What About ID (Intelligent Design)?

ID and its place (or lack thereof) in public education has been a hot topic lately. Several email lists I’m on have been discussing it. Here’s my response to some of it.

As a tradition/discipline, science has a right to police (or fight over) its own boundaries, just as Christianity, also conceivable as a tradition/discipline, has a similar right. If current guardians of the boundaries of science wish to declare that the discipline must be purely naturalistic, then I suppose they are free to do so. But in my view this doesn’t help us much when it comes to the teaching of evolution, ID and related issues.

When it comes to teaching of science, we have left the realm of science itself and entered the realm of education. Must education be entirely naturalistic? Surely there is more to argue here than there is in the realm of science. Perhaps those who guard the boundaries of education have declared that each discipline must be taught by the reigning experts in the field. This has been my experience. In my pre-collegiate education the model was, “Here are the facts, no learn them.” Only when I had entered college did I begin to learn that each area of knowledge, each discipline, was a cauldron of disputation and argument. Perhaps the guardians of education think younger students can’t handle the lack of absolute certainty that comes with admitting disputation.

We also have the further problem that science is considered the paradigm of knowledge and the fount of our access to reality. As long as our culture retains an implicit foundationalist epistemology that puts a completely naturalistic discipline at the foundation, I cannot but think that those who do not adhere to a completely naturalistic view of the world might be troubled. The long time practice of compartmentalizing knowledge (science) and faith isn’t very satisfying to many.

Not surprisingly, the naturalistic approach isn’t satisfied to remain within the bounds of the natural sciences. From what I’ve seen it likes to move on to all areas of life (it’s a totalizing discourse, after all, so why ought we be surprise?) including religion. How do we explain the existence of religious people? Is there any reason to think God had anything to do with it – or must we settle for purely naturalistic accounts (chemicals in the brain, depression, society, etc.)? Oops – not sure we want to go that far! Barnes & Bloor and their “Strong Program” in the sociology of knowledge have done that with science itself, and the idea that science itself is not rational has not been well accepted.

So that’s a verbose way of saying I’m uneasy committing myself to the naturalistic (and popular) view. While I’m not sure how to specify what design looks like, or know how to demonstrate its existence; and while I’m skeptical about the usefulness of probability applied to historical events, I cannot but prefer that the statement, “God created the world” be taken to be ABOUT the world and not merely ABOUT my beliefs, faith, or “stance toward what is most important.”

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2 Responses to What About ID (Intelligent Design)?

  1. Don Emery says:

    Reasonable folks may agree that science and religious disciplines can determine their boundaries. The problem occurs when either attempts to determine the boundaries of the other.

    Teaching of creation in the setting of sunday school, from the pulpit or even in children’s church apparently goes unchallenged even by scientist does it not? This is a religious theory, if you will, being advanced in a religious setting.

    ID is creation in a different dress. A cast from Genesis with the designer playing the part of God, a clever way of trying to teach such in the public schools.

    How either science or religion can be taught outside the realm of education seems vague.

    The elephant in the room is the thorny issue of seperation of church and state which is not mentioned. Some insist that no such sepration ever existed while others require adherence. This seems to me to be the same not diffent debate.

    Yes! Each area or discipline is subject to debate. The theory of evolution is subject to gaps and dispute which hopefully would be discussed in a science class. As would, hopefully, the different order of creation in Genesis, in the sunday school class.

    This still leaves the elephant in the room.

  2. Richard H says:

    Thanks for joining the conversation, Don!

    You suggest, “The problem occurs when either attempts to determine the boundaries of the other.”

    Yes, this is a problem – but one that won’t go away. First, many people find themselves members of both communities and find themselves unable to completely compartmentalize their lives.

    Second, both – in at least some significant versions – claim to deal with what is – with reality. Sharing the same subject matter makes for some continuing arguments.

    When we bring in the “separation of church and state” we have to pretend that there can be some neutral way to talk about things like origins that will neither favor nor disfavor any given religious approach. I don’t see how it can be done. As long as the secular – and therefore acceptable – versions of evolution declare that everything came from nothing by accident, with no purpose in the world, religionists ov many varieties will have the need to argue. Some will come up with theories like the YECs, some like ID folks, some with theistic evolution.

    A final problem, is that science is the most respected knowledge discourse in our culture. It purports to deal with real knowledge (facts) while (according to science), religion deals with opinions, feelings, and any deity is at best a projection of human needs/perceptions on to the cosmos. Surrendering the realm of “reality” for the realm of “opinion” doesn’t seem like a winning hand for religion.

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