Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Intelligent Design's Ancient Roots

Stephen C. Meyer, author of Signature in the Cell, has refocused attention on whether Intelligent Design qualifies as a scientific proposal with roots in the early history of modern science. He points to many early scientists whose investigations were motivated by recognition of design features.

 We hear incessant claims from secularists that ID is neither science nor scientific. These claims emanate from a variety of sources including theistic evolutionists. Meyer argues persuasively that both origins (historical) and operational (experimental) sciences deserve equal billing as scientific investigations. Charles Thaxton, an early proponent of design, offered these ideas decades ago. Evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould also claimed that evolution, a historical origins science, should be acknowledged as science because its scientific “testability” was tantamount to its “explanatory power.” Gould, of course, offered very different explanations of origins than Intelligent Design proponents. People who choose to believe in evolution have found Gould's arguments persuasive.

Intelligent Design also has powerful explanatory power, inherent in the term itself. But ID does not presuppose naturalism. The modern scientific community excludes it as a scientific proposal on these grounds. A large segment of the public accepts the edict of the community of scientists on the matter, obediently following them in painting ID with the brush of non-science, or even pseudoscience. Theistic evolutionists also forcefully deny Intelligent Design. Francis S. Collins, in his popular book The Language of God, zealously promotes theistic evolution to the community of creationist evangelical Christians. He says, “One does not invoke intelligent causes when undirected natural cause will do.” He opines that, “Intelligent Design is ironically on a path toward doing considerable damage to faith,” and follows that with his claim that, “It is headed instead to the bottom of the ocean.”

There are other questionable assertions made by Collins in The Language of God. He states, “While ID is presented as a scientific theory, it is fair to say that it was not born from the scientific tradition.” Unfortunately, Collins does not search back far enough to discover the roots of inspiration for the development of modern science in the early years of the Scientific Revolution. Since then, scientists were driven away from their early roots of inspiration. Sociologist Christian Smith writes that the “scientific objectivity” which became the paradigm for the pursuit of all knowledge in an academic revolution in the late 19th century, “redefined religious concerns and perspectives as irrelevant if not detrimental to the mission of higher education.”

What does this mean? From about 1870, science drifted more quickly toward naturalism. The drift eventually impacted education and other elements of our culture. Soon after the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species, actions of an Intelligent Designer no longer had much explanatory power within scientific academia. However, a study of the early years of the Scientific Revolution reveals a very different reality. Stephen Meyer, in his important 2009 volume Signature in the Cell, points out that many early scientists such as Johannes Kepler, Louis Agassiz, Carl Linnaeus, and Robert Boyle, suggested the activity of “a most intelligent and designing agent.” Isaac Newton wrote, “This most beautiful system of the sun, the planets, and comets could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful being.”

These statements do not prove the truth of Intelligent Design theory, but they demonstrate the inaccuracy of Collins’ claims. He incorrectly reports, “Intelligent Design burst on the scene in 1991.” Meyer counters, “Clearly, the idea of intelligent design had played a formative role in the foundation of modern science. Many great scientists had proposed specific design hypotheses. This seemed to suggest to me that intelligent design could function as a possible scientific hypothesis.” Meyer wonders why many contemporary scientists have rejected this idea out of hand.

In the last half-century of scientific discovery, evidence for design has become ever stronger with each passing year. Even secular scientists acknowledge the discovery of hundreds of fine tuning parameters possessed by our cosmos. The wonder of the DNA code and its function has been revealed to our generation. Scientists now have more justification than ever before to investigate the Intelligent Design hypothesis. But a well built roadblock labeled Naturalism Only has been erected by the science community at large. It is ironic that truth discovery may be suppressed under the banner of science.