Evolution News and Views (ENV) provides original reporting and analysis about the debate over intelligent design and evolution, including breaking news about scientific research.

Evolution News and Views
History NEWS

Does Intelligent Design Stand Athwart the History of Science Yelling Stop?


An emotionally powerful argument against recognizing intelligent design in nature is that it seems to place you in the position of standing athwart history yelling Stop! ID begins by acknowledging that in probing the origins of life and of the cosmos, material explanations are not always, automatically the best ones.

Materialists, on other hand, deny that any causal chain can be traced back in the end to purpose, wisdom, intelligence. In this denial, aren't they on the side of history? Brute natural forces explain everything in the final analysis -- the progress of science shows this. Or does it? That's the subject of a fine two-part essay by our friend Jonathan Witt over at The Stream.

You could call it the Trend of History argument, the Grand Narrative, or the Oncoming Train. Advocates of scientism say we're stationed perilously in the middle of the tracks and its headed right for us. For an illustration Witt points to a debate between Stephen Meyer and an ID critic, Steve Matheson:

In a public debate at Biola University in California, an old Discovery Institute colleague of mine, philosopher of science Stephen Meyer, laid out that argument, and biologist and intelligent design skeptic Steve Matheson actually agreed with him -- up to a point. "You said that we reason backwards from what we know works, which is that intelligence makes codes," Matheson said. "I'll agree with that. ... We reason back and say, therefore, this is the one explanation we know that can do this. I buy that. I get it."

But then Matheson demurred: "Everywhere I look, and every time I look, if I wait long enough, there is a natural and even materialistic explanation to things." This strong historical trend, he insisted, decisively counsels against swallowing Meyer's intelligent design explanation.

Matheson, in other words, conceded that the historical pattern of information always leading back to mind does suggest intelligent design as the explanation for the origin of DNA, but he insisted that this historical pattern is trumped by a higher-level historical pattern -- what we might call scientism's grand progress narrative.

In common parlance this grand narrative runs like this: Humans used to attribute practically every mysterious force in nature to the doings of the gods -- lightning bolts, plagues, you name it. They stuffed a god into any and every gap in their knowledge of the natural world, shrugged, and moved on. Since then, the number of gaps has been shrinking without pause, filled with purely material explanations for everything from lightning bolts to romantic attraction. And all the movement is away from God and toward purely material explanations. The lesson of the grand narrative: Always hold out for the purely material explanation, even when the evidence points strongly in the other direction. Philosophical materialism, in other words, is our manifest destiny. Expect it to colonize everything in the cosmos.

It's a grand tale, to be sure. It's just not the case.

The Trend of History argument insists that refusing to submit to scientism sets you in the path of a hurtling locomotive. Jonathan Witt's essay cites numerous developments in cosmology and biology, from macro to micro, strongly suggesting that the rushing engine before us is a phantom. He places this in a theological context -- which of course the science of ID does not require -- making a good case that evidence for God is growing, not shrinking. Don't miss Jonathan's citations from two Nobel Laureates, physicist Charles Townes and astrophysicist Arno Penzias.

It's an excellent antidote to an otherwise persuasive tranquilizer against critical thinking about science. Read it here and here.

Image credit: Les Meloures at lb.wikipedia [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.