A few years ago, I got hip-deep into the Intelligent Design (ID) controversy and gave it a qualified (opposable) thumbs-up. Here’s my quick position, because I know some readers will be horrified if I don’t clarify:
(1) I do not think the Biblical Genesis account should be treated as a literal chronology, as an eyewitness account of (say) someone spending a week in the Bahamas. I think the writer was divinely inspired, and really did “see” how God created the universe and its contents, but that it would be hard for such a person to comprehend what he had just witnessed. (In contrast, when the writers of the gospels report that Jesus walked on water and healed the lame, there can be no ambiguity there. If that stuff didn’t happen, then somebody was consciously lying.)
(2) Most defenders of the orthodox, Darwinian account are hilariously overconfident in the weight of the evidence behind the falsifiable portions of their worldview.
(3) Michael Behe is right when he distinguishes between outward behavior and the informational requirements behind such outcomes. For example, even if it turns out to be the case (and I have no dog in the fight one way or the other) that every living thing on Earth can trace its heritage back to a common single ancestor, from this it would not follow that there is no longer “any need for the God hypothesis” or “role for an intelligent creator.” If you need to have an exquisitely calibrated external environment, and an exquisitely calibrated initial living cell, in order for “blind chance and natural selection” to then spawn all living things, then it leads us to wonder why we happen to be living in just-so of a world. This is where (in my opinion) the ID people are making serious contributions, and where (in my opinion) most biologists and chemists miss the argument completely. It would be like finding a house in the woods that was nice and cozy, and one guy saying, “I don’t know why you keep asking, ‘Whose house is this?’ I can explain the temperature controls in natural terms, using that thing on the wall over there with numbers on it.”
But the above isn’t really the point of my post right now. Instead, I want to explain why the typical evangelical Christian gets so worked up over this topic. You see, a lot of agnostic (or even Christian, for that matter) believers in the orthodox Darwinian account will say things like, “Look, whether or not people and apes share a common ancestor is just a question of history and biology. It doesn’t have any bearing on our ethics, our philosophy, or our religious values. The Nazis were still wrong, whether or not you believe in the Genesis account–so Ben Stein is a moron. Let’s stop wringing our hands over what science teaches us about the natural world, for crying out loud.”
OK, so here’s why a lot of evangelicals don’t buy that line: the proponents of “evolution” don’t either. People use the Darwinian view of man’s origin all the time, outside of narrow biological sphere. For example, the friendly Keynesian Daniel Kuehn says stuff like this all the time, though in the below he’s quoting Tyler Cowen:
[Tyler Cowen:] “There is nothing in the (very useful) data cited by Mulligan, in his posts on supply and employment, which runs against the Keynesian story. Of course I am a fan of the blogosphere, but sometimes it frightens me when I see it having influence over research interpretations. We’re just a small number of apes sitting at computers, relative to the overall literature. When it comes to Keynesian economics, I don’t always see we apes as reflecting the broader literature very well, yet we are read by a relatively large number of apes. We can expect this problem to get worse, as people learn the “blogosphere versions” of different points of v[i]ew.”
[Daniel Kuehn:] Nothing Mulligan has been saying runs againts Keynesianism: check.
We are just smart primates and should never forget that: check.
Blogosphere versions of economic theories really distort peoples’ perception of the science: check.
The one thing that Cowen didn’t get right in my view is what I didn’t quote here…
As I have tried a few times to ask Daniel, what does the word “just” do in the above claims? The next time a brilliant chemist gets a tough question from a wise-aleck doctoral student, he should just say, “I don’t need to answer that, since–as we learned on Tuesday–you are just a collection of molecules.”
Historically, Christians–especially the dogmatic Bible-thumpers–were threatened by Darwin’s theory of evolution precisely because they knew people would “apply” it the way Cowen and Kuehn did in the quotation above.