This is the third and final blog in a series looking at the book Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design by Stephen C. Meyer. The first blog is DARWIN’S DOUBT and Intelligent Design. The previous blog is The Science that Doubts Darwin.
Stephen Meyer presents in his book the science that doubts Darwin – this is not scientific evidence he has manufactured, but evidence that scientists committed to Darwinian evolution have brought forth which challenges some aspect of the current theory. He presents this science to call into question the materialistic basis of the science itself and then offers Intelligent Design as a solution to issues which Darwinism itself cannot right now answer. Evolutionary scientists have debated the evidence and the questions raised but most so far have not seen his solution – Intelligent Design – as truly solving any problematic issue that science raises. Most scientists do not see materialism as being the problem which needs to be solved.
So whereas evolutionary scientists and Intelligent Design defenders might both point to problems with aspects of Evolutionary Theory and the extant evidence in the fossil record, they are miles apart in the philosophical issues which Meyer in the last part of his book presents as an argument for Intelligent Design. Meyer attempts to use the fact that some scientists question some aspects of Evolutionary Theory to suggest that there are major cracks in the Theory and its collapse is inevitable. But as far as I can tell despite recognizing some problems with the Theory, most scientists accept it as the best approximation of reality that humankind has been able to develop to this point. Meyer is a Philosopher of Science, and in this part of the book he deals more with the philosophy of science, trying to show why he believes Intelligent Design is science based on scientific principles, reasoning and logic.
Meyer’s criticism of science is exactly that it has made a philosophical commitment to atheistic materialism; this is a philosophical commitment not a scientific law.
“In this case, however, those wearing the mental blinders have elevated an unwillingness to consider certain explanations to a principle of scientific method. That principle is called “methodological naturalism” or “methodological materialism.” Methodological naturalism asserts that to qualify as scientific, a theory must explain phenomena and events in nature—even events such as the origin of the universe and life or phenomena such as human consciousness—by reference to strictly material causes. According to this principle, scientists may not invoke the activity of a mind or, as one philosopher of science puts it, any “creative intelligence.” (Kindle Loc. 7125-29)
Meyer criticizes what he sees as rationally inconsistent the scientific commitment to materialism even when he feels the scientific evidence might suggest an intelligent design in the universe. However, believers adhere to faith in God even in the face of contrary evidence, inexplicable events, failure of the faithful to live up to the ideal, or the silence of God in face of pleas for Him to intervene in certain situations. There is no basic difference in how we adhere to what we believe. Meyer is firm in his conviction however that scientists are wrong to be so steadfast to their philosophical position:
“In 1997, in an article in the New York Review of Books, Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin made explicit a similar commitment to a strictly materialistic explanation—whatever the evidence might seem to indicate. As he explained in a now often quoted passage:
We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.
The commitment to methodological naturalism that Lewontin describes, as well as the behavior of scientists in cases such as Sternberg’s, leave no doubt that many in science simply will not consider the design hypothesis as an explanation for the Cambrian explosion or any other event in the history of life, whatever the evidence. To do so would be to violate the “rules of science” as they understand them.” (Kindle Loc. 7170-83)
It may be a point of frustration for believers that some scientists are committed philosophically to materialism. But our task remains the same: to witness to what we believe is true and through our lives to offer some compelling reason for non-believers to reconsider their position and to at least consider the possibility that there is a God who created the universe. We have to show by our own lives that belief in God contributes positively to our daily existence and to the wellbeing of the world. Meyer makes his case as to why he believes Intelligent Design is consistent with the principles of natural science. It is a position which many believers can sympathize with as we already accept the notion that there is a Creator God. But, the real test case is whether those committed to scientific materialism come to see in his arguments reason to at least consider the possibility of design in the universe and a Designer who place it there.
Meyer pushes his argument that intelligent design logically is as scientific as materialistic evolution:
“There is another compelling, if convention-dependent, reason to regard intelligent design as a scientific theory. The inference to intelligent design is based upon the same method of historical scientific reasoning and the same uniformitarian principles that Charles Darwin used in On the Origin of Species. The similarity in logical structure runs quite deep. Both the argument for intelligent design and the Darwinian argument for descent with modification were formulated as abductive inferences to the best explanation. Both theories address characteristically historical questions; both employ typically historical forms of explanation and testing; and both have metaphysical implications. Insofar as we regard Darwin’s theory as a scientific theory, it seems appropriate to designate the theory of intelligent design as a scientific theory as well. Indeed, neo-Darwinism and the theory of intelligent design are not two different kinds of inquiry, as some critics have asserted. They are two different answers—formulated using a similar logic and method of reasoning—to the same question: “What caused biological forms and the appearance of design to arise in the history of life?” It stands to reason that if we regard one theory, neo-Darwinism or intelligent design, as scientific, we should regard the other as the same. Of course, whether either theory is true or not is another matter. An idea may be scientific and incorrect. In the history of science, many theories have proven to be so.” (Kindle Loc. 7293-7305)
Meyer makes some good points and logical sense. But then I am already a believer in God, and his reasoning does not really change my thinking nor does it cause me any cognitive dissonance. All thinking believers are faced with the fact that science and scientific materialism are not only competitors to the Christian faith but pose serious challenges to our understanding of truth and the Scriptures. Personally, I find the arguments of theistic evolutionists to be more satisfying than Intelligent Design. But theistic evolution is also more comfortable with the fact that science and faith approach the world and truth from different philosophical perspectives and we may never be able to reconcile the two perspectives. Intelligent Design adherents seem more intent on trying to insist that faith and science, or sometimes more specifically that a literalist reading of Genesis and science are completely compatible. I am not a biblical literalist, and am at home in a world in which the assumptions and goals of materialistic science and Christianity are simply different and on some points irreconcilable. I don’t believe the Genesis account of creation is science in the modern sense nor do I think it ever was intended to be that. But the fact that there is scientific truth which is not found in the Bible or even challenges Biblical claims does not to me disprove the existence of God. I think what science does effectively challenge is a literalist reading of Genesis and some simplistic beliefs about God. But even in the Bible itself we find people inspired by the Holy Spirit struggling to find God in the midst of historical reality and truth: “How long, O Lord..?” “Why do you remain silent, O Lord?” Faith in God does not always make coping with life easier or more simplistic. In can complicate life when we wrestle to figure out where God is when we need Him.
To me science is interested in researching and explaining the empirical creation. Christianity, like most religions, is claiming that there is a non-material/spiritual world/realm as well. Believers are interested in the material creation as it is made by God to be good/beautiful and to be united to divinity. This last aspect is not the interest of science. Science digs ever deeper into the depths of material creation, but I would say ignores the spiritual realm. I believe a human (and to be human) is more than biology and chemistry. To reduce humans to physics is in fact reductionism for it does not tell the whole story of being human. I think conscience and consciousness and free will do exist and they are every bit as important to understanding a human and what it means to be human as is biology, chemistry and physics. Christianity is trying to make sense of the world by bringing its ideas of the soul, God, the immaterial world, and the spiritual into its understanding of material creation. We believe the created world is far richer and deeper then the limits of its empirical nature imply. Because we believe there is meaning to life and that it means something to be human, we look to answers beyond the limits of science and the material world.
Science based in materialism does have fundamentally different assumptions about creation than does faith, based in the accepted testimony of believers. Believers seek meaning and purpose which science cannot reveal. Science would be interested in design in the universe if it led to further understanding the material world. But when one tries to take the empirical world and show that it points to a non-material creator, science loses interest. And if the scientists are committed to atheistic materialism, they are going to see references to Intelligent Design as simply a ploy to get them to believe in the non-material world, but not truly science.
Meyer’s books was the best I’ve read defending the tenets of Intelligent Design, but it does not make me abandon theistic evolution in favor of Intelligent Design. I think his effort is really geared at those whose faith is shaken by the claims of science and who want it to be true that science and religion are teaching the same truth and therefore cannot disagree. The scientists who criticize his efforts as a veiled way to reintroduce religious beliefs back into the work of science probably have good cause to think what they do. The evolutionary scientists who have criticized aspects of the theory of evolution show that they are not afraid to challenge the theory and they are interested in establishing the truth about the empirical world to the best of the ability of scientific materialism. Their unwillingness to consider Intelligent Design tells me that they remain unconvinced that ID can help them out of any dilemmas caused by the fossil evidence. While some scientists have a hostility to religion, it still falls on us believers to offer clear and compelling reasons to the non-believers as to what blessing faith brings. Those who are trying to reconcile their faith with science may find Intelligent Design to be helpful. Other believers may find theistic evolution to satisfy the two realms of understanding the universe – a spiritual and an empirical. The fruit of Meyer’s efforts is not going to be whether believers find his arguments convincing, but whether non-believing scientists feel compelled to reconsider their commitment to scientific materialism and methodological naturalism. Even most of those who have questioned certain tenets of the neo-Darwinian Theory have remained faithful to its basic principles and have not been convinced that accepting design in the universe changes anything.
Intelligent Design is an argument that appeals to some believers trying to build a bridge between biblical faith and scientific materialism. Unfortunately for the most part those on the materialism side of that chasm have not been been swayed in their thinking and aren’t willing to walk on that bridge which they feel has no real foundation under it.