INTELLIGENT DESIGN Father Thomas Carleton Aug. 18, 2005
The presentation of evolution in the schools, even within its own context and by its own standards, is, at present, already incomplete and somewhat disingenuous.
What an impressive thing! Modern science can take you today and trace your origins all the way back to some initial cosmic event: an explosion, an implosion, a bang of some sort, or just a big active hole in space! We need not be skeptical. There might be "a few gaps here and there" that scientists still have to work out, but basically the over all outline is considered to be very "scientific".
Firstly, it should be pointed out that even scientists who do not favor offering in the classrooms alternative views on evolution, have been critical of the biased way that it is presented, namely, without due note of the problems and contradictions that evolutionary theory has been unable to resolve. So , the presentation of evolution in the schools, even within its own context and by its own standards, is, at present, already incomplete and somewhat disingenuous.
In any case, back at the beginning of the evolutionary road, there are always the intriguing left over questions: Where did the initial gas or substance come from? What or who triggered the explosion? Why did it not happen earlier? And so on. On the one hand, this has given to religious people who would like to make their peace with evolutionary theory, the opening to insert God, and, on the other hand, it has allowed those who wish to keep any immaterial or supernatural aspect out of the explanation, the possibility of looking upon the inclusion of this initial step as a totally hypothetical tack-on. This, however, is not what the current debate on "Intelligent Design" is concerned with.
The claims of Intelligent Design do not arise from the as yet un-answered questions back at the beginning of the evolutionary trail. In a more traditional formulation, Saint Thomas explains it this way:
"We see that things which lack knowledge, such as natural bodies,
act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly
always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is
plain that they achieve their end, not fortuitously, but designedly.
Now whatever lacks knowledge cannot move toward an end, unless
it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and
Note carefully from where the argument departs: "We see that things . . .such as natural bodies . . .". It begins with the examination of experience. Proponents of intelligent design, in fact, are not calling for a recognition of "an intelligent designer" either as a premise, or, for that matter, as a conclusion, at least not one that the text-book itself would have to draw. They are merely calling for an impartial examination of the experimental data or evidence, if you will, in order to determine whether a natural or biological process should be characterized as a random activity or as one implying a predetermined end, that is to say, implying teleology, to use the philosophical term. It is an a posteriori argumentation no different from when scientists tells us that if certain molecular constructions (that is to say, molecules organized in a certain way) were to be found on Mars, it would imply the possibility of life having existed on the planet. If, in fact, natural processes were random, then there would be no basis for concluding that these constructions were necessarily pre-life forms. The claim that "intelligent design is not science" is absurd.
The argument does not seek to fill in, gratuitously, a gap at the conclusion of the scientific explanation, nor does it seek to hypothesize regarding the data of experience. The argument seeks to allow people to analyze evidence and, if they choose, to draw, by logical inference, from the examined facts, the conclusion warranted. There is nothing unusual about this in science. The science of criminology, for example, is based on the assumption that a crime implies a criminal.
Design is integral to science which, in fact, is about regularities and laws. Without regularities there is no science but only a heap of data. When, from collected data, patterns are identified or an order emerges, then you have a science. Even the most materialistic evolutionist arrives at laws such as Darwin's "preservation of favored races", "natural selection" and "survival of the fittest". The very choice of subject matter that will form the object of a scientific field, already contains design. In setting the boundaries of our area of research, we have to say: all these objects are the same. In other words, they are not randomly chosen, but selected because they form a class and conform to a pre-accepted criterion.
Prescinding from whatever scientists consider to be the proper material of their field and likewise prescinding from whatever they consider to be their method of research, they cannot exempt themselves from logical forms and logical inference, nor can they stand in the way of others reasoning in these natural or co-natural forms. Children in schoolrooms especially must not be systematically blocked from the right to decide for themselves whether they consider a logical inference necessary or not. This is not "an unwarranted incursion into religion", this is a requirement of all free and honest exploration.
Science can say: "We shall only study what can, by the senses or with the help of instruments, be measured or quantified", but what it can't say, is: "All reality is measurable by science". That would be a conclusion, itself not verifiable by the scientific method and would be, you'd have to say, the ultimate case of thinking completely "inside the box". Conscious of its own parameters, science should be saying: "By means of the method by which we work, we are able, so far, to establish this amount of information, but we cannot preclude that further understanding on the subject may be gained by other means". Scientists should be comfortable with their method of drawing conclusions without prejudice to other forms of rational inquiry, that, in truth, they themselves have to use.
The recognition of non-material aspects of reality is not particularly religious nor confined to "another world". Most philosophers have identified immaterial elements in the natural world itself and particularly in the processes of knowing and consciousness. Whether these be Plato's ideas, Aristotle's forms, or Hegel's spirit, they are a legitimate and necessary attempt to account for all aspects of reality as they are experienced in life. The ordinary man also (the ordinary man especially), even while not articulating it in a theory, is well aware of many things in his experience, such as virtues like courage and love, or one's own consciousness ultimately, which can not be seen, heard or quantified and yet, nevertheless, exist just as surely as rocks or trees.
Let's examine the matter more closely. There are in fact two types of causes. One type fits perfectly into a physical sequence that allows us to depart from the present and travel backwards step by step tracing what preceded each scientifically explainable phenomenon.
There is however another type of cause, sometimes called in Philosophy a "transcendental cause". It is called "transcendental" because it is non-material and has no traceable physical antecedent. A first "uncaused cause" would be of this type. They must, by logic, be inferred since the physical sequence of causes and effects comes to a halt without, at that point, having given an adequate accounting of the phenomenon to be explained
But let's take another more familiar example: free-will decisions are causes of this second type. Each free-will decision is an entirely new thing in the universe, unexplainable in terms of a prior physical antecedent. Big or small, each decision of the will in some way can alter whatever deterministic chain of causes may be unfolding.
There are, of course, entirely materialistic explanations of free-will. Take, for instance, the theory of "competing attractions", that is to say, for example, that if a man is placed between two "big macs", he would starve to death because he would be so equally attracted to both of them that he would be unable to make a decision on which to eat! No doubt there are physiological components surrounding even this type of cause par excellence, but no matter how much additional understanding we can gain from identifying and isolating these accompanying material or chemical aspects of the process, there will always remain that irreducible witness at the center of the free choice of the will.
Scientists, for example, can tell you very precisely the chemical cause of your heart burn: "acid reflex"! On the other hand: Was it because you decided, by a completely free decision of the will, to eat a burrito? After all, nobody compelled you to eat the burrito. Which was the real cause? Well it's both causes and that's exactly the point. Reality and life are an intricate mixture of both types of causes. By an a priori exclusion of a passage from material and physical phenomena to an immaterial cause, one is not protecting science from religion or preventing a blind leap into an unknown supernatural world; one is excluding, on principle, the most common experience of man: your mind says: "go", and your foot moves!
The most frequent argument that you hear against adding intelligent design to the curriculum is that its proponents are all theistic believers. That conclusion may well be, for all I know, a true statement induced by the scientific method, but, it is, let's face it, totally irrelevant to whether or not biology should try to identify design in living forms.
In the final analysis you would have to say that seeing design in the workings of nature is very obvious and that it would require quite a concerted effort on the part of someone in a classroom insisting that it is not scientific in order to de-program yourself as to its presence.
Kids should be able to examine closely the existence and nature of design in the processes of the universe and should be able to decide for themselves what they make of it, even if scientists don't wish to.
Father Thomas Carleton
Aug. 18, 2005
*Darwin explicitly rejected the Darwinism of Dawkins, Dennett and the 38 Nobel Laureates*
There is a particular sub-species of atheists that likes to trace the rationale of their thinking back to Charles Darwin. Darwin, as we see in this quote from his 1859 book, ON THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES BY MEANS OF NATURAL SELECTION: OR, THE PRESERVATION OF FAVOURED RACES IN THE STRUGGLE FOR LIFE, did not reject a * plan of creation *, which he considered to be *a fact*, but held that it was the task of science to provide natural causal explanations: