Intelligent design (ID) is not a scientific discipline. It’s a political, social and religious movement – and this is sometimes admitted by their spokespersons. For example, Phillip Johnson said in 1996: “This isn’t really, and never has been, a debate about science . . . It’s about religion and philosophy.” As such ID/creationism is more of an issue for Christianity than it is for science.
The attacks made by ID/creationism on evolutionary theory are often interpreted as arising from a conflict between religion and science. A conflict arising from a discrepancy between scientific knowledge and religious beliefs. But that is too simpleminded as many Christians don’t see a conflict between their beliefs and scientific knowledge.
These attacks on science are really attacks on pro-science Christianity. The rise of modern science in Europe several hundred years ago was paralleled by the rise of a pro-science theology within Christianity. This was a theological acceptance of a god-created universe which is ordered and “law-abiding.” Further, it accepted that humanity was able to investigate and understand reality. Of course, this conflicted, and still does, with theological ideas which deny a “law-abiding” universe, which uses supernatural explanations and denies the possibility of humanity ever understanding important aspects of reality.
The Wedge strategy
The theological differences are apparent in the evolution – ID/creationism conflict. They include different interpretations of scientific method (see Intelligent design and scientific method) and the possibility of investigating and understanding living organisms. Many ID/creationism documents confirm that the real targets of the ID movement are relgion, philosophy and society. For example, the Wedge Strategy reveals plans of the movement for the “Spiritual and Cultural renewal” of society. The document lists their five year objectives as:
“Mainline renewal movements begin to appropriate insights from design theory, and to repudiate theologies influenced by materialism
Major Christian denomination(s) defend(s) traditional doctrine of creation & repudiate(s)
Darwinism Seminaries increasingly recognize & repudiate naturalistic presuppositions
Positive uptake in public opinion polls on issues such as sexuality, abortion and belief in God.”
The strategy’s twenty-year goals include:
“To see design theory application in specific fields, including . . . . psychology, ethics, politics, theology and philosophy in the humanities; to see its influence in the fine arts.
To see design theory permeate our religious, cultural, moral and political life.”
The Wedge activists make no real secret of their attempts to change the direction of modern Christianity. They are active in Christian seminaries, Christian schools and universities and academic theology generally. Many of the activists see theology as their main interest and their academic training and qualifications are primarily in this discipline. Wedge activists see Christians as their “natural constituency’ and they do have an undeniable influence here.
Surveys indicate that a bit more than 40% of NZ Christians, and something like 60% of US Christians, reject scientific explanations of evolution. (see New Zealand supports evolution and UMR Research Survey: Morality, Religion and Evolution). This support is unsurprising. After all modern science has undermined so many old religious teachings. And the creationist arguments may seem more intuitive to rank-and-file Christians than the pro-science declarations of their ministers and priests. It’s only natural that many Christians feel their beliefs threatened by science in areas such as origins of life, humanity and the universe. It’s only natural they feel an emotional attachment to creationist ideas.
But that is the nature of science – even the most beautiful theory must give way to empirical facts. And many Christians have been able to make that adjustment without losing their basic religious beliefs. Many, if not most modern New Zealand Christians have accepted modern scientific knowledge and rejected the opposing literal and fundamentalist beliefs.
Science is not the enemy
It’s disturbing, though, that many pro-science Christians still feels some sympathy for the ID/creationist arguments and are influence by Wedge activists. They interpret the issue as a conflict between science and religion, rather than a conflict within Christianity. They too often stand aside as if the conflict is not their problem.
Christians should be aware that science is not their enemy. Their real enemy is within – those Christians who want to return knowledge to pre-enlightenment times. Who want to replace knowledge based on evidence and reason by supernatural explanations. Who want to replace democratic society (including its religious organisations) by theocratic dictate.
A Christian theologist, Levellers, discusses the evolution-ID/creationism debate at Creation and Evolution 6: The Nature of Scientific Inquiry
Video of lecture by Ken Miller The Collapse of Intelligent Design (1 hr 57 min)
Intelligent design and scientific method
Can religion answer the questions science can’t?
Bringing the supernatural into science
Intelligent design – a war on science
New Zealand supports evolution
Intelligent design at the shopping mall
Intelligent design attacks on Christianity
Isaac Newton and intelligent design
Evolution’s threat to religion?