The Dover Area School District monkey trial just got a whole lot more interesting with the testimony of Georgetown University theologian John Haught.
A major voice in the ongoing academic discussion of religion and science, Haught asserts--correctly, I believe--that intelligent design resembles creationism and should not be accepted as science. From the court transcript, emphasis mine:
Suppose a teapot is boiling on your stove and someone comes into the room and says, explain to me why that's boiling. Well, one explanation would be it's boiling because the water molecules are moving around excitedly and the liquid state is being transformed into gas.
But at the same time you could just as easily have answered that question by saying, it's boiling because my wife turned the gas on. Or you could also answer that same question by saying it's boiling because I want tea.
All three answers are right, but they don't conflict with each other because they're working at different levels. Science works at one level of investigation, religion at another. And it would be a mistake to say that the teapot is boiling because I turned the gas on rather than because the molecules are moving around. It would be a mistake to say the teapot is boiling because of molecular movement rather than because I want tea. No, you can have a plurality of levels of explanation. But the problems occur when one assumes that there's only one level.
And if I could apply this analogy to the present case, it seems to me that the intelligent design proponents are assuming that there's only one authoritative level of inquiry, namely the scientific, which is, of course, a very authoritative way of looking at things. And they're trying to ram their ultimate kind of explanation, intelligent design, into that level of explanation, which is culturally very authoritative today, namely the scientific.
And for that reason, science, scientists justifiably object because implicitly they're accepting what I'm calling this explanatory pluralism or layered explanation where you don't bring in "I want tea" while you're studying the molecular movement in the kettle. So it's a logical confusion that we have going on here ...
[T]here really is no controversy between evolutionary biology and intelligent design because intelligent design simply is not a scientific idea ... But if there's a controversy at all, it's a controversy between two groups of people, scientists who rightly demand that intelligent design be excluded from scientific inquiry, and intelligent design proponents who want it to be part of scientific inquiry ...
I think most people will instinctively identify the intelligent designer with the God of theism, but all the great theologians -- there are theologians that I consider great, people like Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, Langdon Gilkey, Carl Rahner -- would see what's going on in the intelligent design proposal, from a theological point of view, is the attempt to bring the ultimate and the infinite down in a belittling way into the continuum of natural causes as one finite cause among others.
And anytime, from a theological point of view, you try to have the infinite become squeezed into the category of the finite, that's known as idolatry. So it's religiously, as well as theologically, offensive ...
I wish I could have been there to HEAR that. Seriously.
- Lori G
Is he trying to bundle ID and Creationists into the "worshiping the creation, not the creator" idea?
Ironghost, I think that's part of it. What I think of, when folks talk about ID, is the very reasonable belief that a lot of people have--Sir John Polkinghorne, Keith Ward, and my own mother for that matter--that God works through natural forces to create the universe and all life. I think that's a very reasonable theological belief; there are naturally some problems that come up, but to say "I don't pretend to understand, but I believe God was behind it all" is not, I don't think, a cop-out, because God is by definition beyond human understanding. I don't agree with this belief (for various reasons too complex to get into here, my concept of God is no longer that of an Almighty Creator), but I respect it. It makes a certain amount of sense, from both scientific and theological points of view, and it avoids the pitfalls of idolatry and pseudoscience.
But what ID proponents say is "Okay, here is a reducible God-process; we can tell God did this here and that there and operate through these exact mechanisms and..." So what someone ends up doing, in effect, is saying "Here's God." ID is not just the belief that God created the cosmos through natural processes; it is the belief that we can prove that this happened, and show where the hand of God can be seen. And that strikes me as dangerous.
I think of the apocryphal cosmonaut who went into space and said "Well, the Americans are wrong; I don't see God anywhere out here." But if the cosmonaut did see a Heavenly Throne orbiting the moon or what have you, what kind of God would be talking about? And if he saw something that we thought was the Heavenly Throne and declared it to be God, wouldn't that be idolatry of the worse kind? So if ID were good science, it would still be very bad theology; and if it were theology, it would still be very bad science; but the truth is that it's both bad theology and bad science.
But it's very good politics, which is the real appeal of Intelligent Design: It's a technicality that allows School Board folks who feel that creationism should be taught in public schools to settle for the next best thing, a shifty pseudo-creationism that pretends to be science instead of religion on the basis of using words like "designer" instead of "God," and "design" instead of "creation."
Personally, I'd say: Enough fooling around with ID. Teach kids about the doctrine of creation; I firmly believe (and even the American Humanist Association agrees with me on this) that there should be more non-sectarian religious studies coursework in public schools. But don't do it in science class, because theology is not a science. When we try to reduce theology to science, we offend the integrity of both.
BTW- Ali, you ain't kidding about Haught; that man has PRESENCE. The "John Haught" link above has some video of him talking about these topics; if you haven't already clicked it, you oughter. You'd like it.
- Tom Head
See, I feel like I had this bizarre education experience. Even though I went to a small Catholic school in the Delta. I got a good dose of both.
We had theology classes that taught religion and science classes that taught evolution. And, surprisingly enough I had some unbelievable religion classes that included ALL religions. The curriculum included a year on "World Religions" such as Buddhism, Daoism, etc.
And, in the eight grade my religion teacher ( a woman I happen to only admire NOW for her stance) told our class that personally she believed the "Bible was a nice little set of analogies that told some great stories." We had some of the best discussions in her class...and this is when I was thirteen-years-old.
Now, like I said, this is in the Mississippi Delta...I won't say HOW MANY YEARS ago. ;) But, several of those teachers, who were all secular despite it being a Catholic school put a love of philosophy into my life.
One theory was never beaten into my head. ALL theories were presented and I was allowed to choose. I think those theology classes gave me a great background for a foundation of tolerance.
- Lori G
Lemme ask this:
If god isn't in his creation (which he implies in the bible), where is he? I'm thinking the next part of that argument someone might make would be that since god isn't a part of the creation, and "obviously" didn't create it, then this god fellow is a silly myth, blah blah blah....
For the record, I don't care about how the world began. The end is much closer than people think.