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Letters
January 25, 2006

 
 
 

Dear Editor:

I confess my amazement at the interest my Viewpoint article on Intelligent Design has generated. Based on the tacit assumption that most of the PC(USA) has no problem with evolution (e.g., 1969 GA-approved statement ) I had suspected that I might just be preaching to the choir... even on presbyweb. Our diversity never ceases to amaze me!

I've noticed a number of distinct classes of criticism, and many are well-reasoned and/or credible.

INTELLIGENT DESIGN AS A LEGITIMATE, BUT REVOLUTIONARY SCIENTIFIC DISCIPLINE

My critics (e.g., Volkers, Byrne) have raised some points about ID that seem to give credibility to ID as a legitimate, alternative scientific discipline. Notably, Byrne (Jan 17) indicated that "much of what is reported in the popular press about Intelligent Design theory is simply wrong." Although this statement is correct, I'd like to give my impression of the website he recommended .

Under "top questions," there's a statement that people of faith might not immediately contest:

"The scientific theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection. Intelligent design theory then is an alternative solution to answer problems with Darwinian evolution."

This statement is moving... although not so moving as Genesis (at least for me). However, despite it's self-evidence to people of faith, this statement has NOTHING to do with science. Moreover, there's a problem with this statement if you take it as a study plan: The goal, as expressed, is self-defeating. It implies that "the theory" of Intelligent Design exists solely to attack or revise Darwinian evolution, which means that ID is only a subspecialty of Darwinism. When Darwin's simplified notion of natural selection is relegated to a historical footnote in a biology text, will ID no longer exist?

Ultimately, one must confront what ID ITSELF adds to science. How does it improve our understanding of the physical processes underlying speciation? But the problem is much larger than this question. The sciences are NOT a disjointed collection of information. What does ID add to our understanding of the interrelationship between organisms? What does it add to the rest of science, including the highly interconnected fields of taxonomy, physiology, the rest of evolutionary biology, and even psychology? What about geology, archeology, and the rest of paleontology? From the stated goal, ID can only detract from all. This isn't the way science works, and it's a poor way to "improve" anything that has a long track record of being useful.

Most of the "Top Questions" on the site have to do with political or theological issues. The most important to me is #7: "What about the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and its resolution against intelligent design?" The website's disclaimer to the contrary, the association's journal, Science, is THE interdisciplinary journal in America. As a scientist, I can't say too much about the stature and integrity of this society.

The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) is one of many other societies that discount ID (e.g., http://web.sfn.org/content/AboutSfN1/Guidlines/evolution.html ). Like Rob Harrison, most of the membership are not all that concerned with either Darwin or evolutionary theory. However, SfN IS directly affected by ID research because the advocacy of ID undermines public science education by confusing school boards and children to the point that they no longer know the difference between what is theoretical, hypothetical, plausible, or something that simply "sounds good to me." By the way, the leadership of SfN can't be faulted for being anti-religion... the Dalai Lama spoke at last year's conference in Washington.

The politics surrounding ID are NOT RELATED to any underlying scientific flaw in evolution. Having Einstein, the leadership of the Presbyteran Coalition, or the pope weigh in on it won't change a thing. Neither does it matter if agitated debaters are people of faith, fundamentalist terrorists, atheists or antitheists. Quite simply, if you want to include purposiveness in your science, you must first rephrase the question.

SCIENCE CANNOT REFUSE TO STUDY SOMETHING THAT'S TRUE.

This is a myth. I admit that many scientists (myself among them) are motivated by the quest for "truth." However, while "the search for truth" may be what drives scientists, it is not science. More importantly, and despite what you've have been told, the giants on whose shoulders scientists stand are NOT the Galileos, Newtons, and Darwins, but the whole collective lineage of which they are a part. Without the dedication of this lineage of scientists, science would be just another approach to problem solving.

If you think that science prefers a CORRECT answer to an incorrect one that is bad science, you are mistaken. Scientists have confidence that a theory will stand the test of time IF AND ONLY IF it continues to explain the data. To "force" the acceptance of a bad theory is a self-extinguishing process - unless you have the powers of God and are also malicious enough to fudge all of the data across all labs, generations, and disciplines.

In his Jan. 17 letter, Rev. Barrett notes,"...isn't it curious how the vaunted scientific method, despite Dr. Tenke and other's protests to the contrary, depends upon an a priori philosophical assumption of an epistemology that allows for an ordered, objectively experiential and able-to-be-validated universe." Far from protesting this, I completely concur. This IS my point - science REQUIRES these empirical assumptions to function at all.

SETI IS A SCIENCE, SO WHY NOT ID?

Byrne correctly noted that SETI does not seem to fit into the scientific method. I'll defer to a SETI person to explain otherwise, but he may well be correct. An analogous quest in my own field would be called a "fishing expedition," and probably wouldn't be funded. Byrne is also quite insightful about the "faith-based" aspects of the way "ETs" are perceived. Like the occult, ETs fill our secular mythology wherever science has a gap. I agree that some of these gaps should be reclaimed by Christianity, but NOT at the expense of a further loss of credibility.

IN DEFENSE OF CHRISTIANITY.

A number of comments and complaints (e.g., Ford, Harrison,Trotter) revolve around the perception that scientists refuse to consider Intelligent Design because of an organized, malicious, antichristian (atheistic, antitheistic) bias. Part of the reason for this perception is that people of faith are sick and tired of being disrespected. In fact, some have implied that I've been "aiding and abetting the enemy" simply by being a faithful scientist!

Charles Trotter says, "Our youth are being saturated with evolution in colleges and universities throughout America." Forgive me, but to claim that this is a problem for people of faith is itself divisive. It also turns the issue around so that it appears to some that the faithful are fearful of education! It is because of this that I heartily disagree with Rob Harrison's enthusiasm for ID. If my faith hasn't been enslaved by well-established science, why should I publicly demean my faith by implying that it relies on physical evidence that, at best, is poor, marginal, or "new" science.

Trotter goes on to say, "Europe is saturated with unbelief because of two reasons: Evolution and liberal theology." I propose a more important reason for unbelief: Mainstream theology (both conservative and liberal) fail to feed the spiritually hungry! When large segments of the population seek spirituality in made-up or revinvented religions (e.g., New Age, Wicca, etc.), when they seek out traditions alien to their own background (e.g., ancient or eastern religions), when they go as far as to believe in "phony science" (e.g., psychic phenomena, ancient astronauts, alien abductions), I'd say that WE are what's wrong. The sheep have gone astray, and the shepherds are busy arguing about whether they deserve to sit at the right or left hand of the Master.

I firmly believe that the issues raised by ID are more critical, divisive, and fundamental for Christians than ANY other issue today. The Word does NOT require us to lie or misinform, just to proclaim the Good News. If our light doesn't shine in the world we live in, it's not the fault of "evolution and liberal theology." It's OUR fault. What DO we offer to the world? Arguments? Arrogance? Ignorance?

If we are mocked for proclaiming Christ, so be it. But if we are mocked for being ignorant, we are merely poor witnesses.

Yours in Christ,
Craig E. Tenke, Ph.D.
Elder, Center Moriches, NY
Research Scientist
NYS Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University


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