Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A theological argument against ID

The Sydney Morning Herald is running a series of feature articles this week reporting on the growing controversy about teaching ID in NSW schools. You can follow it on the SMH website if you don't read that newspaper. The articles so far seem to me to be presenting "both sides" of the argument in a rational manner: the claims of ID supporters are routinely answered and refuted by scientists in succeeding paragraphs, not left to stand unchallenged.

The best analysis I read this morning, however, was an opinion piece by a professor of theology at the Australian Catholic University. Arguing from theological principles, he disclaims the validity of ID:

Much depends on what its proponents mean by the term "intelligent design". If they mean that the universe as a whole displays a profound intelligibility through which one might argue philosophically that the existence of God is manifest, their position is very traditional.

However, if by intelligent design they mean that God is an explanation for the normal course of events which would otherwise lack scientific explanation, then this is opposed to a traditional Christian understanding of divine transcendence. In seeking to save a place for God within the creation process, the promoters of intelligent design reduce God to the level of what the early theologian Thomas Aquinas would call a "secondary cause".

This is just a more sophisticated version of so-called "creation science", which is poor theology and poor science.

There are some assumptions in the full article that I would take issue with, but it is worth reading. It supports the assumption that looking for a "God of the Gaps" to fill holes in human knowledge is self-defeating: using faith to excuse and explain ignorance is forming a creator in your own image, for selfish purposes. If Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, metaphysicians, astrologers or those of any other mystical persuasion want a prop for their faith, they are not ultimately going to find it within the limitations of intelligent design. (Not that I have met with or heard of anyone but Christians -- and followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster -- attempting to promote ID, which puts the lie to some of the claims of impartiality and universal relevance of the "designer".)

If you do believe in a designer, creator, god, or transcendent supernatural being/force of any description, Intelligent Design is not the way to prove its existence. Choosing faith in a God of the Gaps will only lead to your god and your faith diminishing as your understanding of science and nature increases. Of course, if you are happy to let your brain stagnate at its current level of scientific knowledge, your god will at least always be what you understand at this moment. But if your understanding of your god is to remain unchanged, you might as well just slit your wrists now. If you were designed and put on this planet for the sole purpose of knowing the designer better, and you're not going to advance your knowledge at all from this point, then the purpose of your existence is at an end.
As is the purpose of the existence of ID. At a dead end.

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