Saturday, July 16, 2005

New Scientist reaction 4

One of the consistent objections to Intelligent Design is that its proponents are often Christians, or theists, and that this constitutes an argument against ID - I'm not sure it was specifically included in the list below, although the "Monty Python Proof" comes close. Hence, the New Scientist article (Holmes and Randerson) highlighted the following phrase:
Most advocates of intelligent design are professed Christians, yet avoid spelling out the kind of designer they have in mind.

In Lawrence Krauss's addition to the article, "Survival of the Slickest", he says:
[Jonathan Wells] claimed his attacks on evolution follow from his years of studying biology. But in an essay ... he says that as a follower of the Unification Church ... he was given a mission to undermine Darwinism.
(as though those two things are mutually exclusive).

In the editorial, New Scientist points out that
one of the governing goals of the Discovery Institute, ID's spiritual home, is to spread the word "that nature and human beings are created by God."

This approach is shared by Scientific American - in their article "The Woodstock of Evolution", by Michael Shermer, published Jun 27,2005, he writes:
The fact is that virtually all Intelligent Design creationists are Evangelical Christians who privately believe that ID and God are one and the same.
He does have the decency to add, "There is nothing wrong with that..." - thanks, pal! So freedom of religion isn't quite dead, yet.

A couple of comments.

1) Isn't it likely that people are going to do research and present opinions that are consistent with their worldview? What is the likelihood of somebody who believes that the whole idea of God is ridiculous doing research that might demonstrate that there is a requirement for an external intelligent agent? Or seeking to challenge the consensus that there is no such requirement?

2) Although people's worldview will have a bearing on the sort of studies they undertake, it is not appropriate to make a judgement on the quality of their research based on their worldview. In fact, this is what is known as prejudice - prejudging something. For example, Dembski's explanatory filter stands or falls as a piece of analysis independently of whether he is a Christian. Irreducible complexity can be identified (or not) independently of whether Michael Behe goes to church. So why raise their personal beliefs at all? And yet, in almost every article analysing the ID movement, there it is! "They're all Christians!"

Let's put it another way. Supposing somebody wrote a paper in support of evolution - perhaps a response to one of the ID papers. Is it a valid argument to say: "Ah! But the person who wrote that is an atheist! That means he's bound to take that point of view - because he is trying to show that God doesn't exist"? On one level, it's trivial - that much is obvious. But on another level, the writer would have every right to be gravely offended - "What do my beliefs about God have to do with it?" This cuts both ways.

3) It is inevitable that, if ID were to prove itself to be well-founded, this would have a philosophical impact beyond science (note the darwinist criticism of the broader agenda of ID and organisations such as the Discovery Institute). But darwinists can hardly grumble at that - look at the way in which darwinism has crossed into all sorts of other disciplines - not always for the good of society. The problem is that it is the wider impact of an alternative worldview that makes it so unpalatable to the atheist world (in which I am including people whose idea of God is of something solely subjective, who is unable to have any real impact on the universe - a definition that I know would make them angry! :) ). Of course anything that might lead to the conclusion that there is a God who is there, and who acts, will rattle people's cages. But shooting (or ridiculing) the messenger won't change whether it is true or not.