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January 31, 2005

TAP on Intelligent Design

Okay, once more into the fray. A reminder: I think ID is crap science, but if science is defined as the investigation into how the world operates, science has always been an offshot of philosophy, which was always a relation of theology. Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Pascal and a host of other theorists always assumed their was a relationship between understanding the material world and understanding the spiritual.

Many evolutionists disingenuously try to claim that science has no implications for religious belief. I happen to think that understanding evolution thoroughly means that most fundamentalist religion is therefore shown to be bunk. But while I understand that, I also understand why that would upset those fundamentalists.

That said, here is the American Prospect on ID:

But the Discovery Institute made a key tactical error. Somehow, a document that seems to bare the true soul of the institute leaked onto the Web: "Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions." Once it lets its guard down, anti-evolutionism hasn't changed a bit.
Why is this somehow an "a ha" revelation? Of course, religious folks are fighting against a materialist worldview. They often claim to have mystical and spiritual experiences that science fails to explain to their satisfaction. So they welcome explanations that can square that spiritual experience with explanations of how biology operates.

I think the ID folks are dead wrong and their evidence is shabby. But I don't begrudge them the goal.

Frankly, when I look at social science research, I usually gravitate most strongly to evidence that supports my beliefs in social justice. I don't ignore everything that contradicts it, but everyone approaches evidence with some paradigm of belief that shapes what evidence they easily accept and which they reject. This is Thomas Kuhn 101.

I disagree with the Discovery Institute's evidence for their arguments, but I really have no problem with their meta-analysis of their approach, as articulated here. They don't have the evidence to back up their goals, but they have the right to try to convince people they do without having their core religious commitments used to discredit even their right to try to make the argument.

Maybe I have sympathy for them, since a host of dissident ideas historically have been attacked because their source was from people with broader agendas. Many evolutionary scientists like to argue they are above such ideological blinders, but eugenics is an all-too-recent movement to claim that scientific research is never driven by such meta-beliefs.

In the area of evolution itself, racist agendas shaped how human evolution was explained at various points in history-- famously setting off violent fights at the Museum of Natural History in the early twentieth century. For many scientists, it was an accepted "fact" that blacks were less evolved than caucasians. If a group claiming to be anti-racist had supported research to refute that claim, would their science be automatically illegitimate?

You may give research with an explicit agenda additional skeptical review, but, then, most research has an agenda of some kind, if these days usually based on corporate-funding more than religious belief. Either you take down the research on the evidence or not at all. In a religious country, it just seems like a loser argument to say that everyone whose work is motivated by their belief in God is automatically barred from standing to debate the issue.

Posted by Nathan at January 31, 2005 01:48 PM