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February 09, 2006

What intelligent design is really about

In the continuing saga of the topic, the Washington Post has an excellent (although a little lengthy) article (supplementary commentary) about the real issues underlaying the latest attack on evolution by creationists, a.k.a. intelligent designers. Quoting liberally,

If intelligent design advocates have generally been blind to the overwhelming evidence for evolution, scientists have generally been deaf to concerns about evolution's implications.

Or rather, as Russell Moore, a dean at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary puts it in the article, "...most Americans fear a world in which everything is reduced to biology." It is a purely emotional argument for creationists, which is probably what makes it so difficult for them to understand the rational arguments of scientists. At its very root, creationism rebels against the idea of a world that is indifferent to their feelings and indifferent to their existence.

But, even Darwin struggled with this idea. In the end, he resolved the cognitive dissonance between his own piety and his deep understanding of biology by subscribing to the "blind watchmaker" point of view.

[Darwin] realized [his theory] was going to be controversial, but far from being anti-religious, ... Darwin saw evolution as evidence of an orderly, Christian God. While his findings contradicted literal interpretations of the Bible and the special place that human beings have in creation, Darwin believed he was showing something even more grand -- that God's hand was present in all living things... The machine [of natural selection], Darwin eventually concluded, was the way God brought complex life into existence.

(Emphasis mine.) The uncomfortable truth for those who wish for a personal God is that, by removing his active involvement in day-to-day affairs (i.e., God does not answer prayers), evolution makes the world less forgiving and less loving. It also makes it less cruel and less spiteful, as it lacks evil of the supernatural caliber. Evolution cuts away the black, the white and even the grey, leaving only the indifference of nature. This lack of higher meaning is exactly what creationists rebel against at a basal level.

So, without that higher (supernatural) meaning, without (supernatural) morality, what is mankind to do? As always, Richard Dawkins puts it succinctly, in his inimitable way.

Dawkins believes that, alone on Earth, human beings can rebel against the mechanistic indifference of nature. Understanding the pitiless ways of natural selection is precisely what can make humans moral, Dawkins said. It is human agency, human rationality and human law that can create a world more compassionate than nature, not a religious view that falsely sees the universe as fundamentally good and benevolent.

Isn't the ideal put forth in the American Constitution one of a secular civil society where we decide our own fate, we decide our own rules of behavior, and we decide what is moral and immoral? Perhaps the Christian creationists that wish for evolution, and all it represents, to be evicted from public education aren't so different from certain other factions that are hostile to secular civil society.

posted February 9, 2006 11:17 PM in Thinking Aloud | permalink