Thursday, May 04, 2006

American Conservatives and Intelligent Design Theory

Until recently, it seemed that the Discovery Institute--a conservative think-tank in Seattle--had succeeded in persuading American conservatives to adopt "intelligent design theory" as the alternative to Darwinian evolutionary science. Their appeal to conservatives was based on the claim that Darwinian science is necessarily atheistic and materialistic in ways that deny the traditional morality that conservatives want to defend.

But now it seems that the tide is turning the other way. In December, Judge John Jones--a Republican appointee--issued a meticulous decision in the famous Dover, Pennsylvania, school case, in which he ruled that teaching "intelligent design" in public schools as a scientific theory was unconstitutional. He explained in careful detail why "intelligent design theory" was not supported by the scientific evidence.

Some conservative commentators--such as Charles Krauthammer and James Q. Wilson--have rejected "intelligent design" and defended Darwinian science. In First Things, one of the leading journals of religious conservatism, Stephen Barr has argued that there is no necessary contradiction between religious belief and Darwinian science, because there is no reason to deny that God could not have worked His creative will through the natural laws of evolution. Charles Darwin himself indicated this at the end of The Origin of Species, when he spoke of "the laws impressed on matter by the Creator."

The ultimate fear of conservatives is that Darwinian evolution is morally corrupting. But I have argued that when Darwin explains the "moral sense" as rooted in the evolved nature of human beings, he supports the conservative view of morality as founded in human nature. Moreover, the conservative commitments to family life, private property, and limited government can all be justified as conforming to human nature as shaped by evolutionary history.

As I have indicated previously, I see nothing wrong with allowing high school biology students to debate the competing claims of "intelligent design" and Darwinian science. If they were to read Darwin's own writings along with some of the "intelligent design" writings, students would see that Darwin anticipated all the major criticisms of his theory and offered plausible responses. Most importantly, they would see that his science supports traditional morality and allows for the possibility that God could be the First Cause of life.

Unfortunately, the conditions in American public schools are not hospitable to such a free and thoughtful debate. But at least now it seems that some conservative leaders are open to such a debate


Martin Clarke said...

Actually, I think the reason why many religious conservatives oppose evolution is that it is very hard to reconcile with Genesis. Even on a semi-literal reading of Genesis, there doesn't seem to be much reason to support Darwinism. Man is a special creation and Christ is called the "second Adam." So if Adam didn't exist, what does that say about the historicity of the Bible and Christ's mission?

Also, with respect to man, if evolution is true, the process could have stopped with chimps or whatever. Man is an accident.

Finally, how can anyone who believes in God not believe in "intelligent design"? Are theists supposed to believe the universe is "unintelligently designed"?

Larry Arnhart said...

Proponents of "intelligent design theory" do not believe in a literal reading of Genesis. That's why the "young Earth Creationists" think the ID people are heretics, if not complete atheists.

Darwin was quite clear that the ultimate orgins of life was a mystery beyond the human mind, and therefore science must be open to God as the First Cause.

As I indicate in DARWINIAN CONSERVATSIM, there are many "theistic evolutionists" who see no conflict between theistic religion and evolution.

It should also be noted that Pope John Paul II accepted the idea of evolution, although he believed that the evolution of the human soul required special divine intervention.

T. S. Miek said...

In his article about the Dover ID case James Q. Wilson did indeed reject ID, but he still did not accept evolution fully. He indicated in more than one place that evolution is not at work in humans today. It may still work for birds, but probably not for humans. He also says that changes in the appearance of humans is the way to see if evolution is working on them. This idea that evolution does not work for humans because humans are special permits the divine creation to survive. Wilson gave with one hand and took away with the other.

Martin Clarke said...

Of course you can believe in God and be an evolutionist. But the question is why should someone who believes in the God of the Bible be an evolutionist. I see no good reason for that.

JP II is an interesting example. Contrary to the media, he was not a conservative on issues other than sexuality morality. Look what has happened to Rome since it accepted evolution and higher criticism of the bible -- nothing but liberalism in universities and seminaries.