Thursday, July 14, 2005


A couple of weeks ago, I wrote "Silly Rabbit, Tricks Are For Kids," a post exploring my reaction to intelligent design. I wrote then,
"No biology teacher tells his or her students that evolution is proof of God's absence and many respected evolutionary biologists are devout Christians. Faith is a matter of individual choice, not biology class...I have no real beef with I.D. when it isn’t claiming to be a science. The notion that the universe must have been fashioned by a higher being is not new and is one many people, particularly Americans, still hold dear. I see no reason why this should change. However, such 'theories' belong in religious schools or the family living room, not in the biology classroom."
Last night, a good friend of mine told me that his father, the dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, had written a letter to the New York Times in response to the recent article, "Leading Cardinal Redefines Church's View on Evolution" (front page, July 9). I decided to post the letter here.

In a more eloquent and succinct fashion, Reverend Alan Jones communicates something of what I was attempting to say in my post.
"To the Editor:

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn muddies the waters with his statement concerning evolution. The issue is that both 'believers' and 'scientists' tend to trespass on each other's turf.

When a scientist says or implies that life is without meaning, that's trespassing. When a believer claims that 'intelligent design' is scientific, he has stepped over the line. Both start with presuppositions that cannot be proved.

As a believer, I take on faith that there is intelligent design. The scientific evidence tells us that while it cannot be proved, it isn't unreasonable to believe so.

How much longer are we going to be talking at cross-purposes?

(Very Rev.) Alan Jones
San Francisco, July 9, 2005"
While Reverend Jones and I may feel differently about intelligent design, we are both banking on faith. Those folks, like Cardinal Schonborn, who continue to argue over the scientific validity of I.D. or evolution's place in the church are missing the point.


Mikhail Capone said...

"While Reverend Jones and I may feel differently about intelligent design, we are both banking on faith."

Yes, although one believe in something a lot more probable than the other. Occam's Razor and all that.

OGeorge said...

Even after having been raised in a fundamentalist household I still don’t understand religious thinking at all. Trespassing is the wrong word. Religion’s “turf” doesn’t really exist. With every major step forward in science religion has lost a bit of its jurisdiction. Faith and trust are not the same thing and the word faith is often misused.

In the past I’ve said I have “faith” in my brother to come through for me if I’m really in a jam, but that’s not true. What I really have is trust that the person I love and I’ve come to know will respond to my needs. Likewise, I have no “faith” in science or individual scientists. I have trust that the evidence used to justify my acquired knowledge (not beliefs in any religious sense) is valid and any predictions or experiments made can be reproduced and verified. And the “acquired knowledge” I have must change as the evidence changes.

Religion makes all kinds of extraordinary claims based on no evidence at all. Faith is believing in something based on hope and unprovable expectations without any accumulated trust.

Having said all that, I have to admit that I only say it here because whether or not you agree with me, I know you can handle it. I know only too well what faith can do for some people. I lost my father this past Sunday and I’m not about to try to destroy my family members’ faith (or anyone else’s) if they need that faith for comfort. Material naturalism (a positive, alternative word for atheism) has to be acquired on your own.

What faith are you banking on HH?

Devo said...

Wow... quite a caustic appraisal of "faith"... While I don't agree, ogeorge, I certainly understand how one would come to the conclusions you have come to. I don't wanna come off sounding like anything close to a religious nut, cuz I"m most certainly not, but the way I see it, science does a fabulous job of describing "what" or "how" but fails utterly when approaching the question of "why". And I, for one, ask "why" in a far graver and more serious manner than I'd ask "what" or "how". I believe that religion (for lack of a better word... I don't mean to indicate Christian Fundamentalism or Hinduism or any particular religion, but merely the impulse to look for something greater tha one's self that can foster a sense of continuity, direction, community, meaning and significance... I am loath to use a word as debased and diluted by pop culture whores, but the word "spirituality" as opposed to "religion" does spring to mind) allows a far superior approach to these serious inquiries (or more serious as I perceive them)...

As for how MY appraisal of science versus religion affects a debate as muddy and frustrating as "ID"... I certainly agree wtih HH that ID belongs in no way anywhere near a science classroom. However, evolution may actually have a place in certain explorations of spirituality. I know that very few people who frequent HH's blog will be able to take this book seriously, but a man I respect greatly, Ken Wilber, wrote "The Marriage of Sense and Soul" in an attempt to shed some light on why previous efforts to reconcile the two have failed so miserably. It's an interesting read, but in the end, will undoubtedly fail to convince too many people... Another (seemingly) excellent treatment of the topic is Ian Barbour's Religion and Science. I'm constantly intrigued by the dichotomy inherent in the relationship between these two pillars of human experience. One has shaped human social and cultural growth since the first ape had a twinkling of self-aware thought, and the other has ushered in an age of unsurpassed and breackneck-speed change, growth and learning.

Fundamentally, however, it does seem that science relies on faith just as much as religion does. And I think Carl Sagan's Contact communicates that beautifully. At the onion-center of every scientific theory, hypothesis, fact, experiment, postulate or formula is an ineffable and undiscoverable connection with "what is." Big Bang? Probably. But what came before that? Quarks? Of course. Strings? Probably, but what are they made of? Where did they come from? Apparently the universe has a finite size. What's outside of it? etc. and so on...

Hungry Hyaena said...

Speaking of Occam's Razor, check out the latest gem by Jack Hitt in the July 2005 issue of Harper's Magazine. Hitt takes a long, hard look at one of the more fringe hypotheses made by some contemporary anthropologists. In doing so, he suggests that Occam's Razor has been turned on its head by some "pop culture" scientists who now extrapolate reams of information from one bone, whether or not they have any data to back up their claims.

It's good to hear from you. Curiously, I noticed that you had not commented - either here or on some of the other blogs we both frequent - in some time and I immediately thought of your parents. I'm sorry to hear that your father passed away and I hope the end was as painless as possible, for both your father and those he cared about.

As for the faith I am banking on, I think The Vitriolic Monkey has answered for me. I do not believe in a higher power, but as I have written here before, that requires a sort of faith itself. More importantly, the trust you place in scientists is shared by me, but it is faith which makes me feel that the conservation and science can guide humanity to a better life. It is a slowed-down science which I herald, though; the bigger, better, faster approach is repugnant to me.

Both "Material Naturalism" and "Naturalism" are far more attractive to me than "Atheism," because of the negative connotations of the latter word. Because of some of my animist beliefs, though, Naturalism remains my favorite.

I still hate the word "spiritual" and there simply ain't much you can do about it. ;) The "Contact" reference is pertinent. Thanks.

paddalumpakins said...

My issue with "intelligent design" is that the word design is sort of scientific sounding. The Cardinal Schonborn says the following:

"The Catholic Church, while leaving to science many details about the history of life on earth, proclaims that by the light of reason the human intellect can readily and clearly discern purpose and design in the natural world, including the world of living things."

As an assertion, this is just false. He treats "design" as if it were something that any nitwit could measure, when, in fact, it's every bit as non-scientific as, say, love.

Devo said...

Hear hear, St. Snafu! I agree totally. Furthermore, the Catholic Church tends to ignore some pretty egregious contradictions its own scriptures tend to commit, but only once exposed to the "light of reason" so to speak. To defend this light when it serves the Church's own ends but deny it when it exposes fatal flaws in its policies and views, to me, is pretty ridiculous...

deborah said...

Religion and science have never easily co-existed and probably never will. They are attempting to answer the same question through completely different means. The question nowadays in America and Europe is a legal one. Where does one draw the line between church and state?

This becomes more and more difficult as American politicans court the fundamentalist vote. The Supreme Court is further muddying the water with their recent descions on the ten commandments. The commandments are acceptable in a historical context, but not if put up for religious reasons. Does this logical apply to Christmas decoration in a class room? Do we need to put up decorations for Ramadan and Divali or simply ban all religious symbols? Where does the historical Santa end the the religious Christian symbol begin?

I realize that this has wandered from I.D. a bit, but I feel that the root of the argument over I.D. in the classroom is how we see ourselves as a culture shaped by religion. Our we a Christian country no matter what the Constitution and Declaration of Independence say? Are we a secular country without religious guidence at the state level?

I myself am for the latter - I.D has no place in a public school system and there is nothing to prevent a parent from sending their child to Sunday school or preaching over the dinner table ad nauseum. Instead of refuting I. D. we need to strengthen the legal framework around the separation between church and state.

On a related note, Lee Smolin's Life of the Cosmos is an excellent book for anyone interested in creation of complex systems. He looks at the evolution of the universe from a biological (Darwinian)perspective - it is a fascinating read.

Hungry Hyaena said...


I don't think you've strayed from the topic at hand at all. While acceptance of I.D. is up to the individual, the decision to teach I.D. in public schools directly refutes the separation of church and state. You hit the nail on the head; the question is very much one of how we view our society. Trouble is, we are a polarized country, on this issue especially.