Thursday, March 16, 2006

Christians debate, weigh intelligent design for validity as scientific theory

By Theresa Shadrix
The Alabama Baptist
March 16, 2006

Most Christians have solid opinions on issues like the display of the Ten Commandments and prayer in schools, but many are not finding clarity in their opinion about the theory of intelligent design (ID).

With roots in astronomy, physics, chemistry and biology, the modern-day ID theory began to take form in 1802 with William Paley’s watchmaker analogy in “Natural Theology.”

According to Paley, if a watch is found in a field, then the complexity of the watch offers evidence that it is the product of intelligence, and thus the natural world provides evidence of a worldmaker. This preceded the theory of evolution, introduced in Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of Species” in 1859.

In 1984, Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley and Roger Olson presented a critique of the theory of evolution in the publication “The Mystery of Life’s Origin.” Michael Denton followed with his analysis, “Evolution: A Theory in Crisis,” two years later. These publications laid a foundation and gave way to the present-day ID movement and future books on the subject, including William Dembski’s “The Design Inference” in 1998.

Until recently, ID was mainly a topic among the scientific community, which largely does not support the ID theory.

However, the Kitzmiller vs. Dover (Pa.) Area School District trial, in which U.S. District Judge John E. Jones ruled that inserting ID into the school science curriculum violates the constitutional separation of church and state, brought the topic into mainstream conversations.

A spokesman for an ID think tank contends media attention given to such trials merges ID and creation science — a form of creationism — into one theory, when in actuality ID is a separate theory based not on religion but biology.

Rob Crowther, director of media and public relations for the Discovery Institute Center for Science & Culture, said he believes an agenda to distort ID is a purposeful act. “It is designed by the Darwinians. They like to confuse the lines between (ID and creation science),” he said. That is why Crowther believes there must be education on the three distinct definitions related to life: creation science, evolution and ID.

He said evolution has three definitions. One holds that change occurs over time. A second contends common ancestry and all forms of life evolved from a single original life form. And a third asserts that natural science, acting on random mutation, is the primary mechanism by which life forms have evolved.

“ID scientists do not have a problem with definition No. 1. There is some debate over definition No. 2, but it is not incompatible with ID,” Crowther said. “Definition No. 3, commonly referred to as Darwinian evolution, is a specific part of evolution that ID challenges and is the heart of Darwin’s theory.”

Crowther said the scientific theory of intelligent design holds that instead of evidence for mutation “there are clear indicators of design in nature and that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause.”

Unlike creation science, however, which presupposes that God created the universe, ID does not promote an answer for who that designer might be. “Intelligent design theory does not claim that science can determine the identity of the intelligent cause,” he said. “All it proposes is that science can identify whether certain features of the natural world are the products of intelligence.”

Dembski, the Carl F.H. Henry Professor of Science and Theology and director of the Center for Science and Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Louisville, Ky., said he best defines ID as “the study of patterns in nature that are best explained as the result of intelligence.”

A mathematician, philosopher, theologian and one of the leading proponents in the ID movement, Dembski agrees its most controversial area of application is biology. “If patterns in biological systems exist that signify intelligence, then this intelligence would have to be an unevolved intelligence, which is utterly counter to conventional evolutionary theory.”

According to him, while creation science is in the first instance a doctrine about the source of being of the world, like questioning where everything comes from, ID does not ask where nature or the world ultimately comes from.

“Creationism goes further than creation and takes a particular view of creation, typically a particular interpretation of the Genesis account of creation, and then seeks to harmonize it with science,” he said. “ID, by contrast, is not part of the Bible-science controversy.”

Dembski said because the ID community includes evangelical Christians, who believe that ultimately the designer is the Christian God, it is easy to see how the lines between creationism and ID are blurred. Nevertheless he said Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists understand the intelligence behind the design in nature in terms compatible with their religious faith.

“ID is not vague about the designer,” Dembski said. “It simply says that from strictly the data of nature, there’s not much we can say about the identity of the designer, and to say more about the designer, we need to look to philosophy and theology.”

Although ID has no stake in trying to harmonize religious texts with scientific data, he said it is much more friendly and compatible with Christian theism.

“Evolutionary theory, by contrast, is hard to square with Christian theism because it views nature unguided by any intelligence as sufficient to bring about biological complexity and diversity,” Dembski said.

“When evolutionists talk about evolution, they are not thinking of an intelligently planned process exhibiting clear goals or purposes. They are thinking of an accidental process that from our vantage happened to do interesting things.”

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