Novak (novak) wrote,
Novak
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Theological Notebook: The Intelligent Design Court Ruling

It's a shame that the reporting on the Intelligent Design court decision that was just handed down--and the case itself, based in the move by Dover, Pennsylvania's school board to set up ID as an alternative to "evolution"--has muddied the waters of the ID conversation by jamming it into the old, tired and misleading category of "science versus religion." While the people in this case may well have been coming from a Protestant Fundamentalist viewpoint that presumes evolution itself to be a falsehood, and thereby invoked "intelligent design" as merely a new spin on the old so-called "scientific creationism" of the 1980s, it does a real disservice to the serious discussion revolving around the idea of an intelligent design to the universe.

As I understand it, the academic intelligent design conversation is one about the behaviour of evolution biology, in part (as well as cosmology, cosmogony, etc.) and not in opposition to the notion of evolution itself. Certainly in Catholic thought, which has always maintained the doctrine of Creation--that is, that God is responsible for the origin and content of the universe, however it developed--and has not in any way set itself against evolutionary theory, the default assumption has always been one of some sort of "intelligent design," to use the current phrase. That may not end up meaning the same thing as contemporary ID theorists have articulated their position, but is just the assumption that the truth of Jewish/Christian revelation and the truths investigated by the physical sciences can only be one truth. Obviously, even what we call today "modern science" is simply a spin-off of medieval Scholastic theological method and assumptions. Serious Christian reflection could hardly only accept one side of the results of its own history of inquiry into reality. Yet nevertheless, this more-recent Enlightenment propaganda creation of a "science versus religion" paradigm keeps coming back like a horror-movie zombie, and is constantly invoked by those who value familiarity over accuracy.

And you could hardly come up with a worse paradigm: otherwise reasonable people cannot seem to conceive of reasonable conversation if they've accepted the presupposition given by the phrase. I had to grit my teeth listening to NBC's reporting of the case the other night because, the specifics of this case aside, the presentation could hardly have been more awkwardly forced and distorted for squeezing it into this old mould. It's bad enough that these people had to invoke ID for an anti-evolutionary move: one could wish at least one reporter in the U.S. had a degree in this direction and could avoid such mind-numbing stereotypes.

I'm still trying to listen closely to what scientists and philosophers who aren't bedazzled by the 18th-century slogans have to say about all this. I can certainly understand that there can be a serious objection to evolution as it has often been taught: far too often it has had a Materialist philosophy smuggled into presentations of it. That, of course, is as offensive as an attempted hijacking of the educational process by the Protestant Fundamentalists. Secularist Fundamentalists who would teach biology, note the evolutionary changing of species, and use the authority of their position to declare, "Therefore there is no God and anyone who believes otherwise is dumb" are committing equal abuses. Obviously, the idea that there is no God because life changes no more follows that there isn't a God because my hair grows longer, but children, as is repeated noted throughout these cases, are vulnerable to subtle influences. That sword cuts both ways. kesil has had a lot to say in this forum about the science end of the debate, and I think was responsible for showing me the importance of the concept of "falsification" in an hypothesis. The recent article (for a popular audience) in First Things by Stephen M. Barr, a theoretical particle physicist at the Bartol Research Institute of the University of Delaware, seemed more a model of the reflective tone I wish prevailed in this discussion. He was critical of Cardinal Schönborn's New York Times column that sparked a lot of the recent mainstream discussion, but not in the shrill, semi-hysterical way that seems to get more of the airplay in this country.
Tags: education, evolution, legal, media, philosophical, scientific, theological notebook
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