The Other I

May 8, 2010

Which end is up?

Filed under: Questions beyond Science,Uncategorized — theotheri @ 4:00 pm

I read an analysis yesterday of a recent exposition of Intelligent Design (ID) – the theory that argues that the scientific evidence suggests that the universe must have been designed by some higher intelligence.

This analysis, like most others I have read, reaches the conclusion that ID is based on faulty scientific reasoning.  I didn’t need convincing, but I did begin to reflect on the root of my own almost gut-level disquiet with ID.

I was raised in a Catholic family where an unusually high level of intellectual discourse often took place around the dinner table.  I was able to discuss the Thomistic proofs for the existence of God by the time I was twelve.  By the time I was fourteen, I was even able to make a stab at refuting the arguments in opposition to the Thomistic view.  So I know first hand a lot about how much of religious analysis proceeds.

Thomistic thinking (its roots go back even to Greek thought)  is rational, but it is not necessarily scientific.   One important distinction between Thomistic and scientific thought is related to the way the problem is initially presented.  There are two main possibilities:  one can begin with a proposition and present arguments in favour of that particular conclusion.  Or one can look at the evidence and try to find the best conclusion or  explanation based on what one observes.  Broadly speaking, the first may be rational without being scientific, while the latter more accurately represents the thrust of scientific reasoning.

For example, if I go for a job interview, I present all the arguments I can muster to the interviewing board about why I am the best person for the job.  In other words, I present arguments for a conclusion I have already reached and want to persuade them to reach.  I do not present evidence about why I might not be any good at the job at all or why one of the other candidates might be better than I am.

The interviewing board, on the other hand, will look at all the evidence presented by all the candidates, and try to decide which candidate the evidence suggests would do the job best.

In other words, the candidate begins with the conclusion and presents evidence supporting only that outcome while the board begins by examining the evidence in order to reach a conclusion.

I feel that proponents of Intelligent Design do the former.  They are looking for evidence that there must be some force (frequently identified as God) that designed or created the universe.  And so they look only at evidence that supports this conclusion.  They do not look at evidence that does not support their position or that might even contradict it.

There is obviously a place for both kinds of reasoning in human thought.  But I think it’s a good idea to recognize which of the two one is utilizing at any given time.  Getting them mixed up risks missing a lot of the evidence that might change my mind.

Intelligent Design theorists argue that they are do not take the position they do because they believe in God.  If anything, they would say they believe in God because the science suggests that there must be some Intelligent Designer.

But I don’t think so.

I have a respect for believers who have the courage to remember that belief in God is a question of faith.  I think we all, as a matter of fact, have to make a stand and make decisions which cannot be validated by scientific evidence.  And we all must take the risk that those decisions could turn out to be faulty.  Maybe even horribly faulty.

But believers who try to hijack science to support their position do not, the way I see it, have the courage of their convictions.  I also think that if science suggests that my concept of God doesn’t fit in, one should consider whether it is ones concept of God that is faulty or limited rather than the science.

After all, Christianity finally came to terms with the fact that it does seem to be the earth that revolves around the sun and not the other way around.


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