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Friday, June 16, 2006

Intelligent design: A theology for control freaks?

Recently, I took Vatican astronomer* Guy Consolmagno, to task for his nonsense about six-day creationism being a form of paganism.

In his Boyle lectures, paleontologist Simon Conway Morris, author of Crucible of Creation and Life's Solution, appeared willing to indulge in the same sport, arguing that the hypothesis that the universe and life forms show detectible evidence of intelligent design is analogous to wanting to revive the Mithraic or orphic mysteries of the pagan world, or act a theology for control freaks:

Rather it seems to me that Intelligent Design has a more interesting failing, a theological failing. Consider a possible analogy, that of Gnosticism. Where did this claptrap come from? Who knows, but could it be an attempt to reconcile orphic and mithraic mysteries with a new, and to many in the Ancient World a very dangerous, Christianity? So too in our culture, those given over to being worshippers of the machine and the computer model, those admirers of organized efficiency, such would not expect the Creator – that is the one identified as the engineer of the bacterial flagellar motor or whatever your favourite case-study of ID might be – to be encumbered with a customary cliché of bearing a large white beard, but to be the very model of scientific efficiency and so don a very large white coat. ID is surely the deist’s option, and one that turns its back not only on the richness and beauty of creation, but as importantly its limitless possibilities. It is a theology for control freaks.

(No, no, I am not making this up. I couldn't.)

Now, Conway Morris's remarks are obviously rot. They do not even attempt to address the issues raised by the ID guys. Notice that the charge include ID hypotheses being both pagan (implicit in the "mysteries" above) and by contrast deist. There are, of course, deists who acknowledge the intelligent design hypothesis, including Antony Flew, but in truth there are not currently many deists in the world, and Conway Morris did not even mention Flew. So that's not the bee in CM's bonnet.

In terms of the facts about ID hypotheses, as ID theorist Bill Dembski has noted,
Never mind that anyone who says that God acts even once within the created order has already ceased to be a deist. And never mind the fact that ID theorists don’t argue that design takes place, say, only to make the bacterial flagellum and to get life started, and nowhere else. Who has claimed that? The ID argument is that there are certain loci within the created order in which design is apparent against the backdrop of natural, law-like order. That’s a claim about detection that is fully compatible with God (I’m assuming God is the designer) being active in secondary causes as well. Moreover, many ID advocates also argue that design is detectible at the level of natural laws and constants. That’s the point of most fine-tuning arguments.

Too many criticisms of ID take place in a sealed glass jar, with misrepresentations of ID being proposed, and then critiqued. Good criticisms address the real argument, not a distortion of it.

Yes, exactly. The remaining question is, what would prompt an apparently intelligent man to talk this rot?

The only reason that Conway Morris's remarks even interest me is that he himself is promoting an essentially purpose-driven form of evolution. Could that be why he is so anxious to cynically trash anyone else who is doing so, no matter what rot he must talk? To protect himself from the onslaught of criticism from the yay-hoos and poseurs of Darwinism?

Neither Conway Morris nor Consolmagno has any moral right to use the ID guys as human shields to protect himself from yay-hoos and poseurs. And that, I fear, is exactly what they are doing. They hope that by joining in on the attacks on the guys that the materialist hate and fear the most, they can somehow escape the inevitable round-up of non-materialists.

But they can't. If they could round up the ID guys, the materialists would promptly turn on the other non-mats, because they know they can't trust them. That's why Pope B16 is so much smarter than Guy Consolmagno, who is supposed to be serving him. He understands that. Better to go on the offensive now, before "Christian Darwinists" in the sciences have persuaded everyone that no Western religion has anything useful to say against materialism.

As both Consolmagno and Conway Morris claim to be Christians, my advice to them is, get some self-respect. Quit sleeping with the enemy just to protect yourself. Look, no one is going to blame you for being scared. Traditional humans did not even blame Antony Flew for fifty years of the promotion of atheism, with its attendant moral and governmental disasters. We were glad when he finally figured it out, that's all.

Admit that because you believe in God, you believe in design and purpose in nature. A given claim about design or purpose made by some ID theorist may be incorrect, but there is a vast gulf fixed between those who believe that design or purpose exists and those who believe that it cannot in principle exist. The yay-hoos of materialism are just something we have to deal with right now. Join your regiment and be proud.

*By the way, in case anyone wondered, the Vatican observatory is in Arizona, not in Rome.
If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.

Are you looking for one of the following stories?

A summary of recent opinion columns on the ID controversy

A summary of recent polls of US public opinion on the ID controversy

A summary of the Catholic Church's entry into the controversy, essentially on the side of ID.

O'Leary's intro to non-Darwinian agnostic philosopher David Stove ?

An ID Timeline: The ID folk seem always to win when they lose.

O’Leary’s comments on Francis Beckwith, a Dembski associate, being denied tenure at Baylor.

Why origin of life is such a difficult problem.
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