Intelligent Design Theory and Religion

alternativesA common set of arguments against intelligent design theory is that it, the Discovery Institute, or the motives behind the theory are religious in nature. It is supposed that for this reason, intelligent design theory is not scientific or is not a viable theory. I have previously shown that intelligent design theory is a historical rather than scientific theory. The study of history is distinct from both science and religion. Bearing in mind this clarification, these kinds of objections can be divided into three groups: the fallacy of poisoning the well, the failure to distinguish philosophical argument from historical theory and the failure to distinguish philosophical claims from scientific ones. Since none of groups are sound arguments, these objections against intelligent design theory are all failures.

The first set of objections are based on the fallacy of poisoning the well. This fallacy begins by pointing out the connections between religious belief and intelligent design theorists. The founders of intelligent design theory and the primary organization promoting intelligent design theory (the Discovery Institute) are all connected to religious belief in a variety of ways. Most are Christians or believe that intelligent design lends support to the existence of God. In addition to this, many of these people have promoted Christian moral values, distinctly Christian teachings or even political action. This fallacy completes by claiming that these facts mean that intelligent design theory is either not scientific, not viable or is brought into some kind of doubt. The first set of facts are simply not relevant to intelligent design theory. Kepler believed that his study of planetary motion showed hidden patterns placed there by God. That is of no relevance to the truth of the laws of planetary motion. Similarly, Isaac Newton wrote commentaries on the Bible and believed that he had uncovered the truth buried by ancient conspiracy. But that is also of no relevance to Newtonian mechanics.

The second set of objections confuse historical theory and philosophical claim. The theory of intelligent design is a historical theory. It claims that there is a method – irreducible complexity or specified complexity – that can determine that some features of the natural world had an intelligent cause. To go any further than that is a philosophical claim. So claims that this cause is divine, guesses as to the purposes of this cause, arguments that this cause designed poorly or was evil are all philosophical claims. All that this historical theory can tell us (if it works) is that there was an intelligent cause. Even if two features both had an intelligent cause, this theory cannot claim that the cause of one feature is the same as the cause of the other feature. In addition to this, intelligent design theory can have plenty of false negatives (by failing to recognize an intelligent cause masquerading as an unintelligent cause). So any argument against intelligent design that relies on the nature, purposes or actions of the designer is attacking a philosophical theory rather than intelligent design. Similarly, any theory attempting to show, prove or support the existence of a designer of any kind is a philosophical theory based off of intelligent design theory.

The third set of objections confuse philosophical claims with scientific ones. This is complicated, especially because a numbers of scientists are deluded enough to believe themselves competent to answer philosophical questions. Intelligent design theorists sometimes claim that any study of causes should permit there to be supernatural causes. They may also claim that intelligent causes can not be ruled out since we already use them in various historical disciplines. These are two separate claims. Since these claims are made in a context that ignores distinctions between science and history, there is no simple answer to them. On the other side, many scientists claim that methodological naturalism rules out supernatural explanations. They also claim that without supernatural explanations, intelligent design offers no theory. Once again, this groups fails to properly distinguish these two different claims or to distinguish between history and science. Nonetheless, the difference between science and history, understanding what good science and good history are, whether or not supernatural or intelligent causes can be permitted as explanations and what place methodological naturalism has are all philosophical issues. None of them are scientific issues. So science has little to say in these kind of discussions – either for or against intelligent design theorists.

Any connection between religion and intelligent design theory is simply a distraction from the real issues. The real issue is whether or not the claims of intelligent design theorists are true or false. The real issue is whether or not intelligent design theorists can actually detect design or not. Religion has nothing at all to do with these claims, so it functions as a bogeyman so that the real issues can be avoided.

The Science of Theology

I am ending my series on knowledge by examining each form of theoretical knowledge in detail. Theology can be understood in two ways. It is either the science of existence or the science that begins with the testimony of God. Since the existence of God is not a matter that can be settled by the senses, theology begins by showing that God exists. Theology is the knowledge of God built on the testimony of God.

Theology and philosophy are distinct sciences. Philosophy studies substance in general. Since philosophy studies substance and substance is the basis for everything that exists, philosophy will also study existence. This is the reason why there are proofs for God’s existence that are demonstrations. Demonstrations begin with sense experience and use deduction based on that sense experience. So if theology were merely knowledge of existence as such then it would overlap with philosophy.

Theology uses a different method than philosophy. Rather than beginning with sense experience, theology begins with what God has told us in a revealed text or mystical experience. This means that theology begins with three distinct problems. The first problem is proving the existence of God. Without God there is no such thing as theology. The second problem is showing that a particular text or kind of mystical experience is from God. Merely showing that God exists is not enough. Finally, the third problem is showing that other candidates for revealed text or mystical experience are not from God. Theology begins by dealing with all three of these problems.

Theology is distinct from the other sciences because of its method. Theology is the only science that does not begin with sense experience as such. Instead, it begins with the testimony of God. This means that apart from divine testimony, there is no way to learn anything new apart from beginning with sense experience.

Theology must also be distinguished from various studies in the modern university that may seem similar to it. Theology is not religious studies. Religion is a division of ethics, which is a practical science. Theology is a theoretical science. Furthermore, religion can be studied without a commitment that God exists, that he revealed anything or even that a particular religion is true. I have already said that theology is not philosophy, but philosophy begins with reason and sense experience. If we begin with revelation, then we are doing theology instead. Finally, theology is not about the social practices or history of a particular religion. Those are sociology and history respectively.

Theology is the highest science simply because it is capable of giving us knowledge that we could not find out on our own. However, determining the value of theology is a paradoxical activity. In order to claim that theology is valuable, we must know that God has revealed something to us. Without that, theology is worthless. But investigating that also falls within theology. So we do not know the true value of theology without doing theology.