Saturday, January 28, 2006

Intelligent Design – A Misnomer on Both Counts?

Viewed Horizon, the science programme, last night regarding the theory of intelligent design. I had never really heard of this before, or if I had, it was only in passing. Very interesting!

Apparently this theory has caused quite a stir in the USA with advocates of both sides queueing up to rubbish the others' ideas. Not much new there. Darwin's theory of evolution leaves a lot to be desired. Because it operates on such an immense time scale, it is very difficult to “prove” - that is to say - actually observe a new species being evolved. Therefore, some scientists – mostly from the religious right – have postulated that Intelligent Design, by which they mean some God-like controlling factor, is a theory worthy of equal standing with Darwin. That's the rub of this particular green.

If a scientist, or indeed anyone else, was presenting this theory as a replacement for evolution, they would be on very boggy ground indeed. Darwin – while in no way providing all the answers – at least does have a lot of evidence on his side. Most convincingly (and this was not – surprisingly – mentioned in the programme) is the study of comparative anatomy.

The nutty professor who taught me Comparative Anatomy at CMSU in the 1970's has – no doubt – long since passed into the world of practical experience in not being around. In other words, he's probably dead. There's the rub. Ever since man has been able to think and be aware that he is thinking, he has asked, “How did I get here and where am I going?” We're looking for answers, and both Darwin and Intelligent Design attempt to provide some.

Comparative anatomy, or more precisely comparative embryology, provides some interesting clues to where we came from and how we got here. You can “read” the history of man in the development of each human embryo. The human embryo in the early stages of development closely resembles a fish. It has gill slits and fins. You can follow this line of development right through looking like an amphibian, a reptile, a bird and finally a mammal. It really is easy to see. This we learned by dissecting a shark and a cat and looking at analogous structures in the adult animals and relating these to pictures of the embryos in textbooks. It's quite easy to see the relationships. Honest.

What bearing does this have on evolution? The “evidence” for evolution is clearly there in the embryos of modern man. What isn't there is God's part in this plan.

Lest we become arrogant in our scientific understanding, perhaps God has arranged this little “trick” just to confuse us – or humour himself. I, for one, would very much like to think that God has a sense of humour! Likewise it is certainly not beyond the capabilities of the creator to leave conflicting “clues” - either intentionally or through a sense of fun. None of this has any real bearing on God v. Darwin. What insights Darwin shared with us do not seriously conflict with Genesis. Genesis tells us that God created the world we see in pretty much the same order that evolution does. Only the time scale is “different” - but who's counting?

Where this controversy becomes more ominous is when two groups of scientists “square off”, choose up sides and start rubbishing each other. Honestly, you would have thought that respectable scientists would know better! Then, not content with staging a scientific punch-up, the supporters of Intelligent Design try to hi-jack the education system and demand equal time for their theory to be taught alongside Darwin. This argument is as old as the Founding Fathers – who demanded, and got, the Constitutional prohibition against the State having anything to do with religion. It appears that Intelligent Design is the religious rights' way of superseding Darwin and replacing evolution with God's plan for mankind – and putting it into our public schools. What looks like an interesting intellectual argument between two sets of scientists becomes, instead, a nightmare conflict between two sets of “fanatics” - one religious and one scientific! Fantastic!

Here's a plan – why not let children hear both sides of the story and make up their own minds. But, let them hear it from their teachers, their pastors, their parents and anyone else they might like to consult – in the place where they would usually hear from these people. Teachers in schools. Pastors in churches. Parents in their home.

Intellectual freedom demands intellectual honesty. “Intelligent” in Intelligent Design limits God to our understanding of what intelligence is. I'm not happy with that. “Design” in the same phrase pre-supposes that God has it all worked out and also limits how he will relate to mankind. Not happy with that either.

Better plan – you take your God your way and I'll take him my way – and we'll both boycott the other bastards. That's the real American way!

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