Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Intelligent creation and "Creationism"

The Tablet, a British Roman Catholic publication, includes a review of Pope Benedict's new book, Creation and Evolution. Obviously, whether one accepts "Intelligent Design" or not, every Christian, every theist, believes in intelligent design, i.e. the universe was created by a Creator. There are, however, differing views about how He may have done it, and how to reconcile the apparent discoveries of science with the accounts in Scripture. Excerpts from the review:
.... Evolution is a process that, on the one hand, throws up a wide variety of organic changes, few of them beneficial. But, on the other hand, it produces intelligent life with quite a high degree of probability. Those are the facts. Whether the process is "blind" or intelligently created is not a scientific question that could be experimentally answered. The "blind physical forces" view is as non-scientific as the "intelligent creation" view. Perhaps both should be banned from biology classes, and discussed in philosophy classes.

Pope Benedict quite rightly says that if the cosmos is created, it is "an intelligent project, with direction and order". Belief in Creation is belief that all that exists depends upon the intentional act of a being of supreme value and intelligence (this is only a minimal definition). So the cosmos must be intelligently created to realise values.

This belief is totally distinct from "creationism", which is belief that the Genesis stories of Creation (both of them) are literally true. In the "Young Earth" version, the Earth is therefore less than 10,000 years old, and in "Old Earth" versions, the Earth might have existed longer, and the days of Creation might be longer, but Adam and Eve were still created as it says in the Bible. I do not know any Catholic theologians, among whom Benedict is an outstanding example, who are creationists, in either sense.

Unfortunately, however, most journalists confuse "intelligent design" with "creationism", and then they confuse "intelligent design" with "intelligent creation". One reason for this is that the judge in the Dover School Board case, in the United States, opined that "intelligent design" was being used as a cover for teaching creationism in schools. Even if that is true, intelligent design is absolutely not a creationist view. It accepts evolution as a fact, but holds that some identifiable processes cannot be explained on neo-Darwinian principles, and require reference to some intelligent designer. This does seem to be a scientific claim, at least in providing counter-examples to neo-Darwinian explanation. It has not been well-received by biologists in general, and so one would not be well advised to accept it too readily. But it is not absurd.

Most biologists who accept intelligent creation do not accept this precise intelligent design argument. They hold that the whole process is intelligently created, but deny that you can identify specific cases where God's specific design can be shown to be scientifically necessary. This seems to be where Pope Benedict stands. It cannot be scientifically shown that evolution is due only to chance and necessity, and is unplanned. Nor can it be scientifically shown that biology has to appeal to God to explain particular facts of evolution.

The scientific facts are neutral. It is when you look at those facts philosophically, and ask whether they suggest purpose or rationality, that the question of Creation arises. "The process as a whole has rationality," Benedict says. In support of this, physicists point out that what seems random at a biological level is in fact constrained by physical factors that are not random at all, but show a deeply rational and mathematically beautiful structure. This is not "bringing in a God of the gaps", but it is pointing out that what seems random is not so at a deeper level, and that it is not absurd to see rationality and beauty in the basic structures of nature.

The working out of these rational principles leads to a process of genetic copying that produces a wide, but limited, variety of organic variations. From these the physical environment, which of course God has also created, selects successful adaptations that cumulatively and inevitably lead to the formation of nervous systems, intelligence and moral freedom.

Christians cannot accept that this is an accidental process, unforeseen by God. .... [more]
Thanks to Mere Comments for the reference.

Source: The Tablet: Order Out of Chaos

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