Wednesday, November 14, 2007

NOVA on Intelligent Design

Well, I hoped you all took my advice and watched (or at least TIVOed) NOVA's program last night on intelligent design. There are some very good posts up about the program. Atheist P.Z. Myers has some an interesting post about the reaction of the pro-ID Discovery Institute here. My fellow pro-evolution Christian blogger James McGrath has several posts. Start with this one.

I grew up in a Lutheran Church that, despite fairly orthodox teachings on most theological issues, never taught me to take the Bible literally. As such, I never faced or perceived a conflict between my faith and what I learned in school about evolution. This is certainly true of the Episcopal Church as well, but it equally true of the Roman Catholic Chuch, most mainline Protestant congregations, and most Orthodox Churches as well. In some sense, the bibical literalism that drives these crazy battles over evolution is an American creation--albeit one of large and growing influence.

But as noted earlier this summer, comments about evolution on several Episcopal blogs suggest to me that the hostility to evolution is apparant even within these non-literal traditions. Why? I think there are several reasons.

First, the proponents of creationsim and ID have done an excellent job of misleading the public about the state of the scientific evidence for the support of evolution, and this distortion of the truth is having an effect. What distortions? Here are some examples. They claim that there is no fossil evidence of transitions between species, when such evidence is abundant. They claim that bacterial flagelli is an example of irreducible complexity, when in fact there is very strong evidence that the flagelli arose from a structure with a different function. And they completely ignore the quite persuasive genetic evidence of evolution--most notably the evidence that comes from the so-called (and apparantly mis-named "junk DNA").

Second, I think that at a more basic level, acceptance of evolution does not sit well with many of our notions of a creating God. Evolution suggests that God did not "design" every specis, but rather let a process based on random mutations and natural selection to create the specis of the world. This can be discomforting. As I have explained previously, however, I think that this view of our creating God is liberating--it suggests a God who gives free will to all creation, and explains why there can be evil and misfortune caused not merely by fallible man, but also by the rest of God's creation.

(I must add as an aside that I never understood why Christians work so hard to make the claim that every feature of every species is there by design when it clear that many of these features are, well, not very well designed. One reason I accept evolution is that I think that if God had actually designed every species, he would have done a much, much better job).


The Exterminator said...

Chuck, you said:
One reason I accept evolution is that I think that if God had actually designed every species, he would have done a much, much better job.

You know that I, as an atheist, find it untenable to add any gods to the story of life's beginning. So your statement above would sound insincere coming out of my mouth.

But it's an excellent point to raise, if you're a fellow Christian, when arguing against fundamentalists' strict reading of Genesis. The god that they conceptualize has meager powers compared to the god that you worship.

Chuck Blanchard said...

I agree. The bibical literalist don't seem to understand that many biological features (including many aspects of our own anatomy) are less than ideal. And thus, they don't seem to understand that they necessary assume that the God they worship is a pretty bad designer.