Science Silent on God's Role

Daniel Caton

Special to The Observer

Published: Thurday, January 31, 2006


South Carolina has gotten cold feet about revising its biology curriculum to include “intelligent design.” Good thing.

Proponents of ID insist that life is too complex to not have been the creation of a perfect designer. Unnamed, although obviously God, this designer drafted the blueprints for life. ID advocates trot out examples of complexity in nature, such as the perfectly crafted eyes found in the animal world.

I write this from our observatory, where our “eyes” are CCD (charge-coupled device) cameras. Chemical photography, now being displaced in the consumer market by digital cameras, disappeared from professional astronomy a decade ago.

In many ways our CCD chips are even better designed than the eye. One difference is that our chips are “backside illuminated,” meaning the light is brought in on the side without the signal connections, so no light is blocked by the wiring. Our eyes, however, have a blind spot due to the optic nerve connections that are in the way of incoming light.

Not exactly a Perfect Design. Did Tektronix engineers do better than God? Or did nature simply stumble a bit on its random walk of evolution?
Actually, nature has independently come up with vision several times in the course of evolution. Given a few billions years to work, it is not difficult. Vision in a world full of light is a powerful advantage in survival. So, such examples of complexity do not make a compelling argument.

Intelligent design is just a rework of “creation science,” which was itself creationism reborn. Each time, an effort is made to give it some credibility and hope to slip it into the schools. The camel keeps trying to get its nose into the tent.

When Kansas first went down this path it not only banned teaching evolution but the Big Bang as well. Pay no attention to the data behind that curtain!

In its second attempt, Kansas actually redefined science by deleting text that defined science as a search for natural explanations of observable phenomena. Supernatural explanations would suffice. Astrology, crystals, maybe even the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Toto, I don’t think this is science anymore.

Science works by a self-correcting system that challenges every piece of evidence. Theories that are proven incorrect are replaced by better ones as our understanding evolves. Papers are refereed by anonymous reviewers before publication. Grant proposals are reviewed similarly. And, when the worst occurs—fraud, as in the recent Korean cloning debacle, it is rooted out quickly as others try to replicate the work. ID has nothing that can be proven.

Interestingly, there is some accepted science that shares this same resistance to proof. The realm of theoretical physics known as “string theory” is at this point just a mathematical construct with no way to prove its validity through any observation or experiment. The very fabric of our universe may not be observable.

I’m not sure I “believe” string theory yet. Show me some evidence!

But, evolution is a powerful theory in science, indeed a sort of “supertheory.” The fundamental idea of evolution—that species gain survival and reproduction advantage by favorable random mutations (“natural selection”), is mathematically logical. It <BEGIN must happen. The only way natural selection would not work is if God actively intervened to stop it, making nature illogical. He does not appear to be doing so.

What is the role of God in the understanding of life? Science cannot answer such questions as “Why are we here?”. That is the domain of religion and philosophy, and science should rightfully not intrude. In fact, that question is probably the most important question anyone can ask and one that everyone must ask. There is no more important right that everyone on the planet should have than to be able to ask that question and seek the answer. And, its answer is not to be found in science.

The friction between science and faith need not exist but if proponents of creationism continue to push for inclusion it is likely to get worse. Our progress in real science is steady and will only lead to both further refinement of our understanding of the evolution of life and a growing distinction between what should be complementary but not conflicting ways of knowing life.

South Carolina should click its heels together three times and return to rationality, lest it become the laughingstock of the nation until a judge sets the state straight.

The courts so far have been clear: camels do not belong in tents.