Intelligently Designing Science

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Let’s go ahead and open a can of worms on a geek-oriented website. For a while now I’ve been toying with my thoughts on intelligent design, where do I really stand? Since I was 16, and madly in love with Cmdr. William Riker of the Starship Enterprise, I have been a believer and advocate of intelligent design. To be precise, of a young Earth, the 7 days of creation kind of intelligent design. I also enjoy looking at the science behind things, the patterns, the developments, the growth. So 14 years later, raising a curious son in America instead of England, and working in the school system, I often find myself asking my 16 year old self some questions. It seems a young man called Aidan Dwyer in New York state has given me another way to get to grips with my own thoughts on the subject, though not necessarily a new one. Using an oak tree as his model, he designed a solar installation based on the Fibonacci sequence, he found this sequence helped the Oak tree achieve it’s growth. He won a 2011 Young Naturalist Award from the American Museum of Natural History. One of my English G+ friends posted this article under the heading “God got there first again,” which got me thinking again.

I know a lot of people scoff at my beliefs, I scoff at quite a few of theirs, but hopefully we can all respect each other’s opinions and persons enough not to get rude about it. Hmm, what world do I live in? Ah yes, the 24th Century! Quite honestly, I think that the writers of The West Wing put it best in the show’s final season. Using the presidential campaign to broach the subject, the democratic nominee, played by the dashing Jimmy Smitts quipped “I believe in God, and I’d like to think he is intelligent” as a way to broach this tricky subject. Later, in a classroom setting, he was asked to talk more about his position and I think the show’s creators handled this ticking time bomb of a subject with remarkable aplomb. They put forward the notion that science is science, it is based on things we can touch and calculate and is therefore taught in school as an academic subject. Scientific theory is debated and discussed in the classroom. Intelligent design on the other hand is a system of thought based on belief and faith, not on things that can be calculated. It has no place being taught alongside scientific theory. It is something that is taught in the home, at ones place of worship, it is based on a system of beliefs and should not be taught in schools. Or as Jimmy puts it, “can’t we agree that the inclusion of non-scientific explanations into the science curriculum of our schools misrepresents the nature of science?” This episode aired as part of the show’s seventh season, in October 2005.

I will admit that my view is slightly skewed, I come from a country where Religious Studies is/was a mandated class up to the age of 14. I would leave RST and go straight to Biology or History class. We learned about Judaism, Islam, the many different shades of Christianity to name just the big three. I was taught by a Jew, a Quaker and an atheist. I visited mosques and cathedrals. I was exposed to all religions as academic subjects, as part of our history. Life application was not taught, that I had to pick up outside of school and didn’t until I was 16. Personally I think knowledge leads to more tolerance and it’s a shame we can’t teach these things to our children in the US, I already lament it in Toby’s public education.

I have often heard it said that there is a fine line between Freedom of Religion and Freedom from Religion. Can of worms? Certainly, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to raise the level of debate in this country.

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37 thoughts on “Intelligently Designing Science

  1. I am a scientist at heart and I am religious. I don’t understand why it can’t be both intelligent design and one of the many theories of how the universe was created. God can use whatever he wants to use for his purpose. If he wanted to create an explosion to create the world great! What if the 7 days wasn’t 7 of our days but 7 of God’s days? I’ve heard it said that ” A thousands years is like a day to God” . God told Moses the story of creation so maybe it really did take longer than a week and he just presented it to Moses in his own terms, not in human terms.
    I can not accept that creation was an accident. Everything works so well and for a reason that an accident does not make since to me. Take for example the functioning of the human body, how is that an accident?? There are too many unanswered questions left hanging if it’s an accident. Like if it was an accident how did emotions come into existence , why aren’t we just robots walking around. Compassion ,where did that come from if we were all just created by accident?
    Sorry this got long lol .

    1. Long is good 🙂 This is where we get out intelligent debate. Sharing ideas, helping each other “evolve. We would be mad to insist that what we can now understand is all we hope to ever understand. If we had done that hundreds of years ago, where would we be now? It is the “accident” piece that led me to intelligent design, a lot of your questions are posed and addressed in “Mere Christianity” by CS Lewis. It doesn’t preach Christianity, just discusses what it is in relation to humanity.

  2. oh and ONE more thing
    Why can’t these theories about the creation of the universe be taught as that THEORIES???? and not as ” this is what happened”

    1. Every one forgets the theory part. Christians and scientists alike. I believe what I believe, I don’t happen to think it’s theory, but I would never disparage someone else for holding their own beliefs to be true, be they based in science or faith. It’s humanity’s insistence on making sure others know that they are wrong and “we” are right that really gets my heckles up.

      1. It really irritates me when my 4th grader comes home and says the universe was created by a huge explosion. And that’s when I pose the question who was there to witness it so how do they know. If there was no one there to see it happen how can they be so sure that , THATs what happened.

        1. Beth: regarding the “who was there?” objection, I recommend reading this blog post by embryologist PZ Myers. I think of it as a “Yes, Virginia” for secular science:

          Dear Emma B

          After the preamble explaining who Emma B is and why Myers is blogging about her, the actual letter is written with a 9-year-old in mind, which is reflected in the style. But I find that that gives it a refreshing clarity and simplicity that’s good for anyone of any age to hear. It’s arguably my favorite of everything I’ve read by Myers. I hope you find it interesting as well.

      2. One thing to keep in mind is that the definition of “scientific” theory and “theory” used generally in everyday life is not the same.

        Generally, theory is meant as an idea that may or may not have some supporting evidence.

        Scientists use “theory” in a different way, in that they gather a list of facts and then try to find their way along those facts to a conclusion. The conclusion sometimes cannot be absolutely proven because of constraints–for example, Einstein’s Theory of Relatively can’t be proven because we can’t go faster than the speed of light and experience what happens at that point. But it has undergone rigorous examination and study, much the same as the “theory” that an asteroid killed the dinosaurs, which was arrived at by taking pieces of evidence and rigorously studying them and then having the conclusions again studied by other scientists as well.

        I think a lot of confusion comes from the difference between “theory” as used in everyday conversation being mixed up with “scientific theory.” Not the same.

        1. Agreed. My thoughts are based on faith, which is considered by many to be a form of theory, though not scientific theory. It is not something that we can categorically test and document in a scientific manner. Scientific theory can be tested and results produced. Scientific theory and religious beliefs/theory are two very different animals. This is often forgotten in this kind of debate, especially as it pertains to education.

  3. “To be precise, of a young Earth, the 7 days of creation kind of intelligent design.”

    New reader here. Are you saying that you believe the Earth is only 6000 years old? Because that is what ‘Young Earth Creationism’ is. Just wondering…

    1. That’s one of the questions I’m continually asking myself. I do believe that a day is a 24 hour period and that is what is meant in the Bible. But then I struggle with the repercussions of what that means for me. You directly asked so I would have to say yes, I believe that the earth is 6000 years old, but that part does not sit as comfortably with me. So I chat with people, debate with them, look into new ideas. I doubt I will ever know everything I would like to about the repercussions of what I believe, and I’m okay with, that though a lot of people aren’t. I do doubt the validity of current methods of determining age, there are new breakthroughs in science all the time so I can’t believe that what we’ve currently hit on will stand for all time. Always looking for new pointers if you’ve got any good resources.

      1. I like to think of the story of Genesis as happening along the lines of Isaac Asimov’s short story “How It Happened.” ( http://www.sumware.com/creation.html ) Imagine if the full 15 billion year story of the Universe was included in the bible. Or even if they skipped ahead to the formation of the Earth. It would have been mindnumbingly boring and would have been unable to be copied by anyone. So the story we’re given is in parable form to teach a moral lesson instead of in a form meant to be the literal “how it happened.”

        1. If you study the publication history of the Bible, it’s easy to see that even if your faith tells you the words were divinely inspired, many changes/translations have crept in, some due to the change of language, some due to those who favored one version over another.

          For the early Bible, it’s better to go to Talmudic scholars, since the Old Testament has been handed down from those traditions. And there is definitely not universal agreement on the meaning of that as well.

          Which is why I think even if you have a strong religious faith, much of what is in the handbook to that faith, The Bible, has been touched and changed by man, so it is quite impossible to know the original intent to some extent, even if you believe the original person who transcribed the Bible was given the words by God.

        2. @Techy Dad- That is the view I share with my children. Moses had to understand what God was telling him and so it was presented as 7 days.

          I cannot reconcile 168 hours with the scientific geological evidence. The parable works for our family.

  4. I’m an old earth intelligent creationist- by which I mean that our creator knows more about science than we do and used it to achieve divine purposes. It works for me, and doesn’t clash with scripture as long as one interprets scripture as metaphor rather than literal history.

  5. In Ontario, we have both Public and Catholic school boards, and while I can personally only speak to the Public system, it is very similar to the American mode. There are no religious studies within the school boards, and I actually feel kind of cheated after reading your explanation of the system in the UK.

    I had a friend in high school who’s mother was Christian, and father was a Hindu who converted to Christianity when they married. That isn’t to say he actually converted his beliefs, but he took up the cross to have unity in their home. My friend was never educated in Hindu belief, and, frankly, scoffed at any religion other than Christianity. On a trip to see his parent’s homeland, his father took him to visit the temple he went to as a young man; my friend laughed at the depictions of many-armed gods, and at the Hindu belief in general.
    I couldn’t help but feel sad for him and his father when he told me about this. Maybe if we’d had a religious studies class in school, he might have understood that religion isn’t about the depictions of the God or gods, but about the underlying principles. Maybe he would have learned that while the trimmings and trappings of beliefs are different, there are basic moral messages that are the same:
    Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
    Killing is wrong.
    Stealing is wrong.
    Live and let live.

    Sadly, he only had to look to his religion of choice for the point that he missed: Honor thy mother and thy father.

  6. Great post, Sarah! I struggle with this question too, and am glad you brought the can of worms to the table. 🙂

    I grew up in a strict Baptist family, then married an archaeologist who was raised Catholic but also had/has his own ideas about evolution and creation.

    It took me years to realize I got to pick for myself!
    Today I have a wide range of beliefs and in some areas I’m still a bit unsure about what I believe.

    But I dont think it makes me a bad or unstable person (who is going to hell) that I believe my own ‘mix’ of ideas. I believe in God, which is why I believe He wouldn’t allow just one ‘religion’ to be 100% right. It’s the idea that their specific religion is the only way that bothers me.

    I think we all get to pick. Discussion is good. It helps us all figure out what feels right to us, individually. That’s the part I’ve made peace with 100%.

    Great post!

    Judy

  7. As an atheist, of course I don’t share your spiritual beliefs. That said, I agree it’s healthy for kids to learn about religions. If it’s taught in public schools, I think it should be approached from a Cultural Studies standpoint, but I’m more comfortable with that happening in our homes than I am with the thought of kids reading from assigned religious texts in their classrooms and being tested on that material. Unless it’s a purely elective class, in which case I have no issue with it at all. As someone who dealt with daily religious bullying in public school from students and teachers, I think it’s important for kids to be able to opt-out of religious instruction and religious participation without repercussions.

    I’m raising my son to value evidence above faith, it’s true, but he’s not growing up in a bubble. He’s a social kid in a social world and I have no plans to shelter him from people who see the world differently than we do. Quite the contrary! We enrich each other’s lives through the connections we cultivate across our differences, and I think that’s especially so where we consider those differences irreconcilable.

    There are two areas where I get anxious about children and religious instruction:

    #1 Choice. It’s unacceptable to question or punish someone for choosing to practice their parents’ religion, but if they choose one different from their parents’ or choose none at all, their choices can be freely disrespected. In those examples, they have no support but the strength of their own convictions, a social situation that is risky enough for adults, and outright dangerous for children still dependant upon oppositional parents. Speaking from a decade of experience, there.

    #2 Spin. The forced juxtaposition of religion and science is unnecessary and unhelpful, and pitting these subjects against each other in our public discourse damages our understanding of both. They are not opposite sides of a debate – they’re not even mutually exclusive. I work every day with dozens of scientists who are also religious people. Yet we’re barraged by insistence that this quarrel is valid and that we should align ourselves along familiar Us vs. Them polarities. But by joining this imaginary battle, we sabotage all possibilities but those which benefit the instigators and spin-doctors. If we would disengage our conversations about science and religion from each other and conduct both with the rigor and respect they deserve, then I think we could have religious instruction in public schools without the sort of multicultural catastrophe that we’ve come to expect whenever the subject is broached.

    In the mean time, I think we need to bolster science education in schools because the study of science benefits everyone regardless of belief. And unlike religious studies, most children have limited or no access to substantive science education outside of school.

    1. Absolutely. I think it is much more difficult in this country to approach religion as a subject without it becoming something more. We have our fanaticals in Britain too but they are a lot more vocal over here and so, while I lament it, I don’t think the religious education I had would work in the US public school systems. I became a Christian at 16, my parents are not, I was not maligned because of my faith but you do have to learn to stand on your own two feet. My brother is an atheist, a very vocal one, a very unrelenting, unaccepting one, the argument I put to him when asked what I would teach my children, is that this is what I think is true. I will therefore teach my children what I consider to be the truth, just as you are with your son. That is the right we all have in this country, to teach our children the truth, whatever you think that is and whatever you back it up with. What they do with it is their business and nobody else’s. Thanks Kay.

  8. Sarah, I thought you put it really well when you said “Intelligent design…is a system of thought…It has no place being taught alongside scientific theory.” I’m fine with intelligent design as a philosophy, just keep it out of the science classrooms.

    Oddly enough I find it easier to believe in an alien creating the Earth than God. I guess that comes from paying more attention to Star Trek than the nuns at school.

  9. Fabulous post Sarah – my family also examines this question and we are thinking long and how about how it will be presented to our kids, both in their Lutheran education (Sunday school, Confirmation classes in a couple years, bible studies) and in their public school biology/physics/history classes.

    I also agree with Kay’s suggestion that religious studies should be presented from a “cultural studies” or “historical” perspective. I know you can take such classes in most universities. After all, you can’t teach about the Crusades or the Spanish Inquisition or even the Mayflower landing at Plymouth Rock without introducing the motives for those events: faith and religion. Be still my heart if school systems feel the need to remove teaching such driving events in world history because of the religious education that would have to accompany it.

    1. I don’t think there are many objections when presenting religious studies in a historical, cultural or even philosophical setting in school. It’s when people advocate teaching religious beliefs in science class that objections are raised.

  10. I believe in God. In fact, I am a Christian. However, I also believe the universe is billions of years old and we got here through evolution. I don’t think believing in one precludes believing in the other. Thanks for sharing your thoughts in this post, that was brave!

    1. I know I think I’m in a minority with the “a day is a day” thing, most of my friends ascribe to your way of thinking and look at me lovingly in a “you’re nuts” kind of way. But it’s the love and not the derision that makes the difference. Thanks.

  11. The more I think about it, the more I feel it can all be summed up by Einstein’s quote about there being only two ways to look at the universe: as if nothing is a miracle or as if everything is. I’m an “everything” person. I believe in science– I just happen to feel that the amazing workings of science ARE miraculous. I feel that there is an order to the universe, a driving force behind it that is bigger than anything we can work out ourselves. I personally believe this force is one of love and creation. And I happen to refer to it as “God” because that’s the religious background I was raised in, but I’m sure there are other people who actually THINK the same things as me, but refer to it as something different– Fate, the Theory of Everything, the Universe, the Goddess, the gods, the Natural Order– WHAT HAVE YOU.

    The facts say we have a universe that works in certain ways. But our beliefs are our ways of LOOKING at those facts and finding the meaning in them, or even deciding if we want to make any meaning of them at all. Definitely not mutually exclusive.

    I agree that it’s important to open this can of worms. I am tired of being told that I can’t believe in Science AND God, by either “side” of the argument. The more of us who speak up about what WE truly believe (not what other people, particularly extremists in either direction, tell us they think we believe or should believe), the more understanding people will come to.

    (And I also agree that there is a lack of basic religious education in public schools that OUGHT to be there. Not classes telling kids what to believe, but definitely classes explaining what people REALLY believe. There are too many people who believe, for example, that Islam teaches all its followers to be terrorists, or that all Mormons are polygamists, or even something as stupid and pointless as thinking Catholics are not Christians, or the like– and this just breeds trouble. )

  12. I’m an agnostic, but I don’t have a problem with theistic evolution, nor do I have issue with those who believe that Genesis is factual.

    But I have issues with Intelligent Design The Discovery Institute. The ID manifesto purports to be science even though their “facts” contradict the very definition of the word science and the scientific method. They’ve also manufactured this controversy and have spread propaganda that makes non-Christians think that ALL Christians share the idea that the world is only 5000 years old and that dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time.

    I’ve really enjoyed the comments upstream by Kay and other science-loving posters. Thanks! However I am surprised to find this post on GeekMom. Isn’t a love of science key to being a Geek?

    1. I agree with most of what you say here. There is a lot of science you have to “unbelieve” if you take a literal view of the Bible. I don’t think that fits in with the idea of being a Geek, even if science is not your main interest.

      That said, as surprised as I was to see this post on GeekMom, it does seem to have spurred some interesting discussion!

    2. I’m a huge geek, but I do not love science. My dad is a scientist and he loves what he does, but I never felt an interest in science at all to his chagrin.

  13. A friend of mine linked to this article, and it intrigued me enough to make me write this post. You’re the first young-Earth creationist I’ve seen who’s fine with evolution holding sway in schools and wants to keep creationism out. So kudos there! And thank you for opening up your position to public discussion.

    I’m curious what it means when you say that YEC is “non-scientific,” and whether you think that that status conveys any protection from attack in a science class. Because it’s all well and good to say, “Here are the theories that science has embraced,” but that’s only half the story. Science hasn’t just discovered truths; it’s destroyed falsehoods. Classical geocentrism, with its flawless celestial spheres revolving in perfect circles through the aether, has been proven false through direct observation. Anyone who teaches it now is quite literally either lying or ignorant, and any science teacher would be well within his or her rights to say so.

    But YEC, if considered a matter of “faith and belief,” might escape this kind of criticism by hiding behind Gould’s non-overlapping magisteria. I don’t think this is right, because like it or not, YEC does make scientific claims, in the sense of being empirically testable. Is the universe actually 6000 years old? This can be determined by looking for signs of age, and there are plenty. Radiometric dating (both of the Earth itself and of meteorites, not to mention moonrocks), polar banding on the ocean floor, extrapolation from the Hubble constant and analysis of microwave background radiation, and even the simple fact that we can see stars that are billions of light-years away all point to a very, very old universe. I’ve seen creationists make hay of what they consider to be inconsistencies between these methods, but even if we take those dubious critiques at face value, nothing even comes close to the 6000-year mark. Moreover, through biomolecular analysis of DNA in living creatures, we can track benign transcription “errors” between species, showing not only common ancestry between them, but their relative ages down the family tree, which certainly does not plateau at a single, recent, Edenic creation event.

    To treat the YEC claims as merely “non-scientific” is to do them injustice. They are false, and demonstrably so. They are anti-science, and science can and should be hostile to them. There are other religious claims that have remained unscathed, such as the basic belief that the universe exists because a divine being willed it. Even the idea that the original DNA replicators came about through divine intervention is merely “non-scientific,” since no countering materialistic explanation has yet been shown to account for it. I may take a cue from Laplace and say I have no need of that hypothesis, but there are nevertheless a few remaining gaps that God can be squeezed into if you’re so inclined. That territory I think can be rightly shared with “faith and belief,” but the boundaries are pretty tight.

    All of that having been said, however, when it comes to the education question, I would begrudgingly admit that K-12 teachers probably aren’t equipped to deal with this properly. University professors, who are required to have doctorates and be active researchers in their fields, can more effectively come at this head-on. Maybe high-school educators shouldn’t have that much burden put on them. All I can say is, in my utopia, they would be equipped, and no one would be able to walk away with a diploma without having received a proper science education, including debunking the myths of the day. And while I’m happy to see a young-Earth creationist like yourself advocate for keeping religion out of the science class, I’m still concerned that giving YEC too wide a berth will encourage a sense of false equivalency.

    1. Thank you, there have been some really insightful comments on this post, so I’m very glad to have put it out there. I start from my position and am grateful for others with differing viewpoints for providing me with new areas to look into. I expect to be “attacked” by scientists because of my views, I have to view YEC as non science because as a non scientist myself I could not put up a cohesive scientific case, though there are several I know who could. Quite frankly, while I still hold fast to YEC it is by no means the cornerstone of my faith and not the hill I care to die on. I think I antagonize more scientists by saying I believe in YEC but don’t feel the need to defend it, than if I simply stated a bible bashing, YEC, anti-science opinion! You mention a few signs of aging that I hadn’t heard of before, as I said non scientist, so thanks for providing the links so I can take a look.

      1. You’re welcome! I hope you didn’t take anything I wrote too personally; saying “I expect to be ‘attacked’ by scientists because of my views” is a fair bit different from the notion I suggested of science teachers “attacking” a disproven idea in class. And, honestly, it gets right to the heart of one of the issues here: Even though you say YEC isn’t central to your faith or something you would fight to the death for, you still seemed to conflate a hypothetical attack on the idea with a hypothetical attack on you. It’s a very natural, human thing to do, and even if I’m reading too much into your words in particular, it’s nevertheless an accurate description of the way a lot of people really do think. And it creates a dilemma for teachers: How much straightforward truth should be avoided to prevent offense? If a disproven idea is part of a popular faith, should it be tiptoed around in class, or can the teacher feel free to call it as false as geocentrism and phlogiston?

        Anyway, you’re welcome for the links – I hope you find them interesting. One really good resource is the TalkOrigins Archive, a repository of essays and other writings explaining modern scientific theories and evidence, plus debunking creationist arguments. Some of it can be pretty dense, especially for a non-science-oriented person, but it’s the best single destination that I know of for that sort of info.

        For me, the best argument against YEC is one of the simplest. In biblical times, people had no way of knowing two key facts: 1) how far away stars are and 2) the speed of light. Even the idea of light being a substance that has a speed other than “instantaneous” was almost unthinkable. But now we know both those things, and they tell us that the light from most of the stars we see has been traveling for billions of years. Psalm 19 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” So either the skies are telling us that God made the universe billions of years ago, or the universe was made by a deceptive God.

        I’ve seen a creationist argument that God made the universe artificially old in the same way that he made Adam a full-grown man. But there’s a difference between signs of age and signs of aging. It’s like the old riddle, “Q: Archaeologists dig up two mummified corpses, and upon examining them, one of the researchers exclaims, ‘This is Adam and Eve!’ How does she know? A: The corpses have no bellybuttons.” Likewise, one could imagine God creating the universe filled with photons in situ, ready to strike our eyes so we would be aware of the stars. But rather than being “fresh,” we see starlight that seems to be filtered through dust clouds, diverted by gravity wells, redshifted and blueshifted by cosmic motion… This would be like Adam being created with chicken-pox scars, healed bone fractures, and a bum knee. Moreover, we have seen stars change and die, which would be a false history embedded by God in the secretly-young photon streams. If one is willing to accept a deity who manipulates reality so thoroughly to trick its denizens, then what can one really know about anything ever? That’s in the same territory as “God / the devil buried dinosaur fossils to test our faith / sow confusion.”

        1. This is where a good pot of coffee and a couple of hours would serve us well! I didn’t see anything you said as an attack, but you are right, oh how words betray our meaning at times! I must say I love your argument “Psalm 19 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” So either the skies are telling us that God made the universe billions of years ago, or the universe was made by a deceptive God.”

          1. Thanks again! Feel free to brew up a pot if you ever feel like it. I clearly could go on.

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