December 20, 2005
What's So Scary About Intelligent Design?
Here is a
question for scientists who ridicule intelligent design, yet say
they believe in God: When you pray, is it to a God who just sat
around and watched the universe spring into existence all by itself?
Or did God
give himself something to do, and thus, here we are?
to envision an all-perfect and almighty God who just likes to
watch. But that's the kind of God that the critics of intelligent
design would impose on us. Scientists, of course, would vehemently
deny that they are in any way trying to tell people of faith what
kind of God they should believe in. But they need to honestly
admit that this battle between evolution and intelligent design
is a two-way street: People of faith should not be directing scientists
how to do their work and scientists ought to be more thoughtful
and respectful about how their work complicates or complements
the world of belief. Science as well as theology, philosophy and
religion have legitimate claims to exploring and discovering answers
to the Big Question: How did we get here, and why?
science just can't explain. Such as the mystery of how a perfect
creator turned himself into one of his less-than perfect creations--a
man--but still remained perfect. Based on faith alone, millions
of people celebrate that inexplicable miracle on Christmas.
in fact, can't explain a lot of things, and that's no knock on
scientists. It's because a lot of answers cannot meet the scientific
standards of observation, experimentation, replication and verification.
But it's also no reason that any subject of scientific interest
cannot also be explored by theology, philosophy and religion.
Yet the fight
between intelligent design and evolution is popularly framed as
an effort by theologians, philosophers and the faithful to impose
their unscientific conclusions on science. Perhaps a few dominators
do, but most of us do feel the need to reconcile what science
and faith tell us--about our world and us.
today is that when theology, philosophy or religion dares to examine
the Big Question, its practitioners find themselves increasingly
bumping heads with scientific claims of exclusive competence.
This is wrong. Neither science nor theology has the right to tell
the other to butt out of this quest. In this, no one has the right
to demand that the study of intelligent design be kept out of
schools. Out of the science class, perhaps, but not out of all
ago, science on one hand and philosophy, theology and religion
on the other were separated--to the relief of those who correctly
believed that the church had gone too far in using dogma to block
scientific advances. Exploring reality through the prism of science
requires one form of knowledge, while discovering and refining
our understanding of God and his presence in the world require
pendulum has swung too far the other way, to the point that science
and philosophy, and theology and religion are regarded, by some,
as mortal enemies. The idea of unified knowledge has come on hard
times. Few people are exploring how the two approaches can help
each other. That science is rushing toward a unified theory that
"explains everything" is not a reason to abandon non-scientific
ways to approach a comprehensive understanding of everything.
an admission that there is a higher level of knowledge beyond
science alone or theology alone. Vast areas of knowledge are open
to those who realize that just as a branch of physics examines
the "first principle of everything," so does metaphysics.
Or that cosmology and theology are on the same coin, just on different
approach the Big Question with awe and humility, not ridicule
and self-certainty. With excitement and optimism, instead of division
and the kind of cynicism that rejects the possibility of parallel
or complementary explanations.
students without a perspective of how philosophy and theology
and religion help bring us to an understanding of "all things,"
is as wrong as denying students the understanding that science
brings. Philosophers and theologians may--must, actually--rigorously
examine the scientific theory that random chance explains everything.
A denial of that right and responsibility rises from the same
spirit of arrogant certitude that haunted Galileo.
Dennis Byrne is a Chicago-area writer and consultant. E-mail: