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Any larger philosophical implications of intelligent design, or any religious motives, beliefs, and affiliations of ID proponents, do not disqualify ID from having scientific merit

By: Casey Luskin
OpposingViews.com
September 8, 2008


[Editor's note: This article was posted as part of a series of articles both for and against ID at OpposingViews.com.]

“We don’t need the anti-creationists going and mixing their views on religion into their science. In fact, this is probably the surest path to disaster politically and in the courts. Anyone who wants to do this has the right to do it, but it ain’t helpful or particularly smart.”1
--Nick Matzke, Former Spokesperson for National Center for Science Education


Many critics of intelligent design (ID) have argued that ID is not science due to the alleged religious motives, beliefs, and affiliations of its proponents. Critics may trot out quotes from ID proponents discussing their own personal religious beliefs, motives, and affiliations, or discussing the larger philosophical implications they draw from ID, to allege that ID is not science, but religion. These common attacks against ID2 are both logically fallacious and highly hypocritical.

First, in science, the motives or personal religious beliefs of scientists don't matter; only the evidence matters. For example, the great scientists Johannes Kepler and Isaac Newton were inspired to their scientific work by their religious convictions that God would create an orderly, rational universe with comprehensible physical laws that governed the motion of the planets. They turned out to be right--not because of their religious beliefs--but because the scientific evidence validated their hypotheses. (At least, Newton was thought to be right until Einstein came along.) Their personal religious beliefs, motives, or affiliations did nothing to change the fact that their scientific theories had inestimable scientific merit that helped form the foundation for modern science.

Second, ID does not have religious premises. If it did, then the famous (now former) atheist Anthony Flew would not have been able to state, as he announced in 2004, that he was convinced that "the findings of more than fifty years of DNA research have provided materials for a new and enormously powerful argument to design.”3 Thus, as I discussed in my first opening statement ("Intelligent design (ID) has scientific merit because it uses the scientific method to make its claims and infers design by testing its positive predictions"), ID is a scientific argument and not a faith-based argument: “nothing critics can say--whether appealing to politically motivated condemnations of ID issued by pro-Darwin scientific authorities, or harping upon the religious beliefs of ID proponents--will change the fact that intelligent design is not a ‘faith-based’ argument.”

Third, if critics want to harp upon the religious beliefs, motives, affiliations, and implications associated with ID, then they should realize that what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Leading proponents of neo-Darwinian evolution frequently discuss their views of the cultural and metaphysical implications of neo-Darwinian evolution. Moreover, many of them have expressed anti-religious beliefs and motives for advocating evolution, and have close ties to atheist and secular humanist organizations.

When critics object to ID based upon the alleged religious motives, beliefs, or affiliations of its proponents, they make a highly hypocritical argument, for many leading Darwinists have blatantly anti-religious motives, beliefs, and affiliations. This observation does NOT thereby disqualify evolution from being scientific. Rather, since neo-Darwinism is a bona fide scientific theory, it shows that the religious or anti-religious motives and beliefs, motives, or affiliations of scientists do not disqualify their scientific views from holding scientific merit.

After reviewing just a few examples of the anti-religious affiliations, beliefs, and motives of many leading proponents of neo-Darwinism, it be will difficult to seriously maintain that the religious (or anti-religious) motives, beliefs, or affiliations of scientists, or the larger philosophical implications of a scientific theory, can disqualify a theory from being scientific:

Richard Dawkins is Oxford University’s Charles Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science and is probably the most famous evolutionist in the world. Yet Dawkins argues that belief in God is a “delusion”7 and that "Darwin made it possible to become an intellectually fulfilled atheist.”8 Dawkins has stated his goal is “to kill religion”9 and has asserted that “faith is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate.”10

America’s great champion of evolution, the late Stephen Jay Gould, similarly announced that “[b]efore Darwin, we thought that a benevolent God had created us,”4 but because of Darwin’s ideas, “biology took away our status as paragons created in the image of God.”5 Gould repeatedly discussed the "radical philosophical content of Darwin's message" and its denial of purpose in the universe:

"First, Darwin argues that evolution has no purpose. . . . Second, Darwin maintained that evolution has no direction. . . . Third, Darwin applied a consistent philosophy of materialism to his interpretation of nature. Matter is the ground of all existence; mind, spirit, and God as well, are just words that express the wondrous results of neuronal complexity."6

Darwinists sometimes like to pretend that Gould and Dawkins are outliers in their views. If only that were so.

A 2007 editorial by the editors of the world's top scientific journal, Nature, stated that "the idea that human minds are the product of evolution" is an "unassailable fact," and thus concluded, "the idea that man was created in the image of God can surely be put aside.”11 A very popular college evolutionary biology textbook (which I used for one of my upper division evolutionary biology courses during my undergraduate studies) declares that "[b]y coupling undirected, purposeless variation to the blind, uncaring process of natural selection, Darwin made theological or spiritual explanations of the life processes superfluous."12

Similarly, in the prestigious scientific journal, Proceedings for the National Academy of Sciences, leading evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala celebrates that "Darwin’s greatest accomplishment” was to show that the origin of life’s complexity “can be explained as the result of a natural process--natural selection--without any need to resort to a Creator or other external agent."13 Just to make sure that his readers don’t try to invoke some kind of “God-guided” evolution, Ayala writes that "[i]n evolution, there is no entity or person who is selecting adaptive combinations.”14

Cornell University evolutionary biologist William Provine has similarly stated that "belief in modern evolution makes atheists of people" and that "[o]ne can have a religious view that is compatible with evolution only if the religious view is indistinguishable from atheism."15 Provine states that there are severe philosophical implications of Darwinian biology:

"Naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly. 1) No gods worth having exist; 2) no life after death exists; 3) no ultimate foundation for ethics exists; 4) no ultimate meaning in life exists; and 5) human free will is nonexistent."16

Also noteworthy is the fact that key public defenders of Darwin have strong ties to secular humanist groups. For example, Eugenie Scott is a physical anthropologist who now serves as Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education and was called by the scientific journal Nature “perhaps the nation’s most high-profile Darwinist.”17 But Scott is also a public signer of the Third Humanist Manifesto, an aggressive statement of the humanist agenda to create a world with “without supernaturalism” based upon the view that “[h]umans are … the result of unguided evolutionary change” and the universe is “self-existing.”18 Another leading pro-evolution activist, Barbara Forrest, believes that “philosophical naturalism” is “the only reasonable metaphysical conclusion.”19 Dr. Forrest also sits on the Board of Directors of the New Orleans Secular Humanist Association,20 an associate member of the American Humanist Association, which publishes the Humanist Manifesto III.21

Even the widely-touted theistic evolutionary biologist Kenneth Miller has claimed in five editions of his highly popular high school biology textbooks that the implication of evolution is that it works “without either plan or purpose” and is “random and undirected.”22 Two other versions of Miller’s high school biology textbooks contain a striking discussion of some of the potential philosophical implications of evolution:

“Darwin knew that accepting his theory required believing in philosophical materialism, the conviction that matter is the stuff of all existence and that all mental and spiritual phenomena are its byproducts. Darwinian evolution was not only purposeless but also heartless . . . . Suddenly, humanity was reduced to just one more species in a world that cared nothing for us. The great human mind was no more than a mass of evolving neurons. Worst of all, there was no divine plan to guide us.”23

Harvard paleontologist and author Richard Lewontin explains how materialism is a key assumption propping Darwinian thought:

“[W]e have a prior commitment … to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to … produce material explanations … [T]hat materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”24

Finally, leading Darwinian philosopher of science Michael Ruse admits that “for many evolutionists, evolution has functioned … akin to being a secular religion” whose main doctrine is “a commitment to a kind of naturalism.”25

It is not possible to seriously dispute the fact that neo-Darwinian evolution is surrounded by a cloud of leading proponents with anti-religious motives, beliefs, and affiliations, who have plainly declared that the theory can have anti-religious implications.

I do not list these examples to argue that one cannot believe in evolution and religion. In fact, I firmly believe that people can accept evolution and religion. Nor do I list the anti-religious affiliations of leading Darwinists in order to contend that the anti-religious beliefs, motives, affiliations, and implications associated with neo-Darwinism make it unscientific. I accept and grant that neo-Darwinian evolution is a scientific theory, and thus I list the anti-religious affiliations associated with the theory to demonstrate that scientific theories must be tested independently of the beliefs, motives, and affiliations of their proponents, or the larger philosophical implications that some draw from the theory. In science, motives don't matter, only the evidence does.

Pro-ID scientists should be able to stake out scientific positions on ID without being judged on the basis of their private religious beliefs, motives, or affiliations. Furthermore, pro-ID scientists should not have their views about ID disqualified from being scientific if people interpret ID’s scientific claims to have larger philosophical and metaphysical implications. In fact, three U.S. Supreme Court justices essentially recognized this very point in the 1987 Edwards v. Aguillard ruling, stating that “A decision respecting the subject matter to be taught in public schools does not violate the Establishment Clause simply because the material to be taught 'happens to coincide or harmonize with the tenets of some or all religions.'"26

To argue that a concept cannot hold scientific merit simply because of the private religious beliefs, motives, or affiliations of its proponents, or because of its larger philosophical implications, destroys the very concept of First Amendment religious freedom that our country was founded upon.

References Cited:

[1.] Ron Numbers interview and article, by PZ Myers, http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2006/06/ron_numbers_int.html#comment-107918 (Posted June 24, 2006) by Nick Matzke.

[2.] For examples of these types of arguments, see Barbara Forrest & Paul R. Gross, Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design (Oxford University Press 2004).

[3.] Interview by Gary R. Habernas with Antony Flew, Emeritus Prof. of Phil., U. of Reading, U.K. (2004), available at http://www.biola.edu/antonyflew/page2.cfm

[4.] Stephen Jay Gould, Ever Since Darwin: Reflections in Natural History, pg. 267 (W.W. Norton, 1977).

[5.] Stephen Jay Gould, Ever Since Darwin: Reflections in Natural History, pg. 147 (W.W. Norton, 1977).

[6.] Stephen Jay Gould, Ever Since Darwin: Reflections in Natural History, pg. 12–13 (W.W. Norton & Co. 1977).

[7.] See Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Bantam Press 2006).

[8.] Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, pg. 6 (W. W. Norton, 1986).

[9.] Casey Luskin, “Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss "evangelize" for Evolution at Stanford,” at http://www.evolutionnews.org/2008/03/richard_dawkins_and_lawrence_k.html

[10.] Richard Dawkins, Is Science A Religion? 57 Humanist (Jan./Feb. 1997), at
http://www.thehumanist.org/humanist/articles/dawkins.html

[11.] "Evolution and the brain," Nature, Vol. 447:753 (June 14, 2007).

[12.] Douglas J. Futuyma, Evolutionary Biology, pg. 5 (3d ed., Sinaeur Associates, 1998).

[13.] Francisco J. Ayala, "Darwin’s greatest discovery: Design without designer," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, Vol. 104:8567Ð8573 (May 15, 2007).

[14.] Francisco J. Ayala, "Darwin’s greatest discovery: Design without designer," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, Vol. 104:8567Ð8573 (May 15, 2007).

[15.] William B. Provine, "No Free Will," in Catching up with the Vision, pgs. S117, S123 (Margaret W. Rossiter ed., University of Chicago Press 1999).

[16.] William Provine, Abstract, "Evolution: Free will and punishment and meaning in life," Second Annual Darwin Day Celebration University of Tennessee, Knoxville Feb. 12, 1998.

[17.] Geoff Brumfiel, "Who Has Designs on Your Students’ Minds?," Nature, Vol.434:1062 (April 28, 2005).

[18.] "Humanism and its Aspirations," at http://www.americanhumanist.org/3/HumandItsAspirations.htm and "Notable Signers," at http://www.americanhumanist.org/3/HMsigners.htm

[19.] Barbara Forrest, “Methodological Naturalism and Philosophical Naturalism: Clarifying the Connection,” Philo, Vol. 3(2):7-29 (Fall-Winter, 2000).

[20.] New Orleans Secular Humanist Association, "Who’s Who, NOSHA’s Board of Directors," at http://www.nosha.secularhumanism.net/who.html

[21.] New Orleans Secular Humanist Association, "About Us," at http://www.nosha.secularhumanism.net/index.html

[22.] Kenneth R. Miller & Joseph S. Levine, Biology (1st ed., Prentice Hall, 1991), pg. 658; (2nd ed., Prentice Hall, 1993), pg. 658; (3rd ed., Prentice Hall, 1995), pg. 658; (4th ed., Prentice Hall, 1998), pg. 658; (5th ed. Teachers Ed., Prentice Hall, 2000), pg. 658.

[23.] Kenneth R. Miller & Joseph S. Levine, Biology: Discovering Life, pg. 161 (2d ed., D.C. Heath 1994); Kenneth R. Miller & Joseph S. Levine, Biology: Discovering Life, pg. 158 (1st ed., D.C. Heath 1991).

[24.] Richard Lewontin, "Billions and Billions of Demons," New York Review of Books, pg. 28 (January 9, 1997).

[25.] Michael Ruse, “Nonliteralist Antievolution,” AAAS Symposium: “The New Antievolutionism,” February 13, 1993, Boston, MA (1993).

[26.] Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578, 602 (1987) (Justices Powell, White and O’Connor Concurring).




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