Monday, March 28, 2005

Intelligent Design and Philosophy

I've followed the Intelligent Design debate somewhat over the past few months. Those of us committed to common sense watch with alarm as the Right has moved in force to establish Intelligent Design as science in schools. They claim that evolution is only a theory and as such, diclaimers should be made clear to kids regarding the the "theory of evolution." Further still, they insist that alternative accounts of origins, such as ID theory should be offered to students and considered on par with evolutionary theories.

The theory of gravity is only a theory. However, we can settle the question of the fact of the phenomenon if we step off a building and observe what happens. The stupidity and dogmatism of the Right is mind boggling. The fossil record, the scientific record, etc are facts, and theories attempt to weave these facts into a coherent narrative without violating the very evidence upon which they are based. Evolutionary theories out there are, yes, merely theories, but they are scientific theories. That means that they are responsible positive narratives that take into account the evidence produced by the sciences. Fossil gaps, unexplained timelines, and a plethora of holes do not discount the correctness of the thrust of science, it just means that more work needs to be done.

The push for the ID theory as science is primarily coming from the Christian Right. The Catholic Right, which generally knows or should know better, has joined in with them because it is all seen as part of a larger cultural war. I suspect it wouldn't be long before this becomes a "life issue."

Unlike Catholics, Protestants do not have a tradition of philosophy that is essential to their identity or theology. The Catholic tradition has numerous first rate philosophers whose works are never far from the Catholic mind. The Protestant tradition operates somewhat differently. Traditions "closer" to Catholics such as Anglicans, Lutherans, perhaps Methodists, etc, do engage philosophy, but the extent to which philosophy is essential to what they do pales when compared to Catholicism and secondly, there isn't a "magisterial" body of philosophers or philosophical works that these denominations agree on.

The "further" the Protestant form differs from Catholicism, the more likely we are to see an absence of any coherent philosophical structure, in terms of established philosophical schools. What this means then is that with these groups, which I will loosely call Evangelicals, there's faith and there's science, but nothing to mediate between the two.

So what's the big deal: faith and science? The big deal is that faith is understood in subjective terms and established upon that which is unseen and unproven to the secular eye. Jesus is the Son of God, but can anyone prove that? No. Jesus rose from the dead. Can anyone prove that? No. "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." So on the one side we have faith that eschews evidence as a warrant for belief while on the other side, there is science, a discipline or mindset that refuses to commit or trust or believe without solid evidence and even then, it is willing to change positions as the evidence warrants.

Science is thus seen as the province of objectve truth, because the evidence for scientific truth is available to all and verifiable. Faith claims, on the other hand, are painfully lacking in this objectivity. These are the two poles that these evangelicals are dealing with. Things either fall under faith or science for them. If something is objective truth, then it falls under science, if it is subjective truth, then it falls under faith.

But then, the problem is that as Christians, they are aware that, though physically unverifiable, the unseen truths of the Christian faith are no less true than the visible, verifiable truths of science. In fact, the truths of the Faith are more noble and "real." But how then can these be communicated? How do you express the sublime and subject truth in terms that underscore its authentic objectivity?

The answer is philosophy. This is the role that philosophy has played for Catholics for centuries. Evangelicals do not have this tradition of philosophy, and so even though they rightly discern that the things believed deserve more than to be casually dismissed by the scientist, they have no way to communicate these truths. Philosophy is the mediating discipline between faith and science.

Intelligent design theories are philosophy they are not science. Catholics, for the most part, are comfortable with this, because we understand that philosophy is a "higher" expression of truth than physics, biology, chemistry, and even mathematics. And so for a truth to be considered under philosophy is not to denigrate it but elevate it. Philosophy is second to none in its pursuit of objective truth.

ID theories are not necessarily synonymous with creationsim. The evangelical thus rightly discerns that ID is not at home under the roof of faith and so that leaves only one option, science. The Catholic says ID does not belong with faith, but it is not science either. It is philosophy.

For instance the question of parts and wholes is a philosophical question. The question of time is at its root, philosophical. The question of essence to describe the truth of and intrinsic commonality among different species is at it's root philosophical. The question of mathematics and how it arises, is philosophical. The question of human transcendence, the fact that we can say "I know that I know that I know," is a philosophical one.

Even when scientists posit theories to explain facts, the logic that guides them stems from philosophy. The scientific method(s) is stiched together by philosophy. The whole notion of measurement is philosophical. The crucial idea of the role of the scientist, the ego, in science and what effect it has on the science she performs, is a philosophical issue.

To understand and appreciate the importance of philosophy, is to make the right distinctions and put things were they really belong, such as ID under philosophy.

This is how I read the present situation. Is this all going to find some sort of resolution? No. At the present time, the Christian and Catholic Right have whipped themselves into a frenzy about perceived enemies and the intrinsic evil of the world, to the point that facts or common sense doesn't really matter. But for those on the side of common sense, I think understanding what their problem is goes a long way in battling and countering their efforts.


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