Sunday, January 25, 2009

Theistic Evolution & Intelligent Design: How can a non-scientist Christian choose?

Forget about non-Christian evolutionists and 6-Day Creationists for a while. Let's narrow our focus to the Christians from both camps: What are Theistic Evolutionists (TE) and Intelligent Design theorists (ID) saying about the scientific enterprise and Christian faith?

Being untrained in science, I'm like many other believers who find ourselves caught in between TE and ID. When it comes to this issue, we just lack the information to situate ourselves. As if we are stuck in the middle, destined to be ignorant. In a Malay idiom, "Bila gajah lawan gajah, kancil mati di tengah-tengah." (When two elephants fight with each other, the mouse-deer perished in the midst).

Yet we are not allowed to find comfort or contentment in ignorance. The fact that the sciences, biological science in particular, have permeated into almost every level of the society, we should not be alarmed to hear its discourse even in the church, among fellow believers. On the other hand, there are non-believers who expect Christians to be rather deluded over reality, and hence they need to be engaged head-on.

But when we try to engage on the matter, it seems that we are torn, just like the tiny mouse-deer that found itself between the two furious fighting elephants. We often frustratingly don't know which side should we align ourselves with.

TE embraces natural evolution and the belief in a creator God. ID is advocating an "effort to empirically detect whether the "apparent design" in nature acknowledged by virtually all biologists is genuine design (the product of an intelligent cause) or is simply the product of an undirected process such as natural selection acting on random variations."

First, the language used in both camps are loaded and confusing. For example, there is a connotation that a phrase like 'natural selection acting on random variations' contradicts the mysterious ways of God working in the creation.

To the TE, such phrase does not negate or exclude God's involvement within creation. While the ID take it to mean 'undirected process', as defined above.

But this is not just language game. The ID thinks that the space allocated for God in TE perspective is redundant. To the ID, the claim to ignorance over God's mysterious occupying method in the biological world, which run by natural selection and random variation, is just putting God in the gap. It's like making the invisible God more invisible.

But of course we know that it is futile to make an already invisible God more invisible. This charge against the TE is invalid as ID's own explication of God's involvement is limited: the scientific theory of intelligent design does not claim that modern biology can identify whether the intelligent cause detected through science is supernatural.

Hence we should not confuse ID with Creationism and think both as the same. Similarly Ronald L. Numbers, who is critical of ID, "agrees the creationist label is inaccurate when it comes to the ID movement" but also recognize that it is "the easiest way to discredit intelligent design."

On the other hand, the TE sees ID as undercutting the very purpose of science,
"Although the boundaries of science are open to change, allowing supernatural explanations to count as science undercuts the very purpose of science, which is to explain the workings of nature without recourse to religious language. Attributing complexity to the interruption of natural law by a divine designer is, as some critics have claimed, a science stopper. Besides, ID has not yet opened up a new research program." (Italics added)
Hence the challenge for ID remains to produce a distinctive research program. Unless this happens, it is vague to see how ID able to contribute to scientific advancement or education. The working paradigm of evolution is pushing the scientific community to more discovery (for eg. the Tiktaalik, Simon Conway Morris' evolutionary convergence), while the ID seems to find contentment in status quo.

Given the lacking of ID contribution to the scientific enterprise on one hand, and the continuous successful scientific advancement provided by evolution paradigm, I take side with the TE. At least for this moment.

My resources for TE are taken from the International Society for Science and Religion, while ID are from the Discovery Institute (their Intelligent Design website, their list of hundreds of scientists who dissent from evolution perspective).

Another useful, brief, and readable source is the downloadable publication by the National Academies: Science, Evolution, and Creationism.

6 comments:

bob said...

Hello. I'm not religious. I don't believe in Jeebus and I don't believe in any magic god fairies, but I'm very interested in religions, especially Christianity, because many Christians cause a lot of problems in America where I live. A large number of American Christians are trying to dumb down science education in public schools, especially in the Bible Belt in the southern part of the United States.

The words "intelligent design" are code words that mean "magical creation". The "intelligent design" code words were invented after the United States Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that "Creation Science" is a religious belief that can't be taught in public schools because of the Establishment Clause of our First Amendment. After "creation science" was renamed to "intelligent design", a federal court ruled in 2005 that intelligent design is a religious belief that can't be taught in public schools because of the Establishment Clause of our First Amendment. The 2005 trial in a federal court cost the taxpayers of a small town in Pennsylvania one million dollars. The taxpayers were very angry about that and they blamed the Christians on their school board.

Of course magical creation, whatever code words Christians use for it, is childish nonsense.

I also greatly dislike the adjective "theistic" being attached to my favorite branch of science, evolutionary biology. Nobody ever talks about theistic gravity, and I wish they wouldn't use the word theistic when talking about evolution. The word "theistic" pollutes science. The adjective theistic makes science dirty and disgusting. Natural processes like gravity and evolution do not need any magic fairies to invent it, use it, or guide it.

Some Christians who accept evolution and who don't invoke God to guide it, call themselves theistic evolutionists but they shouldn't do that. They don't call themselves theistic gravityists, do they?

the scientific theory of intelligent design does not claim that modern biology can identify whether the intelligent cause detected through science is supernatural.

Here in America we call this "dishonest bullshit". Of course invoking intelligent design is the same as invoking a god fairy's supernatural magic tricks. Everyone knows that. Professional liars who want to sneak intelligent design into science education don't want to admit the designer is god but they are not fooling anyone.

Hence we should not confuse ID with Creationism and think both as the same.

They're the same and creationists should stop lying about it. There is nothing more disgusting than dishonesty, and I noticed Christians are, in general, extremely dishonest. Many of them are compulsive liars, especially the creationists who repeatedly pretend their childish belief in intelligent design magic is scientific.

Given the lacking of ID contribution to the scientific enterprise on one hand, and the continuous successful scientific advancement provided by evolution paradigm, I take side with the TE.

You're pro-science so we're on the same side, but obviously I don't agree with your use of the word theistic. Please just call it evolution and leave your Mr. God out of it.

My resources for TE is taken from the International Society for Science and Religion, while ID is from the Discovery Institute (their Intelligent Design website, their list of hundreds of scientists who dissent from evolution perspective).

Here in America the Discovery Institute is a laughing stock. Every biologist knows they are scientifically illiterate professional liars who want to destroy America's science education.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi bob,

Thank you for your comment. I'd certainly learned from you, an American.

Concerning the term 'theistic evolutionist', it is of course a term meant to have meaning only within the believing community. So it is useless to those who are not in it.

And precisely because there are different perspective within the believing community that we need these terms to differentiate the variegated perception. And since there isn't differences over gravity within the believing community, hence there is no label needed.

Thus the term theistic evolution has no bearing over non-believer or those who are not concern over the discourse.

Cheers.

blogpastor said...

Sze Zeng,
I identify so much with what you expressed. The frustration of situating myself for a lack of a compass (science knowledge)to navigate in the jungle of scientific jargon employed by both camps.

I take comfort, and I hope its not a cop-out, in the fact that the Bible was written to answer who and why of creation and not the how.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Kenny,

Thank you for your sharing. I take the same comfort as you too. Unfortunately, I know many Christians who don't like this comfort.

Happy New Year!

Tay said...

Hi. Somehow I don't necessarily think that the bible being silent on the 'how' of creation is of much comfort, due to the fact that evolution by itself does mean undirected and random, and its natural and empirical sense. (ID claiming to be a scientific theory 'empirically looking for design' is quite contradictory to me!)

Until and unless, of course, we insert 'theistic' and God into the picture. Then we are saying there is a supernatural aspect to evolution which cannot be empirically detected and that is when we enter unashamedly into faith/theology. This too is not without its problems, for one, it is extremely hard to reconcile naturalistic evolution with literal biblical history!

Therefore, I take comfort that there are people as confused as me :)

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Tay,

Glad that we share the same confusion :)

On the other hand,i think it is not necessary to reconcile naturalistic evolution with literal biblical history. If push for it, it will be like comparing zoology with Narnia series.