Sunday, February 19, 2006

Sometimes We Hear It's Religious

Judge John Jones, presiding in the Dover Intelligent Design trial last Fall, deigned to settle the controversy surrounding ID by pronouncing it a religious belief and thus constitutionally unfit for public school consumption. Those who approve of the judge's decision have ever since been intoning the refrain, "Judge Jones said it, I believe it, that settles it." Unfortunately, the judge knows almost nothing of what he's talking about. In declaring ID to be a religious belief he simply parroted the approved position of the Darwinian establishment. The rationale he gives for his conclusion is paper thin, so, his proclamation notwithstanding, the controversy continues.

We might pause to marvel that so many people who believe ID is a religious theory could not even define what a religion, and a religious belief, are. We might also ask why so many people do believe ID to be "religious"? Here are some of the reasons we hear from those who agree with Judge Jones:

Sometimes we're told that ID is religious because it invokes a supernatural entity. But what does it mean to be supernatural? Is something supernatural if it is other than the natural universe? If so, what is it about being extra-cosmic that makes it a religious entity? The belief, commonly discussed in science books, that there are other universes besides our own is surely not a religious belief yet these are entities which transcend our universe. If it is not religious to believe that there are universes which reside beyond our own, why is it religious to believe that there's an intelligence which resides beyond our universe?

Sometimes we hear that ID is a religious belief because the designer must be the Christian God. What does the critic mean, however, by the term "God," and why must the Christian God be the designer? The God of traditional theism is omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, eternal, necessary, omnipresent, and personal. Why must the designer who creates the universe and life possess these attributes? Why couldn't the designer be a being of considerable power and intelligence without being the omnicompetent God of Christian belief? To insist that the designer must be God, i.e. that than which nothing greater can be conceived, as Anselm famously defined him, is an inappropriate and illogical attempt by ID's opponents to force religion into a theory that is not inherently religious.

Sometimes we hear that ID is a religious belief because its advocates are frequently Christians. But if the metaphysical commitments of a theory's advocates are all that are necessary to make a theory religious why is the naturalistic Darwinian view not considered to be an atheistic belief since certainly many of its advocates are atheists? Furthermore, if the naturalistic view is indeed an atheistic hypothesis why is it permitted to be taught in our schools?

Sometimes we hear that ID is a religious belief because the entity that it posits can't be detected and has to be accepted on faith. But what is meant by saying that the designer can't be detected? Does it mean that we can't see the designer and have no direct evidence that there is one? Or does it mean that the designer is in principle undetectable? If it means the former, we should point out that there are dozens of entities which scientists study which cannot be directly observed - quarks and neutrinos, for example - but they can be studied and their existence inferred from their effects. Likewise, there is abundant evidence of design in our world from which we can infer the existence of a designer. It may be that we can't study the designer directly right now because our technology doesn't allow it, but that doesn't mean that we'll never be able to study it.

If the above claim means that the designer, being transcendent, is in principle undetectable then we might ask how that makes it different from the multiverse which is believed to transcend our world and the existence of which scientists nevertheless hold out hope of one day being able to confirm?

A century and a half ago there was very little we could learn about atoms, the cell, or the composition of the stars because we had no good way to observe these things, nor could we imagine ever being able to do so. Since then advances in technology have made them accessible to us. Perhaps a century from now technology will also enable us to observe and study the cosmic architect - that is, if it still exists.

We don't know that the designer does still exist because ID, not being a religious belief, does not identify the designer with the eternal God of traditional theism who cannot not exist. Only those who don't understand ID or who choose to misrepresent it, a group which includes almost all of its opponents, some of its advocates, and Judge Jones, do that.