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Why God’s in a Class by Himself

August 9, 2005

Intelligent Design (ID) creationism has resurfaced in the news again after President George W. Bush’s remarks were (mis)taken by IDers to be a solid endorsement by the president for the teaching of ID in public school science classrooms. (Bush’s science adviser, John H. Marburger 3rd, said in a telephone interview that “evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology” and “intelligent design is not a scientific concept.”)

There was considerable media hype over the story, and I did a number of interviews, including a query from a reporter who asked for my opinion about whether one can believe in God and the theory of evolution. I replied that, empirically speaking, yes you can, the proof being that 40 percent of American scientists profess belief in God and also accept the theory of evolution, not to mention the fact that most of the world’s one billion Catholics believe in God and accept the theory of evolution. But then this reporter wanted to know is if it is logically consistent to believe in God and the theory of evolution. That is, does the theory of evolution — if carried out to its logical conclusion — preclude belief in God? This is a different question. Here is my answer.

You can believe in God and evolution as long as you keep the two in separate logic-tight compartments. Belief in God depends on religious faith. Belief in evolution depends on empirical evidence. This is the fundamental difference between religion and science. If you attempt to reconcile religion and science on questions about nature and the universe, and if you push the science to its logical conclusion, you will end up naturalizing the deity because for any question about nature — the origins of the universe, life, humans, whatever — if your answer is “God did it,” a scientist will ask, “How did God do it?, What forces did God use? What forms of matter and energy were employed in the creation process?” and so forth. The end result of this inquiry can only be natural explanations for all natural phenomena. What place, then, for God?

One could argue that God is the laws and forces of nature, which is logically acceptable, but this is pantheism and not the type of personal God to which most people profess belief. One could also argue that God created the universe and life using the laws and forces of nature as his creation tools, which is also logically fine, but it leaves us with additional scientific questions: which laws and forces were used to create specific natural phenomena, and in what manner were they used? how did God create the laws and forces of nature? A scientist would be curious to know God’s recipe for, say, gravity, or for a universe or a cell. For that matter, it is a legitimate scientific question to ask: what made God, and how was God created? How do you make an omniscient and omnipotent being? Finally, one could argue that God is outside of nature — super nature, or supernatural — and therefore needs no explanation. This is also logically consistent, but by definition it means that the God question is outside of science and therefore religion and science are separate and incompatible.

Bottom line: teach science in science classes, teach religion in religion classes.

This opinion editorial was originally published in the Los Angeles Times.

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38 Comments to “Why God’s in a Class by Himself”

  1. Hari Kumar Says:

    Well said- I for one believe in god and at the same time strong supporter of evolution- because of scientific evidence. But then in the matter of god and science- I never mingle them- they are in two separate compartments. I try not to bring religion into science lessons I teach my son at home. And very candid in admitting the fallacy religious myths, yet still believe in god-which is a sort of energy or power that guides the universe/universes and it require no offerings or praises from us.

  2. mocular Says:

    The use of the word “guides” in this phrase suggests that your god intervenes in the natural world

    …yet still believe in god-which is a sort of energy or power that guides the universe/universes…

    which logically means that all scientific explanations of all natural phenomena must include the possibility that, “god did it.”

    I find that unacceptable.

  3. Thomas A. Vance Says:

    If we accept energy as god, then, as the fundmentalists say when we die we join with god and that would be heaven.
    How various religions choose to explain this is what makes them unique. The problem arises when they try to claim that their explanation is the only one and “force” their version of events on others.
    After 12 years of catholic school we came out thinkers much to the delite and chagrin of our teachers. Religion class often became philosophy class as we learned other religions to better understand our own.
    Take christians, if you follow it , most donot follow what Christ said but what Paul said. They aren’t even christian but paulists. This idea made me realize that as a “hippie” my beliefs had more in common with what Christ really said than any organized religion. I would argue in class about this but always got the answer “but paul gave us the Law!
    God is in a class by himself because we put him there and are too scared to let him go.

  4. sekhorr Says:

    The concept of GOD is too complicated for discussion since it breaks down if tried to explain with words. I would, more appropriately, put it as an experience of a person which can never be put in words or explained by some equations but at the same time i agree (Mostly) with the explanation of evolution as well.

    I am a real hard skeptic at such things and i honestly cannot avoid or share some of the experiences i’ve had in the past (which definitely is true to the deepest of my heart but at the same time cannot provide evidence or proof for you all to prove my point). I’m researching Vedic Astrology and it’s predictive capability of humans. There is some accuracy to this subject and i will have to find out the answer by myself.. Will share with you all soon!!!!

  5. Richard Seaholm Says:

    I would like to see this article posted on as a response to Dinesh D’Souza’s column of April 7, 2008 in which he erroneously says: “The problem with evolution is not that it is unscientific but that it is routinely (really?) taught in the classroom in an atheist way.
    I think that religion without god is atheism, and science without god is still science.

  6. Kevin Barrow Says:

    New thinking on the question. This from Amazon:

    “How could something as vast, intricate, vivid, and beautiful as the natural world have come about except by the will and ‘hand’ of a supernaturally powerful and intelligent Designer? The Answer – It could not have – lies at the root of one of the best known ‘proofs’ of the existence of God. Certainly, the so-called ‘Argument from Design’ forms the basis of the modern Intelligent Design (previous Creationist) movement, which, although it accepts evolution, stands opposed to Darwin’s theory of ‘blind’ evolution – which is to say, to the idea that evolution occurs without overarching purpose, moral direction, or intervention from God.

    Michael Benedikt’s book seeks to dissolve the disagreement by showing that “design” and “evolution” are one and the same process running at different scales and speeds and seen from different viewpoints. Design is evolution speeded up; evolution is design slowed down. Designing is what evolving looks like when seen from outside; evolving is what designing looks like when seen from the inside. This perspective is rooted in science (in particular the work of Nobelist Gerald Edelman) and in the experience of actual designers — people like architects, industrial designers, artists, and composers. Although actual designers have been conspicuously silent when it comes to the debate between Intelligent Design and Evolution, perhaps for fear of raising theological-religious hackles and perhaps for lack of feeling qualified, their participation in the discussion is crucial.

    “The second half of the book is devoted to observations of the beliefs of such great artist-architects as Michelangelo Buonarotti, Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, and Louis Kahn, with respect to divinity, nature, and design. (There are also references to Alvar Aalto, Mies van der Rohe, and others.) All are shown to have had deep convictions easily traced to religious, deist, and/or process-theological roots, wherein the evolutionary workings of the world, broadly conceived, and the workings of the human mind in the act of design are seen and understood to be continuous, if not identical, and divine.

    “Can the spat between Intelligent Design and Evolution finally be dissipated? On some better understanding of the word, is it time for “divinity” once again to enter the discourse of architecture and of design generally? This book says yes to both questions. “

  7. CO4E Says:

    I think teaching kids theories disables them.
    Most children can think for themselves.
    Teach them the facts, how, what, when, and where leave theories to those who cannot get real jobs.
    Chemistry biology math physics geography, languages, art physical fitness, human anatomy history – there must be dozens of cause and effect form and function disciplines that we could teach. Leave the thinking to them.
    Teaching them theory doesn’t teach them how to think.
    Thinking is part of the human experience, teach them how to ask good questions.

  8. CO4E Says:

    Tying genetics to evolution is a colossal blunder.
    Surely Gravity and EMR are far more important to the observed phenomena we grace with the term evolution.
    Evolution is a singularity applied to something that may well not be singular.

  9. Mark Hausam Says:

    What does Shermer mean by “naturalizing the deity”? The word “natural,” when contrasted with “supernatural,” can refer to the normal state of affairs that prevails in everyday life in the space-time universe we inhabit. In that case, “supernatural” would refer to simply a different, or higher, or deeper aspect of reality. But Shermer seems to use “natural” here to mean “subject to rational and empirical investigation” and perhaps even “real.” In this latter sense, most theists have always believed the deity to be “natural,” because they have believed the deity to be a real being, a being who is an actual part of reality, as real as people, turtles, rocks, etc. The only alternative is to believe the deity to be an imaginary being like the tooth fairy. If God is real, then he is not in principle outside of the realm of scientific investigation (at least in a theoretical or ideal sense).

  10. philip Says:

    Those who still believe in a God after studying evolution theory did not get the point. When you truly understand evolution theory there is no room nor need for a God.

  11. Alan Says:

    The key point is whether there is a personal god who acts in the world in a way that can be varied in some way as a result of his interaction with a person e.g., answering a prayer. Any actions of this sort would clearly violate scientific laws e.g., gravity would cease to operate or people could return from the dead. As far as I know there are no proofs that the laws of science have ever been arbitrarily broken. James Randi (soon to be over here in the UK) has money on offer to any who can prove this. If a god is not a personal god there isn’t any point in having one. Who would care? Such a god would clearly care nothing for us. There is a name for people who believe in a god who is not personal – they are deists. Quite a lot of scientifically oriented people who profess belief in god turn out to be deists. There is little to distinguish them from atheists since their god turns out to be nothing more than another way of describing the laws of nature (as rightly pointed out above).

  12. Edgar Wing Says:

    Alan: Yes, that’s the important point exactly! And any attempt to prove a giant magical wizard to be the creator of all things is almost entirely irrelevant to whether that creator then has all the other properties that would make it relevant to us. The latter would need to be proven independently.

  13. jesse Says:

    co4e i think hit right on the point, what does theories of evolution or creationsim have anything to do with useful information, if i find out i am evolved from some goop hit by lighting or created by an all powerful God that seems to be a point that is not yet proven by either side without serious legitimate questions by the other, our education needs to focus more on mathematics and social sciences for our country to move ahead, sitting here arguing evolution or ID i think can be left to the proffessionals for now until someones theory is proven absolutley correct and infalliable then lets learn about what we do KNOW

  14. Fred Says:

    I would like to see a revival of the old ‘God of the Gaps’ argument in which all of the mysteries and scientific unknowns are bundled together into a single class or category and given the name ‘God’. We could even give it a gender and a kind of intentionality if we wanted to. Of course, as with all God-shaped holes in our knowledge this one would eventually close up, and we would see our God gradually receding, like Elvis leaving the building after a particularly long and successful gig. Like a much loved elderly relative He would slip away slowly, taking less and less part in the day to day running of things. We could visit him occasionally, on Sunday’s maybe, and stir his fading memories with stories of the old days. And when his time came to shuffle off this coil we might still talk about Him occasionally, saying things like ‘Well, he had a good innings’, and ‘He could be a funny bugger sometimes’, and then we’d laugh. I can imagine having fond memories of a God like that, who had the divine grace to know when he was starting to become a burden and took his leave at the right time, secure in the knowledge that his children will be alright without him.

  15. Ted Schrey Says:

    God is still in a class, by himself; he is falling more and more behind, while everyone else is getting promoted.

  16. Dr. Sweet Meat Says:

    I always find it amusing that the emphasis is nearly unanimously concerned with biological evolution. The IDers/creationists have just as much, if not more, trouble with other scientific disciplines (astronomy, physics, geology etc.). This is probably because physical sciences are, in an important sense, easier than the biological ones (don’t tell my physics students!), and so it is easier for the non-specialist to spot ID’s gaffes in the physical sciences.
    A deity just isn’t needed to explain Big Bang cosmology, or plate tectonics, or radioactive decay. And if something isn’t needed in science, it isn’t part of the equation.

  17. Morgan-LynnGriggs Lamberth Says:

    It is so contradictory to posit the teleological behind the dysteological.: natural processes show no plans for us ,so to posit deity with a plan for us contradicts that. Natural forces do not need deity for super boss.So, science does indeed show no need for deity and contradicts it. So, theistic evolution is indeed an oxymoron.
    Teleological arguments- fine-tuning, probability, design and from reason- all beg the question that deity wanted us to come about when mindless natural selection formed us.
    And contrary to Eugenie Scott, dysteology is not a philosophical notion here but a scientific one as science finds that to be true:: no preconceived plans for us period!

  18. Shadow Dancer Says:

    God is a Spirit. Jesus in human flesh was still a Spirit Being. This world is a reflection of the Spiritual Realms of Light & Darkness. I agree with the one poster who stated most people who call themselves Christians are followers of Paul, not Jesus. I also agree Jesus may have been far more Hippie like as that is the only word in your language that might describe him. I consider far more he would have been right at home with the Native Tribes of North America, & elsewhere that lived in a non-money/mammonistic tribal society instead of a Govt patterned after Rome.

    After all Jesus was born of the Tribe of Judah. His teachings follow Spirtual Circles like, Forgive & you will be forgiven. Jesus taught his Father’s Spiritual Kingdom that is not of the world of man, this world. A somewhat difficult thought for many people to latch onto as they think everything upon the earth is all about them.

    I consider myself a follower of Jesus, not a Christian as Jesus taught his Father’s Spiritual Kingdom, not religion, & did not give any indication he came to start a new Religion.

    In one of my last conversations with a person who brought up Paul, I told that person, listen to what your reading. Paul is just lost in all his own personal psychobabble about things. I can understand why Jesus’s original disciples didn’t want much to do with Paul.

    With Peter we see a Construction to Time as Jesus told Peter he would deny him three times. In time the time came when Peter denied Jesus three times. Regardless it would not have served the Kingdom had Peter also been killed at that time. Within your own time you will meet everyone your suppossed to meet, and do everything your supposed to do, but consider well in making decisions as many things can happen from even one decision. (Cause & Effect)

    Love & peace 2 you.

  19. elmancero Says:

    Re comments by Shadow Dancer:-
    More kerfuffle from the God people!! Watched a TV programme recently called The Lost Tribes in which modern every day citizens agreed to live with very remote and virtually unknown tribes with NO modern technology for about 3 weeks. They were devastated at the living conditions and BELIEFS. They had to be careful NOT to offend various GODS, varying from the River God to the Spirits of the Forest and all needed pacifying to keep on there good sides. In other words, mankind has the primeaval urge to worship some God or Greater Being. The greater the civilisation, the more complicated the rites and beliefs become. Dare I say it but the most successful terrorist and salesman to boot is JC himself. The God people are at it everywhere, successfully filling their coffers in the name of religion with battalions of saints and so called miracles and weird rites.
    Sorry about the rant but the so called religions upset me especially those whose motives and aims are to eradicate the non-believers by violence, etc. As Dave Allen, the Irish comedian, used to say, May your God go with you whoever he might be (Hope he isn’t watching) regards elmancero

  20. Hugh (Bart) Vincelette Says:

    From a grassroots level , any area of endeavour or study that might call into question the existence of a deity , immediately undermines the power of many and runs the risk of toppling one too many dominoes; such that all the extraneous and exceedingly complex ‘yadda yadda’that develops around religions , could ; in the twinkling of an eye ; become null and void. How on earth , for example; could one insist on laws , rules , and regulations that correspond to verses and divine orders from their ancient ‘policy and procedure manual'( e.g. Old Testament of the Bible), if the whole process turns out to be as credible as tooth fairies and the venerable Easter Bunny.

  21. Randy Kirk Says:

    You all have had over 100 years to convince the most advanced civilization in the history of the world that there is no God, or that he is not personal. With almost 90% in the US still believing in God of some sort, I would suggest you find some new arguments or some better folks to deliver them.

  22. Don Fincher Says:

    Religion is the only endeavor which chooses to abandon reason and seek comfort from the trials of the human condition in dogma and ritual. Rather than confess ignorance of the answers to life’s ultimate questions, the human specie grasps at oversimplification and a quite stunning attempt to look toward an anthropomorphic god who seems to be in need of somewhat regular praise. If as the Bible says, man was created in the image of god, then god is indeed a flawed being. Given this being true, it makes perfect sense that the deity has need of worship. It makes no sense however to posit a perfect being and yet one that still is in need of human adulation. The saddest commentary on belief in god is the fact that religion resists critical thinking, and the most convincing apologetics will never penetrate its defenses. Thoughtful (and some not so thoughtful) people will defend the bizzare when it comes in conflict with their religious belief. And they will defend it to the death.

  23. Thomas J. Theobald Says:

    co4e and Jesse, please wipe off the keyboard, you’re drooling.

    ID doesn’t deserve to even be mentioned in the same sentence as Evolution, much less to be considered a “theory” of any sort. ID is theology, not theory. To top it off, it’s a crappy theology.

    To spell it out for you two (and the lurkers who are nodding eagerly at reading your tripe), the only reason the word “theory” is used with regard to evolution is that evolution is not a compact, simple item. A “law” is something that can generally be spelled out simply, easily, and often can even be brought to the level of an equation. Evolution is too complex for that – but it is no less real than gravity or relativity.

    Just as the word “level” or “opening” may have multiple meanings, so does “theory.” Your choice of the definition used when you read it in this context is flawed. Given that evolution has been the foundation for biological science (and medicine to follow) for the last century and a half, you should give it a little more respect. After all, it is in all likelihood responsible for one or both of you surviving to adulthood – you were as a child, after all, immunized against polio, rubella, measles, whooping cough, and possibly smallpox, were you not? You’ve taken antibiotics for illnesses, haven’t you?

    You can thank the theory of evolution for that. Without it, germ theory, and later study of infection resistance and still later immunization were results.


  24. Dan L Says:

    co4e —


    Wrong. One of Darwin’s assumptions was that traits are heritable, and modern theories of evolution also depend on this. The discovery of genetics and its subsequent study created the framework for a theory of heritability of traits. It’s not a blunder; tying them together justified BOTH fields.



    You clearly have no idea what a theory is. First of all, gravity and electrodynamics are both theories. In fact, both have been replaced by better theories — ED by QED, and gravity by a little something you may have heard of called relativity. Incidentally, these theories — and they are theories in the exact same sense that evolution is a theory — are all directly responsible for the thing sitting right in front of you — a computer! Hell, computation theory was created as a field of study before any computers were (can’t get much more “theoretical” than that). And it turned out to be pretty darned useful, wouldn’t you say?

    You should note that all those “cause and effect” fields you mention are all based on THEORIES. In fact, all scientific statements relating cause to effect are theoretical, simply by the nature of science. Go read the wikipedia article on “scientific theory.”

    As someone who has actually studied science and knows what a theory is, I’d like to say that teaching children how theories are formulated (observation->hypothesis->testing->theory) is the only way to get children to think. Teaching theories themselves is good as well, as it provides the opportunity for children to ASK the good questions you mention and springboard into new theories (questioning theories is, of course, a good exercise as well).

    Please find out a little more about the nature of the scientific method before you make any more posts like this. Perhaps it will help prevent you from coming off as simultaneously arrogant and ignorant for saying something like: “leave theories to those who cannot get real jobs.” For my part, I have a real job, and I would much rather be doing research.

  25. Dan L Says:

    Sorry, my usual method of quoting gets HTMLized by the website. My post should still be comprehensible by checking co4e’s posts above.

  26. Paul K. Says:

    Dan L., yours is the first truly intelligent, educated response in the thread. I am astounded at the rest of the thread. A little education and intellect are a dangerous thing.

    If there is anyone intelligent out there, I am looking for intelligent critique of “Darwin’s Black Box” by Michael Behe. Haven’t found any, so far. Not being a molecular biologist, I can follow him, but don’t know enough to look for cracks in his thesis.

  27. Phil Says:

    If I may comment on the discussion by Dr. Shermer in his post. That is – under what circumstance or definition can one accept Evolution as a unifying, testable, falsifiable theory through which we gain a better understanding of the natural world and also “believe” or accept the existence of God? I have always assumed that Shermer’s brief association with the Christian world has given him a better insight into religious belief. Rather than rejecting faith or religious belief for everyone as stupid or ignorant – he tries to understand and appreciate how these belief systems fluorish within the modern world. I don’t always agree with him but with regard to this post – I do.

    His conclusion, and that of most genuinely open minded thinkers is, that God and Science must exist “in a class of their own” or as separate “realms” if you will. The existence of God, apart from His continuous, uncontestable interaction with the world concurrent with tools to verify and predict His interactions, will always be a matter of faith. Because matters of faith are not testable in this way, the conclusion for non-theists would be: ‘God doesn’t exist’ on the other side: ‘You cannot test God’. One cannot apply the tools of Science (predictability and falsify-ability as the two most prominent) to the God-existence question.

    My concern is the binary nature of the debate. For example: IDer’s would say if you can’t explain how everything came to be, then there must be a primary force, a Designer . . . God. The argument for ID is just “God of the Gaps” redux. It makes God very small, only applied where He’s needed. On the other side of the Binary equation: there is no need to invoke God to explain anything – Science will explain everything eventually.

    My take on this is that Science is the tool for understanding the physical universe. Evolution works as a unifying principle for many fields of scientific endevour. As long as it works, it will be used as the central theory. One doesn’t “believe” in a scientific theory. One uses a theory, modifies it as needed, rejects it when it no longer works or allows it to be seen as a subset of a larger “truth”. Classical Newtonian mechanics have not been rejected, they are merely now seen as a subset of the larger truth of Relativistic mechanics that now serves as a larger truth. Perhaps one day Relativistic mechanics will be modified to account for faster than lightspeed travel? who knows? certainly not us today, nor can we imagine it yet.

    We have got to get past either/or, this or that, binary logic and the fear associated with “we” are right and “they” are wrong.

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful if those that “believe” in the existence of God spent less time trying to prove it and more time using it as the motivating force in their actions? Pro-life? Great, work to stop war too. Has God blessed you with material wealth? Great, give it away to those in need. You get the point. That is – stop telling everyone what to do and think, and just do and think as your belief motivates you. All that Darwin did was to remove the “need” to believe in God to explain how current species came to be. Origin of the Species did nothing to remove the “desire” to believe in God. If you’re worried about what your children are learning in school, be worried about what you teach them in your actions. Okay – sermon over.

    Well said in the post above Dr. Shermer, well said.

  28. Paul K. Says:

    The only concern science need have with ID’ers is when their criticisms of the Theory of Evolution are valid. A theory (ID’ers) need not be assumed to be correct to be based upon valid criticism of a standing theory.

    Sticking to remarks on the article, I agree that God and science are in different realms. I am interested in hearing from those who think that science is the end-all-be-all of truth, that all knowledge can be established and measured by science. “Your wise men don’t know how it feels to be thick as a brick.” – Jethro Tull (the band, not the botanist)

    I also agree with Phil’s statement that theories are designed to be used, not believed, then discarded when they get broken. Well, maybe not discarded, sometimes they just need to be modified.

  29. Phil Says:

    I chuckled at your first sentence. And since we have broached this digression . . . The scientific community shouldn’t have any concern about ID. ID would rise or fall on its own merits eventually if it were only presented as a theory as all other theories need to be. That is – by experimentation, publication, debate, confirmation and finally and maybe after many years modification and acceptance. And yes there are “scientists” who incorrectly “believe” that evolution gets them off the hook with regard to belief in God or some higher force or power. They would cling to evolution. (Note – I use the word “believe” to acknowledge that there are those in the scientific community who use faith language without realizing it.) But I doubt that ID has a chance of being “proven” scientifically and assume that the evolutionary model will survive and be modified continually. It’s just too useful.

    If there is a concern about the IDers themselves it is that they have started with a conclusion and assume that by poking at an established theory it will fall like a house of cards. The poking is the problem because IDers don’t play fair. They engage in propaganda wars that play on fear and ignorance. The concern for the science community and I would say for all of us is that if ID is taught alongside real science, it will confuse an entire generation about what real science is. We will be taking a large step backward to the world of “populist” truth and away from a search for actual Truth.

  30. Phil Says:

    That is – Paul K’s first sentence in the previous post – #28.

  31. Paul K. Says:

    Hmmm. I suspect that like every group, IDers have all sorts of people in their ranks. If by IDers, we include everyone (including me) who believes that God had a hand in creation in any way shape or form, I think it is indeed an over-generalization to speak of “their” behaviors in such broad terms. If by IDers, we are specifying a group who is probably hiding their religous agenda, I might have to agree.

    Perhaps one of the most difficult things about being scientific is simultaneously balancing a belief (necessary for establishing a valid hypothesis) and a disbelief (necessary for rigorous testing of same hypothesis). This conscious cognitive dissonance seems disconcerting to many. People would rather change their minds than hold two conflicting views in balance over a long period of time.

    Please, don’t even get me started on our trend toward “populist” truth! Argh!

    If an IDer pokes at the Theory of Evolution with a stick that finds a hole, I’m prepared to look at that hole – right now, I think Behe has. Evolution as a process is as undeniable as the tides. It has been my experience that many people cannot separate the two.

    And speaking of separating, while I don’t think ID should be “taught” as an hypothesis (supernatural causes cannot be tested experimentally by a tool which is designed to examine the natural world), it is a cowardly science that won’t discuss it in any classroom, when appropriate to the nature of the ongoing curriculum, the holes that anyone, including IDers, poke in any theory, when the holes being pointed out have some merit.

  32. Phil Says:

    Thanks Paul K,

    And therein lies the rub . . .

    As far as IDers is concerned you are right, no gross generalization of the rank and file is fair. I stand corrected. Having said that, I’m reacting to the constant legal challenges, school board decisions and the recent movie with Ben Stein that attempt to reduce truth to the vote of the majority . . . Rather than test ID in the open marketplace of ideas, and by using the process to test scientific theory that has developed over the last 500 years, public debate about ID has more to do with “fairness” and “free speech” than with science and defense of a theory through estabilished experimental protocols.

    I know you are looking for an analysis of Behe. You really ought to be able to find one, somewhere. I’ll start looking. The book is quite old now by science standards, (I’m thinking I read it about 10 years ago? There has to be a scholarly review, hopefully without ridicule and emotion ;-) )and ID companion texts by Johnson and Dembski (do I have that second name right?) deal with legal and statistical challenges to evolution. Karl Popper, Thomas Kuhn and others writing on the philosophy of science may be a good place for you to begin reading to understand scientific methodology rather than worrying about the detail of Molecular Biology right at the outset. Two of the key factors relating to an idea as a scientific theory are falsify-ability and predictability. ID would need to develop ways to uses these cross checks. This is why ID has such a long road to climb . . . at it’s heart it appeals to metaphysical forces which are not testable.

    To my thinking, Behe and the ID community make God very small and rekindle the “argument from Design” but in a much more limited way. They also reduce God to a new statement of “the God of the Gaps” which makes God very small. My opinion. That’s why I like the post by Michael Shermer that began this discussion. Science and metaphysics (personal God, or primal Force) belong in two different classes or realms.

    I always love the argument that sounds something like . . . “what’s science afraid of, a little competition??” To your point – ID is at it’s heart a supernatural explanation – therefore it has no place in a curriculum about natural science. I think ID could be used very well in a high school class about critical thinking, or logic or reasoning skills. Unfortunately, hardly any public schools actually teach reasoning skills – we expect kids to learn to think by osmosis.

  33. Phil Says:

    Another good book – “The Demon Haunted World” by Carl Sagan. For all the villification of Sagan in certain religious quarters (yes Paul, I know this from an inside view), this book is an outstanding tool to introduce one to critical reasoning. And, if you really want to get some insight into the “Class by Himself” concept – The movie from one of Carl Sagan’s books is a must see – “Contact” was, in my opinion under rated considering the way this subject matter was dealt with. And no – I don’t get royalties, I just think that Sagan was an able popularizer and teacher.

  34. Phil Says:

    Good enough resource on Behe – good ‘ole Wikipedia. Look especially at the references – articles you can look up and read for yourself –
    Some commnents in the wiki article that apply directly to the actual subject of this thread.

  35. Paul K. Says:

    Thanks, Phil.

    I appreciate the references for scientific method and will look them over, despite the fact that I probably fool myself into thinking I know a thing or two about scientific methodology and even critical reasoning.

    Started reading Sagan’s Demon haunted world long ago, don’t remember finishing it; too bitter. I read the wiki link you sent. I see criticism of Behe’s ID stance. I apparently didn’t make clear that I am not interested in scientific supporting ID; as you mentioned, and, in fact, I wrote before editing my last entry, God is supernatural and those who hope to prove or disprove his existence are wasting time. Very little interest in that.

    Evolution as a theory has moved biological science along nicely over the past 150 years, but it has become close to a religion to some. When it becomes a religion, then it moves to a position that is above questioning…a situation with which I have a problem.

    Behe’s argument of irreducible complexity seems a convincing criticism of evolution as a result of random genetic mutation which is then selected by environmental factors. And I haven’t yet found a convincing argument for how speciation occurs within a population. That is, how does a mutation result in an individual whose genetic make up is different enough from the rest of its population that it can’t breed with them, then how does it reproduce more of its own (new) kind, unless the same random mutation has created another of its (new) own?

    So, I guess my bottom line there is that IDers are asking scientifically valid questions of Evolutionists, regardless of the motivation of their questionings. It may be a nuisance to hack at a theory without offering a valid alternative, but it is, nonetheless, an acceptable part of the scientific method.

  36. Phil Says:

    No, it’s beyond nuisance because we see a scientific theory being tried in court. I think you need to read more about the judge’s evaluation of the pro and con arguments regarding ID and evolution in the Dover, PA decision of 2005. ID is really not new, it is really not raising significant scientific arguments – it is really not much of anything. It is being held to by many in the creation (whatever the flavor) movement, and it is being fought over in the courts. The scientific question is over – ID hasn’t really engaged the process. Some of Behe’s testimony during that 2005 trial was really telling to me. Consider carefully his integrity. (Not an ad hominem – just a call to consider.)

    Ironclad understanding of the process and mechanism of evolution is not necessary for it to be a useful tool for science. I encourage you to read Thomas Kuhn “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.” I encourage everyone who wants to understand how scientific theories are born, evolve (pardon the pun), and change and are rejected or modified to read this book. Just raising objections is not a part of the scientific method – without an alternate hypothesis which is testable and provides an alternate path of investigation, it just seems like sour grapes. Raising objections with experiments or data to show holes in another theory is a part of the scientific process – this is not what ID supporters do. They don’t engage the science community, they go to court to effect changes in science curricula.

    Remember – Charles Darwin didn’t come up with the idea of evolution. He came up with a theory that involved observation and provided the means and the framework for further study. The “idea” of evolution is old and had been raised in several different forms in the scientific literature for at least 100 years before “Origin of the Species and the Descent of Man” was published. Also note, Darwin was a scientist of some note even apart from his work in evolution. You should read some of his work on the importance of earthworms . . .

    And I repeat. ID makes God very small.

    And – you are correct. Many evolutionists use “belief” words and sound as though they treat evolution as a religious alternative. This is their problem and doesn’t reflect on the theory itself. Many who use that sort of language do not see the irony.

  37. E. B. Says:

    This arguement seems to never end. I believe strongly in God. And without specific evidence of evolution, I simply cannot support it. I’ve read the essays, attended the debates, and still have yet to see actual evidence of evolution. It takes faith to believe in evolution, just as to believe in God.

  38. Eli Says:


    That’s a rather “head in the sand” proposition. It reduces truth to an individual belief and insults both faith in God and evidence for Evolution. If you’re waiting for a blinding light and a revelation that Evolution is true than clearly, you will never accept the fact that Evolution has merit. The point is that Evolutionary Theory is a working hypothesis that creates a framework of understanding that is both self-consistent and consistent with observations in fields as diverse as paleontology, molecular genetics and neuroscience. It is the fundamental glue that holds

    Your first sentence betrays your basic assumption: that for a scientific principle to have explanatory power, it must end debate. Science is a search for Truth, for many Theists, Truth is something that has already been attained. It is a basic mis-apprehension of Truth vs. Theory vs. Hypothesis that is at the heart of this debate. You cannot learn or have your mind expanded or changed if you are convinced that you have already attained an understanding of Truth. Historically, the Church (and I use that term in contrast to individual belief) imposed a worldview based on Aristolean “science” for thousands of years until a few folks in the thirteenth century decided that maybe observing the world around them might give them better insight into the natural world than they would get by blind accetance of millenia old pronouncements. This is Science –
    Turns out Copernicus’s understanding of planetary motion was incomplete, Kepler filled in the pieces. Newton’s laws of gravity and motion, although useful for almost all situations, are merely a subset of a more complete understanding of that was provided by Einstein. And the evolutionary theories first proposed by Darwin, Lamarck and others, have been modified and updated to better fit the increasing data.

    Theists (Christians and other) need to engage the real world and not depend on an incomplete and probably erroneous interpretation of Scriptural Truth to support (or deny) positions based on hope and belief.

    The earth is not flat, the earth is not the center of the Universe, life does not spring form non-life and no human institution is infallible.

    As Francis Collins has said “Evolution is God’s way of providing upgrades.” He is both an Evangelical Christian and man of Faith and a world renowned scientist who doesn’t see the contradiction that other Christians apparently see between Faith and Evolution. In my own situation, as a person of Faith – I fail to see that there is an issue. There are those who seem to use Evolution as an excuse not to entertain the possibility of God, there are those who fear that Evolution makes God superfluous. These are uncareful positions in my opinion but they are rampant nonetheless. To say that we know “how” God may or may not have done things seems to be a rather arrogant place to be as a person of Faith. The use of the word “Believe” with regard to Evolution underscores my argument.

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