The National Center for ID Obfuscation - Evolution News & Views

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The National Center for ID Obfuscation

speakers-branch.jpgArguing with Darwinian fundamentalists is frustrating because while you just want to have a reasonable conversation, they are trying to save your soul. They think you need an intervention, not a fair hearing.

Still, I did learn a couple of things from my exchange (see here and here) with Glenn Branch of the National Center for Science Education. For one thing, they are confused about what ID is. Branch (pictured at right) has two theories. The first is that ID is a conspiracy to overthrow science. When he is in this mode, Branch comes across like an amateur detective trying to solve the assassination of JFK. In his post on the NCSE group blog, Branch relates how some other guy tells a story about Michael Behe. This other person, "after a long night of drinking," was purportedly talking to Behe and heard Behe admit that he did not know precisely how God created irreducibly complex organisms. When finally pressed (poor Mike Behe, I can related to how these Darwinians just keep barking at you in order to wear you down), Behe reportedly said that God suspended the laws of physics by means of a "A puff of smoke!"

Wow! A second-hand account from an admittedly intoxicated witness of a supposed late night confession (in a dark and smoky bar with the wind whistling through the windows and a mysterious inn keeper preparing haggis, no doubt) is offered as evidence of what ID theorists really believe. I am surprised that Behe's companion did not also ask him where exactly he was positioned when he fired -- in a window of the Texas School Book Depository or somewhere on the grassy knoll?

But that is only the first of Branch's theories about what ID is. His second is that ID is a "big tent" that tries "to be all things to all people, or at least all antievolutionists." That is an allusion to the Apostle Paul (1 Cor. 9:22), but Branch goes further by quoting the Book of Revelation's criticism of the Church of Laodicea: "I know thy works, that thou are neither cold nor hot. I would thou wert cold or hot. So, then because thou are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spue thee out of my mouth" (Rev. 3:15-16, KJV). By trying to be all things to all people (which Paul thought was a good thing, by the way), ID theorists are, I guess, heading straight to Hell.

So which is it? Is ID a politically savvy big tent movement with overly malleable positions or a hierarchically controlled organization with a secret core identity?

Of course it is neither. It is a scientific paradigm with philosophical assumptions and theological implications, like any other major scientific paradigm. It might be wrong, but Darwinians can't analyze it in terms of its truth or falsity, since they don't believe it is a theory. When they define it as a conspiracy, they are always able to say, "Well, that's what you say ID is, but you don't really mean that. You are hiding the truth." And when they define it as a big tent movement that tries to please everybody, they can say, "You are a cultural movement trying to please the political Right, not a scientific enterprise, so we can bombard you with partisan rhetoric rather than listen to your arguments."

You can see this contradictory rhetoric in Branch's attempt to define ID as a movement that pretends to be scientific in order to justify the view that God intervenes into nature. Branch admits that ID theorists have repeatedly said that they are neutral about the concept of divine intervention. But then he tells the story that I summarized above as evidence that ID is "really" all about the theology of intervention. And when I challenged him on this, he accused me of "thinking of 'intelligent design' as you would like for it to be," not as it really is. In other words, I am treating ID as a big tent that provides room for different theological views, which is the wrong way to treat ID, even though that is one of the ways in which Branch himself defined ID.

Now, the concept of divine intervention is theologically complex. The point I tried to make to Branch is that ID is not committed to such intervention in terms of what its empirical research implies. That is for two reasons. First, ID is not committed to a mechanistic metaphysics of nature, whereby the world runs like a clock and anyone who wants to alter the time on the clock must make a change in its mechanical parts. A mechanical view of biology is deeply ingrained in Darwinism, since Darwinians believe that evolution works with the predictability of a clock, but mechanistic metaphysics is not necessarily a part of ID.

And second, looking for a better analogy, you could say ID thinks about a designer's engagement with physical processes in terms of the mind's relationship to the body (or the world at hand). Minds don't need to intervene in the world since they are already, in some sense, a part of the world, so the word "intervention" does not really do justice to how God or another source of design in nature relates to the world either.

I argued, in fact, that the idea of such intervention is dependent on a mechanistic worldview. So: No mechanistic worldview, no intervention. To this, Branch replied: "Even if God doesn't have to violate (or, less tendentiously, suspend) the laws of nature in order to alter the course of natural history, it isn't incoherent to suppose that God can do so." Well, that is true, I suppose, but it says nothing about the points I raised.

You see, Darwinians are fundamentally committed to the idea that ID is fundamentally committed to a divine interventionist view of God's causal relation to the world. The reason why is obvious: "Intervention" sounds like a dirty word to scientists, since it conjures something outside of nature breaking into natural processes.

That's the game Darwinians play: Define causation in the narrowest possible manner, and then proclaim that ID affirms supernatural causation, which, from the perspective of a narrow view of causation, is nothing more than an oxymoron. In other words, use the word "intervention" as a scare tactic to bully anyone who might imagine that God has many ways of relating to nature. Indeed, if God is truly like a mind and the world like a body, then intervention is simply a wrong way of looking at divine action. While Darwinians pretend to know what ID's theology really is, one of the great things about ID is that it in fact leaves such questions up to the theologians, where they belong.

Photo source: National Center for Science Education.