Monday, August 22, 2005

Origins of Intelligent Design, Scientific Intimidation, and The Big Question

It’s odd the way things happen, sometimes. Not too long ago on this site there was a simmering debate on Evolution vs. Intelligent Design. In a comment on a totally different subject the other day, i eat puppies furnished links to two articles addressing that subject, and then on the Faith page in the local paper was an article on that topic. It must be time to address this subject again.

The column in the local paper, by David Yount of the Scripps Howard News Service, entitled “Evolution and Intelligent Design,” the author explains that the concept of Intelligent Design predated Charles Darwin’s theory of Evolution, which was put forth in 1859, and is today offered by the scientific community as the explanation of how life developed on Earth. Yount tells us that Intelligent Design “was first proposed by an English clergyman, William Paley, who in 1802 offered the analogy of a watch found in a field. He believed that anyone finding such an intricate mechanism would dismiss any notion that it had been produced by mere chance, but would have had to be made by an intelligent being.” Paley thought the complexity and diversity of the known universe (at the time) was sufficient to educe the same response to the question: “where did we come from?”

Yount further explained that a survey by the Fordham Foundation in 2000 revealed that two-thirds of Americans believe humans were directly created by God, while only one in five Americans believe we "evolved from an earlier species." Out of one hundred Americans, 67 believe we were created by God, and only 20 believe in Darwin’s theory.

Thus, we have not only a solid majority of Americans that believe in something akin to Intelligent Design, but we also have a true dilemma with respect to addressing these subjects in our nation’s schools: How can a belief held by 67 percent of Americans be barred from presentation to students in favor of a theory that only 20 percent of Americans believe is true?

Doesn’t that violate the concept of majority rule? If substantially more people believe in a God-created universe than in a chance-created universe, should we not at the very least include the belief of the vast majority of Americans in our public curricula?

How would that square with the U.S. Constitution's much heralded, and largely misunderstood "separation between church and state?" Well, it would square just fine, given that the Constitution forbids only the creation and imposition of a state-sponsored religion, not the mere mention of religion or religious elements in schools, or the public display of religious symbols on public property.

One of the links furnished by i eat puppies led to the story of Richard Sternberg who made a fateful decision as editor of the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. He published a paper making the case for Intelligent Design.

The Washington Post reported that "Within hours of publication, senior scientists at the Smithsonian Institution -- which has helped fund and run the journal -- lashed out at Sternberg as a shoddy scientist and a closet Bible thumper.

"'They were saying I accepted money under the table, that I was a crypto-priest, that I was a sleeper cell operative for the creationists,' said Steinberg, 42 , who is a Smithsonian research associate. 'I was basically run out of there.'

"An independent agency has come to the same conclusion, accusing top scientists at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History of retaliating against Sternberg by investigating his religion and smearing him as a 'creationist.'"

Don't you just love scientists? They are objective creatures, always looking for the truth, and aren't above smearing, slandering and defaming one of their own when his version doesn't match theirs.

And then, if you're into the lighthearted, the second link from i eat puppies led to a parody of the Intelligent Design concept, titled Evangelical Scientists Refute Gravity With New "Intelligent Falling" Theory.

There is a lot of emotion on both sides of this issue. Yes, even fact-oriented, objective scientists become victims of emotion on this one. The religious proponents of Intelligent Design also become worked up over it, especially when their "faith" is ridiculed as a fairy tale. Two theories with large numbers of proponents, and neither of them can be proved or disproved.

But here's The Big Question: If there is a God responsible for our universe, where did he/she/it come from, and if there is no God, where did all the matter in the universe come from?

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Buffalo said...

So many questions that well may always defy a factual answer. Until then we must choose the truth we believe.

And hence is the conflict.

James Shott said...

I believe you are correct, Buff. Factual answers to the "Original Question" are likely non-existent.

Likewise, the "Truth" is unknowable.

The result, as you correctly noted, is conflict.

I'm suggesting a little more tolerance for the faith-based "theory," and a little less arrogance from the science-based advocates, given that we can't prove either of them right or wrong.

Anonymous said...

I hear you Mr. Shott. It's pretty crappy what they did to that scientist- smear instead argue against him.

I would hesitate, though, to draw a broad conclusion about all scientists from this, as you do ("Don't you just love scientists? They are objective creatures, always looking for the truth, and aren't above smearing, slandering and defaming one of their own when his version doesn't match theirs"). I'd expect a more reasoned critique from you.

Especially when there were scientists who defended this man from the smear as well. It's the bad apple thing, but worth mentioning to keep both sides on the up and up.

Also, I will point out these sentences from above, just to cause trouble.

"How can a belief held by 67 percent of Americans be barred from presentation to students in favor of a theory that only 20 percent of Americans believe is true? Doesn’t that violate the concept of majority rule?"

In our democracy, it is ok to violate majority rule if you are protecting minority rights, in this case the right to a seperate state and church (and we are in so much disagreement on the meaning of seperation of church and state, I'm not going to bother presenting my side hear- you've heard it before, and me your argument).

Until the next post, have a good one

James Shott said...

I plead guilty to generalizing about scientists. I am addressing the "public face" that science promotes, which is a somewhat arrogant, "you don't know as much as I do" kind of attitude.

I see a great hypocrisy surrounding the strong effort to delegitimize the belief-based theory and those who subscribe to it. Minority rights are not in jeopardy by allowing the presentation of the Intelligent Design concept. In fact, since not only Christians, but Muslims and Jews also believe in a God-created universe, protecting those minorities demands ID be discussed.

Anonymous said...

OK, but what about atheists?
Look, I have no problem with ID being discussed in public schools, just not in a science classroom. In maybe social studies, or if the school is lucky enough to have a philosophy class, that would be the best venue.

The simple fact, or theory you might say, is ID is not science. It is not testable, observable, or duplicatable

James Shott said...

OK, but what about atheists?

Which is the problem with trying to protect minority rights, sometimes.

What bothers me about this issue is that science's story is not provable, but a competing idea cannot be discussed in science class because the competing idea is not "science." So, as far a science classes and the ideas that science puts forth are concerned, there is no option. That may make sense from the point of view of only talking about scientific matters in science class, but it falls way short when it comes to finding the Truth. I believe Truth is far more important than any idea that science puts forth that can't be proven.

As I have suggested before (somewhere, maybe here), maybe both should be reserved for a non-science setting, neutral territory.

Anonymous said...

Thought you might like this

James Shott said...

Stephen Meyer goes far beyond anything I could support at this point.

I want a non-biased venue and a non-biased environment for this discussion to take place. I don't want a group of religion advocates dominating, and I don't want a group of evolution advocates dominating, I just want there to be an honest and open-minded attitude in schools about the possibility of each belief being correct, and that each belief be equally represented. I don't care whether it is presented in a science class or in a philosophy class, or where ever. Equal treatment; no bias.

lightly-powdered said...
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