Friday, May 25, 2007

deGrasse Tyson And The History Of Intelligent Design

I never thought that I'd really "get into" astronomy, but thanks to Neil deGrasse Tyson I've become a consistent reader of his regular column in Natural History. So I had to watch when Red State Rabble posted a video of deGrasse Tyson talking about the role of intelligent design in history. It's something you have to see.

I was certainly struck by his analysis of intelligent design as a common theme throughout the history of science, but always being raised at the point at which the particular scientist (and science itself) did not possess the information to advance further in explanation. It is a consistent conclusion to problems for which we have insufficient information: "We can now explain A, B, C and D...but E God must have done...". As deGrasse Tyson explains, this is why Newton did not come up with perturbation theory and history had to wait a century before LaPlace did "the math" that Newton, although intellectually capable of conducting the calculations, could not conclude. Why? Because Newton was hamstrung by his "religiosity" - he could go no further because his "intelligent design" prevented him from asking questions that could be solved through simple observation. DeGrasse Tyson concludes:

Intelligent Design, while real in the history of nonetheless a philosophy of ignorance...And is a philosophy of discovery, intelligent design is a philosophy of ignorance. That's all.

However, I was additionally struck by his assessment of the ascendancy (and supremacy) of Arab science during the first millennium A.D. and its collapse approximately 1100 A.D. During the period of 800 to 1100 A.D., Bagdad, not the Vatican, was the center of intellectual advancment. With the advent of the 13th century, the Islamic world was overtaken by a fundamentalist religious dogma, codified in its government institutions (church and state merged) that resulted in a collapse of Arab society from which they have never recovered. The end result of a slow takeover of Islamic religious fundamentalism is guys strapping explosives around their waste and flying planes into buildings.

The rise of Christian fundamentalism in the United States in the 21st century is nothing if not history repeating itself. And creationism, whether Ken Ham's creation museum or Dembski's Intelligent Design, is a mirror of the events of the 12th century Arab world. Our continued advancement as an enlightened society, capable of meeting new challenges, particularly economic ones, is dependent upon having people capable of making discoveries running our science classrooms. In this context DeGrasse Tyson has a particularly interesting twist on why he was not concerned about the outcome of the Dover trial, which concluded that Intelligent Design was nothing more than a religious effort to get creationism in the classroom:

Republicans, above else, do not want to die poor. So there's a limit to how far this will go. And I bet most poeple in this room...were highly concerned about the Dover trial, wondering how that would turn....I looked at that and I said "I'm not worried"...because it's a Republican judge. In the end, if you put people who are not making discoveries in the science classroom, that is the end of the foundation of your future economy.

Republicans might be blinded to social responsibility by the accumulation of personal wealth....but they're not stupid....

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