September 7, 2006

The Danger of Siding with Intelligent Design

To surrender to ignorance and call it God has always been premature, and it remains premature today. - Isaac Asimov

Dr. Raesly, our resident evolutionary biology professor at FSU, was extremely gracious in taking time out of a busy day - and a trip to the field - to have a little chat with me about Intelligent Design (ID) before he hosts his forum on "Science, Religion and Intelligent Design."

We talked for about a half hour and Raesly brought up some great points that I would like to share.

We talked about Gould's NOMA model briefly, and he showed me some neat little graphics depicting the filters of religious and scientific filters that people place on the domains of knowledge: personal experience, history, art, religion and science. I definitely want incorporate these into my article on ID next week.

Gould was a proponent of keeping science and religion exclusive; NOMA is an acronym for "nonoverlapping magisteria," specifically science and religion (I differ from Gould somewhat; I personally believe that there is an interpretable yet unexplored cross section of all the domains or "magesteria" of knowledge, but we are so taken with specializations that such an analysis remains out of reach).

Like Gould, Raesly feels that there is no conflict between science and religion.

"Everyone understands the world in different ways," he said. "Science is one.

Raesly believes that most people that identify with and support ID are fundamentalist Christians that are truly concerned with the directions our country has taken towards secular humanism. It's a distaste for what is called "methodological naturalism" that is inherent and necessary in science.

"ID is not science. The fundamentalists perceive the 'materialism' of science as damaging to the moral fabric of our country," said Raesly. "But it's not fear. I don't begrudge people their beliefs. They are legitimately concerned with our society. I believe they do want to see a better world."

If science is robbed of methodological naturalism, the door is left wide open for "studying" supernatural causation of phenomena, which is, of course, what ID is all about. Raesly believes that ID is basically a guise for getting around the church/state separation and slipping creationism back into science.

"ID is counter-productive," said Raesly. "If certain religious groups begin to side with the idea that things are too complex for us to know, when discoveries are made and things are shown to be explainable, this tends to erode religion."

ID seems to have caught on especially well in America, which Raesly attributes to both the sorry state of science education in this country as well as our foundational American philosophy.

"I think ID has gained a foothold here because Americans value all points of view. We believe that we should hear all sides of an issue and then come to a consensus," said Raesly.

"But science is not a democracy," I said.

"Science is definitely not a democracy," he replied.

In this coming Wednesday's Bottom Line, I will have a column about ID, an article about our conversation and the purpose of Raesly's forum, a more detailed podcast about ID, and a blog entry covering the details of the forum on Tuesday evening.

Also published here.


  1. I think these arguments always go this way. It's very Bertrand Russell because the premises laid out here can only lead to one conclusion - which is not what science is about.

    He is convinced ID is wrong - or that he doesn't want to be lumped in with people who think it is right - and goes from there.

    Using the gauge of Dr. Raesly, biology isn't science either. Most science isn't science using the criteria he uses for ID. If he requires proof, they're both out. If he requires only evidence he likes, he is going to win. ;-)

  2. Biology might not quite hit the ideal of Science -- I'm not sure how you mean that, but I'll admit it's possible -- but ID is about as much "science" as a cheese sandwich is.

    I agree with Dr. Raesly that there is significant discomfort with scientific materialism, but I'm not sure that fundamentalism is a satisfactory response. I find fundamentalism to be a very materialist view of religion. But that, I think, will be a seperate blog post at Thudfactor.

  3. Thanks for commenting guys.

    Yeah, I'm not sure that I understand exactly what you're getting at, Chief.

    Raesly did not say anything about ID being wrong; he is maintaining that it is not science.

    Also, I don't think he said anything about "proof" either. I think he is saying that science can only study natural phenomena, and that is why ID is not science.

    Bertrand Russell's conclusion is not a necessary one. I'm not a fan of mixing philosophy with science, and as you well know, drawing metaphysical conclusions from scientific evidence requires an extra step outside the realm of science.

  4. Sounds like a really interesting interview! We don't have an evolutionary biologist at my university. Sniff. :-( I think his point about the sorry state of science education is dead-on. That's one of the main reasons people are so easily taken in by ID... I've found that people I argue with about evolution vs. ID don't really understand evolution at all. They think evolution has "a purpose" of creating more complex organisms... they think that evolution would cause a frog to evolve into a raccoon. Most people who support ID are just fundamentalists who know a tiny bit about science, but not enough to know what it's really all about.

  5. Anonymous6:55 PM

    thanks for the post, but please change your format and lose the black background. I've visited numerous times, esp. Skeptics Circle, but I always have to highlight your text to read it. just my opinion, of course