Advocates of intelligent design aren’t really scientists. They’re theologians. And they’re determined to root every last vestige of non-Christianity out of American culture.
That’s the conclusion I’ve come to after reading the first three chapters of a book that has been sitting on my “to read” bookshelf for three years. I picked up “Signs of Intelligence” a few days ago, wanting to learn from intelligent design proponents—not critics—what this movement is all about.
An editor of this collection of essays is William A. Dembski, one of the few real scientists who believes in intelligent design. He’s a professor of Science and Theology at Southern Seminary in Louisville. Not exactly Harvard or Stanford. (Dembski has a weblog that is worth checking out to gain some insights into his philosophy of life and science).
The other editor of “Signs of Intelligence” is James M. Kushiner, publisher of Touchstone magazine, a Christian journal that bills itself as providing a place “where Christians of various backgrounds can speak with one another on the basis of shared belief in the fundamental doctrines of the faith as revealed in Holy Scripture and summarized in the ancient creeds of the Church.”
Gee, that reassures me that Kushiner is exactly the sort of objective, unbiased scientific truth-seeker who should be at the forefront of a movement that is trying to tell schools what to teach about the origins of life on earth. Scanning a list of his Touchstone articles, you get the clear impression that he loves Jesus, dislikes homosexuality, and is committed to science only insofar as it supports his faith.
People who accept the gospel of intelligent design try to claim that their movement isn’t religiously motivated. I don’t believe them, especially after reading Nancy Pearcey’s essay “Design and the Discriminating Public.”
Ms. Pearcey’s academic credential is a M.A. from Covenant Theological Seminary. That qualified her to contribute to the book “Of Pandas and People,” a supplemental biology text advocating intelligent design. Apparently she didn’t get the memo from ID Central about toning down the religiosity of this supposedly purely scientific alternative to the theory of evolution. For she writes:
On both sides of the issue most people sense instinctively that there is much more at stake here than a scientific theory—that a link exists between the material order and the moral order…Our view of origins shapes our understanding of ethics, law, education—and yes, even sexuality.
If life on earth is a product of blind, purposeless natural causes, then our own lives are cosmic accidents. There’s no source of transcendent moral guidelines, no unique dignity for human life. On the other hand, if life is the product of foresight and design, then you and I were meant to be here. In God’s revelation we have a solid basis for morality, purpose, and dignity.
…At stake in this controversy is which worldview will permeate and shape our culture. Design is not an esoteric question relevant only to scientists. Design, especially as it relates to God creating the world, lies at the heart of all that Christians believe.
I find this attempt to Christianize science extremely troubling. More bluntly, it’s disgusting. I love science. I spent two years completing all the course requirements for a Ph.D. in Systems Science. For ten years I worked in health services research, trying to distinguish fact from fiction in the complex world of health planning. And I’ve written a book about how mysticism relates to the new physics.
Given my interest in what I like to call “spiritual science,” you’d think that I’d have warmer feelings about the intelligent design movement. A few weeks ago a conservative friend expressed surprise when I trash-talked intelligent design theory. “But you believe in it!” he said.
No, I don’t. Not the way it’s being pushed by Dembski, Behe, and the Discovery Institute zealots. I’m very much open to the idea that intelligence pervades the cosmos. This notion lies at the heart of classic Greek thought, including Platonism and Neoplatonism. I’ve also written a book, “Return to the One,” about the teachings of Plotinus, a 3rd century Greek mystic philosopher.
Plotinus, like Plato, considered that nous (variously translated as “intellect,” “intellectual principle,” and “spirit”) is the immaterial foundation of this physical world. This is akin to how most mathematicians believe that mathematics isn’t a human invention, but somehow exists independently on a higher plane of reality.
So if the intelligent design folks wanted to focus on the “intelligent” aspect of their philosophy and minimize the “design” aspect, I’d look upon their movement more favorably.
The older I’ve gotten, the more Taoist my spiritual beliefs have become. Taoism, like Neoplatonism, finds order at the root of reality, but it isn’t a personal, theistic, designing order. It is impersonal. Just the way things are. In her book “Taoist Mystical Philosophy,” Livia Kohn says:
The Tao is the one power underlying the universe; it makes things be what they are; it causes the world to come into being and decay again. It is the foundation of all, the source of life and being, from which we all come and to which we all return. The Tao is organic in that it is not willful, it is not a conscious active creator, and it is not personal. The Tao is nature, yet it is more than mere nature, it is the essence of nature, the inner quality that makes things what they are.
If any religious philosophy deserves to be associated with a scientific conception of how intelligence pervades the cosmos, Taoism and Neoplatonism have a much better claim than Christianity. This is part of what makes the intelligent design movement in this country so galling to me: the ID advocates are trying to convert science into a cultural force for promoting Christian dogma.
Currently science unites all of humanity. There is no Christian science, Muslim science, Jewish science, Hindu science, or Buddhist science. There is just science. The intelligent design zealots don’t like this. They want a Christian science. Or, at least, a theistic science where Christians, Jews, and Muslims can argue over whose personal God is doing the intelligent designing.
Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, Neoplatonists—they and anyone else who believes in a universal impersonal intelligent power can’t play in the intelligent design clubhouse. Neither can atheists, agnostics, pantheists, or other deniers of a personal God who willfully caused the creation and everything in it to come into existence.
Another essayist in the “Signs of Intelligence” book, Jay Wesley Richards, reveals that the ultimate goal of the intelligent design movement is to change the way all science is practiced. Naturalistic science is to become theistic Christian science.
Here’s what Richards has to say about the grand design of intelligent design:
So how is ID relevant to Christian apologetics? ID can be extended. We may envision its extension as a set of concentric circles, encompassing ever-larger swathes of nature within its explanatory domain…If intelligent design theory exposes the inadequacy of materialistic explanations in the natural sciences, it will deflate this assertion [that scientific progress has made Christian belief obsolete], and could contribute to a renewal of Christian belief in the twenty-first century.
These intelligent design guys are scary. Their words may sound fairly moderate, but that’s because they’re trying to disguise (thinly, admittedly) their real goal: to make the United States, and the science practiced in this country, overtly Christian.
They must be fought in every courtroom, every classroom, every public forum. The divine Tao deserves to be defended.