The Universe is a Crime Scene

or

Why Intelligent Design Won't Die

Most scientists are rightfully sensitive to any hypothesis about the natural world that even vaguely smells like “intelligent design.” Part of the reason for this apprehension is that Christian thinkers have historically embarrassed themselves with their eagerness to find God everywhere. Wherever you look in history and find some ambiguous phenomenon, some unexplained thing, you also find antsy Christians tripping over each other as they rush to the scene, fingers pointing, spouting their impetuous solution: 

“It’s God! God does that!” 

But, of course, those unexplained things are eventually explained, clearly and naturally, without any need for supernatural involvement. The sun is not lifted every morning by God, it simply appears based on the rotation and gravitational forces of the earth. A demon did not possess that boy trembling on the floor, he merely had a seizure. And on and on and on. Each hasty God hypothesis gets explained away by science, leaving the God hypothesis less and less credible with each scientific success. 

Christians are perseverant, though. They cling to preposterous views because they think their faith relies on it: “65 million year old dinosaur bones in the earth, you say? Can’t be. The earth is only 6,000 years old. God placed those bones there and made them to look old."  Or, "the Noahic flood caused geological problems that can make things seem older than they are.” Ack!  

Many Christians would rather say that God is misleading and deceptive than to relent on even their most absurd beliefs, no matter how theologically irrelevant those beliefs are (such as the age of the earth). Of course, what these Christians exhibit is more “bad theology” than “bad science.” But the bad theology plays itself out in bad (ridiculous) scientific work. And as the realm of reality that is explained by science gets larger, and the realm that is unexplained by science gets smaller, the Christian seems to become more desperate (and ridiculous) in their suggestions (especially when the scientific explanation threatens some Christian belief).   This diminishing realm of unexplained reality, and the simultaneous shrinking of God is known as the God-of-the-Gaps problem.  It is annoying to scientists and it is lethal to faith.

So I don’t blame scientists for freezing up and slowly backing out of the room when they sense the presence of an intelligent design proponent (I often feel the same way, and I believe in an intelligent designer!). And I understand the compulsion to exclude "design" and “design detection” all together from any “scientific” pursuit. Unfortunately, though, it is not that easy to do. Science itself doesn’t work without design detection. 

You find this in at least 3 obvious places: 

(1) Detecting fraud. There can be great incentive to researchers to give fake results on their research. Maybe they are testing a drug for a billion dollar drug company. Or maybe their research could lead to a cushy university job. Or maybe they just want to impress some hot member of the opposite sex. It turns out, though, that the scientific community is fairly good at detecting fraudulent research. Fraud detection asks the question: Are these results natural? Or, are these results intended to convince us they are real even though they are not? Detecting fraudulent research IS detecting design. 

(2) Forensic science. You walk into a room and find your maid, Gretchen, laying face down on the kitchen table with a spear in her back and blood everywhere. Police are called. Investigators arrive. Pictures are taken. Notes are written. Professionals work the room trying to determine if Gretchen somehow accidentally impaled herself with the spear or if she was murdered. They try to determine, to put it another way, if her death was the result of someone else’s plan (design). 

(3) SETI. The Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence is a scientific organization searching the universe for intelligent life (aliens). Primarily, they search space for intelligent sound wave patterns. By definition they are trying to detect design in the universe. 

The dilemma for naturalists is this: If design detection is such a fundamental part of science, how can we meaningfully say that it shouldn’t be a part of science? And a further question: If we can confidently detect design when we investigate research results, bloody kitchens, and sound waves in space, why are we not allowed to apply those same scientific principles to the universe itself? There is no good reason other than philosophical presupposition. 

Dawkins argues that it is pointless to try to detect design in the universe because this simply pushes the question back a level. That is, even if we were able to determine that there was a mind behind the universe we would still be left with the question of: What intelligence is responsible for this intelligent mind? Or, in other words: Where did God come from? 

As much as I enjoy his writing I think this argument by Dawkins is weak. Saying that it is unhelpful to detect God in the universe because we can’t know anything about where God came from is like saying that it doesn’t matter if we determine that our servant Gretchen was murdered because we do not know anything about the murderer. But we know there is incredible value in confirming that someone was murdered and that we need to seek who is responsible for it.  Determining that Gretchen was murdered justifies the search for the murderer. Determining a designer in the universe justifies learning more about the designer. 

The question remains: Can we detect design in the universe? I believe we can, but that is not the topic of this post. Nor is this post intended to argue that we should teach intelligent design in our schools (I actually do NOT think we should). This post was merely intended to show that it is not so easy to exclude design detection  from science, and, as embarrassing as they sometimes are, the intelligent design proponents are right about at least one thing:

 Design detection is a totally appropriate function of science.

aliens and Christianity Young Earth Creationism

Related Cartoon:

Turtle Falls in Love with UFO


  • CATEGORY: theology for your God-shaped hole

  • 10-12-2012

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