The following is a complete reprint of an artice written by John Brice for The State News and was originally published on April 15th, 2004. It’s being reprinted here with John’s permission and remains copyrighted by The State News.
I wanted to reprint the article for a couple of reasons, first it’s a good summary of the goals of the movement to have Intelligent Design Creationism taught in our public schools, of which Michigan is one state that is considering such a move. But the main reason I wanted to reprint the article is that it includes an argument against teaching IDC in schools that I hadn’t considered previously myself and which I’m willing to bet many IDC proponents also haven’t considered before. Namely, what IDC could potentially imply about the nature of the Designer it claims is necessary. It’s a good read and I appreciate John allowing me to reprint it in whole.
- Conservatives find creative way to push creationism in school
Our public schools are under attack from religious warriors crusading to inject creationism into science classes. The most recently evolved variant of creationist propaganda is known as Intelligent Design Creationism (IDC) and has been constructed with the goal of slipping into science curriculums by masquerading as a science. To pull off this feat of deception, a nebulous and unnamed “designer” replaces traditional concepts of God.
By carefully avoiding direct mention of God or any Judeo-Christian concepts, IDC attempts to circumvent church/state separation concerns. Beneath the sly ruse, however, is the clear implication that the “designer” is God. That’s why religious conservatives are so fanatical about promoting the inclusion of IDC theology in public schools.
In October 2002, I wrote a feature article, “The Creationist Holy War,” for infidels.org. I discussed some reasons why including IDC in the nation’s science curriculum is damaging to both science and traditional religious beliefs. The fact that IDC is damaging to science is self-evident to the scientifically educated and has been widely discussed; however, the latter assertion is less well recognized and worth reiterating here.
IDC is merely a modernized version of the “Argument from Design.” This flawed philosophy often takes the following form: Imagine you find a watch imbedded on a sandy beach. You observe the intricate construction. If any part had been placed randomly, in any other location, the watch would not function. Blind natural processes could not possibly have produced an item of such specific purpose and complexity; thus, it must have had a watchmaker.
Next, the analogical leap. Creationists claim an examination of man and nature demonstrates the necessity of a God, just as an examination of the watch demanded the existence of a watchmaker. IDC adds the assertion that if any characteristic of man or nature is judged “irreducibly complex,” meaning that it couldn’t have evolved naturally, it’s proof of a designer. It’s an example of a fallacy called “Argument from Ignorance.”
As an aside, God, paradoxically, seems to qualify as irreducibly complex. Could God have evolved naturally from “deity precursors?” God is supposedly perfect, without limits of power and knowledge. It would seem that such a being, in accordance with the principle of irreducible complexity, would prove the existence of a “Deity designer” and that designer must have a designer, ad infinitum.
If there is to be any discussion of a creator in our public schools, it’s a safe bet the Judeo-Christian image of God would be preferred by most. This image, stubbornly difficult to extract from scripture, is of an omnipotent, omniscient and benevolent deity. Interestingly, such a being is not at all what IDC would elicit in the minds of our nation’s youth – quite the contrary. To understand why, we need to return to the analogy of the watch and watchmaker. Perhaps the watch can reveal something about its designer.
Let’s suppose, after a comprehensive examination, we learn the watch is constructed from recycled parts left over from other machines, and some parts don’t seem to have a purpose at all. The watch keeps inaccurate time and has a very short working life before it begins to seriously malfunction and finally fail completely.
Numerous inferences about the watchmaker are possible. Perhaps he didn’t try to make a good watch. Or, conceivably, he made the best possible watch with the materials available. Incompetence is a possibility. It’s also plausible that, for some unknown reason, the watchmaker intentionally built a faulty and poorly designed watch. In summary, we can say the watchmaker is either lazy, had a tight budget, was inept or intentionally produced a flawed product.
As with the Argument from Design, let’s expand this watch analogy to the natural world. The watchmaker becomes God, and the watch becomes mankind and nature. Can this analogy tell us anything about God?
Obviously, humans are significantly flawed. We are made of “recycled” biological material; our genome reveals abundant examples of reused DNA, seemingly borrowed from earlier forms, as well as a large amount of redundant and “switched off” genetic code. Humans have vestigial behaviors and anatomical structures (goose bumps, wisdom teeth, appendix, etc.); moreover, much of our anatomy is designed poorly for optimum function (knees, lower back, eyes, etc). Equally obvious, we are not built to last. Human beings inexorably degrade and fail over time, often in a painful and miserable decline. Therefore, assuming we are evidence of design, what judgment can we make about God?
Our hypothetical deity fares no better than the watchmaker; God may be inept, lazy or simply doing his best with the materials at hand. Each of those conclusions, however, is incompatible with traditional depictions of God.
Alternatively, God purposefully designed our imperfections. Under this possibility, God has the dubious honor of being directly responsible for cancer, Ebola, anthrax, HIV, birth defects, Alzheimer’s Disease, parasites, chronic pain, plagues, natural disasters and death. God would have specifically and purposefully designed a nearly infinite number of horrors and torments in both man and the natural world.
This possibility turns God into a malevolent monster rather than a loving creator. Mainstream religions grapple with this “problem of evil” by attempting to deflect blame away from their deity. Original sin, Satan, and the “gift of free will” are fashionable, yet horribly flawed, efforts to remove culpability from the Almighty. However, IDC offers no attempt whatsoever to redirect blame; it places the responsibility for all suffering and all design flaws squarely on the shoulders of the designer.
Educated Americans value the separation of church and state for many reasons. Central among these is an antipathy toward government defining God for all. If government requires IDC to be taught in public school science classes, it will be promoting the concept of a sadistic or flawed creator. Coupled with the fact that IDC is not a scientific theory, theists should be as outraged as scientists with the prospect of neo-creationism being imposed on our children.
John Bice is an MSU staff member. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.