During the 17 and 18th centuries, Western Europe entered into a period known as the enlightenment. The enlightenment gets its name from the fact that people living during that era believed that they were living in enlightened times compared to previous generations. With regard to science, they were right. They witnessed unprecedented scientific discovery. However, at the same time, the enlightenment was un-enlightening in a spiritual sense. It produced a spiritual malaise in science that continues to this day.
Efforts to minimize the role of deity during the enlightenment were largely spearheaded by French thinkers known as philosophes, such as Diderot (1713-1784), Voltaire (1694-1778), and Montesquieu (1689-1755). These philosophes were writers and publicists who read abstruse scientific treatises and books by theistic scientists like Newton and Galileo, and re-wrote them in the vernacular. In these re-writings the philosophes downplayed the role of deity and eliminated references to a higher power while elevating human reason and scientific experimentation as the great arbiters of truth. As a result, Western European science became prideful of its scientific accomplishments and few scholars were willing to recognize the influence and handiwork of the Almighty.
One can imagine how the theist pioneers of modern science might have felt about the secularization of science. Science historian Brian Silver gives us some idea. Regarding the enlightenment, he wrote, "Newton neither foresaw nor intended any of this. He was not the John the Baptist of [i.e., the one who prepared the way for] the enlightenment, and he would not have been at home with its ideals." I am certain that the same could be said for other theists like Boyle, Descartes, and Galileo.
As the influence of deity was being removed from science, some scholars filled the void by championing a watered down belief system known as deism. Bruce R. McConkie described deism as "the partial acceptance of God, that is, deists profess to believe in him as the Creator of the world . . . but they reject the idea that he rules over or guides men during the interval between the creation and the judgment." In other words, deists believe that the Lord is a disinterested creator whose only involvement with humanity occurred during the creation. They assert that after the creation he left the world to run on its own according to natural laws that he had established. He is like a watchmaker who, after building a watch and setting it to work on its own, has no continual involvement with its function.
Why is deism popular today? The answer is that it allows us to recognize a supreme creator while preserving the notion that natural laws are the only forces at work in the world. Thus we can go on with science and focus on natural law-driven processes without having to consider the possibility of other forces. This fits nicely with our modern understanding of science as being concerned with natural, not supernatural forces. Sounds good, right?
While believing in a creator is better than believing in none at all, there is a downside to deism. Because it rejects divine involvement, deism denies the mission of the Jesus Christ, thus rejecting the Savior’s atonement. Consider also that if, as deists claim, the creator does not reveal himself to his creations, then he is unknowable. The belief that he is unknowable has led to some obscure deistic conceptions about God. For example, according to one deist, the creator is “the ground and source of our sense of wonderment, of power, of powerlessness, of light, of dark, of meaning, and of bafflement. . . . It is the god of mystics of all cultures and creeds. We look out into the sea of mystery and speak his name. His name eludes all creeds and theories of science. He is indeed the ‘dread essence beyond logic.’” I think it would be difficult communing with such a god.
Other deists equate God with nature, a belief known as pantheism. A 17th century scholar who promoted this view was Benedict Spinoza. Spinoza’s phrase “Deus sive Natura,” or “God or Nature”, suggests that the creator is nature, the structure of the cosmic order, operating according to blind universal laws and devoid of divine purpose. “Spinoza’s God . . . [can]not be spoken to, [does] not respond if prayed to, [and is] very much in every particle of the universe.” Similar pantheistic-style beliefs have influenced scientists such as Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking. Is it any wonder, then, that deists view the creator as a detached and impersonal entity? Certainly it would be difficult communing with such a god, but then again, why pray when no one is really listening?
Finally, because scientific deists are not big on prayer, they are unlikely to petition the creator for assistance in their endeavors. How many missed opportunities has science encountered? I wonder where science would be today if most scientists humbled themselves in prayer and asked for help? We will never know. Equally important is the issue of ingratitude. The creator is the main benefactor of scientific knowledge and discovery, yet deists who don’t realize this are unlikely to give thanks for breakthroughs. In the true spirit of the enlightenment, they think that science and reason did it all. Joseph F. Smith put it this way:
In all the great modern discoveries in science, in the arts, in mechanics, and in all material advancement of the age, the world says, "We have done it." The individual says, "I have done it," and he gives no honor or credit to God. Now, I read in the revelations through Joseph Smith, the prophet, that because of this, God is not pleased with the inhabitants of the earth but is angry with them because they will not acknowledge his hand in all things.
In the next post we will take a look at scientific atheism.
Please answer this skill testing question before continuing with the rest of the post.
“What movement makes a claim about the natural world that is consistent with the gospel, yet despised by several prominent LDS science bloggers, hated by 99.9% of the BYU Department of Biology faculty, and even distrusted by famous LDS author Orson Scott Card?”
If you said Intelligent Design, you are right.
Why do so many LDS scholars despise ID? This is the first post in a 3-part series which seeks to answer this question.
I am sure most of you have heard about intelligent design. Discussions surrounding ID are polarizing and have the tendency to stir up strong emotions on both sides of the debate.
Personally I am not an IDer, yet I am intrigued by it central tenet. It advocates a perspective consistent with LDS theology, that intelligence created the complex natural world in which we live. However, simply making a claim consistent with LDS theology doesn’t make ID a legitimate and worthwhile endeavor.
In order to truly understand ID, I am stepping out of the emotionally charged atmosphere and evaluating ID from an empirco-rational perspective. These posts contain commendations, criticisms, and cautions. I do not grant favors to ID just because I like its central tenet. Any paradigm wanting acceptance by the prestigious scientific community must satisfy the standards of modern science on its own merits.
Let’s take a close look at the merits of ID.
The Discovery Institute is the leading “think tank” on intelligent design. I went to its website and found 7 major claims of the ID movement. I present each claim along with evaluative comments.
Claim 1. The basic tenet of ID is that there is undeniable evidence pointing to intelligence in the design of nature.
Taken at face value, there is nothing in this tenet that precludes ID from being scientific. Notice that it does not claim that the source of intelligence is God. If it said that the intelligence is a supernatural deity, then that would be problematic because science concerns itself with the natural world, not the supernatural. However, ID does not explicitly invoke deity which is good because science deals with the natural, not supernatural.
Claim 2. ID is a scientific enterprise.
ID is seeking full acceptance by the scientific community. It wants to be treated as a first class scientific pursuit. Whether it deserves to be called a science depends on whether its actions fit the traditional definition of science, and whether it follows an accepted scientific approach. The second post will address this issue.
Claim 3. ID is not creationism.
Creationism generally refers to a biblical, young earth creation perspective of the world. Many critics of ID claim that ID is repackaged creationism or a rebranding of creationism; however, just saying so does not make it so. The Discovery Institute says that it is not creationism and I’ve seen nothing in today’s ID which indicates that it is creationism. However, there is evidence to suggest that ID is an outgrowth of creationism. Nevertheless, we must judge ID by what it is today, not by its historical roots.
Claim 4. Evolution should be taught in schools.
That’s right, ID accepts evolution as scientific. ID is pro-evolution in the sense that it claims that evolution belongs in the science curriculum.
Claim 5. Science education must explore the weaknesses of evolution.
Sounds good, as long as the counterarguments are empirico-rational, and not religious in nature. Evolutionary hypotheses are not irrefutable. Like every other scientific theory, it has its weaknesses. Evolutionists should willingly entertain the theory’s weaknesses; this will make the theory stronger or possibly lead to its replacement by a better theory. Either way, we are moving closer to the truth about the natural world and that is a good thing.
Claim 6. Teaching ID in schools does not violate the separation of the church and state clause.
I agree. ID does not explicitly state the existence of God. Even if it did, I still don’t think there would be a constitutional problem. The separation of church and state refers to organized religion, not a personal belief in deity. Believing in God is not quite the same thing as Mormonism, Catholicism, and Protestantism.
Claim 7. School teachers should not be forced to teach ID.
The Discovery Institute does not want ID politicized. If ID is to gain credibility, it must be done through the scientific process, not political fiat. The Discovery Institute opposes the Pennsylvania Dover School District’s 2004 attempt to mandate teaching ID into the school curriculum. The school board’s misguided efforts led to the Kitzmiller vs. Dover trial wherein ID was misrepresented and misjudged by Judge John Jones. The judge’s ruling set back the ID movement tremendously.
In the next post I discuss whether ID satisfies the traditional definition of scientific activity. Some critics claim that it does not.
Lehi was a great philosopher whose philosophical contributions have been under recognized. He contributed to humanity’s understanding of agency and ontology long before Aristotle (384 – 322 BC), Plato (427 – 347 BC), Socrates (469 – 399 BC), Confucius (circa 551 – 479 BC), and even Pythagoras (circa 580 - 500 BC).We don’t hear much about his philosophical contributions because his ideas came out of the New World through a record hidden from the world for over a thousand years.
Second Nephi, chapter 2 contains 4 major philosophical and theological truths that are worth mentioning.They are (1) the symbiosis of good and evil, (2) the irrational implications of moral relativism, (3) the essential nature of moral agency, and (4) the symbiosis of joy and misery.
1.The symbiosis of good and evil.“For it must needs be that there is an opposition in all things.If it were not so . . . righteousness could not be brought to pass. . . . Wherefore, all things must needs be compound in one.” (verse 11)
To a certain extent righteousness is defined by its opposite, evil, and evil is defined by its opposite, righteousness.Righteousness is what it is because it is contrasted with evil, and evil is what it is because it is contrasted with righteousness.When Lehi wrote that all things must be compounded into one, he was saying that if one ceased existing, the other would cease existing as well.In modern day language we might say that righteousness and evil are two sides of the same coin.One side of the coin relies on the other side for its existence.Consider that if you removed the “heads” from a coin it would no longer be a coin, and thus the “tails” would cease to exist as well. There are no "heads" without "tails", and there is no righteousness without evil.
2.The irrational implications of moral relativism.“And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin.If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. . . . And if there be no righteousness . . . . [then] there is no God.And if there is no God . . . there could have been no creation . . . [and] all things must have vanished away.” (verse 13)
Moral relativism claims that there is no divine law governing what is good and bad behavior, and thus any behavior that feels good and does not hurt others is appropriate.Relativism also asserts that, because there is no law, there is no sin or evil. However, as Lehi pointed out, if there is no sin then there could be no righteousness because they are opposite sides of the same coin, and without righteousness there could be no God because He is perfect and glorified. Finally, if there were no God there could be no creation and everything would vanish into nothingness.But the universe is not in a state of nothingness because we know we are here.The reality of our existence puts moral relativism on a shaky foundation. When carried to its logical conclusion, it is an intellectually bankrupt enterprise.
3.The essential nature of moral agency.“Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other.” (verse 16)
In this verse Lehi is referring to the power to choose between good and evil (moral agency).There are two essential influences that must exist for mankind to exercise its moral agency and thus qualify for a kingdom of glory – they are the influences of good and evil.We cannot qualify for exaltation without being enticed by evil influences (and eschewing them), and we cannot qualify for exaltation without being enticed by righteous influences (and choosing to follow them).Evil enticements come from Satan and his followers, and righteous enticements come from the Spirit of the Lord.Both are necessary for agency to exist.
4.The symbiosis of joy and misery.“[W]herefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin.” (verse 23)
This verse refers to the essentiality of the Fall of Adam.Adam and Eve could only feel true joy after falling from the presence of God and experiencing the misery that comes with telestial, mortal existence.And so it goes with us.Living through mortality with all its misery and suffering is essential if we are to truly understanding the joy that comes with the Plan of Redemption. The Plan of Redemption is sometimes called the Plan of Happiness, and for good reason. Those who experience redemption after enduring the trials of mortality will experience immense happiness. This concept can be extended to other areas of life, such as that we appreciate the joys of health through sickness and we appreciate the joys of success through failure.Of course, we do not need to purposely create misery, sickness, and failure to experience their opposites, these things just seem to find us in mortal existence.
In many respects, these profound ideas are superior to contributions from more recognizable philosophers who came centuries later. I think this makes Lehi one of the most under recognized philosophers in the history of the world.
In my study of epistemology (i.e., knowing and how we know), I have come to the conclusion that spiritual ways of knowing can be just as certain as empirical (visual) ways of knowing.
For some time I believed that spiritual knowing lacked the certainty that we attribute to empirical knowing. I mean, most people would agree that seeing something is more certain than spiritually ‘feeling’ something. After re-evaluating this position and the evidence, I think it is false.
I have come to the conclusion that there is just as much certainty in spiritual experience as there is in empirical experience. Consider times when the spirit bears powerful testimony of the Book of Mormon, when the Lord directly answers heartfelt prayers, and when the power of God is felt through priesthood blessings. We can know that those experiences are real. For many they are just as real as reading this post on a computer screen. I have experienced this sort of thing myself. I have had spiritual experiences where I know something supernatural happened.
Alma commented on the certainty of spiritual experiences in his address to the Amalekites. Regarding the experiment of planting a seed of faith (Alma 32), he wrote that when we plant a seed of faith, it will swell, sprout, and begin to grow. This swelling, sprouting, and growing refer to the spirit working in our lives. Planting a seed of faith causes us to feel the spirit more strongly, to see that it is good.
Can we be certain that something good is happening to us? Alma’s answer is “Yea.” He wrote that “ye must needs know that the seed is good.” Herein lies the certainty. “Your knowledge is perfect in that thing . . . for ye know that the word hath swelled your souls, and ye also know that it hath sprouted up, that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand.” In other words, we know that the spiritual experiences are real. We know that something good and supernatural has happened to us.
But wait a minute; I thought faith was not having a perfect knowledge. Where does the uncertainty come into play? Alma explains it this way: “and now behold, after ye have tasted this light is your knowledge perfect? Nay.” He is saying that while we are certain of having had spiritual experiences, we still lack perfect knowledge of God and the power of the priesthood and prayer. There is so much more for us to learn. The more we exercise faith in the Lord, the more knowledge we will receive. We can continue to acquire knowledge through faith until we reach the point where, like the Brother of Jared, we receive a perfect knowledge of the Lord.
Our certain spiritual experiences are what allow us to rationally declare “I know God lives”, “I know the priesthood power is real”, and “I know the Book of Mormon is true.” Although we lack a perfect knowledge of these things, the experiences which led to our testimony of these things are as real as the chair you are sitting on. As Alma pointed out, these experiences are clearly “discernible.”
A couple of weeks ago a very good post on abduction appeared on Mormon Organon (view it here). In that post, Mr. Peck correctly argues that abduction, or inference to the best explanation as it is sometimes called, refers to a sort of logical competition between theories. A theory that explains a body of evidence better than its rival theory is more reasonable to accept. If we apply this concept to theories on the origins and complexities of species, evolution is the clear winner, although probably more by default than anything else. But this explains why evolution is so widely accepted. It is simply the best scientific theory available for explaining the origins and complexities of life.
Mr. Peck also effectively pointed out that most theories are created through accumulating observation and empirical facts. The process of collecting empirical facts and creating a suitable theory that explains those facts is sometimes referred to as an inductive generalization. Put differently, an inductive generalization involves moving from many observations to a single, explanatory theory. Many great theories like evolution have been created via inductive generalizations. Creating scientific theories through inductive generalizations is not a theoretical faux pas or scientific weakness; it is just one aspect of how science progresses.
So far we have only considered the logic of theory discovery. As stated above, scientific abduction plays a role in determining which theories gain prominence. It also plays a role in determining which theory will be singled out for confirmatory investigation, however, the process of confirming a theory through testing is different from abduction.
The most common approach to confirming scientific theories is the hypothetico-deductive (H-D) model of science. In short, the H-D model of science involves deducing observational hypotheses from a theory and testing those hypotheses in a controlled setting. If the results are consistent with the theory’s expectations, then the theory is tentatively confirmed. If the results are not consistent with the theory’s expectations, then the theory is tentatively disconfirmed.
Not all H-D tests of hypotheses are created equal. Influential philosopher of science Karl Popper pointed out that an ideal test of a hypothesis is one that is falsifiable and addresses, as much as possible, the core tenets of the theory. Popper called it making a risky prediction.
Theories that repeatedly survive falsifiable tests and risky predictions gain “certainty” status; we become so certain of their truthfulness that we start calling them laws instead of theories. Theories that have repeatedly survived falsifiable, risky predictions include Relativity, gravity, and the Germ Theory of Disease, to name a few.
Now, because of lengthy time requirements needed for testing falsifiable macroevolutionary hypotheses that make risky predictions a’la the H-D model of science, macroevolution has not risen to the same level of certainty we typically associate with Relativity and gravity. Relativity and gravity have repeatedly undergone crucial testing. In most cases, the results of these tests have been confirmatory (i.e., 1919 Sir Arthur Eddington solar eclipse expedition, atomic clocks in airplanes, and every time you drop your pen it falls, as predicted.)
I don’t have a problem with people saying that they personally accept the certainty of the theory of common descent. Evolution’s pre-eminence in the game of scientific abduction makes this statement legitimate. I do have a problem with people claiming that macroevolution and common descent have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. IMO, the scarcity of confirmed falsifiable and crucial tests of macroevolutionary processes does not warrant such claims.
Sources: (Philosophy of Science: A to Z by Stathis Psillos; Philosophy of Science: The Central Issues by Curd & Cover; Philosophy of Science: A Short Introduction by Samir Okasha.)
Post #2 on Intelligent Design (ID) (see below) argues that ID is scientific, as long as it focuses on natural processes and approaches these in an empirical and rational fashion. But perhaps the more important question is: “Is ID science rigorous?” Let’s take a look at how well ID satisfies commonly accepted criteria of scientific rigor.
Testable Predictions – A good theory allows us to frame testable hypotheses.Does ID allow us to make predictions about what is going to happen or what has happened in the past, and are we able to investigate these phenomena in an empirical manner?
Sure. The theory of ID can produce hypotheses that may be tested in an empirical manner.For instance, a common ID hypothesis is that there are systems that are irreducibly complex. (Irreducible complexity is the idea that some living mechanisms are too complex to have arisen through the gradual process of natural selection because each part must be in place for the structure to function.) We can test this hypothesis by looking for irreducibly complex systems in nature.In time more complex hypotheses such as “biological systems smaller than size X designed to carry out functions of sophistication Y are irreducibly complex” may be possible.
However, to the best of my knowledge irreducible complexity (IC) is currently limited to “let’s go out and find evidence for IC.” What is lacking is some sort of manipulation of the IC process in the laboratory that would allow conclusions like: We manipulated biological system X in our laboratory and, true to our prediction, the system evolved irreducibly complex mechanism Y because of our manipulation.In my opinion, this limitation puts IC on the same level as macroevolution – there is plenty of evidence in the real world supporting both hypotheses, but currently neither is capable of being subjected to crucial tests in a controlled laboratory setting. Two limiting factors are (a) in the case of macroevolution, a very long time is required for new life forms to supposedly evolve, and (b) in the case of IC, we know very little about the intelligent design language and whether or not we can influence it.
Presently evolution has the upper hand on testability and predictability because we are able to manipulate genomic and environmental events in a way that allows us to test and predict microevolutionary events. If ID is to become a viable competitor, it will need to generate the same level of testability. According to influential historian of science Thomas Kuhn, new, competing scientific theories gain credibility when they offer fruitful alternatives to explaining existing phenomena and predicting new phenomena.Anyway, ID is a relatively new science; we’ll see what happens in the next few decades.
Falsifiability – A good theory is falsifiable. Does ID allow for risky predictions that will allow us to prove that it is false?
Sure. In fact, opponents of ID are hard at work falsifying the irreducible complexity (IC) hypothesis. This is a good thing because it means that a major hypothesis of ID is falsifiable. So has IC been falsified? Scholars like Ken Miller say yes. He claims that the creation of the bacterial flagellum (a complex, multi-part propeller system) can be explained by natural selection and is thus not irreducibly complex. He has pointed out that if we remove 40 of the 50 separate parts in a bacterial flagellum and left the 10 protein parts connected to the membrane of the cell, those remaining 10 parts may function as a Type-III secretory system. So this discovery refutes IC, right?
In a strict Popperian sense, the answer is yes, but Popper’s theory of scientific progress is too idealistic - the correct answer is no. Science does not progress according to the strict falsificationist doctrine, and for good reasons which I will not go into here, but here are three important points to consider.
First, scientific hypotheses are rarely in final form straight-out-of-the box, so to speak. At the first sign of contrary evidence, proponents don’t outright reject their hypothesis, much to the chagrin of their opponents. Advocates of a hypothesis usually modify the hypothesis to save it from rejection (called ad hoc explanations). As the evidence against a hypothesis builds and the hypothesis becomes overly complex due to constant modifications, then the possibility of outright rejection by the scientific community becomes a reality. Some say evidence against IC is mounting, so we will have to see what happens.
Second, a crucial test of the secretory system is needed to provide more definitive evidence, yet no such test has been done.Such as test might include taking the 10 genes that produce the part of the bacterial flagellum that connects to the cell membrane and replacing them with the corresponding 10 genes in the secretory system to see if a working flagellum results, and vice versa. This sort of test would establish whether or not the two mechanisms are truly similar.
Third, by themselves, individual disconfirming tests rarely provide sufficient evidence to disprove a theory. Theories rely on several hypotheses and rejecting one hypothesis does not bring the whole theory crashing down. If research on the secretory mechanism ends up disproving IC, will this disprove ID? Well, it usually takes several disproved hypotheses to disprove a larger theory so the answer is ‘no’, that is, unless the theory rests on ONE major hypothesis. In this case, IDers would be wise to not place all their eggs into the irreducible complexity basket. If this is the case and IC falls, then ID will fall too.
Tentative Stance – scientists must recognize that their theories may one day be proven false. Are proponents of ID willing to accept that their theory may one day be proven false?
The idea that ID may be proven false is a HUGE problem here, folks. What sincere believer would be willing to consider that there is no God, or be willing to accept that there is no evidence of divine design in nature when the scriptures say otherwise? Here we see the real danger of tying up theology with science. If you bet your religious beliefs on a scientific idea being true, what happens when that scientific idea is eventually proven false, as so often happens? You could go into a faith crisis tail spin.
I believe that ID proponents will hang onto their theory in a dogmatic fashion if disconfirmatory evidence builds. They will do this because of their religious convictions in God, but it is not very scientific to hold onto a theory that has been disproven. In the past, those who have held onto dead theories are often viewed as nonconformists who are unwilling to accept scientific progress. Thomas Kuhn says that these people often go to their graves holding onto dead theories.
I have been fairly hard on ID with this last point, but I believe that it is risky to tie-up religious beliefs with science. I consider my religious beliefs infallible and my scientific beliefs to be fallible. Yes, I am more confident in the reality of my faith-based experiences than I am in the reality of scientific theories about the natural world.
Now, to level the playing field on this issue, it is fair to say that evolutionists are equally dogmatic about evolution. This claim is evidenced by the way the evolutionary community has attacked ID from the get-go. I am not talking about the legitimate concerns with religious creationism; I am talking about the “you are crazy and unscientific to challenge evolution” attitude. This dogmatic attitude, which was effectively portrayed in Ben Stein’s film Expelled, is unscholarly.
Concluding Thoughts ID can be scientific.It is anti-scientific to deny a legitimate endeavor like ID a voice in the scientific marketplace of ideas. If ID has legitimate ideas to bring to the table, then let’s hear them out and then allow debate, refutation, and criticism. ID will live or die; either way, let the scientific process, not the political process, decide its fate.
ID should not be rejected outright just because it presents a theory that challenges evolution. One of the virtues of science is that it is a democratic institution in the sense of encouraging an open and free exchange of ideas. It should never prematurely foreclose on legitimate ways of viewing the natural world. This, I believe, is the main message of Expelled.