Called To Discover
By Uwe Siemon-Netto
Chanting a mantra has always been thought of as a religious activity, though certainly not as one we would consider Christian. Lately, though, reciting a mantra seems to have become a favorite exercise of Neo-Darwinists and their disciples in the media. Here is how it runs: "Intelligent design is shoddy science."
Now I don’t pretend to be a scientist, I am just a guy with some sense of logic. If a man with a Ph.D. in mathematics and another one in philosophy, plus a Master of Divinity degree not from some evangelical Bible college but Princeton Seminary posits the idea that a designer might have been at work at the origin of the universe, then we might at least have the prudence not to dismiss him outright as a moron.
I am talking about William Dembski here, author of the book titled, Intelligent Design, and one of the leading figures in the growing movement bearing that name. It is a movement that discerns in the characteristics of the living world a suggestion of a designer’s handiwork. This would contradict Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution according to which the complexity of living beings resulted from random developments, such as mechanisms of mutation, hereditary variations and natural selection.
Perhaps I would be less incensed by the lockstep assault against Intelligent Design, or ID, if this offensive did not smack of Stalinism, to borrow a metaphor from my friend Gerald R. McDermott, a professor of religion and philosophy at Roanoake College. Like Stalinists, ID opponents consign ID proponents to an intellectual Siberia, McDermott says, and that’s where they are meant to rot until doomsday.
This is what happened to Dembski, who would presumably have been silenced for life if it weren’t for the Discovery Institute in Seattle, which philosopher Daniel Dennett of Tufts University recently badmouthed as a propaganda organ of the religious right.
The funny thing is that the remaining priests of the anti-ID cult committed to a materialistic worldview are primarily biologists meant to study life, which if truth be told is still confounding science especially as it has never been replicated in a test tube.
Cosmologists studying the universe are less and less certain about the hypothesis that the world evolved accidentally. "Every day, we make new discoveries showing the breathtaking beauty of the cosmos, making it simply impossible to rule out divine authorship," says Bruno Guideroni, director of the Paris Institute of Astrophysics.
"We don’t know except by faith whether the Universe began by accident or on purpose. The most notable astrophysicist on earth said the choice is yours," Larry Leonard editorial director of the Oregon Magazine, wrote recently. Leonard was of course referring to Stephen Hawking, who holds the Lucasian chair of astrophysics at Cambridge University in England, a chair once occupied by Isaac Newton.
Martin Luther once suggested that reason, the operative principle of the temporal world and therefore science, can actually inform you that there is a God; only of reason presumes to tell you who and how God is will it become the Devil’s whore. Enter reasonable practitioners of sciences more open to exploring the purpose of the living world. Among them are many mathematicians, scholars like Dembski or my friend Charles Ford, who teaches math at St. Louis University.
"Do scientists have a calling from God? If so, what is their calling?" I asked Ford. He replied, "Scientists are called to discover the structures of the created order. In doing this, how are they serving their fellow man? "Well, they enable technologies that serve humans." Scientists are thus in a position similar to historians. "It is their calling not to allow methodological blinders to keep them from seeing what’s under their noses," McDermott explains.
But that’s precisely what is happening. Often methodological blinders prevent scientists from intersecting with theology, including pastoral care, even though this would clearly benefit of humanity. Once recent example is the discovery by Keith Jensen, a Canadian biologist at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, that two particular elements of evil, envy and Schadenfreude (taking pleasure in somebody else’s misfortune), are exclusive properties of the human species.
So now biologists and economists are mulling over this phenomenon, which Jensen found is not present in man’s nearest relative, the ape, and was therefore not passed on to humans in an alleged evolutionary process. So what’s going on here? Humans can do evil deeds, chimps can’t? Does this mean we won’t be able to eradicate evil by genetic engineering first tested on monkeys?
Christians might be forgiven for howling with laughter: ever heard of original sin? Ever heard faithful theologians mention the one and only antidote to evil, namely, faith in the crucified and risen Christ?
But as Ford says, "When science becomes detached from the acknowledgement of a Creator, it becomes destructive." Indeed it becomes evil because by purging the world of its Creator, scientists would end up at the tope of the pile; scientists would then be masters over life and death. In theological terms, this would amount to self-deification, in other words a singularly ugly kind of idolatry.
Having said this, I take pleasure in giving ID critics a little of their own medicine. In railing against Christians, philosopher Dennett opined in an interview with the German magazine, Der Spiegel, about their sacramental theology: "The idea that the bread is symbolic of the body of Christ, that the wine is symbolic of the blood of Christ, that’s not exciting enough. The idea needs to be made strictly incomprehensible: The bread IS Christ’s body and the wine IS his blood. Only then will it win in competition against the more boring ideas simply because you can’t get your head around it. It’s sort of like when you have a sore tooth and you can’t keep your tongue off it."
Now, that’s what I call shoddy. It is shoddy theology. Any theologian daring to opine as primitively about science as Dennett opined here about theology would be laughed clear out of the academy for life. And rightly so.Uwe Siemon-Netto, Ph.D., D.Litt