Ruffled Feathers

I seem to have ruffled some feathers. The blog Telic Thoughts has posted what is not so much a response to what I wrote recently as a complaint. Mike Gene felt that I painted with too broad a brush in my earlier post in which I suggested that proponents of Intelligent Design are dishonest.

I don’t think that my statements were completely unjustified – indeed, some will probably say I didn’t go nearly far enough – but I will add that in every movement there are always exceptions, and at times it is hard to be completely certain whether one is fringe or mainstream. Certainly when I speak from a Christian viewpoint, I often wonder how many other Christians would actually agree with things that I say.

Today in Sunday school my class talked about the old saying that “all that has to happen for evil people to get away with whatever they wish is for good people to say and do nothing”. We were up to that passage in John 12 where it mentions that many leaders believed in Jesus but were afraid to say anything for fear of being thrown out of the synagogue. Moderate Muslims have been criticized for not being as vocal as they could be in opposing extremists in their tradition. My expression of my views on this blog, hopefully most of the time with arguements to support them, is aimed at precisely this: to allow me to express my own views in a way that I do not always feel is appropriate in the classroom, and to articulate a balanced moderate Christian viewpoint. When people look to see what Christians have to say, I do not want them to miss the diversity. It would be ironic if, in seeking to do this very thing, I have painted others with too broad a brush. If so, I certainly regret it.

Be that as it may, I still remain persuaded that the mainstream of Intelligent Design (there may be exceptions) is incompatible with the Christian faith. For instance, Michael Behe in his recent book compared Mount Rushmore to another mountain and said that the difference is that the former is designed but the latter is not. This, it seems to me, shows precisely the problem with the typical ID argument. According to Psalm 95:4-5 God is the one whose “hand holds the depths of the earth; who owns the tops of the mountains. The sea and dry land belong to God, who made them, formed them by hand.” According to this psalm, the mountains are a divine creation, and not just the parts of biological organisms that seem to some to defy explanation. To put it another way, Intelligent Design doesn’t seem able to do justice to the Bible’s viewpoint that God’s creation looks like Mount Everest rather than like the sculpted Mount Rushmore.

Of course, the standard response might be “it doesn’t matter if its conclusions are incompatible with Christianity, because this is science, and we will pursue it wherever it may lead us”. But the point of my earlier post was precisely that many of the voices in the ID movement seem unwilling to do that. If a non-materialistic science is possible, one that can lead to a designer, then asking about what the designer did and why surely must follow. These were the very questions that earlier generations of scientists addressed.

I hope to write more about this once I finish Philip Kitcher’s recent book, Living with Darwin. One of its most helpful features is that it reminds us that, far from being the result of a conspiracy of materialists, the scientific establishment very reluctantly changed its views on the age of the earth and the evolution of living things. Even though originally wedded to flood geology and unique specific creations, the views of scientists changed for one basic reason: the ever-increasing amounts of evidence that supported one view but were incompatible with the other.

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  • John Pieret

    Don’t feel bad. You always get people like Mike Gene who try to make it impossible to speak in ordinary language. Whether he likes it or not, the Discovery Institute and the religious right have appropriated the term “Intelligent Design” (especially when connected with a pretense towards science, which the context of your post made clear). If Gene doesn’t like it, he should spend his time trying to take the term back or make some sort of distinction in the same manner that “theistic evolution” does. For Gene to demand that everyone else fit his admittedly nonscientific, admittedly non-teachable (admittedly unconstitutional for public education?) teleology into the same rubric as usage of the far larger number of people who categorically contradict him on those major points is the tail trying to wag the dog.

  • ntWrong

    My expression of my views on this blog, hopefully most of the time with arguements to support them, is aimed at precisely this: to allow me to express my own views in a way that I do not always feel is appropriate in the classroom, and to articulate a balanced moderate Christian viewpoint.That sounds like a worthy objective to me. It’s true that you always have to consider the context in which you’re setting forth your views, and some things may not be appropriate to the classroom. But they may still need to be said!One of the advantages of blogging is it offers a wide-open forum for intellectual dialogue, without the reputation of a local church, a denomination, or a university implicated when the blogger expresses a personal opinion.In my view, you would probably be doing something wrong (holding too much back) if you never stepped on anybody’s toes. The blogosphere is like the proverbial kitchen: if you can’t stand the heat ….Which is to say, I think your interlocutor took offense out of proportion to what you had written.

  • James F. McGrath

    I had actually felt for quite some time that I must be doing something wrong, I must not be saying anything challenging, since I received no hate mail! :)