Friday, October 21, 2005

The Other Esquire Article

In addition to the article I described on Wednesday, the current issue of Esquire has a second article about ID, entitled “The Case for Intelligent Design,” by Tom Junod. It's not a case William Dembski or Michael Behe are likely to appreciate, however. Since it is not freely available online, here are a few excerpts:

Religion can't change science because it can't change the terms of creation, and science is creation's handmaiden. Can science change religion? Of course it can; everything can change religion, which is one of the reasons religion is so pissed off. History, economics, immigration, epidemics, art, music, even literature: Religion is the opposite of science in that it is a wholly human endeavor, and so it responds to the touch of other human endeavors. Indeed, religion's success - and harrowing lack of success - may be measured by how responsive or how resistant it has been to the challenge of new interpretations. As a matter of fact, religion has never responded particularly well to the challenge of science and has often resisted in the only way it knows how - by taking recourse in fundamentalism. In its effort to teach intelligent design as sceince, intelligent design is often seen as a tool of fundamentalism, and it may very well be. But by melding religion and science - by teaching science as religion, if you will, - intelligent design may provide the undoing of the fundamentalism it is said to serve and open the way to a subversive, even heretical understanding of the Judeo-Christian God. (Emphasis in Original)

Junod is building up to an argument that will be familiar to regular readers of this blog: That by invoking God to explain specific things like flagellae and blood clotting cascades, the ID folks are laying at God's feet all of the examples of poor design in nature. This is a serious theological problem for the ID folks. They have no remotely plausible answer for it. Theistic evolutionists can avoid the problem by arguing, for example, that an evolutionary process of the sort we observe was necessary if the creation was to be separate from God himself. Young-Earthers can get around the problem by blaming the sin of Adam and Eve for causing the world to become corrupted. But ID folks can't use either of these options.

Junod writes:

He is unknowable scientifically; in the topsy-turvy logic of intelligent design, that's how we know he's there. But he is also unknowable theologically, a supernatural being that exists to engage in experiments of nature. And so intelligent design, which started as a challenge to Darwinian orthodoxy, turns out to be a challenge to the orthodoxy of Western religion, because its Designer is not just really, really smart but also really, really limited, morally. We are used to framing our supreme beings in terms of absolutes. But the Designer of intelligent design can either be absolutely intelligent or absolutely innocent of the earth's own suffering. He can never be both.

Quite right. The problem with Junod's argument, however, is that it gives fundamentalism too much credit for self-reflection and serious thought. Fundamentalists support ID as a compromise forced on them by numerous hostile court decisions. They would prefer to teach a more overt sort of creationism, but that is currently not possible. So they embrace ID as the best they can do right now.

Junod goes on to describe his own idiosyncratic take on Christianity:

I remained a Christian - I remain a Christian; nominal, provisional, skeptical, but a Christian nevertheless - simply because the universe does not feel dumb and mechanistic to me, and because the countless minor miracles from which I've benefitted do not feel like dumb luck. The universe feels intelligent to me, and it feels generous (though not necessarily benificent), and the miracles, such as they are, feel like functions of the universe's generosity, which is to say they feel like dispensations of grace. And grace feels mysteriously aligned to the alignment of the world described by Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount - that is, a world turned upside down by the unsettling element of love. Of course, with all this talk about feeling I'm well aware that I would probably feel differently about the universe were I starving to death and watching my children starve to death in a land stricken by famine and war. But here I am, for no other reason than that I'm here, and I remain Christian for much the same reason that the scientists behind intelligent design have ended up professintg their nonscientific heresy: because the universe feels different than Darwinan orthodoxy says it should, and seems to make different demands.

I suspect that Junod is here expressing the views of a great many sensible religious people. They are views I couldn't disagree with more. I agree with Richard Dawkins, who has famously said:

The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.

Junod is making a huge concession when he implies that his sense that the universe is intelligent and purposeful is really just a function of his status in life. He believes the countless “minor miracles” he has experienced are evidence of divine purpose. Would the starving people he mentions be justified in viewing their suffering as an argument against divine purpose, or as evidence that God is evil? If not, then what becomes of his argument?

I suspect that Junod's argument is a classic example of remembering the hits and forgetting the misses. He describes the countless minor miracles in his life as evidence of purpose, but I'm sure he could come up with other instances in his life where rotten luck prevented him for obtaining some good outcome. What conclusions does he draw from those experiences?

Let me close this blog entry by reproducing Junod's closing:

It's trippy, sure. But it's the theology for the Cult of the Really, Really Smart God. And hey I'm in. For 150 years, Christians have responded to the revelation of Charles Darwin either by trying to beat it back with their Bibles or by remaining agnostic to its implications - “I as a Christian have no trouble believing that God used evolution to make me.” Well, dammit, you should, because Christian orthodoxy and Darwinian orthodoxy simply cannot coexist as orthodoxies: One of them has to give. And intelligent design is the first indication that one of them is. For all its problems, it should be taken seriously, and the Christians who so glibly advocate its teaching should be aware of the questions it raises. Should intelligent design be taught in schools? Hell yes, but not as science, because it's not science. It's theology, and should be taught as such - as an attempt to fashon a new understanding of God from the persuasive challenge of evolutionary theory. Evolution not only creates; it keeps creating. The God of intelligent design is a new God - the God of the new, new covenant if you will - in that he takes the rap. He is the old God the God of the Bible and the God of Cavalry, in that he also takes the fall.


At 7:11 PM, Blogger Mike said...

"Religion can't change science because it can't change the terms of creation, and science is creation's handmaiden. Can science change religion? Of course it can; everything can change religion, which is one of the reasons religion is so pissed off."

Religion is subjective. So why mix it up with science to begin with. ID isn't a religiously based theory. So why even include it in the context of science? Only pro-evolutionists use that tired scheme to bash ID. ID is no way religious. Evolutionists know that, but they still claim it is. All of this in hopes the ignorant ones will but into it and the believe in the false premise that ID is just another form of creationism. ID is based on physical evidence - plain and simple! There's no mention of religion anywhere. So leave it where it belongs, in religious mediums.

At 7:30 PM, Blogger Jason said...


The plural of medium is media, not mediums.

Beyond that I find nothing in your comment worth replying to.

At 8:31 PM, Blogger Martin Wagner said...


In what way is ID not religious? In other words, who or what is this "intelligent designer"? If the designer isn't God, then don't you find it bizarre that pretty much all ID proponents are fundamentalist Christians? It would be an odd Christian — indeed, a blatantly heretical one — who promoted the notion that something other than God created the universe and all of us, wouldn't it? Is ID some newfangled, schismatic branch of polytheistic Christianity or something? Maybe God really isn't the designer, and instead he jobbed the universe out to a subcontracter.

Also, please give an example of this "physical evidence" on which you claim ID is based. Keep in mind that Michael Behe has recently conceded on the witness stand in Dover that ID is on the same "scientific" level as astrology. But hey, maybe you know something he doesn't!

At 10:19 PM, Anonymous Maximus said...

ID is indeed religious. It boils down to "We can't conceive of how X could have evolved. Therefore, some intelligence designed it." That is a statement of faith, pure and simple. (And yet, at the same time, it also indicates a serious poverty of imagination.) It is not a scientific postulate. It isn't science at all -- it's throwing up your hands and walking away from science.

Real scientists try to answer questions. IDers reject attempts to find scientific answers by using the scientific method. They prefer to give up on science altogether. They just cloak their anti-scientific claims in scientific-sounding language.

(I disagree with the Esquire author that science and religion can't coexist. It's only small-minded religious people who can't accomodate both at the same time.)

At 12:56 AM, Anonymous Fred said...

One thing that really strikes me about the Dover case, yet no one seems to have brought it up, is this: If the school board REALLY thought that ID was valid science and REALLY thought it wasn't religion-based, why did they feel they had to bring it into the classroom via a one minute evolution disclaimer? If they were soooo confident that it was a valid scientific theory, why didn't they make it part of the class itself?

At 1:09 AM, Anonymous Fred said...

Mike, ID is not based on evidence, it's based on opinions from limited knowledge. Science is very similar, but the key difference is that in science you try to expand your knowledge, whereas in ID you give up and walk away.

Michael Behe sees, for example, blood clotting and thinks it couldn't have arisen naturally. He does no tests, he does no research. He just thinks, "Geez, that's really complex! Ain't no way that could have just happened on its own" and decrees that it was a higher being that designed it. Is that science to you? He's even said that it's not worth investigating further. Is that science? Whether it's religion or not, it's surely not science.

Where would we be today if all science just gave up when something seemed tricky? For one thing, we'd still think that disease is evil spirits within us.

Oh yeah, one more thing: The creators of ID are on record as saying it's religion based, so that pretty much settles it, don't you think? Take a look at the court records, specifically Barbara Forrest's transcripts. (Though of course now Behe and the others deny saying those things or say they are being misinterpreted.)

At 3:57 PM, Blogger uxtreme said...

I never understood why the creationists appear to be hell bent on disproving the supernatural element of their own religion. If they were to prove (bear with me) that the whole bible / koran / you name it thing was literally true then faith would immediately become superfluous - and the religious establishment would be out of a job.

At 4:19 PM, Anonymous JJ said...

First, Mike... dude... it's "butt in" not "but in".

[I know, it's a cheap shot to attack someone's spelling and grammar. ;-)]

Fred said:
Where would we be today if all science just gave up when something seemed tricky? For one thing, we'd still think that disease is evil spirits within us.

To which I reply: That's called Scientology.

At 9:33 AM, Blogger OutEast said...

One small issue: I think that the claim that 'by invoking God to explain specific things ... the ID folks are laying at God's feet all of the examples of poor design in nature' is mistaken and based on a lazy interpretation of the key belief of the IDiots.

The principle is not not not that the designs are perfect; the IDiots essentially believe that God created an evolving system (micro-, that is, not macro-). Within species, they believe, there is evolution, and of course this can throw up errors and there can be instances of seeming 'poor design' (and if accepted there could be all kinds of theological debates over the implications of this).

There are many, many ways to knock down ID; the argument I cite, however, is a straw man.

At 11:16 AM, Blogger Jason said...


I don't agree. If ID is to be believed, the only reason we have complex systems like flagellae or blood clotting cascades is that the designer took some specific action to cause those systems to come into existence. In other words, natural causes alone would not have created those systems, so God intervened to make them appear.

That means that God does sometimes intervene to affect the structure of organisms. Consequently, every instance of bad design represents an instance in which God might have intervened but chose not to.

Nor can you get around this by arguing that God merely set up the conditions at the begining and then let evolution take over from there. If God had the werewithal to foreordain the production of flagellae and blood clotting cascades, he could just as easily have foreordained that all of the famous examples of poor design would not have come to pass. For some reason, He did not.

The issue isn't perfect vs. imperfect design. The issue is that the design flaws of modern organisms cause a truly ludicrous amount of pain and suffering every day. If you believe that God intervenes directly to affect the structure of organisms, you then have to explain why He does not intervene to rectify those harmful designs.

Theistic evolutionists can argue that God, in fact, does not intervene at that level of micromanagement. Young-Earth creationists can argue that poor design is the result of sin entering the world. ID folks do not have those options.

Incidentally, this argument is intended to show certain theological problems in the ID position. Most ID proponents are Christians. Christianity teaches that God is all loving and omnipotent. It is very difficult to square that version of God with what the ID folks are telling us about what He did in the course of natural history. You could get around my argument by arguing that God is either not omnipotent or not omnibenevolent. But since ID is really just a smoke-screen for a particular sort of Christianity, ID folks can't use this option either.

At 11:44 AM, Anonymous JOB said...

God is Directly and Completely responsible for all the bad and evil crap that happens in the world.

War - He caused it.
Famine - He caused it
Cancer that killed your mother - He caused it.

Further, He did it on purpose to see how you would react. If you react with despair or lose your belief that you should be obedient to HIM...then you will be dammed to torment for all eternity.


Men are His tools, used for His own purposes and amusements

At 3:30 AM, Blogger OutEast said...

Jason -

I hear your point, but I still adhere to what I said - though what you say prompts me to add a couple of points.

In the first place, IDiots claim that the 'Designer' is not God per se. If we accept this then there is no reason this designer's work should be flawless; this designer may be thought of as analogous to the gnostic Demiurge - a creator, but not itself a flawless being*. As such, an argument based on suffering becomes a straw man argument.

If the 'Designer' is a perfect being (God) this does not really throw up any new (or particularly valid) arguments against His existence. By this point, we're onto the familiar territory of theology; an odd place to position the debate, since the real case must necessarily be about whether ID has any scientific falidity rather than about whether it is internally consistent theologically.

One implication of the above is that in order to engage an IDiot on the grounds of imperfections in design you must first take the debate into the arena of theology; in other words, you must ask them to concede that the designer is God. This is Begging the Question, since this is the very territory in dispute.

A second problem is that your case depends on assumption that the God-Designer must be all-loving, anthropocentric, interventionist, etc. If you are arguing with a Fundamentalist-Christian-in-IDiot's-clothing then this may be valid... but you cannot then deny them the Original Sin getout (as you attempt to do in your post). If, on the other hand, your opponent is more theologically sophisticated in his or her image of a God-Designer then an argument which depends on falsifying the claim to an all-loving, anthropocentric, and interventionist God is (or may be) a straw man.

Ultimately, though, all this is about the theology. The fact that 'the design flaws of modern organisms cause a truly ludicrous amount of pain and suffering every day' is fundamentally irrelevant to the question of whether a designer is necessary to explain the existence in nature of complex organisms. To use the kind of mechanistic comparison beloved by IDiots, the fact that cars (say) cause a the design flaws of modern organisms cause a 'truly ludicrous amount of pain and suffering every day' does not demonstrate that it they are not designed:)

Faffing about with imperfection is a distraction. ID falls on its (un)scientific (de)merits.

*See Martin Wagner, above: 'Maybe God really isn't the designer, and instead he jobbed the universe out to a subcontracter.' :)

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