The Right Coast

August 11, 2005
Intelligent design discussion
By Tom Smith

Interesting discussion.

The writer makes the perfectly fair point that several popularizers of evolution, most notably Richard Dawkins, argue for the proposition that "Evolution shows that X" where X is that Nature is indifferent, there is no God, and there are no good and evil. X might follow, but it's certainly not obvious, Dawkins et al. have not made and are not qualified to make that case, and there's certainly no need to teach X in public schools.

I assume it was something like that that the Cardinal meant when he rejected "neo-Darwinian ideology" in his op-ed piece in the New York Times, which I am too lazy to link to just now.

On the other hand, all this is a far cry from teaching "Intelligent Design" as if it were science, which it obviously is not.

But, to skip ahead a little bit, consider some of the debates in cosmology. George Lemaitre, the originator of the Big Bang theory, was a Belgian Catholic priest. It cannot have escaped his notice, and may well have played a role as an esthetically motivating factor, that his theory of creation was consistent with the idea of divine creation. Many other scientists then disliked the Big Bang for equally esthetic reasons. Einstein really liked it, but Fred Hoyle, for example, hated the notion, and came up with the moniker "Big Bang" as a term of derision. These days, Stephen Hawking, as least as of A Brief History of Time, goes to extraordinary lengths, for example, to come up with a model in which there are no "days without a yesterday," that is, no universe that actually had a beginning. Hawking, Dawkins and many other scientists, some of them great scientists, are not motivated just by a dispassionate love of the truth. They are as eager to find that there is no God as others are to find that there is.

A more contemporary cosmological debate concerns the idea of multiple universes. Apparently it would solve various quantum puzzles if we suppose we are but one of a practically infinite number of universes. But, take another current notion, some version of the anthropic principle, that notes the extreme fine tuning of the physical constants that allows for the evolution of life in the first place. This really is an odd thing. Suppose as science progresses, it just seems odder and odder. One way to dispell this oddity is to postulate that there are in fact a practically infinite number of universes, and we just happen to live in one, as of course we would, where life happened to evolve. If extreme fine tuning is the only evidence of infinite universes, however, this amounts to cosmology done on a no-design principle. We would be postulating an infinite number of otherwise unobserved universes in order to avoid the implication of design. Well, that's a lot to postulate. Indeed, an infinite number of universes is so much that it is hard to see how you could postulate more. We are not in this position now; this is just a guess about where cosmology could end up in a few decades. The point is that it would be mere ideology to say infinite universes had to be accepted on scientific grounds. And it might be to say, there must be a God, as well. More generally, theistic or atheistic esthetic motivations are going to play a role in science, and neither one should be advantaged. What we observe in Nature should do the choosing between hypotheses. Some people think God plays with dice, some think he doesn't, some people think there is no God, only dice, and for all I know, some people think there aren't even any dice, either. Everybody needs a reason to get up in the morning, but the science part comes from letting the evidence decide who is right.

One final cryptic comment about ID. One place where it goes wrong in my view is its naive view of randomness. What if random processes want to evolve into living systems? Does that show there is no design or that the design is woven right into the math? There are lots of deep questions here that both ID and its critics do not seem especially hip to.