ID and Religion: Who Got Them So Tangled Up Together? 

James M. Kushiner's recent insights on Intelligent Design (ID) at Mere Comments received this response from Mike S:
"This [freeing 'modest ID critiques from religious fingerprints'] is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, as almost all the major proponents of ID have publicly stated, in multiple forums, their religious motivations for promoting ID. There is a reason for that - ID is religiously motivated, not empirically motivated." 
This provides a good occasion to talk about how evolution and Intelligent Design are tied and tangled up with religion, and how the connections are different than evolutionists would have you believe. 

I encourage you to read Kushiner's original statement for context. Mike S starts out on the right track: many ID proponents have announced their religious beliefs, and if it were necessary totally to dissociate ID from religious interests, it's too late to do that now. Kushiner suggests that might be desirable, and though he's probably right, it's now very difficult. (As a Christian advocate for ID, I have tried to clarify what's really true of the religion-ID connection.)

Mike S and hordes of editorialists say ID is religiously motivated. Major ID proponents like Dembski, Johnson, Behe, and others acknowledge their religious beliefs, yet insist that their science is not driven by their religion.

We ought to be asking, why does the religion question even matter?

Any responsible writer should know the logical fallacy of arguing from motives. If an argument is validly constructed from true premises, it matters not one bit what the arguer's motive is. Suppose a cosmologist's grandmother had been jilted by Stephen Hawking's grandfather (a purely fictitious supposition, I assure you); and that the scientist, for family revenge, set out to prove that Hawking's view of black holes was all wrong. How would the question be settled? By the evidence and the mathematics. The family history would be an interesting but scientifically irrelevant footnote.

The same should be true of the ID debate. The motivations, religious or otherwise, should be of only side interest to the question, "what does the evidence say?"

It doesn't seem to work that way for ID, though, for several reasons.

One is that religious motivations color what investigators see in the evidence. This is not the case just for ID proponents. Philosophic materialism--the view that there is nothing but impersonal time, space, energy, chance, and natural law--has clearly driven many to accept evolution as a necessary explanation for life, regardless of the biological and paleontological evidence that still fails to confirm evolutionism. This is a religious viewpoint: it doesn't (usually) mention God, but it does entail that there is no deity active in the world, and therefore it is a belief regarding religion.

Mike S's assertion that ID is religiously motivated, not empirically motivated, is just as (or more so) true of evolutionism.

You may object, "Evolution does not require atheism!" Fine; there are theistic evolutionists, who are attempting a syncretism of two opposing philosophies. But throughout its history, the research question of Darwinism and its descendants has been, "How did life and all its variety come about, if not by the hand of God?" The assumption that God must be irrelevant is right at the heart of evolutionary science.

Evolutionists claim ID uses religion to drive its research, while at the same time trying to use their own beliefs about religion to drive ID research out of existence. They are replaying the myth of Galileo by letting beliefs about religion cut off scientific inquiry.

A second reason religion is brought up so frequently is that it is politically useful to color ID with religious trimming. Public schools in the U.S. are not allowed to introduce religion in the classroom. If ID can be tied in with religion, it can be excluded from science classes. There is nothing remotely approaching religion in the recently adopted Kansas science standards, yet evolutionists tried to stamp it as such to maintain the strong pro-evolutionary bias that had been there.

Intelligent Design is often accused of using religion and politics. The other side spends a whole lot more time talking religion than ID does, and frequently for political reasons.

A third reason religion is brought up is to discredit the science of ID by introducing red herrings. One typical accusation against ID is, "you can't get good science out of the book of Genesis!" Intelligent Design theorists actually don't try to get science from Genesis.* Another is that ID is just a gussied-up version of young-earth creationism, which has been laughed out of the academy. If ID--frequently called "intelligent design creationism" by opponents--can be associated with young-earth creationism, it must share the same scientific embarrassment now suffered by young-earth creationism.

But ID's assumptions and research program are largely different from young-earth creationism. What they share strongly in common is a conviction that blind, impersonal explanations for origins are inadequate. Young-earth creationists are virtually all believers in Biblical literalism, which drives their agenda strongly; ID includes many Biblical believers, but their research is driven at least as much by scientific dissatisfaction with evolution as by religious problems with it.

Finally, ID opponents attempt to embarrass ID theorists with unanswered theological or metaphysical questions. Opponents mock ID with supposedly difficult metaphysical questions like "Who designed the Designer?" But answering such questions is not the job of biologists; it's the job of theologians and philosophers. ID scientists have done their job if they show empirically that life cannot be fully explained by blind processes.

(By the way, "who designed the Designer" is not a hard question at all, and many ID scientists can put on a philosopher's hat and handle it quite readily; but that's a topic for another day.)

Religion gets wrapped up in and around the ID question quite needlessly, and it's there mostly because opponents put it there to try to tie ID in knots. Then they blame ID advocates for bringing religion into the issue! Mike S's objection to ID, one that is shared by so many other detractors, simply does not stand.

*Many ID advocates, including myself, believe in Genesis, though with differences on what age of the earth is implied by the text. Genesis contradicts the purely naturalistic views of evolutionary theory, and thus has an influence on many ID researchers. The research itself, however, is done through standard empirical, natural methodologies. 

Posted: Sun - September 25, 2005 at 08:52 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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