Thursday, February 09, 2006

I'm Gonna Need To See Some "I.D."

I've written about evolution/Intelligent Design in other places before, and it becomes clear that I was not really "wrong," per se, but that I misunderstood the question. Most of my science information comes from Gregg Easterbrook's "Tuesday Morning Quarterback" column on (really), and this week's Super Bowl wrap-up pretty much cleared up what I'd been suspecting for a while now. Easterbrook:

[T]he mainstream media are systematically avoiding a substantial question mark in evolutionary theory: it does not explain the origin of life. That organisms evolve in response to changes in their environment is well-established -- anyone who doubts this doesn't know what he or she is talking about. But why are there living things in the first place? Darwin said he had no idea, and to this day science has little beyond wild guesses about the origin of life. Maybe life had a natural origin that one day will be discovered. Until such time, higher powers or the divine cannot be ruled out.

Also, this book, which I read last year, helped clear things up.

I had considered the lack of an explanation of the origins of intelligent life on Earth to be some sort of a strike against the theory of evolution and against Darwin when, it turns out, evolution and natural selection and Darwin and all that has somewhere between very little and nothing to do with the origins of intelligent life on Earth.

So I guess I.D. tries to explain it by positing that evidence suggests the presence of a designer. It seems to me (and maybe I'm again misunderstanding) that this isn't necessarily science, since it starts at the idea that there was a Creator and then picks evidence that supports this idea. Science, it seems to me (ideally, at least), starts with, "hey, why is this like this?", and then investigates without prejudice or agenda to find out why (obviously that's utopian; if, say, Phillip Morris or Greenpeace or somebody like that is funding your research, it might not go exactly like that).

Even as I misunderstood the question, I still advocated teaching the prevailing scientific view in science class and saving the rest of it for philosophy class or, more appropriately, church. That hasn't changed.

I think that my only remaining confusion in regard to the evolution/I.D. debate is that I don't really understand what Intelligent Design actually is, and why it could possibly have any conflict with science. Here's my dilemma:

1) I'm not much of a churchgoer but I do believe in a deity, and I do consider myself to be a person who has religious faith. I do believe in a Creator.

2) I understand "Intelligent Design" to be the idea that the nature of the universe points to the existence of an intelligent Creator.

I must be missing something, because why would anyone other than a biblical literalist -- somebody who believes that, based on calculations from the book of Genesis, the Earth is somewhere between 6,000 and 7,000 years old -- or an anti-religious bigot find any sort of conflict between science and Intelligent Design? Wouldn't any conversation between any two people (other than the literalist and the bigot) have to go just like this?:

Person 1: And that, in short, is what science currently believes about the origins of the universe and life on Earth.

Person 2: Well, then that's how the Intelligent Creator accomplished the creation of the universe and intelligent life on Earth.

Person 1: I don't believe in an Intelligent Creator, but as it is a matter of personal faith I can't possibly disprove His existence.

Person 2: That's true. Want to get a beer?

Person 1: Sure!

So, I guess what I'm saying is that I believe wholeheartedly in science and in I.D., and I don't see why a reasonable person could see a conflict between the two.

Let me just say that if what's really going on here is the biblical literalists trying to chip away until their view is taught alongside actual science in public schools, then that is indeed frightening. Not "people who want to slaughter you because you drew a cartoon they didn't like" frightening (let's not forget where the immediate, deadly threats are coming from), but frightening nonetheless.

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