Krauthammer Still Doesn't Get It 


Charles Krauthammer didn't catch on after his TIME magazine article, and he's still bashing Intelligent Design for all the wrong reasons. There are interesting arguments against ID that merit discussion. He made significant errors in TIME, though, and he's still doing it, this time in the Washington Post. 

I know this because I've already read his first sentence. I've also read the title: "Phony Theory, False Conflict: 'Intelligent Design' Foolishly Pits Evolution Against Faith."

(I promise I'll read the rest of his editorial before I write my next paragraph.) He casts the current ID debate as a re-hearing of the Scopes Monkey Trial, and makes a point that some prominent scientists have been men of faith so what's the fuss? In the first place the real trial has very little to do with the popular view of it from Inherit the Wind, and in the second place, this debate is about science and not about religion. Or at least it ought to be. It was the neo-Darwinists in Dover, not the ID people, trying to make it into a religious issue, and they were doing it for political, not scientific or philosophical reasons.

Okay, Tom, calm down; pause, read, take a deep breath. Now proceed.
 
Krauthammer says of Newton and Einstein,  
 
Neither saw science as an enemy of religion.  
 
Thank you for that admission. Neither does Intelligent Design. It sees a certain kind of dogmatic science, that which is ruled by philosophical materialism (the belief that no explanations can conceivably exist outside of the natural realm) as an enemy of good thinking. Philosophical materialism is an assumption, a preference, a matter of taste for some scientists; it is not something that can be demonstrated scientifically, not even in principle. 
 
Some ID advocates also see that kind of science as being an enemy of religion, because it is not religion-neutral. There are scientists who do not insist on philosophical materialism, and with that kind of science, religion can gladly cooperate. (Not all ID advocates are religious, David Berlinski being an example; so it is not an issue to all.*) 
 
Intelligent design may be interesting as theology, but as science it is a fraud. It is a self-enclosed, tautological "theory" whose only holding is that when there are gaps in some area of scientific knowledge -- in this case, evolution -- they are to be filled by God. 
 
ID is not about theology. It is a scientific proposition, whose proponents are putting it forth to be tested in the realm of science (see here under Origins). It is not fraudulent, for it has no hidden agenda. It's out there for anyone to see. Is it good science? Let time tell. Meanwhile, the "God of the Gaps" argument is an old, tiresome and often-refuted complaint about Intelligent Design. Krauthammer made the same mistake last time. 
 
In order to justify the farce that intelligent design is science, Kansas had to corrupt the very definition of science, dropping the phrase "natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us," thus unmistakably implying -- by fiat of definition, no less -- that the supernatural is an integral part of science. 
 
No, no, no, Mr. Krauthammer; that is exactly what they are not implying! They're implying that science cannot by fiat rule that the supernatural is excluded from reality! 
 
Several of Mr. Krauthammer's points reveal his distaste with 
 
a crude and willful God who pushes and pulls and does things according to whim. 
 
He suggests that ID is about an arbitrary God who interferes with creation. Christian theology, which he may or may not be relying on here, does not view God as that separate from creation; that is, creation is not God, but God is immanent and always sovereign over it. It is no violation for him to involve himself in it. C. S. Lewis rightly saw this as a merely aesthetic objection, in Miracles, and he addressed it well there. 
 
The school board thinks it is indicting evolution by branding it an "unguided process" with no "discernible direction or goal." This is as ridiculous as indicting Newtonian mechanics for positing an "unguided process" by which Earth is pulled around the sun every year without discernible purpose. What is chemistry if not an "unguided process" of molecular interactions without "purpose"? Or are we to teach children that God is behind every hydrogen atom in electrolysis? 
 
The indictment, the branding, comes from the words of evolutionists, not from the Kansas school board. They are the ones who (typically, if not universally) describe evolution as unguided and purposeless. It matters because if life arose as an unguided process with no direction or goal, then life has no direction or goal. That's a very weighty philosophical problem that Krauthammer waves away, not displaying any understanding of it. If Krauthammer wants to reduce his own human life to the level of electrolysis, that's his option. But if all chemical and physical reactions are unguided and purposeless, who or what guided and gave purpose to his fingers as he typed his editorial? He closes with this nice bit of sarcasm: 
 
How ridiculous to make evolution the enemy of God. What could be more elegant, more simple, more brilliant, more economical, more creative, indeed more divine than a planet with millions of life forms, distinct and yet interactive, all ultimately derived from accumulated variations in a single double-stranded molecule, pliable and fecund enough to give us mollusks and mice, Newton and Einstein? Even if it did give us the Kansas State Board of Education, too. 
 
The enemy of God is not evolution per se, but the insistence that it is unguided and purposeless. Theistic evolutionism is no enemy of God (I have philosophical/definitional problems with it that I'm still reading to learn more about, but I could imagine the possibility of a theologically satisfying answer if my problems were satisfactorily answered.) 
 
Krauthammer closes (apart from his jab at Kansas) with a fallacy of the "why couldn't God have . . ." order. He suggests it would have been wonderful if God had created the world through evolutionary means. That is not the question. It would have been wonderful if God had created the world in one day instead of six or instead of 14 billion years. It would have been wonderful if he had populated every planet in the solar system. It would have been wonderful if he had given us the ability to fly. We could play that game until Christmas. The question is not what might God have done if he wanted to, but what is the real natural history of the world? It's still a question of science, and ID has not taken it out of that realm. 
 
P.S. Lawrence Selden points out that Krauthammer misses some key questions. Good point. 
 
*Update per Jonathan Witt: Berlinski is better described as a Darwin skeptic and a "friendly critic" of design theory. 

Posted: Fri - November 18, 2005 at 12:36 PM           |


© 2004-2007 by Tom Gilson. Permission is granted to quote up to two paragraphs of any blog entry, provided that a link back to the original is included or (in print) the website address is provided. Please email me regarding longer quotes. All other rights reserved.

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