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Boundaries of Science and a Shocking Lack of Curiosity

I know, long title, but I’m having fun.

One of the things I have noticed about intelligent design (ID) is its shocking lack of curiosity about the designer. One can guess that they’re either afraid of what they will find (God) or what they won’t find (God). Take your pick. ID proponents regularly claim that they have no need to identify the designer; they have only to identify his work. Yet the scientific approach, upon detecting design, would be to promptly look for the designer. (I have previously discussed this natural desire here.)

Yet for some reason ID proponents try to avoid this issue whenever they are not admitting to Christian groups that the designer, wink wink, is very clearly God. There are two reasons for this. First is the political reason. If ID were billed as a means of scientifically detecting God, it would need to meet much higher standards in the courts. That would be inconvenient especially since actions, speaking much louder than words, indicate that a major goal of ID is to get God into the High School science classroom. Second, however, is the religious issue which is a catch-22. If you detect God scientifically, he’s not really God. We Christians tend to oppose the idea that God is located in images, and we are also not so happy with him turning up in laboratories, nicely pinned between two slides.

When I place a boundary between science and theology I am not merely trying to protect science from theological incursions, I’m trying to protect theology. And there comes the big problem. The ID proponents clearly know there’s a boundary. It’s recognized by both sides, but that boundary is inconvenient. They want to cross a legal boundary (church / state) by means of ignoring a logical boundary (science studying the natural world / theology and the supernatural). Like good magicians, they try to distract us from their foray across the natural/supernatural boundary by manifesting a shocking lack of curiosity. “Never mind me peaking around this corner,” says the wizard, “I have no interest in what is on the other side at all!”

This issue came up in a Panda’s Thumb post by Pim van Meurs yesterday. He says:

ID faces a real problem: Either it insists that it cannot determine much of anything about the Designer which makes the ID inference inherently unreliable and thus useless (Dembski) or it attempts to become scientifically relevant but then it can at best conclude ‘we don’t know’.

Just so! Commenters jumped on this issue and down the line we had an exchange between Larry Gilman with Pim van Meurs’ response. To avoid the long quotes let me note that Gilman is concerned with crossing that boundary from the side of science, and van Meurs is pointing out that the problem initiates with ID. (One should continue reading the exchange which talks a great deal of what Dawkins is actually saying, and what everyone ought to do. My point is a simpler than that.)

If God is an entity of the natural world, then Dawkins is right and science should be able, at least in theory, to locate him. I think there are some horrible holes in Dawkins’ logic, and I do believe he goes beyond science in a number of cases. But if there is a designer, whose designs beyond the “design” of the universe as a whole can be detected, then that designer is detectable, but not God. Both Dawkins and the ID crowd seem to me to have an appointment to fight it out on the far side of the natural/supernatural boundary, which Dawkins says isn’t there, and the ID proponents say they don’t care about.

It is only fair, of course, to point out that Dawkins doesn’t think folks like me have dodged his bullet either, but based on the boundary I’ve mentioned, I don’t hold that God is a bad hypothesis; I hold that it is ridiculous to regard God as a hypothesis at all. For those who want to read more than that, a small number, I suspect, my response to The God Delusion starts here and goes on for several posts. At brevity, I’m a complete failure.

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