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Saturday, July 09, 2005

Intelligent Design: What's the Meaning of Life?

I came across the blog of Denyse O'Leary, a journalist based in Toronto, Canada and I encourage you to give it a look. She covers stories on the current scientific controversy between neo-Darwinists and Intelligent Design theorists.

I first noticed her when I read this article from Christianity Today Online about the film entitled, The Privileged Planet: The Search for Purpose in the Universe based on the book by philosopher Jay Richards and Iowa State University astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez. Apparently, the Smithsonian Institute had agreed to allow an Intelligent Design organization to show the film, but then tried to renege when the Darwinists complained.

The Intelligent Design (ID) movement is simply the attempt to examine evidence of design in nature, which suggests some higher intelligence behind it all. It seems to me that a fair-minded person in the public square is willing to study all the data and theories regarding the origins of life. If the data and theories are scientific in nature, then they belong in the realm of science (as opposed to philosophy, for instance, though the two may certainly overlap). See my earlier post. ID proponents are, as far as I can tell, asking for the opportunity to enter the debate, to not be silenced merely because they fail to toe the line of neo-darwinist orthodoxy.

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JMFjr said...

I have been pondering this a bit lately and I have come up with a thought.
I think ID is great way to build a bridge that was distroyed long ago. Reason distroyed the bridge that faith gives us to see God's work in creation and ID rebuilds that bridge. It is a wonderful starting point that Jesus has build a world to reveal Himself.

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...


Yes. ID is not evangelism exactly, though it certainly might spark the question "well, just WHO is this intelligence designer?"

The exact identity of the designer can not be discerned by reason alone. It has to be revealed to us and that has happened through prophets, apostles and especially Jesus.

I am a Christian who believes in biblical inerrancy and the 6 day creation of Genesis. However, I don't see science or reason as the enemies. They can be, but not necessarily.

In matters of faith, reason is a servant, not a master.

When interacting with the public square, there is a role for discourse on the basis of reason, logic, and observation. And ID does that.

As far as bringing people to meet the Savior, you are right that ID, at best, can only be a bridge.

JMFjr said...

Keep it up bro!

Mark Nutter said...

Denyse complains about "the establishment" allegedly silencing anyone who dares to question "neo-Darwinist orthodoxy," yet when I pointed out the fact that neo-Darwinism is religiously neutral and that a number of neo-Darwinists are theistic evolutionists who see God's divine plan and purpose behind the origin and development of life, my comment mysteriously disappeared. Who is silencing whom?

All "neo-Darwinian" means is that scientists today recognize that natural selection isn't the only mechanism by which evolution produces changes in living species: mutation, genetic drift, and other factors also play a role in speciation. Sure, Denyse can quote lots of "neo-Darwinists" who think of evolutionists as an unguided materialistic process--I can quote lots of Christian theologians who think the Pope is the vicar of Christ, too, but does that mean Christianity is papist?

Denyse picks and chooses which "neo-Darwinists" she quotes from in order to give the impression that "neo-Darwinism" is an atheistic philosophy, and she does sell books about "atheistic, naturalistic Darwinism" versus God's design, so maybe she's just exercising good business sense in her editorial policies. In the scientific community, however, "neo-Darwinian evolution" means a scientific theory that encompasses both theistic and atheistic (as well as agnostic) evolutionists, and includes considerable scope for the possibility of intelligent design in its own right.

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

Mark wrote:

"Who is silencing whom?"

Publicly funded schools and institutions are different than blogs. You are here as my guest. You do not have the RIGHT to post your comments to her blog, or mine. It is a courtesy extended to you. I am under no obligation, legal or moral, to allow both sides to be represented here, in this forum, for anything. I would think our public schools and institutions, which belong to all the people, would be different.

Mark Nutter said...

That is a fair point, but I would reply that our public schools and institutions are not quite as guilty as Denyse would like to imply, and her own editorial practices simply hilite her journalistic bias in reporting. I do agree, however, that public schools and institutions are not magically immune to human foibles and that vigilance is always needed. Yet there is a difference between upholding high standards of scientific integrity and "silencing anyone who dares question neo-Darwinist orthodoxy." There are many scientists who do dare question "neo-Darwinist othodoxy," and who publish in peer-reviewed scientific journals challenging this or that aspect of evolutionary theory. Science is full of lively debates on a variety of topics; nothing is immune to question and review. But if you're going to challenge something, you have to back up your claims with hard scientific evidence and rigorous analysis, and you have to be prepared to answer some equally critical analysis in response.

Sometimes people come along with work that doesn't live up to those standards, but which (in their mind) lends support to the idea that there is a divine Creator behind the origin of life on earth. Because they see an apologetic value in their work, they feel that it has an importance that makes it just as scientifically valid as the work that meets the higher standard of evidence and rigorousness. But others say the same scientific standards must apply to all, and reject this work for failing to meet those standards. So the people whose work was rejected say, "Oh, I see, you are all atheists, and you are discriminating against me because my conclusions support the idea that there is a God." Hence the idea that there is some kind of conspiracy to "silence" anyone who "dares question the neo-Darwinist orthodoxy" or whatever boogeyman they blame for the failure of their work to be accepted. So they take their case to laypeople, and complain that they're being oppressed, and people like Denyse help them plead their case to those who can't really judge their work on its scientific merits but will definitely sympathize with its apologetic appeal.

You see why this is a bad thing for science?

I know that when you're trying to develop a new theory such as intelligent design, and people seem to be resisting it, it's tempting to lapse into judgmentalism and blaming. It's doubly tempting--for every Denyse who blames "neo-Darwinists" for "silencing" the intelligent design side, there's someone on the other side who judges the whole ID movement by observing the words and deeds of people like Denyse. It's hard to keep a balanced view, and stay focused on the fact that ID is a theory that tells us nature may reflect an intelligent design and that evolution is a theory that may tell us how that design was put into practice. Hopefully there will be at least some people who will stay focussed on pure ID research and who will keep at it until it actually can meet the standards. That's the win/win situation here. It does ID theory no good to take the easy way out and settle for second-rate scientific "scholarship," published via a "lay-peer review" of non-scientists.

Mark Nutter said...

By the way, regarding The Privileged Planet story, what actually happened was that the Discovery Institute made a donation to the Smithsonian in exchange for the use of a Smithsonian facility for a private screening of PP. Ordinarily that would be no big deal, except that the Smithsonian has a policy of not making its facilities available for political or religious purposes and, in this case, shortly after this screening was arranged, Denyse began announcing that the prestigious Smithsonian Institution was "warming" to intelligent design as a scientific theory.

The concern among the mainstream scientific community was that this event was being staged as an attempt to establish ID as respectable science via political/marketing means as opposed to doing so by "the old-fashioned way" (i.e. doing their homework, spelling out their theory, doing rigorous analysis and testing, etc.) In short, the Smithsonian was being duped into lending its scientific prestige to a pop theory that as yet has not earned it in the strict scientific sense. Hence the uproar.

Denyse's version, of course, you've read for yourself, with conspiracies of "Darwinists" and a Church of Sagan (nicely rhymes with "Satan," did you notice? :) and all the rest of Denyse's inimitable style. If you haven't gone back and read her original coverage, it's quite a read, assuming its still there. What's remarkable, by the way, is the Smithsonian's response: they refunded the donation, thus officially renouncing their original joint sponsorship of the event, but honored the terms of the original agreement and allowed the film to be shown. (And were still accused of "silencing" the film by some!)

cwv warrior said...

Recently got into a debate with Christian evolutionist all that? I never thought they could all go together in one sentence, let alone one person. Wow, that was difficult because they believe in the Creator but not in the supernatural Creator! (sorry to say, the comments are lost somewhere in cyberspace cause i switched to haloscan)

Mark Nutter said...

Re: "Who is silencing whom?" I just made a comment on Denyse's blog about the distinction between naturalism (as in philosophical naturalism) and nature (as in the proper domain of natural science), and Denyse is not censoring it as far as I can see. Perhaps I am guilty of leaping to conclusions. Could some mere technical glitch have eaten my missing comment from before? We shall see. I stand by my assessment of Denyse as a biased reporter--she did name her blog "Post-Darwinist" after all--but I'll give her the benefit of the doubt as far as my personal experience is concerned.

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

I appreciate your gracious comments about Denyse. It's wise to try to put the best construction on things (as much as possible) and to give people the benefit of the doubt. Nor do I think anyone can ever claim to understand another person's motives. How well do we even understand our own? I don't claim to be an expert at that myself, but I'm trying.

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