11 January, 2011

Intelligent Design: Bad For Science and Faith, Guest Blog by SteveP

I got this off of my friends blog. It is a rare look at belief in God and evolution and debunking creationism. Enjoy.

I am pleased to introduce Steve Peck,

Steven L. Peck is a high school drop­out from Moab, Utah and Asso­ciate Professor of Biology at Brigham Young University where he teaches The History and Philosophy of Biology and Bioethics. His does research in theoretical mathematical ecology, philosophy of biol­ogy, and insect stuff. When he grows up he wants to be a novelist or a poet or create sentient robots (all about equally likely). Until then he blogs at ByCommonConsent, and runs a Faith/Science blog (sciencebysteve.net) where he extols the virtues of mixing theology and Darwinian evolution. He lives in Pleasant Grove, Utah with his wife Lori. They have five children and 2.95 grandchildren.

(I am a biology professor and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and am committed to its teachings and beliefs. I take particular delight in being raised a ‘Mormon’ who was taught that education and knowledge are among our highest ideals. Many are surprised to find that I am also an evolutionary biologist. I am also a member of the Society for the Study of Evolution the United States’ leading evolutionary science organization and have published papers in its journal Evolution. I have published numerous scientific papers on the topic of evolution believe that it is the best explanation for the diversity of life we see around us. Evolution is at the heart of the biological revolution that has transformed everything from genetics, and medicine, to drug discovery and managing antibiotic resistance. As the great 20th Century biologist Dobzhansky said, ‘Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.’ As a biologist, I could not agree more. Few people realize that BYU, the university sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints, has a number of faithful evolutionary biologists. As a point of fact, evolutionary science is taught at Brigham Young University just as it is at any other accredited university. Intelligent Design has no place in BYU’s science curriculum. And I do not want it to be a part of my children’s science education. I would not mind it if were taught as part of a course in comparative religion, but as a science? Never. Let me be clear about something else. Intelligent Design is not about an Intelligent Designer, it is a fundamentalist Christian (largely) make to get fundamentalist beliefs taught in the schools.

Let me be blunt. I find nothing of value in Intelligent Design for both scientific and religious reasons. First, why it is bad for religion. Intelligent Design posits that evolution cannot explain the origin of biological complexity. This is nonsense. Evolution is the best explanation for complexity. The purveyors of intelligent design argue that complex structures like the eye cannot be explained by bouts of mutation and selection, they calls this irreproducible complexity, however, the truth is the eye has been explained exactly in those terms, by many evolutionary thinkers. The argument is tantamount to saying that skyscrapers are impossible to build because there is no crane large enough to construct one. The truth is the crane was part of the building as it was raised and finally dismantled when it was no longer needed. In the evolutionary history of life, this happened again and again. We see the remnants of these ‘cranes’ all over the place. The history of life is full of things being used and retooled, then lost. A whale’s leg being turned into flippers. Or consider bird feathers from hair, first being used in thermal regulation then being co-opted for flight. So set aside the notion that evolution cannot explain complexity. It does so magnificently.

However, this is not what bothers me about the Intelligent Designers’ designer. Recall that intelligent design makes no religious claims about a God (mostly, to distance itself from young-earth creationists), it claims only that the universe has an intelligent designer. But let’s look a little more closely at the designer they are proclaiming. The designer they envision is really quite a bumbling ner-do-well—a limited dabbler who has to keep sticking is finger into the pot to get things going. The designer in Intelligent Design is more like a grand tinkerer. No grand designer here who can create a universe that unfolds, develops and grows. No, the designer in Intelligent Design cannot seem to manage that. He has to keep nudging things in the directions he needs them to go, making course corrections here and there, fixing errant processes that can’t seem to stay on task, backing up and starting over when things go astray. The designer in Intelligent design seems more reminiscent of one of Harry Potter’s classmates in a potions class, who has to keep adding a bit of this and a dab of that trying to keep the potion just so. I find this version of the designer unappealing and nothing like the God who I envision. I often ask my students which of the two computer programmers is the greatest: The one who creates many video games, but which require constant intervention and fixes, endless updates, and repeated patches, or the programmer who has created a program from which the command ‘Go’ creates spontaneously a myriad of video games of infinite variety and depth? You pick.

Am I talking about a deistic god who set things in motion and then steps back to leave it alone? Heavens no, I think God enters into the world often and directly, but mostly by influencing his children through their consciousness, inspiring and directing them to fulfill his purposes, sending messages and messengers when needed.

My next complaint about the Intelligent Design fiasco is its pretense to science. Exactly, what makes it a science is not clear. It offers no testable hypotheses. It has established no research program. The theory of evolution has offered testable hypotheses that have been confirmed again and again. The theory of evolution says that we should find certain things in the fossil record, the genetic code of our genes, the distribution of plants and animals on the earth. We find those things (Do not be detracted by supposed missing transitional forms. Fossilization is a rare process and we expect to find few transitional forms.) What is amazing is evolution’s prediction that life unfolds in a process of change and development. Consider the recent lovely fossils coming out of China detailing the evolution of flight in birds from bird-like reptiles. It follows just as evolution says it should.

My last complaint about Intelligent Design is it sets religion and science against each other. It puts forward a false dichotomy in students’ minds that suggests that evolution and faith are incompatible. It makes people of religious faith suspicious of science. When students genuinely think that science and religion are incompatible, one of two things typically happens. One is they embrace science and since it is incompatible to religion, religion is abandoned. The other is that they maintain their faith but remain suspicious of science and cast doubt upon its methods and findings, inclining themselves to superstition and pseudoscience. I have to wonder if the reason science education in the United States is falling behind other countries is because misinformed people of faith have been dissing science to the point that many students are choosing other paths. Faith and science need not be enemies. I embrace both fully and without reservation. My religious convictions are part of who I am. My science and faith reciprocate and inform one another. They are part of the way I understand my place in the universe. Intelligent Design does nothing to promote the search for understanding and cooperation between these two vital ways of knowing. It is a darkening of the mind on every level, both religiously and scientifically. Please do not let it be taught to my children as a science. It is bad for both religion and science.)

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

So that explains everything. Finally, Someone who knows everything.

Anonymous said...

kidding this guy seems very smart and I think he could be right

Jeffrey Dean Root said...

Yes. I try my best to defend those who have little social power due to the norms that our society has accepted. I hope that my ideologies continue to change over time. I hope I never hold so firm to an idea that my mind will never change. I am who I am because I try to question everything.

Anonymous said...

this is russ by the way. I still don't have this computer thing figured out and I don't care to.

Aunt Jenny & Uncle Rod said...

I love what Steve Peck has to say, what a refreshing perspective, especially from a Mormon!

Aunt Jenny & Uncle Rod said...

Just want to say that Steve Peck gives a very refreshing viewpoint, coming from a professor at BYU.

Jeffrey Dean Root said...

I'm good friends with his son and he's just like him. We spend hours talking about science and religion. They are unlike any Mormons I have ever met. They support both gay marriage and evolution. They also believe that one day the church's position will change on those policies as they have with blacks and the priesthood. All religion has it's changes over time, with some it just takes a little longer.

Cap said...

I think you reposting this has gotten more comments them me posting it...

Anyway. It is always sad to me when I hear people fighting against evolution. One of my favorite quotes is by St. Augustine (of Hippo) and he is like... up there with Peter. Anyway, he says that if science contradicts something he believes he has to go with science. Whether that means incorporating it into his beliefs or leaving his beliefs.

I find it strange that people are scared of science. It is accurate and provable. I think people are generally just afraid to alter their beliefs because they think there is some kind of heresy involved... but there isn't.

Anonymous said...

I believe in evolution, but I also believe in god. Does that make me an advocate of intelligent design. Can I believe in both?

Tyler said...

Good post. I can honestly say it's been a LONG time since I've came across a Mormon who actually believed in Intelligent design (that man has only been around for 4000 years). I whole-heartedly believe in Evolution. However, I don't believe that we were created by accident. I think there is something greater than us all that we can't possibly comprehend that is responsible for how amazing our species is.

Anonymous said...

you hit it right on the head for me Ty

Jeffrey Dean Root said...

I still don't know exactly how life began on this planet but I do know that if the conditions are right new things can form. I'm OK with not having these answers but I won't stop looking for them just because one hasn't been discovered yet. Not knowing things makes life more interesting. It means that we can still ask questions. It means we can still wonder.