would avoid positing supernatural causation.

But more important, we know that methodological naturalism works: By eschewing reliance on supernatural causes, science has been tremendously successful at explaining - and controlling - the natural world. If we were to permit consideration of the supernatural, this success would likely come to a crashing halt because once we posit a supernatural cause for some phenomenon, we have our answer, and there is no reason to seek further explanation.

Now that said, methodological materialism is, as the name suggests, a methodological rule, not a metaphysical theory. By following the rule, scientists are not saying that nothing supernatural exists - indeed, there are many scientists who do believe in the supernatural but who recognize that they must avoid relying on it when doing science. On the other hand, metaphysical materialism, as a theory of reality rather than a scientific rule, suggests that natural causes are all that exist. And while there are some scientists who subscribe to this theory, commitment to methodological materialism does not in any way commit one to metaphysical materialism.

Nevertheless, some other ID theorists suggest that methodological materialism leads quite naturally to metaphysical materialism. And since metaphysical materialism leaves no room for God, both forms of materialism must be overthrown.

Thus, in its desire to overthrow methodological materialism - to overthrow scientific method - ID reveals itself as a religious theory, fundamentally in conflict with science.

Despite this, ID did score some victories, most notably in Dover, Penn., when in 2004 the Dover school board approved the mention of ID in high school biology classes. That victory was short-lived however, as the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, after an extensive discussion of methodological materialism, declared in 2005 that ID is a religious theory and hence laws promoting its inclusion in the curriculum are unconstitutional.

But creationism will no doubt be back in some form. And while the movement regroups, it's worth considering whether there is any legitimacy to creationists' primary concern with modern science, and in particular, with the theory of evolution: That it leads, or has led, to a materialist metaphysics and to destructive moral, cultural and political legacies.

Video of Part 2:

Easy Nash

The Qur'an itself repeatedly recommends Muslims to become better educated in order better to understand God's creation: Aga Khan IV(2007)
The Quran tells us that signs of Allah's Sovereignty are found in the contemplation of His Creation: Aga Khan IV(2007)
This notion of the capacity of the human intellect to understand and to admire the creation of Allah will bring you happiness in your everyday lives: Aga Khan IV(2007)
Islam, eminently logical, placing the greatest emphasis on knowledge, purports to understand God's creation: Aga Khan IV(2006)
The first and only thing created by God was the Intellect(Aql): Prophet Muhammad(circa 632CE)