Intelligent Design

People who accuse Intelligent Design ("ID") of being "pseudoscience" miss the point. It is not a new form of creationism, certainly not of the Biblical form, but its central claim is similar. The claim of scientific creationism was that each species exists as a result of a particular act of the Divine Will. The weaker claim of ID does not concern speciation, and is that at least one evolutionary development cannot be accounted for mechanically and is instead the result of intervention by an intelligent actor.

Even in this weaker form, ID is logically incompatible with materialism, in the sense of the belief in a Universe conforming to regular patterns of behaviour such as the law of gravity. They cannot both be true. Materialism is compatible with some religious beliefs, e.g., the proposition that God invented the laws of physics and initiated the Big Bang, but this is not enough for the Intelligent Design proponents. Indeed, many such people publicly avow their motive as attacking materialism itself. For many, the claims about biology are but an instrument for attacking materialism, rather than an end in themselves.

IDers misrepresent the extent of scientific support for their propositions, and mischaracterise the status of evolutionary theory. There are two conflicting goals: attempt to appropriate for unscientific theories the esteem in which the outcomes of the scientific process is publicly held, and attack the scientific process. IDers contend that children should be taught that a scientific controversy exists (none does: a political and philosophical controversy exists). It is here that they are on stronger ground.

Beautifully, the IDers believe in absolute truth, and therefore cannot fall back on the claim that all views are equally valid, or that the truth is socially constructed or gendered or some other nonsense, as any normal bunch of cranks would.

The claim that ID is the outcome of the scientific process in which the public places its trust is a false one, and the IDers know this. The Christians among them who bear witness to this claim are breaching the Commandment given by the Lord unto Moses, and they know this. The sorts of Christians who are doing this tend, strangely, not to be the sort who would otherwise condone Jesuit-style Holy Effrontery, letting the ends justify the means, or indeed anything to do with the Jesuits or Roman Catholicism at all. How great must be the End they feel justifies these lies?

That End is the cause of Anti-materialism. ID is just the dishonest pursuit of Anti-materialism in the biological sciences. It must be remembered that materialism, whatever its merits as a framework for explaining the observed external world, remains deeply offensive to the majority of humanity. When taken to its logical conclusion, science results in assertions which are as offensive to even the most moderately religious person as the totalitarian fantasies of Hitler, Plato or bin Laden are to the secular.

Where it is most offensive is when it is applied to human beings themselves, and their place in the world. That must be why biology was chosen as the site for this latest attack. People just don't like being reminded that they're a bunch of molecules, and most believe that they are more than that, possibly possessed of an immortal soul, or at least hope they are. Biology is where materialism is weakest, as it is where sentimentality and wishful thinking are strongest.

Materialism does not entail that there is no such thing as an immortal soul, or no such thing as morality. It is nevertheless taken to mean either of things, or at least to undermine ideas of morality, immortality and religious faith more broadly. To me, it seems a shallow faith which were undermined by observed regularity in the universe. In practice, materialism is more difficult to reconcile with certain aspects of religious faith than non-materialist philosophies. This tendency may motivate those who oppose materialism on instrumental grounds, as might the mistaken belief in materialism's inherent incompatibility with other cherished beliefs. "I am the Easy Way, the Truth and the Light," as Jesus did not say. These people are just asking for faith to be made easy again. Science has come up with something which makes faith hard, so they want science done away with. The smug triumphalism of the likes of Richard Dawkins is grist to their mill. Of course people are going to dislike materialism if it's claimed that materialism can determine that morality is non-existent or irrelevant.

There are people who oppose materialism on respectably non-instrumental grounds; they just believe something incompatible, and we should respect this. Intelligent Design is a dishonest way of advancing their cause too, and they must disown it.

No Anti-materialist has the right not to be offended by materialism, but there is no place for non-materialism in science or a science textbook. If anti-materialists want their say, they should be campaigning for children to be taught philosophy and religion. Americans don't trust themselves to resolve religious questions democratically, and religious education is strongly curtailed in the state sector. Accordingly, the anti-materialist majority cannot break the materialist monopoly on science education, even if it wanted to.

The tactics of ID proponents are well known from recent reportage, which centres on the battlelines in the United States, which involve textbooks in public schools and constitutional litigation. ID comes across as an attempt to paper over differences between creationists over questions of the age of the planet, or a calculated attempt to evade First Amendment jurisprudence.