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On May 12, 2006, Biola University held its 3rd (I believe) conference on Intelligent Design (ID), the theory that the empirical evidence shows aspects of the universe to be too complex and/or too finely specified to have developed by accident, and that the only rational causal explanation is an intelligent designer. They are careful to state that they do not appeal to any religious text or belief system for their claims, only to the available empirical evidence -- though the opposition and the press commonly and gratuitously ignore that statement. Assigning motives gratuitously is not helpful to a discussion.
The discussion was set up by the defenders of ID to expose themselves to whatever the critics had to throw at them. After a brief introduction of the issues at stake, the critics were invited one by one, to ask any question they had of the defenders. The defenders were under fire from some very capable opponents.
I was in the gym where a large crowd had gathered to get the piped-in, large screen presentation from the live presentation in the auditorium. Apart from the speakers having no name plates before them (which left at least this part of the audience often guessing who was speaking), difficulty in getting visuals up on the screen, and camera operators who, frustratingly, tended to focus on the speaker rather than the visuals to which the speaker was referring, all went well, and people were in good humor.
The critics focused heavily on "irreducible complexity", the idea that an item can have a complexity, no part of which can be lost without making the item dysfunctional. ID proponents say, rightly, I think, that such items could not evolve by Darwin's notion of slow, gradual, random mutation.
A mousetrap, for example, is irreducibly complex. If you reduce the complexity, it will not work. It will not catch a few mice with just a board, then a few more with a spring, then a few more with a cheese holder, and then a few more with cheese in the holder. If the whole assemblage is not there, you catch no mice at all. So the "trap" could not grow (survive the dog eat dog process of evolution) incrementally by successively greater advantages of success. Until all steps were, by some absurdly improbable chance, accomplished, each successive step would be only added "junk" which would get in the way of, not help, further successes.
The critics wanted to show that the slow, gradual processes of evolution could indeed overcome that rather formidable barrier of irreducible complexity. It appeared to this observer that the defenders had the better of the argument, that Michael Behe, the inventor of the concept (see Darwin's Black Box), and others, were able to respond more than adequately so far as current experimental evidence is concerned. As all agreed, only time will tell whether that will change with further experiments. The defenders urged the critics to continue their experimentations to see where they would go, and pleaded for the same freedom for their side. The burden of proof, they seemed to be saying, has shifted to the critics to become now defenders of evolution.
The defenders pointed out that, although many criticize ID proponents for not getting substantive articles with their evidence into refereed professional journals, the gate-keepers of those journals have been quite rigid in not allowing into their journals articles which encouraged professional consideration of ID or criticized evolution. It has been in fact the ID proponents who have been pushing for honest science, i.e., open and candid discussion of the possibilities, not usually the critics of ID. ID supporters are asking, so far as schools go, for an honest contest of ideas. Let the public decide, not the experts (see below).
[Aside: It is, sadly, often the case that those in power inhibit open discussion because they might thereby lose power, and those outside the power structure want open discussion because they might gain access to the power structure -- and then, once in, themselves shut the door (more below on "power"). That is partly how Christians lost their credibility after gaining access to political power.]
There were remarks that some of the critics themselves had sustained opposition for their very willingness to come to such a place as Biola, a well-known religious institution, no doubt because this was seen as giving credibility to a "religious" point of view. One critic himself asked why this event itself was not held at a secular, scientific institution. It was responded again that secular gatekeepers are not welcoming ID discussion within their gates. It is not the fault of the ID proponents that ID debates are not being held in secular venues.
One critic also specified two rules which he thought necessary to true science, which, he apparently thought, ID proponents had not met, that ID should show (1) when a change took place and (2) the mechanism by which it took place, i.e., how the (unspecified) "designer" might have done such a thing. The ID proponents responded that they did not want to let their opposition define (well, at least not arbitrarily) the rules by which they, the defenders, were to operate (see below on the definition of 'science').
The defenders also said that we must stick to commonly experienced notions of causality, not invent unknown and unknowable causes, to explain events in the past which we cannot reproduce in the present. They pointed out that we have a present experience in our own personhood of agency, of ourselves causing things to happen, which is a fundamental part of, for example, law. We assess guilt or innocence based on intention, which is the same as intelligent design. Agency as cause is not "mysterious" or "religious" in some noxious sense. (But it is metaphysical -- beyond the five senses.)
confession: I have come to describe myself as a Biblical libertarian.
I believe in the conservation of reliable truth (a conservative), and also in
the open investigation of new possibilities (a classical, Jeffersonian liberal),
based on the rules of science (see below). I believe the Biblical
worldview is built on freedom (a freewill covenant) from top to bottom, but
ordered freedom -- ordered by the law and grace of God. I believe that
what we call science arose out of that worldview, aided and abetted by aspects
of Greek philosophy. I believe that the spiritual and moral disciplines of
Biblical faith lead to continually more substantial, not less, personal freedom,
just as (and for the same kinds of reasons that) scientific disciplines lead to
enormous freedom. These disciplines are the way of the cross in the
trenches -- leading to the fullness of personhood, of relationship, and of
culture -- the abundant life promised by Jesus. I believe that God has
only truth to offer, and that following Jesus on the way of the cross is a crash
course in open, honest truth-seeking at any cost to ourselves, as with Elijah on
Mount Carmel (I Kings 18:19 ff.), or, "Come, let us reason together...." (Isaiah
1:18), and living in the Light (I John 1).
Until some background issues are clarified, the ID discussion will continue in unresolved and inconclusive circles. ID supporters should resist being frightened of being accused of a "religious" point of view. Its religiosity is irrelevant. The question is whether ID is true, not whether it is religious, and how one finds out whether it is true.
Many, perhaps most, critics of ID insist that science is inherently "naturalistic", eschewing anything beyond the material world as a cause or explanation of the cosmos or parts thereof. Critics of ID are, of course, free to define their language as they see fit, but then others are also free to point out that their version of science is no longer a quest for truth, but arbitrarily for a naturalistic explanation -- whether or not true. They must first show that naturalistic materialism is the truth of the matter before imposing it on the rest of us as part of the scientific (truth-seeking) package. They have not done that.
That task of finding out whether something is true (about the natural world), including its origins, is imagined by most Westerners to be the task of science itself. Are not scientists the truth-seekers of our time? Well, sometimes.
Either way, if we are to engage in an intelligent cultural discussion about whether ID is science, then we must clarify what we mean by science. How do we know when we have a science? How do we know whether something is or is not "scientific"? Otherwise the charges and counter-charges about whether ID is science are just more going in circles.
There is a difference, 1. between science and scientists, and 2. between the scientific community and the scientific establishment. One has, I have discovered, a difficult time getting this discussion going among the current contenders. But here is my view of the matter.
Definition: we have a science when we have an agreed upon set of rules of evidence for discovery of truth for a given area which can be publicly used and which are neutrally (even handedly) applied to participants in a debate. All views of a matter are welcome, but each view must survive open questioning from others (peer view). A science, that is, is a set of rules for finding the truth. If a set of rules skews the truth, and so inhibits the open contest of ideas, then it is not science.
Science had technological roots in Hellenic philosophy (the technology of thinking), but it had worldview roots in Biblical culture (a world understood to be both good and rational). The technology of thinking came together with the Biblical worldview in western Europe toward the end of the Middle Ages in what we call the "rise of science".
Science did not arise in the pagan worldview because the world was not thought by pagan peoples -- not, at least, with any consistency -- to be either good or rational. So the technology of thinking could not find fertile ground until the Biblical worldview formed that ground.
Science, then, resulted in the democratization of truth and education. Truth-seeking was taken out of the hands of apriori-minded authorities and put into the hands of anyone willing to discipline himself to the rules of truth-seeking in this new, public, and empirical manner.
Science, it should be noted, does not tell us such things as whether water freezes at 32 degrees, whether the sun goes around the world, whether Caesar crossed the Rubicon, or whether the Bible is true. Science tells us how to go about finding out the truth of those matters.
It is scientists (not science) who tell us the freezing temperature of water, etc. We judge someone a scientist by whether he follows the rules of science honestly and openly. We, the people, do not appreciate being scammed, and rightly should be harsh on scammers or incompetents. Too much is at stake.
Theology used to be called the Queen of the Sciences. Some think it still is -- at least when it is conducted by the rules of evidence appropriate to that area. Clearly, the rules of evidence are going to vary widely, depending on the subject matter. One area cannot pontificate over another about its rules of evidence.
There was a short but vigorous discussion about whether science was democratic (decided by a vote of the people at large) or whether the truth of scientific matters was decided by the experts within a field of science.
The answer, surely, depends on the context. Within a given scientific community (chemistry, physics, history, theology), those who do their homework and earn the respect of the rest will be most influential in forming the consensus of the community. So physicists or biologists may come up with a consensus for or against Darwinian evolution.
But when the issues are those of public policy, then we, the people, should make the decisions, not the experts. In a trial, an expert may testify as to the received scientific opinion on a matter. But the jury applies that knowledge, deciding whether it is true or relevant, and makes the decision of guilty or innocent. In legislation, the expert should inform the assembly, but the legislators, representing the people, not the visiting experts, form public policy.
All this makes the more sense if we keep the distinction clear between science and scientists. Science is an abstraction -- a policy, a set of rules of evidence. Scientists are concrete and fallible human beings making decisions by trying to apply the rules.
The scientific community is made up of all those who are engaged in one form or another of science, seeking the truth of a given area. In practical fact, that means that there are many scientific communities because there are many areas of expertise. Being an expert in chemistry does not make one an expert in history.
Nevertheless, it can be said that as one learns the technology of thinking, the rules, as they used to be called, of logic, rhetoric, and grammar, one can more readily understand and critique various sciences. The general rules are -- generic. The law of non-contradiction applies in every science and to every scientist.
The scientific establishment is made up of the gate-keepers, the decision-makers, the power-holders. They tend naturally to be the ones who influence public policy outside their given scientific communities because people look to them for opinions and leadership.
We, the people, give enormous authority over ourselves to the scientific establishment because we trust, lacking evidence to the contrary, that they have indeed accepted discipline -- at any cost to themselves -- to the moral obligation of truth-seeking. That is a high calling asked of fallen human beings.
In this sense, science is the way of the cross for the intellect. We give up our right to "be right", and, by way of the evidence, let the truth (and the Lord of truth) speak for themselves.
Trust is an earned quality. We ought to trust only those who have a reasonably verifiable track record of honesty and competence. Generally we assume that the degrees and curricula vitae of would-be scientists supply reasonable evidence.
But where power is centralized, the power-hungry will gather. That is just as true in science as it is in politics or religion. As Lord Acton noted (of the papacy as I recall), power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The history of science has been as littered with corruption and dishonesty as any other field.
And so, eternal vigilance is still the price of intellectual, moral, and spiritual credibility. The bed rock vigilance will always be by the followers of the leaders. That is the necessary consequence of having the freedom of choosing our own leadership. We must strictly guard our freedom to unchoose them. The scientific establishment is as trustworthy only as is the vigilance of the wider scientific community. And that in turn rests on the vigilance of we, the people.
I have had over fifteen years of personal and professional experience in the issues of homosexuality -- in which the medical community and medical establishment have enormous influence over public opinion. It is my observation that those various organizations which make up that community have, almost without exception, violated their trust by allowing forces which have no interest in honest public debate to determine the positions and opinions of the "experts", resulting in mainstreaming a compulsive, lethal addiction into the life of America. (One could go on about our legal experts vis-a-vis abortion, education, and many other issues.)
That is outrageous betrayal, not science. The rules of honest debate are routinely subverted by alleged scientists in homosexuality discussions, often deliberately so. (See Homosexuality: Good & Right in the Eyes of God? and also, Dialogue in Darkness or Scientific Debate? in the Sexuality section of the Shopping Mall.) We see the same now in the ID discussion.
And, we the people, for the most part, have ourselves to thank, for not holding our alleged experts to the disciplines of honest science. We are not, as we like to think, a scientific culture. We know little of science or of the demands it makes on the populace, let alone the professionals. We are an immature, self-absorbed culture who want "experts" around to take care of us -- and so make ourselves vulnerable to charlatans.
ID proponents rightly hold the scientific establishment's feet to the fire for honest discussion of the ID issues. As was pointed out in the debate, ID issues are already discussed within the primary scientific journals, but only to attack ID. Defenders are not permitted, in many cases, to respond to those attacks. That is dishonest gate-keeping, and betrayal of science and of the public.
The ID debate (on both sides) consistently ignores one major factor creating the tensions among us.
Education is about the passing on of truth by those who have some of it to those who do not (the healthy conservative aspect), and about passing on ways of finding new truth not yet discovered (the classical Jeffersonian liberal aspect). Honest education demands both of these in a free market of ideas where various viewpoints are tested for their truth and relevance to the case at hand.
Government, as George Washington noted, is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force. Everything civil government does, it does, as it were, at gun point. That is why the founding fathers insisted on a limited government. Only certain limited things are rightly enforced. We rarely see the gun because we generally agree with and obey the laws. But government, by nature, is about coercion. Laws are made to be coerced. Something is forced or forbidden. Otherwise, if it were a matter of indifference, we would not waste time making laws, and would need no government.
But power, apart from the vigilant, always drifts toward centralization. In a Godless world, there is a perpetual struggle by the coercive authority of civil government to itself wield the enormous power of science, industry, and commerce. Under Mussolini, it was called fascism, but it has many names and forms. In a Godless world, there is no power big enough to say "No!" to civil government except another competing power center. Life is essentially and inescapably power struggle.
The debate about teaching either ID or evolution in schools is not fierce because ID either is or is not science. That is not the underlying issue. The school debate is fierce because in America, education is forced. But that issue is not even raised.
We are required, at gun point, to educate our children according to government enforced standards. We are taxed enormous amounts (at gun point) to pay for this education, and we may pay even further sums to educate our children at home or in private schools. But even there, in many states, the coercive hand of government intrudes.
If we currently had a free market education system (such as prior to the 1830's, Horace Mann, et al), there might still be a debate about evolution or ID, but it would have nothing to do with schools. You would be sending your children to a school of your choice, for which you paid, and from which, with no penalty, you could withdraw your child if you did not like their science, religion, brand of paper clips, or for any other reason.
The fundamental reason for the ferocious debate about ID being taught in schools is because most of our schools are tax supported and coerced. Each side of the debate seeks to control the coercion, and thus have it forced "our" way. That is how we set up education when we put it into the hands of civil government. We think, wrongly, that such a policy is American and "democratic". So one side or the other ends up coercing someone to be schooled in a manner contrary to their conscience. As Jefferson said, that is not Godly, and he did not want it to be American either. The issue before us is control, not education, science, or religion.
No single systemic change in America would do more to restore a free market of ideas, honest science, and a spirit of sturdy freedom than restoring our free market education system, getting civil government entirely out of education, and returning responsibility for education to parents, students, and so-called private (the real public) enterprise. (See the Alliance for the Separation of School & State.)
When we did it that way, we had the best educated populace in the world, enabling America to come from behind commercially to lead the world in the Industrial Revolution. That was the "Christian system", as some of its opponents described education in the early 1800's. There is no stronger encouragement for free market education (and thus science, commerce, industry) than genuine Judeo-Christian religion. (For the history of American public education, see Samuel Blumenfeld on the Bibliography Page.)
[Note: the same story can be told of Christians in politics as in science. The two defining characteristics of Western Civ. (science and the development of due process in civil law) were gifts from God. No pagan or secular civilization could have invented them. But Christians, in both cases, managed to make both of these their enemy, handing them over to secular leadership. Recovery is in the wings, but Christians (and the world) are paying a heavy price for these tragic failures.]
Science arose only after a millennium of marinating in the Biblical worldview in western Europe. It did not arise in Greece, China, Egypt, or Rome, all of which had sufficient technology to at least begin such an adventure. And today, as Westerners chip away at our Biblical foundations, science is eroding. The state of American education is appalling. Truth, the very meaning of science and education, is commonly despised. Science, as we have understood it in the West (as a way of improving human life), will not survive the loss of its original Biblical worldview foundations.
The technology of science will survive, not because science is about truth, but because science is also the foundation of tremendous power. But when power rather than truth, righteousness, and love, becomes the guiding light for science, we had all better head for another planet (on the odd chance that we can find one as intelligently designed as our present fragile island home...). Science becomes a way of improving someone's life in particular -- at anyone else's expense. When the Intelligent Designer's foundations of culture are subverted, there is no longer any effective check on the corrupting power of power.
The world without God is a closed system, locked into power struggle as the final court of conflict-resolution, destined (not designed) to cycle in and out of self-destruction. The human race is incapable of rationally handling such continually escalating power. The gifts and power of science will, sooner or later, spin out of anyone's control until....?
Nothing can change that future unless something looking suspiciously like an Intelligent Designer intervenes. People with logical common sense will look around to see if there might be empirical evidence for such an Intervention. (Critics rightly want ID supporters to come up with hypotheses and predictions to be tested. Hypothesis: An Intelligent Designer which is interested in its design will leave identifiable traces. Prediction: With just a bit of effort, traces will be unearthed which are unexplainable apart from such intervention.)
Science, that is to say, is not just a technical search for truth, it is a moral search for truth, a way of making human life better. As the oath of Hypocrites taken by MD's suggests, the scientific community as understood in the West has had a moral, not only a pragmatic, commitment to truth. But if God does not define "better", then it is up for grabs, and the most powerful will win. Not the most truthful, righteous, or loving. Without an objective moral order, there is no alternative to power-struggle as the final court of appeal. And objective moral order can exist only with an Intelligent Designer.
The experience of the most brutal (so far) century of human history, the secular 20th, supplies ample evidence. There is nothing at all to suggest that we in the 21st are headed for anything different -- except where people, including politicians and scientists, take the law and grace of God seriously.
There is, in summary, no logical possibility of separating ID, evolution, education, and public policy from religion. They all overlap, they all impinge on each other. Another prediction: As Christians continue to recover from their two-century-plus lapse of intellectual credibility, the spiritual foundation and unity of all life will become more and more evident (see Hardwired to Connect).
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