Faith & Science
Second Verse Same as the First: Practice Science, Follow the Evidence Where it Leads
I might have titled this post, “Eastern Mystics Join Western Fundamentalist Conspiracy,” except that there are those out there that would howl to the highest that I had finally admitted we are fundamentalists with a secret conspiracy. (First, I’m fundamentally not a fundamentalist, and the so-called “secret conspiracy” is neither secret nor a conspiracy.) Instead, I have a title that neatly sums up the point made in the Asian Tribune today, titled Is our evolving universe an intelligent design?, by essayist Vasantha Raja. It is an excellent article in which Raja shows that following the evidence where it leads isn’t a fundamentalist conspiracy to convert the world in whichever direction at all, it is rather what the scientific method should really be about.
According to Raja:
What follows below does not approve or reject the visions of any particular religion. But the point I want to make is that scientists can seriously consider the Intelligent Design model without committing to the existence of a personal God; also through it science can enhance the scientific enterprise’s heuristic power and overcome the ongoing creationist/evolutionist dichotomy.
Throughout the article Raja comes back to the problems with the scientific method as it is currently understood and used throughout the scientific community — namely, that it is in actuality methodological naturalism — and is hampering, and likely even cutting off, productive lines of scientific research.
However, the problems seem to occur at least from two sources: one, the naturalist tendency to resort to chance, random or accidental processes of unthinking matter to explain mystifyingly complex phenomena; two, dogmatic adherence to ‘gradual evolution’ when the processes in the world have clearly defied it in favour of ‘qualitative leaps’.
In The Design Revolution, William Dembski writes:
The idea here is that science is a method for investigating nature and that to understand nature scientists must only invoke ‘natural processes.’ In this context the term ‘natural processes’ means processes operating entirely according to unbroken natural laws and characterized by chance and necessity. … One of the consequences of methodolocial naturalism is to exclude intelligent design from science.
Anyone who has seen Dembski, or Stephen Meyer or Paul Nelson or Jonathan Wells, or any other of CSC’s senior scientists speak about intelligent design will be familiar with how methodological naturalism simply rules out intelligent design in any way, shape or form before research is even undertaken. ID is simply not given a seat at the table.
Franklin M. Harold wrote in The Way of the Cell, (Oxford University Press, 2001, p. 205)
We should reject, as a matter of principle, the substitution of intelligent design for the dialogue of chance and necessity (Behe 1996); but we must concede that there are presently no detailed Darwinian accounts of the evolution of any biochemical system, only a variety of wishful speculations. (emphasis mine)
That is exactly the sort of scientific method about which Raja is writing.
Raja points out the same simple fact that we have been emphasizing for years whenever we ask scientists to simply follow the evidence where it leads.
It’s not whether a theory has religious or anti-religious implications that determines its scientific validity, but whether it is grounded in evidence. The more we learn about the evidence, the more it points to intelligent design as a better explanation than Darwinian evolution for many features of living things.
Raja argues that the enourmous amounts of genetic information found in DNA could not have arisen simply by chance and necessity alone, saying “the immense amounts of complex information needed in systematically creating higher life-forms cannot be conceivably explained as products of gradual mutation.” He is open to the inference to design as a better explanation. Stephen Meyer has eloquently and repeatedly made this argument. Whenever we find complex information, we find intelligence as the source of that information.
As the pioneering information theorist Henry Quastler observed, “Information habitually arises from conscious activity.” A computer user who traces the information on a screen back to its source invariably comes to a mind, that of a software engineer or programmer. Similarly, the information in a book or newspaper column ultimately derives from a writer–from a mental, rather than a strictly material, cause. Thus, what we know about the present cause and effect structure of the world suggests intelligent design as an obvious explanation for the information necessary to build living systems.
As he relates the insistence of the scientific community to adhere to methodolifical naturalism as the scientific method, Raja continually hits the nail on the head:
Thus, the restriction on our legitimate capacity to abstract from what is externally given to us seems to me to be a major problem in science. This seems to be another limitation of scientific methodology as it stands today. …
The point I am trying to drive home is this: The ‘Intelligent Design’ hypothesis needs not in any way hamper the scientists’ effort to develop a convincing model that explains the evolving universe through itself. But the scientists may well have to get rid of their own prejudices originating primarily from the empiricist world outlook to do so.
So it isn’t just Western fundamentalists who see the inference to design as the best explanation for the complexity and diversity of life we see in the universe. Here is someone who is approaching the subject from a different viewpoint, and yet he sees what is universally true, that in science we have to follow the evidence where it leads. This is an example of someone making design arguments who is perhaps further from a fundamentalist than even I am.