The hardest thing

Today, we began lecturing about one of the hardest things to discuss: how creationism and intelligent design are not science. I know . . . to a scientist who keeps their scientific life separate from their religious life, this sounds strange. But the reality is that for many people without  a science background, it takes a lot of effort to understand the difference between science and religion; for many students, this may be the first time anyone has engaged them on the difference. For a lecturer, especially a theist like me, it’s important to emphasize that what I am teaching is a course on science and the scientific method. I don’t impose my religious beliefs on the students, nor on science; and it’s important to me that they respect science as science, too.

Intelligent design and its predecessor, Creationism, are masquerading as science but their stated aims are not scientific. Their stated aims are cultural, and specifically, a cultural revolution where their religious viewpoint is forced upon the United States. For instance, the Wedge Document of the Discovery Institute – the founding agency of the Intelligent Design movement, states:

“The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western civilization was built . . . The cultural consequences of the rise of [the] triumph of materialism were devastating. Materialists denied the existence of objective moral standards . . . The Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture seeks nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies.”
— “The Wedge,” The Discovery Institute, 1999

So the best part about Intelligent Design is that you don’t need to listen to me complain about how it’s not science – listen to the founders of the movement say it for themselves. Proponents of the Intelligent Design movement have repeatedly,  explicitly said that what they do is not science (thanks to John Cotton and Randy Scalise for collecting these precious gems):

“Intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John’s Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory.”
–William Dembski, Signs of intelligence: A primer on the discernment of intelligent design. Touchstone 12(4) (Jul/Aug 1999): 76-84.

“the conceptual soundness of a scientific theory cannot be maintained apart from Christ”
–William Dembski, Intelligent Design: The Bridge between Science and Theology, 1998, p. 209

“Our strategy has been to change the subject a bit so that we can get the issue of intelligent design, which really means the reality of God, before the academic world and into the schools.”
–Phillip Johnson, American Family Radio, 10 January 2003.

“there are no peer reviewed articles by anyone advocating for intelligent design supported by pertinent experiments or calculations which provide detailed rigorous accounts of how intelligent design of any biological system occurred.”
–Michael Behe, 2005

“Father’s words, my studies, and my prayers convinced me that I should devote my life to destroying Darwinism, just as many of my fellow Unificationists had already devoted their lives to destroying Marxism.”
–Jonathan Wells, Darwinism: Why I Went for a Second Ph.D.
(Incidentally, the person whom Wells calls “Father” is Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church and the ultraconservative Washington Times.)

“Many states have brought in Intelligent Design but they have called it science. A design needs a designer which is god. It’s religion, not science.”
–William Nowers, one of the founders of Creation and Evolution Studies Ministry and author of the book, Creation-Evolution and a Nation in Distress.

In the face of their own words – the words of people who founded the Intelligent Design movement or who passionately fight for its core principles – it’s hard to believe that more people don’t see their movement for what it is: an attempt to force a specific sect of religious fundamentalism into the robes of science. They really believe people are dumb – they really believe that people won’t see what they are doing.

The reality is that the proposition of a supernatural being who tinkers with living organisms is not a testable idea, and so the heart of the ID movement is a construct – an untestable proposition. ID also brings no new knowledge – it merely says that a designer tinkered and may still be tinkering . . . but that makes the world fundamentally unpredictable, and again is a concept outside of the scientific realm. Science deals with understanding in a testable way an objective reality. While it’s a  leap of faith that such a objective reality exists, if you don’t have a problem with that idea then we can agree that it’s possible to make measurements and agree on its properties. Science relies on core principles backed by evidence and subject to repeated testing to verify their validity. But Muslims and Jews and Christians can’t even agree on the foundations of their religions . . . so how can such foundations be considered scientific?

Everyone is entitled to their religious beliefs. But if the world is an objective reality that anyone – regardless of their religious upbringings – can agree upon, then one cannot require a specific religious viewpoint be the core operating principle of science. For when the core principles are untestable – and disputed among people based on faith alone – science can make no progress.

And that is why religion is not science, and why science is not religion. And after all, we teach a class on the scientific method . . . so the key thing we struggle with is how to convince all these students that science is science and religion is religion.

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