Sunday, October 25, 2009

Charles Johnson Believes In Intelligent Design

Yup, I believe Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs fame believes in intelligent design. Ok, Ok. Calm down. And smile :) Yes, I know he regularly worries that intelligent design will be introduced as pseudo science in the public schools. That's why its so fun to have a post titled as this one is. He views it as a more sophisticated way to get young earth creationism into the schools as science. To a point I agree with him, but more on that later.

If you exchange the phrase "intelligent design" and use "genetic engineering", I'm sure he'll concede. Genetically engineered plants, animals or bacteria were designed for a purpose they did not evolve to originally handle. Usually, people who do that sort of thing are considered intelligent. The organisms are intelligently designed. If intelligent people like us can do it, there is no reason God can't do the same on a larger scale. After all He's had a teensy-weensy bit longer than we to figure out the universe. The religious definition of intelligent design is narrow and does not encompass all that the phrase "intelligent design" can mean. People can explore the idea non-religiously. Normally, however, people associate intelligent design with groups trying to prove their religious beliefs. I see nothing wrong with that. If what they believe is true, there may be ways to show the truth of it scientifically. If they want to do this, they might first try taking a look at plants or animals that have already been genetically altered and see if they can prove those organisms were, in fact, engineered and didn't evolve that way. Not being a genetic engineer, I have no clue how to even approach that problem, but it could be a starting point.

The biggest problem I see with intelligent design is that even if you can prove an intelligence created or modified existing life, the proof will not come with the information as to who the engineer was or what they hoped to accomplish by creating it. It could just as easily be a mad scientist or mild mannered scholarly type, or God. If the discipline of forensic determination of biological intelligent design is rigorously scientific, there should be no problem with it being in the public schools. But, and this is huge but, that is not what is happening. Proponents of intelligent design want an alternative to the theory of evolution because of religious beliefs, and they want it taught as science. In a highly secular society such as America is, the constitution protects everyone from state infringement on their religion. To place intelligent design or creationism in science curricula would favor only one out of many versions. If it were, I'm almost certain that mine would be infringed. Whose version of creation do you put alongside evolution? It is much simpler to just let parents and churches teach religion and let the public schools teach what most people agree on.

Let me ask a rhetorical question, which, even if you refuse to let me, I will ask anyway: why all the fuss? Parents can teach their kids what they want them to know. Why don't they? Why is it government's problem to solve? There are churches everywhere who provide support for the beliefs certain groups are trying to push into the public schools. And they won't argue about scientific proof. Government under our constitution can't take sides with any faction or religion and restricts its support to science.

Science is one method of gaining knowledge. First, observations are made. Next, a hypothesis is made based on the observations to try and explain them. A test is formulated to see if this hypothesis is true. The test is carried out and has results which may or may not confirm the hypothesis. This process may be repeated any number of times as a hypothesis is refined. Once the process is over, and the conclusions are made, the steps of the process can be tried by independent observers to see if they, too, come to the same conclusion with the same procedures and data.

Religious people can use most of this process in their spiritual development. They can observe the world, and they have experiences that validate their beliefs, and may feel that they have obtained truth from elsewhere than the physical world we're familiar with. This is real for them. It really may be real. But spiritual experiences and data points can't be handed off to others to replicate in a sterile environment. People do publish their personal results, and yet other people test the ideas out. Some people come out of the experience believing the conclusions or variations thereof, but others do not. And this is why religion is not science. Not because it isn't true, but because the experiments and results are not universally verifiable.

Here is a warning to religious folks who try to push religious concepts into the public schools: when children are forced to compare what they believe to what is provable, beliefs that are true may be discarded simply because the truth is in a place science can't go. If religious material is in the curricula, it provides science teachers a handy tool to show what science isn't, and the comparison is unlikely to be in religion's favor. Why force them to? I don't see any reason to start or continue a fight between science and religion. They address different kinds of truth. They both have value.

Where my species originated may be fun to know, but really has no impact on my happiness. The bible doesn't tell us much about the creation of the world or how it was made, but I would note that the sparing detail in the biblical account advances that story in roughly the same order scientists believe life evolved: bare rock, water, sunshine, plants, animals, man.

As far as the creation debate goes, it is unimportant to me. I'm here. I want to be happy. I want to know the rules that give me the best shot at being happy. I myself am a believer in God, but I have no proof outside my own experience. In life you go with what works for you. I did.


At November 19, 2010 at 11:10 AM, Blogger Epsilon Given said...

You ask, "Why all the fuss?" I'll tell you why: a long time ago, but decades after this country was founded, people in government decided we needed a "uniform school system" to create "uniform" people. To this end, they created a Public School System.

But we aren't uniform. We have all sorts of different beliefs, and the Public School System is designed to level those beliefs to something common. Thus--no school prayer, no intelligent design, etc.

Which is why we need to get rid of the school system altogether, and develop a separation of School and State.

As John Taylor Gatto put it: How did we ever come to believe that the State should tell our children what to think?


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