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Thursday, May 19, 2005

Simple explanation of intelligent design controversy

Here’s a clearly written article published at Beliefnet by philosopher Jay Richards, one of the intelligent design mavens. Quote this if you want to know what ID is—and what it isn’t, and why the legacy media don't get it. Quote the dead tree and big hair guys of the legacy media when you really need dead trees and big hair.

Some excerpts:

Unless you’ve been hiding in a cave, you’ve heard of "intelligent design" (ID) and some of its leading proponents—Phillip Johnson, Michael Behe, William Dembski. Unfortunately, you probably got the mainstream media’s spin. It’s so predictable, I sometimes wonder if reporters aren’t using computer macros. The reporter types control-alt "CE" and out pops the witty headline: "Creationism Evolves." Control-alt "Scopes Trope" and out pops a lead referencing the old Spencer Tracy film "Inherit the Wind," a cartoon-like caricature of the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial over evolution in the classroom.

Control-alt "Conspiracy" and, presto, a paragraph about the religious right and its scheme to smuggle Bibles into the science class as the first step toward establishing a theocracy. Next comes a quotation supposedly representing the view of all "serious scientists," with the phrase "overwhelming evidence" thrown in for good measure. The story practically writes itself, and it possesses this virtue: it saves the reporter the bother of actually investigating what design theory really is.

So what is ID, really? ID is not a deduction from religious dogma or scripture. It’s simply the argument that certain features of the natural world—from miniature machines and digital information found in living cells, to the fine-tuning of physical constants—are best explained as the result of an intelligent cause. ID is thus a tacit rebuke of an idea inherited from the 19th century, called scientific materialism.

Natural science in the Victorian Age, or rather, its materialistic gloss, offered a radically different view of the universe: (1) The universe has always existed, so we need not explain its origin; (2) Everything in the universe submits to deterministic laws. (3) Life is the love child of luck and chemistry. (4) Cells, the basic units of life, are essentially blobs of Jell-O.

Onto this dubious edifice Charles Darwin added a fifth conjecture: All the sophisticated organisms around us grew from a process called natural selection: this process seizes and passes along those minor, random variations in a population that provide a survival advantage. With this, Darwin explained away the apparent design in the biological world as just that—only apparent.

Each of these 19th-century assumptions has been undermined or discredited in the 20th century, but the materialist gloss remains: There is one god, matter, and science is its prophet. It hides behind its more modest cousin, methodological naturalism. According to this tidy dictum, scientists can believe whatever they want in their personal lives, but they must appeal only to impersonal causes when explaining nature. Accordingly, any who discuss purpose or design within science (the founders of modern science generously excepted) cease to be scientists.
But the critical question is, is materialism a correct statement about the nature of the universe? What if it is not? If you are a materialist, how would you ever know? Read the rest of Richards’s article at Beliefnet. Do the big hair later for laffs.

To find out more about my book on the intelligent design controversy, go to By Design or by Chance?

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