An advance on ID?
- Dear Group:
A recent message from Mark has encouraged me to bring forward my posting of the fifth and final extract from my article "Intelligent design theory: the way
forward?",Stimulus, Vol. 9, Issue 2, May 2001, pp. 8-13. The first four abstracts were posted as Messages 779-783, about 11 days ago.
In my view the bridge between science and theology that Dembski and others are trying to construct is being built in the wrong place (because its foundations are subject
to erosion as empirical advances in the sciences are made) and is being built for the wrong reason, one which is peculiar to the USA, a country where religion may not be
taught in public schools for legal and constitutional reasons. The more idealistic members of the ID group may honestly believe that ID theory is independent of theology
and can be regarded as legitimate science and that the "wedge" is distinct from ID theory. Further, they claim that ID theory leads to useful scientific hypotheses that
are amenable to empirical testing (though as far as I am aware the only specific examples they have put forward are merely predictions that certain systems have minimum
level of complexity). However, there is little doubt that the more prominent members of the ID movement, those associated with the Discovery Institute, are motivated
primarily by a different agenda. They insist that ID theory is independent of theology so that ID theory may be permitted to be taught in public schools. Thus Pennock
and others have adequate cause for referring to the ID movement as Intelligent-Design Creationism. In fact, Dembski's bridge is more like an assault ramp (wedge-shaped),
and is discontinuous at the science end because Dembski has chosen to do away with methodological naturalism rather than just metaphysical naturalism.
A Better Way Forward
Thanks to the efforts of Polkinghorne19 and others, a contemporary revival of natural theology is taking place. Polkinghorne notes that this is one revised in relation to
its predecessors in two important respects. First, it is more modest in its claim. It does not assert that God's existence can be demonstrated in a logically compelling
way but that theism makes more sense of the world, and of human experience, than does atheism. Second, its appeal is not to particular occurrences or particular entities,
in contrast to the way in which Paley discussed the optical system of the eye or Behe discusses particular complex systems. For the new natural theologians, the
occurrences of such phenomena are part of the history of the physical world that is science's legitimate role to seek to explain as fully as it can. Instead, the new
natural theology looks to the laws of nature that science has to take as assumed, and it asks whether there is more to be understood about these laws than their mere
assertion. It is in no way a rival to science within science's proper domain. Rather, it serves as a complement to science, going beyond the latter's self-limited realm
of enquiry. There is no recourse to a "God of the Gaps" but to the God whose steadfast will is held to be expressed in the laws of nature that science discovers but does
not explain. In fact, I believe that one can go further than Polkinghorne and say that science cannot explain the laws of nature as a complete entity, though some laws
can be explained in terms of one or more other laws.
(The reader may ask in what way the new natural theology differs from 18th C Deism. For both Deists and new natural theologians the design of the universe is "front end
loaded". The difference is that for the Deists the designer is like a person who has wound up a clock and left it to run without any further interference, while for the
new natural theologians the laws of nature are not deterministic, and this is tied to the view that the creator continuously sustains the universe.)
An approach along these lines, for which "theistic evolution" is a suitable umbrella label, is in my opinion a better way forward. The argument for design is now based on
the whole universe rather than particular systems. (I regret that the term "Intelligent Design" has recently come to be associated with a narrow view of design.) The
remarkable coincidences in the magnitudes of physical constants that make our universe livable in were highlighted by Barrow and Tipler20 (and related arguments have been
presented by Broom21). The no less remarkable list of chemical and biochemical properties of matter that have enabled the origin and evolutionary development of life has
been presented by Denton22 , who is at pains to emphasize that his argument is entirely consistent with the basic naturalistic assumptions of modern science that the
cosmos is a seamless unity which can be comprehended ultimately in its entirety by human reason and in which all phenomena, including life and evolution and the origin of
man, are ultimately explicable in terms of natural processes. It is clear that Denton has moved on some distance since the publication of his previous book (mentioned
near the beginning of this article)! It is time for the creationists to move forward too.
19. J. Polkinghorne, Science and Theology: An Introduction (SPCK, London, and Fortress Press, Minneapolis, MN, 1998)
20. J. D. Barrow and F. J. Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (Oxford University Press, 1986)
21. Neil Broom, How Blind is the Watchmaker? Theism or Atheism: Should Science Decide (Ashgate, Aldershot, UK, 1998; revised edition: InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove,
22. M. J. Denton, Nature's Destiny: How the Laws of Biology Reveal Purpose in the Universe (The Free Press, New York. 1998)