Thursday, February 10, 2011

Rules and Rulings

Scientific conclusions about cause and effect in earth’s bio-history must adhere to rules. Did observed effects “just happen?” Or was God involved in the actions in some way? Intelligent Design, by rule, is declared not to be scientific because it makes inferences of action by a supernatural being.

Intelligent Design is the whipping boy of diverse groups involved in the lively discussion of human origins. The ID movement is accused of being irrational, unscientific, and a “god-of-the-gaps” cop-out. Dr. Francis S. Collins, well-known former director of the National Human Genome Research Institute and currently director of the National Institutes of Health stated in The Language of God that, “Intelligent Design burst on the scene in 1991.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

The concept of design in the natural world originating from an intelligent mind goes back thousands of years. We could distinguish biblical creation accounts using the term “formed” from later arguments for the deliberate actions of a designer. Plato and Aristotle proposed teleological arguments hundreds of years before Christ. Likewise, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Newton, Boyle, and ironically, even many non-theistic scientists up to the present time have made reference to the abundant apparent design features in the world of nature. Some of these scientists make humorous references to “monkeying” with physics, cosmic “tinkering,” and fine-tuning.

Collins correctly voices the visceral objection of many ID adherents: The natural world and living things in particular are far too complex to have organized themselves. On one hand Collins commends the “thoughtfulness and sincerity of ID’s proponents” and further states “this movement deserves serious consideration.” Then he assumes the default position of the majority of scientists today who control our public educational institutions: “Intelligent Design fails in a profound way to qualify as a scientific theory,” he claims. According to the philosophical and methodological box the field of SCIENCE has constructed for itself, I must agree that this statement is true. SCIENCE is a naturalistic enterprise. Using empirical methods, it investigates only natural cause and effect. Notwithstanding that abductive reasoning’s inference to the best explanation may point to a possible or likely “outside the science box” interpretation of evidence, no such explanation is ever permitted, either as conjecture or as a subject for further research. Naturalistic presuppositions permit only naturalistic conclusions. Therefore, evolution is awarded the verdict. Evolution wins on a technicality.

Examples of winning or losing on a technicality abound in the world of sports. The game of golf is rife with obscure rules. Violation of any of the rules costs dearly. Sometimes the penalty seems harsh. On August 16, 2010, Dustin Johnson suffered a two stroke penalty on a technical rule and thereby lost his chance to win the PGA championship. He grounded his club in a bunker before a shot, a seemingly insignificant offense which had no impact on his real score, but was against the rules, nonetheless. He was docked two strokes. But forming false conclusions about the reality and implications of intelligent design and the creative acts of God in our cosmos have infinitely more significance as we search for eternal truths. The penalty negatively impacts our basic worldview.

The fundamental operating principle of science is methodological naturalism. This is a distinct change from former times. Scientists “do” science and make conclusions about reality as if there is no supernatural. Methodological naturalism is the driving force of scientists. Theistic scientists may believe in God and in God’s direct involvement in cause/effect relationships in origins research, but voicing this belief in connection with their work in science will only result in a heap of trouble.

Alvin Plantinga, a philosopher known for applying analytic methods to defend orthodox Christian beliefs, made some important observations following the court ruling in the case of Kitzmiller v. Dover (PA) Area School District in 2005:

“What are the advantages and disadvantages of doing science in accord with methodological naturalism? There is a good deal to be said on both sides here. For example, if you exclude the supernatural from science, then if the world or some phenomena within it are supernaturally caused—as most of the world’s people believe—you won’t be able to reach that truth scientifically. Observing methodological naturalism thus hamstrings science by precluding science from reaching what would be an enormously important truth about the world. It might be that, just as a result of this constraint, even the best science in the long run will wind up with false conclusions."

Theistic evolutionists are taking the biological science community’s conclusions about evolution to be true. Those conclusions provide the best science, they intone. While this may be true according to our culture’s technical rules of the game for science, perhaps their quest should focus on making “inference to the best explanation.”