ID Works In Mysterious Ways
The following excerpt was originally published in Skeptic magizine (2000).
by Michael Shermer
he hottest area in the search for scientific support of God's existence can be found in the so-called "new creationism" that deals in "irreducible complexity" and especially "Intelligent Design" (ID as it is known among its adherents whose critics, in turn, call them IDiots). I discussed their argument at length in Chapter 5 of How We Believe, but I wanted to comment on the June 22-24 conference I attended at Concordia University, entitled "Intelligent Design and its Critics," because I think it sheds additional light on the motives and psychology of these new creationists.
Although there were some critics at the conference, both on stage and in the audience, it was mostly populated by ID supporters. The conference was partially sponsored by the Templeton Foundation (to the tune of $20,000, I was told by its promoter), and was clearly structured to make it appear that there is a real scientific debate ongoing about Intelligent Design. But as I pointed out in my opening remarks, the conference was being held at a Lutheran college, and just before I was introduced they announced what time chapel would be held the next morning and how to obtain transportation to it. "Who are we kidding here, folks?" I inquired. "You guys claim that you are scientists, that Intelligent Design is science, and that this has nothing whatsoever to do with religion. Yet virtually every one of the ID supporters turns out to be a born again Christian. Can this really be a coincidence?" For these remarks I was later accused of committing the "genetic fallacy," where one attacks the person rather than their arguments. I have certainly never backed down from a good point-by-point argument (see my chapter in Why People Believe Weird Things on "Confronting Creationist: 25 Evolutionist Answers" and Chapter 5 in How We Believe on "O Ye of Little Faith: Proofs of God and What They Tell Us About Faith"). I have participated in numerous debates with creationists and theologians. And, in fact, my participation at this conference was a debate with Stephen Meyer in which I did address many of their points.
For my money, however, the action is not in the arguments of ID, all of which have been thoroughly refuted by myself and others (especially by Kenneth Miller in his superb book Finding Darwin's God), but in the psychology of ID. What is really going on here is old-time religion dressed up in new fangled jargon. It wasn't good enough for scientists in Scope's era and it isn't good enough for scientists today. The language changes but the arguments stay the same. The building is repainted and a new facade plastered on every decade, but their interior retains the same dusty old furniture. What ignites my ire about these people more than anything else is there disingenuousness about their religious motivations. In Why People Believe Weird Things I compared these evolution deniers to Holocaust deniers, pointing out how they use the same style of argumentation and commit the same fallacies of logic in their parallel attempts to distort the historical record for political, ideological, or religious purposes. But at least the Holocaust deniers are honest about their motivations. They don't like Jews and they're not afraid to say so. In fact, they openly and proudly proclaim that theirs is a vital mission against what they believe is an unwarranted level of power on the part of Jews in our culture. Holocaust deniers may be odious, but at the least they are not hiding their agenda. Evolution deniers, by contrast, are a sneaky lot, duplicitous to the core, and they are dangerously successful at slipping in their agenda to unsuspecting school children in America's public school system. Make no mistake about it. Creationists do not want equal time. They want all the time. Theirs is a war on evolution in particular and science in general, and they are as fanatical in their zeal as any religious movement of the past millennia.
Let me be blunt (as if I could be even more so). It is not a coincidence that ID supporters are almost all Christians. It is inevitable. ID arguments are reasons to believe if you already believe. If you do not, the ID arguments are untenable. But I would go further. If you believe in God, you believe for personal and emotional reasons (as I show in Chapter 4 of How We Believe), not out of logical deductions. But, as my data show, highly educated believers, especially men who were raised to be religious, have a strong tendency to defend their beliefs with rational arguments. And looking out over an auditorium of 250 ID supporters at this debate it was overwhelmingly educated males.
The duplicity of the IDers is most apparent, and appalling, in their claim that they are only doing science and, therefore, they cannot comment on the nature of the Intelligent Designer. Why not? Aren't they in the least bit curious who or what this ID is? (Let's cut to the chase here and substitute the letters G-O-D for the letters I-D to describe this creating entity.) If ID operates on the universe and our world, don't the IDers want to know how ID works? They claim, for example, that certain biological systems are "irreducibly complex." A number of different parts of a system could not possibly have come together by chance or through any other Darwinian or natural system, therefore it must have happened supernaturally. Granted, for the sake of argument, that they are right (although they are not), if ID really did put together a number of biochemical components into a single cell in order to enable it to propel itself with a flagellum (as goes their single most popular example, replete with a slick power point video demonstration), don't they want to know how ID did it? Any scientist worth his or her sodium chloride would want to know. I know I would. I'd like to know if ID used telekinesis, or some other mystical force, to push together the parts. But ID supporters claim they don't care how ID did it. The only thing that matters is that He (or She or It) did. "ID works in mysterious ways." What a remarkably unscientific attitude. What an astounding lack of curiosity about the world.
ID theorists also attack scientists' underlying "bias" of methodological naturalism, as if this is some disease we harbor within (and they've got the antidote). It's not fair, they say, that we do not allow supernaturalism into the equation. They (the IDers) are being pushed out of the scientific arena on the basis of nothing other than a fundamental rule of the game. Let's change the rules of the game to allow them to play, they cry. Okay, let's change the rules. Let's allow methodological supernaturalism into science. What would that look like? How would that work? What would we do with supernaturalism? According to ID theorists, they do not and will not comment on the nature of ID. They only wish to say "ID did it." It reminds me of the classic Sidney Harris cartoon showing scientists at an equation-filled chalk board. A gap in the series of calculations is filled with the explanation "Then a miracle occurs." Although they eschew any such "God of the gaps"-style arguments, that is, in fact, precisely what they are doing. They have simply changed the name from GOD to ID.
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