There has been a lot of debate recently on ‘science’ vs. Intelligent Design. I’ve been following all this quite a bit as both an ‘amateur scientist’ and ‘amateur theologian’. I wrote this essay for a class, so I thought I would throw it up here. I’m also preparing a more in-depth technical analysis that is still on the editorial table… I’ll get it out soon I hope.
Galileo’s Telescope: The Sequel?
In the early 1600s, a major debate broke out that had a direct impact on science, religion, and philosophy. Legend has it, that the bishops and church officials refused to look through Galileo’s telescope, because they believed that the Bible should trump science in regard to the workings of the universe. Aristotle’s geo-centricity (that the earth is the center of the solar system) was under attack from scientific evidence for heliocentricity (that the sun is the center of the solar system). Galileo was instrumental, with advances and use of the telescope, to help prove Copernicus was correct. Thus began the battle between religion and science, or so they say.
While this legend is quite inaccurate, it makes a good starting point for the discussion of science, religion, and their relationship. (Lessl, 2000, pp. 27-33) Steve Kellmeyer describes in “Galileo Redux” that at this point in time, the “scientists” were actually primarily philosophers. Copernicus’ theories were much more in the realm of mathematics, which was seen as a lesser discipline. (Kellmeyer, 2005) This combined with the fact that Aristotle’s model had worked so well for predicting seasons, navigation, and the weather, made looking at anything new a risky proposal. So, Copernicus and Galileo were not met with favor by by the majority; scientists or theologians. These “scientist” philosophers actually used the Bible and the church’s power against Galileo and Copernicus, though the church did go along with it for the most part. (Lessl, 2000)
I believe we are watching the sequel to this event today over the debates between evolution and intelligent design. Once again, some people are unwilling to “look through the telescope” for fear their positions may be overturned. But, who is unwilling to look? There are certainly conservative Christians who refuse to take a serious look at the evidence. But it is the scholars in the scientific community who I believe are refusing to “look through the telescope” once again, and they should know better. This is bad for science and bad for everyone.
The playing field for this debate in the present day is primarily showing up in the debates and trials over evolution vs. intelligent design. This area is so misunderstood that I am going to try and give you a brief overview of the positions, and some of the myths and incorrect views on both sides of the debate, before I explain how this relates to my overall thesis.
What is evolution? Well, basically it is the idea that organisms change. When an organism is put in an environment, changes which are beneficial will increase the survival rate, while detrimental changes will cause death. No change will lead to death as well, because of limited resources. This is called ‘natural selection’. This in itself is quite a dandy concept, and we can observe this happening to various extents in the world around us. It is, for sake of argument, pretty much at a level of scientific ‘law’. However, it is debated to what extent there is evidence for natural selection explaining the needed species jumps to take evolution to the next level. In other words, is that apple you are eating the distant cousin of your poodle?
What is Intelligent Design? It is actually a multi-disciplinary approach, far too complex to go into great detail here. However, in brief, it looks at things such as the necessary characteristics and parameters of the earth in the universe necessary to even be able to support life; if it is possible to get life out of “soup”; how life gets enough information to reproduce (survive). This leads into information theory and the patterns we see in life and DNA (which nature left to itself is not known to produce). When we put this all together, Darwin’s theory begins to quickly fall apart. In fact, Charles Darwin realized this. “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.” (Darwin, 1859).
What I find particularly convincing in the various disciplines of intelligent design, is the evidence of design pre-natural selection. Darwin’s theory depends on life to begin with. Rocks don’t beget living life forms that know how to reproduce. For life to even happen at all, there are a number of finely tuned parameters the earth must meet. Every year, we find more of these parameters, so the odds decrease. An example might be the distance of the earth from the sun, or levels of nitrogen to oxygen in the atmosphere. (Ross, 1995, pp. 132-44) In fact, renowned scientist Dr. Nicholas M. Short agrees with this assessment. He says, “It is the Goldilocks dictum: not too hot, not too cold, just right. If chance alone were the governing determinant, the odds are enormously against all the above parameters/factors, and others, being just right. Some intelligence, be it God or any other analogous name or concept, had to play the pivotal role in establishing and structuring a scientifically developed Universe.” (Short, 2001)
Now, scientists certainly have a right to complain about what many Christians say when they hear the word “evolution”. For many, this immediately evokes a battle, and the Christian says, “I don’t believe that. It is not what the Bible says.” Science is wrong, they are right, no matter what evidence is presented. But, the scientists are not without blame in this matter. It seems they have purposely loaded “evolution” with a lot of meaning that does not belong.
They lump evolution (fact/law) to natural selection (theory), to origin of life (hypothesis). Christians could also likewise claim: evolution (fact/law), intelligent design (theory), to the design we see as coming from God (hypothesis).
Many scientists have extended the application of evolution ‘the law’ into the realm of cosmogony (study of origins of the universe). If we take this observable phenomena (micro-evolution), and assume our way back into time, we could imagine a time where people evolved out of some lesser species, until we get back to more basic organism, right back to the origins of life on this planet. Still with me? Well the problem with this is that they often forget to change from a ‘law’ to a ‘theory’, to a ‘hypothesis’ at that point. The average lay Christian smells a rat in this, but does not know enough to divide the term evolution up into its proper parts. The scientists then throw this back on the Christian, and tell them they are ignorant.
But, the biggest flaw in this debate seem to be the argument of the “scientists”. The primary case being brought against the intelligent design position is what in logic is called the ad hominem fallacy. This is the fallacy of character attack. They say that the intelligent design position is not science. But they don’t say why. Then they try and link ID to religion, therefore automatically make it void. While it is certainly true that many Christians back intelligent design, it does not depend whatsoever on religion for its basis. This attack is simply out of desperation.
While “separation of church and state” might loosely be a theme in our Constitution. It is not a basis for scientific inquiry. If the evidence leads to a design for the universe, it is no less scientific because it could have implications for religion, any more than it would be if it leads to an absence of support for religion.
This leads to a fundamental point of contention between the two camps. It really boils down to how one defines science. John Hanna of the Kansas City Star states that, “The old definition said science is the search for natural explanations of what is observed in the universe. The new definition says science is a systematic method for developing better explanations of natural phenomena by doing experiments, testing hypotheses, making measurements and building theories.” (Hanna, 2005)
Do you see the difference? In the first definition, the words “natural explanations” are used to define what the results of science must to be. While the scientists like to claim intelligent design is motivated by Christianity, the motivation of that first definition seems to be under the influence of another religion, namely Humanism. Compare it to the Humanist Manifesto which states, “Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.” (Humanism and its Aspirations, 2003)
But is this fair? Can science rightly exclude supernatural possibilities? The answer to that is most certainly not. While science will likely never be able to prove the existence of God, it can neither exclude the possibility. This is something the humanist does not want to hear, hence the battle before us.
We find ourselves once again full circle to philosophy and religion. In both the Galileo episode and our debates of today, science and philosophy are getting confused and competing with one another rather than cooperating. Both must be informed by one another, and have respect for each other. R.C. Sproul says that scientists today have become extremely good at the induction part of science, but have become very poor at deduction. They will look at some data and then make illogical statements like “… so many billion years ago the universe exploded into being …” (Sproul, 2003).
I would agree with that assessment, and take it one step further. I believe that like the the “scientist” philosophers of Galileo’s who did not respect the mathematicians, we have a situation here nearly opposite. The scientists buried in the data are not respecting deduction, logic, or philosophy. If anything, are under the influence of what I would call a religion, excluding other religions. This is certainly not good for science as a discipline, or any of us. We must get to true and pure science, and fearlessly “look through the telescope” on both sides of the debate.
Darwin, C. (1859). On the Origin of Species. Chapter 6. Retrieved December 10, 2005 from
Hanna, J. (December 9, 2005). Corkins defends standards as debate over science definition rages. Retrieved December 10, 2005 from Kansas City Star web site:
Humanism and its Aspirations, Humanist Manifesto III, 2003. (2003). American Humanist Association. Retrieved December 10, 2005 from
Kellmeyer, S. (August 16, 2005). Galileo Redux. The Conservative Voice. Retrieved December 10, 2005 from
Lessl, T. (June 2000). The Galileo Legend. New Oxford Review, 27-33. Retrieved December 10, 2005 from
Ross, H. (1995). The Creator and the Cosmos, 2d ed. (pp. 132-44). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress
Short, N. M. (2001). Is God Compatible With Science? Retrieved November 16, 2005, from NASA Goddard, The Remote Sensing Tutorial web site:
Sproul, R.C. (Narrator). (2003). Creation or Chaos: Modern Science and the Existence of God. [Audio Program]. Orlando, FL: Ligonier Ministries