Saturday, March 04, 2006

More Catholic Ignorance in Science

The Catholic Archbishop of Kansas City, Joseph Naumann has come out in defense of Intelligent Design, and again demonstrated the ignorance prevalent among conservative Catholic theologians in matters of science. It also further confirms my decision to leave the Catholic church was the correct one. The Archbishop states:

“some proponents of evolution have been upset by what they perceive as injecting philosophy and theology into the science classroom, while they have appeared oblivious to the entwining of the philosophy of materialism with evolutionary theory for the past 150 years.”

Do you mind telling me what philosophy of materialism has entwined evolutionary theory? The bishop has taken this issue right out of Philip Johnson’s playbook for making intelligent design appealing to the masses and conflated distinct materialist philosophies for the sake of painting all evolutionists as anti-Christian. Does the bishop actually bother to read the work of scientists or is he just satisfied with parroting intelligent design advocates? Science has its own “rules of engagement” as I pointed out in a previous post, and basic to these rules is the acknowledgement that science cannot address the supernatural. That position is called methodological materialism. But the bishop is not interested in the finer distinctions necessary to arrive at “an authentic pursuit of the truth”. The bishop, like most Christian leaders of the day, are far more wrapped up in politicizing issues for the sake of maintaining allegiance (and of course, financial backing) among their followers. Much easier to paint every scientist since Darwin as a philosophical materialist who believes that natural explanations are all there is and religion is barking up the wrong tree – it keeps more of the flock in line and takes advantage of their pre-conceived notions of scientists as elitist.

The bishop is further quoted:

“In the place of natural selection for the answer to these bigger realities, the Intelligent Design theorists hold that the empirical data supports the principle of ‘irreducible complexity.”

I’m sorry, Bishop Naumann, but are you really that lazy? Have you, in fact, bothered to read how scientists doing actual research have destroyed the concept of irreducible complexity (or how intelligent design proponents constantly shift the definition of “complexity” to dodge all the holes being blasted in it of late)? Here’s an easy one: read Miller’s Finding Darwin’s God – most of my students who read it come away with the realization that you don’t need intelligent design to believe in God. Although apparently it’s a prerequisite for the bishop’s faith.

The article goes further:

The Archbishop pointed out that “opponents of Intelligent Design argue to keep all philosophical assumptions or theories out of science class discussions,” saying that he “would support such an approach, if this meant that in science classes the limited areas, where there is hard scientific evidence for natural selection, would no longer be used as a springboard to teach the grand assumptions and theories of materialism.”

The parroting continues. Can the bishop personally identify how the “theories of materialism” are being taught? By whom? And more importantly, which materialism is he talking about? I’ve got news for the good bishop: the hard scientific evidence for natural selection is far too vast to be adequately studied in whole scientific careers, let alone by public high school students in a couple of lectures.

The final ignorance:

Archbishop Naumann concluded by saying that he would be “comfortable if our public schools taught both the philosophical theories of materialism with its view of a world that evolved by chance and Intelligent Design with its vision of a world whose order and beauty reveal an intelligent architect.”

The bishop prefers a world revealed by an “intelligent architect”. Bishop Naumann, are you really sure you want to base your vision of God on intelligent design. Have you really thought this through?

Here is what we know about intelligent design:
  • Animals go extinct on a regular basis – 99% of these intelligent “designs” couldn’t adapt and are no longer around;
  • Many adaptations are clearly the result of Rube Goldberg type modifications that make no sense from design (or at least from intelligent design!) but make great sense in the context of natural selection tinkering with existing structures;
  • Apparently, the Designer needs to tinker constantly to get what he wants (humans for example), so clearly the Designer doesn’t have total control over the designs and the Designer can’ just “breath” particular species into existence;
  • Mutation rates (failures) among the designs seem to be pretty high – diseases, deformities, spontaneously aborted fetuses, things like that. Clearly not a an intelligently designed system;
  • Humans, however, are gaining the power to manipulate the designs – we have identified and mapped the Designer’s blueprints (DNA) and are beginning to learn how to manipulate it to our own ends; we better understand extinction and can take steps to prevent it; we can manipulate the forests to achieve different species composition and we are beginning to understand how to clone and even make new species…

So why, Bishop Naumann, are humans even bothering to lay prostrate before this Designer of yours? If you follow intelligent design to its logical conclusion, humans are quickly approaching par with the Designer, and in the next century will probably surpass his abilities (at least as they’re argued by intelligent design).

Is this what you need to bolster your faith Archbishop? If this is what your God is all about, then don’t expect intelligent folks to follow you - you have chosen the intellectually and spritiually lazy path. We can find our own spiritual fulfillment in the richness of Darwinian evolution if we choose - it demands more of our faith than intelligent design.

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