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Science is the wrong context for discussing intelligent design

A letter from Brian Gallagher



From: Brian Gallagher <cmarsz@erols.com>
Date: Tue, 6 Sep 2005
To: publisher@naturalscience.com
Subject: Letter to the Editor
X-Envelope-To: aburdett@heronpublishing.com


September 15, 2005

PRESIDENT BUSH, announcing this month that he was in favor of teaching about "intelligent design" in the schools, said, "I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought." Later, Senator Bill Frist made the same point. Teaching both intelligent design and evolution "doesn't force any particular theory on anyone," Mr. Frist said. "I think in a pluralistic society that is the fairest way to go about education and training people for the future."

In other words, scientific truth should be trumped by political ideology. What's happening here? What is the real issue behind "intelligent design"?

The answer is something characteristic to the mind of modern man: the disintegration of inquiry. In our modern world, we stand in the ruins of non-scientific realms of inquiry, such as ethics and metaphysics. Science is seen by just about everyone as the only legitimate realm of inquiry, and the word "unscientific" has become synonymous with "untrue." The ruination of all other orders of inquiry into our world is so complete that just about everyone reading this paragraph believes that things like ethics and metaphysics are essentially matters of personal preference or social contract or religious belief. With the exception of natural science, the concept of anything universal within other orders of inquiry has been so thoroughly uprooted from the university that particular departments and professions such medicine, finance, and law have found it necessary to establish their own codes of ethics.

One consequence of the impotency of modern philosophical inquiry is that people feel it necessary to hitch their wagon to the scientific horse, even if the question asked isn't scientific. This is true in the realm of moral behavior. Scientific studies provide the real guide to what habits people should cultivate in our society. Mostly, the moral compass of these studies points to individual and public health. But are there not moral decisions made by men and women which endanger or degrade their health? Consider the person who decides to fight for his or her country, or anyone visiting a friend or a stranger in a hospital full of the sick.

Science, then, has a monopoly on inquiry today, and this is precisely why there is a seemingly "scientific" debate about Intelligent Design. Whether it be completely true or utterly false, Intelligent Design is not properly placed in the realm of natural science (I am assuming that the Intelligent Design proponents understand God to be the uncreated Designer). This will seem like a defeat for Intelligent Design because, as we have mentioned, other orders of inquiry besides natural science (in this case metaphysics) are seen as illegitimate today. In today's philosophically impoverished world, pointing out that discussion of Intelligent Design belongs in a order of inquiry other than natural science sinks the theory altogether, rather than presenting it ready for criticism in the proper vein. So complete is the hold of natural science over inquiry that even the most zealous evangelical Protestant pushing for Intelligent Design unwittingly reveals his own science-only attitude towards inquiry when he imagines that only when Intelligent Design is accepted by scientists will it recognized as universally true.

That said, don't expect people to show renewed respect for philosophy. Recognizing other realms of analysis and modes of judging moral behavior would compel people to reassess their values and recognize a need to amend their lives. Recently, there was a "breakthrough" in stem cell research, which eliminated the need for the destruction of human embryos. Has any moral progress been made? No. Merely a way has been found to avoid the moral issue. What really guides the ethics of the stem cell debate is efficiency. The new technique is used because it is more efficient socially, politically and medically. That's an ominous sign. It was said about Athens at the height of her empire that, "to an imperial city, nothing is inconsistent which is efficient." In today's America of democracy worship, each of us is our own imperial democratic Athens, and just like Athens, most of us have killed the Socrates within.

Brian Gallagher
The Newman School
Boston, MA


Your comment on this item is invited and should be addressed to: publisher@naturalscience.com. For further information on submitting a contribution to naturalSCIENCE, please see the Author Guide


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