So, my friend. How are we - you and I - here together on this particular planet in this particular eon of time in the history of our universe?
Are we the product of the will and purpose of a sentient transcendent being of whatever nature? The product of design? Design being the "purposeful arrangement of parts" as micro-biologist Michael Behe has noted? Are we an outcome of Intelligent Design (ID) by a creator that is necessarily separate from the creation? Was the magical spark of life imparted? Can we detect the existence of design, and from there infer a designer?
Or, are we the product of the unguided processes of nature and nature's laws? Of matter evolving since the earliest moments of the Big Bang in a symphony of chance and necessity. Of chemicals and electricity and mutations and competition and survival and selection - leading upwards and onwards in increasily complex biodiversity? Does Darwin's Theory of Evolution through Natural Selection (TOETNS) have it essentially right?
I read and think about these things, and have for 30-plus years now, since I first walked onto a college campus in the late 70's where the Creation vs. Evolution debate was a hot topic. I think about them as a Christian man. I think about them as an educated man and a lover of science. Both.
Every now and then I will jump into an internet discussion of this, my favorite hobby. Reluctantly, though, because there are few topics that ignite passions and hostilities quicker than an Creation / Evolution debate online. It doesn't take many comments before the insults about ignorance and bias fly, rarely in a civil manner. The exception has been the Darwin threads on the best blog on the internet: Roger Ebert's Journal. I started in with the "Win Ben Stein's Mind" thread, which went on for 9 months and 2600 comments - until we broke the comment entry mechanism! Now that was fun. I enjoyed the conversation with the scientific minded from around the world, and I hung in there as the "stalwart defender of Intelligent Design" as Roger dubbed me. Big fun.
I generally enjoy the discussions with Darwinists, if you indulge me that shorthand name, though they don't seem to return the relish for discussion with ID'ers - resorting quickly as they do to taunts of ignorance and "lack of critical thinking". I find them a stubborn and intractable lot, eager to limit the discussion and parameters. They, the methodological naturalists, have after all succeeded in defining "science" (the study of the natural world) in a manner to exclude any consideration of the transcendent as out-of-bounds. A nice trick, and they've accomplished it. I have a little broader worldview, one that allows for the possibility of the transcendent.
What does it matter what I think about our origins? What does it matter what you think? We - you and I - have gone down different roads to get to our current opinions on the topic. You read Darwin and Dawkins et al and think you have it all figured out. I read those, plus Behe and Dembski and Stephen C. Meyer's excellent "Signature in the Cell" and have a different understanding of the historical sciences like evolution. So what, really?
Well, because all of the arguing comes down to this:
What shall be taught as orthodoxy on our origins in "science class" to the young skulls full of mush in our Government schools? Secondarily, is this an issue as we choose our governing class? These are the stuff of intellectual war.
I got two bits of news in the last week that impact on that discussion:
1. From Roger Ebert's Facebook postings, a news story about GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann's statement that we should teach ID in public schools:
"I support intelligent design," Bachmann told reporters in New Orleans...I would prefer that students have the ability to learn all aspects of an issue," Bachmann said. "And that's why I believe the federal government should not be involved in local education to the most minimal possible process."
My friend Mr. Ebert judged that Bachmann's statement established her "as a person who is ignorant of science."
2. Second, my son's high school counselor called to tell me that his Senior year class in BASIC programming had been cancelled because not enough kids had signed up. Tragic.
You might not understand how the second story relates to ToETNS vs. ID, so let me take that one first.
Regarding what can be taught in a public school classroom, the Darwinists are dug in. Only science, as they have defined science. The study of the natural physical world. Any discussion of the transcendent is religious in nature and is prohibited in a public school. (Except that they don't live up to that as they follow esoteric cults of mathmeticians into fantasies about infinite parallel universes that they will never know, see, touch, or measure)
Leaving aside that I see this as an effective argument against public schools, as this prohibition results in the dumbing down to the least common denominator inoffensive to the Darwinists, I think that it misses the point about a broader education.
I get that ToETNS is the current state of the art in the natural sciences. It is the best understanding of modern science as to the explosion of increasingly complex biodiversity on the planet. I have never argued on the blogs that "it is just a theory". I get that this is what they want taught in Biology classes. And Anthropolgy. And Chemistry. Fine.
As I said, Darwinists are a stubborn lot. That typically manifests in a stubborn refusal to lump all teleological arguments as "Creationism". They make no distinction between the Young Earth Creationists that I encountered back in the 70s - that believe in a 10,000 year old earth, Special Creationists who believe man was created essentially as we are now, Old Earth Creationists who make accomodations with evolution over time though guided, and finally ID theorists.
ID is a new approach, still relatively young at less than 30 years. It attempts to strip the discussion of transcendent origins down to the base question of this: if you can detect design, you can infer a designer. If a biological system can't be explained by chance or necessity, then design is an option. That's it. No denominational discussion of who the designer is. No defense of Genesis or any other religious text. Just design. I argued ID on Ebert's thread for 9 months and never quoted a scripture and never invoked Genesis. Just science, in the broader context / worldview that allows for transcendence. ID can be discussed, in my opinion, in public schools without being religious indoctrination.
What Darwinists are missing, in their stubbornness, is that their traditional disciplines of biology / chemistry / physics / anthropology are not the only disciplines that give a perspective on our origins. Really.
Oh, they are essential absolutely. And I have taken all of those courses at the university level as components of an engineering study program. I even took an advanced biology course in "Evolution" with a focus on sociobiology.
But that's not necessarily true the other way around. Have you taken all of the courses that you need to evaluate the Intelligent Design arguments? No, you haven't.
Not just courses to understand a teleological argument. Practical courses in and in informations sytems. Engineering. Computer Programming. Digital electronics. And more.
Which takes me back to my son's programming course being cancelled. I had my first programming course in BASIC at this high school in 1977. Back then we used a PDP 8E mainframe computer which had a staggering 64K of memory! We wrote programs in BASIC that were then printed out on a punched paper tape device. To run them each time we had to feed the punched paper tape back in to the teletype machine to be read and executed. You know what that taught me? When I read about the double-helix of DNA being stripped in half and read by RNA in protein production, it reminded me of that. And when I read that "biology is the study of information" and I see that the coded information in DNA that functions like a computer program and is independent of the chemistry involved - I see design. If you didn't have my experiences in programming in BASIC and Assembly level you would have a different ability to evaluate ID arguments. You'll see the ink and the paper and the glue and the bindings, but you'll never understand the purposeful intent of the words.
Which reminds me of a my favorite tweeted link from Roger Ebert to an article called "Why Johnny Can't Code". And neither will my son if I can't find alternate ways to teach him BASIC programming. And they will be less able to evaluate arguments for Intelligent Design.
Same with studying digital electronics, which I did in college and in two United States Air Force technical schools. When I read about nucleotide codons in threes being decoded and producing any of 20-plus amino acids, I think about the multiplexer circuits that I used in designing flight simulator computers during my stint as an engineering co-op student at McDonnell Douglas during some heady days in the late 70's. Do you see MUX circuits when you read about that, or just chemistry and biology?
Same when I pay attention to the CNC machine tools every day in the factory that I work in and the ladder logic programming that cuts intricate parts from lumps of metal. I see the intricate micro-machines of the human body, well described by an emerging crop of micro-biologists like Behe, and the programming that dictates their work. Do you see that design, or again do you only see undguided chemistry and biology?
I could go on, but you get my point. ToETNS vs. ID is a battleground in our public schools and our elections - and really has been since I was a student 30 years ago and before.
Michele Bachmann is right. If Darwinists succeed at controlling the curriculum, and in limiting any discussion on origins to the traditional science disciplines, and to only methodological naturalism definitions and boundaries - then our children will be ill-served and a public-school education will be a less well-rounded education than it could be.