Intelligent Design vs. Blind Evolution: The Moral Implications

March 2001By Benjamin D. Wiker

Benjamin Wiker, currently teaching at Franciscan University of Steubenville, is finishing up a book on Intelligent Design and morality for InterVarsity Press.

“May you live in interesting times.” That’s an ancient Chinese curse. The crux of the curse is this: The time periods most interesting to historians are those of revolution, cataclysm, and disruption. No one wants to read about yet another sunny day when the crops are good and everyone is behaving. Well friends, we live in very interesting times. The weather is fine and the crops are sufficient, but everyone is most decidedly not behaving.

We happen to live in a time that would be most interesting to read about if only we didn’t have to live in it. We live in a time of complete moral revolution, when moral boundaries are being crossed so quickly that they fly past in a blur like so many telephone poles, as we hurtle into the new millennium. If we flipped through newspapers during the last half-century we would see the divorce rate blossom, the introduction and wild spread of legalized abortion, sexual hysteria, men marrying men, women marrying women, in vitro fertilization of a grandmother with the eggs of her daughter fertilized by her son-in-law, pedophiles clamoring for legal recognition, partial-birth infanticide, the marketing of “fresh” baby parts from abortion clinics, and now a British panel recommending human cloning for cell research. Interesting. Very interesting.

Yet there are, occasionally, good revolutions, and there is one going on right now, a scientific revolution, which is not only very interesting (in a good sense), but could also bring welcome aid to those of us battered so miserably in the battles of the ever-spiraling moral revolution. The Intelligent Design (ID) movement in science promises to undo a half-millennium of secularization, both in the intellectual and moral realms.

Oddly enough, few Catholics seem to have heard about the ID movement, even though one of its most important advocates, Michael Behe (author of the best-selling Darwin’s Black Box) is Catholic. Happily, Behe (with fellow ID proponents William Dembski and Stephen Meyer) has released another book, published by Ignatius Press, Science and Evidence for Design in the Universe (October 2000). We can thank Ignatius for introducing ID to its Catholic audience.

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This comment is a general one relating to the whole conflict between Intelligent Design and Darwinian Evolution.

Today a group within the scientific community object strenuously to the introduction of “Creationism” and/or “Intelligent Design” claiming they are not scientific theories nor scientifically verifiable. Suspicions exist that their main objection is on the grounds that either would open evolutionary theory to the actions of a Creator God; something that some in the scientific community would not welcome. This section of the scientific community prefers an undirected evolutionary stream without purpose or object developing accidentally, randomly by mutation, etc. The mechanism doesn’t matter as long as the name effectively rules out a Creator.

The main problem in all these arguments is that one or both sides are from time to time trespassing on the preserve of disciplines other than their own while still claiming to make pronouncements within their own jurisdiction.

First, physical science concerns itself with specific properties of all things, entities, res, etc. Those scientific properties are all aspects of such things as can be counted, weighed and measured. Once the physical sciences have exhausted their discourse on these properties, they have nothing further to say lest they transgress on another discipline’s territory. When evolutionary theorists speak of the mechanism driving evolution, it must be remember that they are postulation possible mechanisms and cannot advance scientific proofs for which or how many do drive evolutionary development. And when they identify such mechanisms as randomness, accident, they pass beyond the bounds of strict science and encroach on the field of metaphysics for all such inferences on randomness and accident are metaphysical inferences. Accident and randomness are not scientifically verifiable mechanisms and once science says that there is no purpose or design or direction in evolutionary development, they are making a metaphysical assertion not a scientific assertion.

Secondly, those advocates of intelligent design are also making metaphysical inferences based on the evidence they see. Strictly speaking the physical scientists are correct in stating that intelligent design and /or creationism are not scientifically verifiable. However, some of these scientists had already taken to making similar statements outside their own fields as if they possessed the competence to do so.

The discussion would take place on firmer and more level ground if both sides would repair to a metaphysical playing field and see how their arguments stand or fall on metaphysical grounds. I fear that some of the scientists in question are aware of their trespassing and would not like it known too obviously or broadcast too widely. I say this simply because randomness and accident do not appear to be very good grounds on which to predicate such complex organisms as are found in the present world. As motivating forces they appear incapable of producing any organism (especially as the very word organism means a complex structure of interdependent and subordinate elements whose relations and properties are largely determined by their function in the whole or an individual constituted to carry on the activities of life by means of organs separate in function but mutually dependent : a living being – implying organization) no matter how many millennia are provided for their duration. But moving the argument to the appropriate discipline and venue would allow us to define Randomness, Accident, Intelligent, Design, Purpose hopefully in purer terms so that their adequacy or inadequacy to the question at hand might be judged properly.
What I am proposing is just a first step, not a solution to the conflict. But a battle fought on its proper field has more chance of yielding a useful outcome if not a whole successful one more than continuing to battle in the dark.
Tom Zelaney

Posted by: tomz165
June 01, 2006 03:24 PM EDT
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