Intelligent Design

ID’s Cultured Theological Despisers — Simon Conway Morris’s Boyle Lecture 2005 (#1)

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Check out the transcript of Simon Conway Morris’s 2005 Boyle Lecture: http://www.stmarylebow.co.uk/?Boyle_Lectures:2005. He just can’t seem to leave ID alone:

Rather it seems to me that Intelligent Design has a more interesting failing, a theological failing. Consider a possible analogy, that of Gnosticism. Where did this claptrap come from? Who knows, but could it be an attempt to reconcile orphic and mithraic mysteries with a new, and to many in the Ancient World a very dangerous, Christianity? So too in our culture, those given over to being worshippers of the machine and the computer model, those admirers of organized efficiency, such would not expect the Creator – that is the one identified as the engineer of the bacterial flagellar motor or whatever your favourite case-study of ID might be – to be encumbered with a customary cliché of bearing a large white beard, but to be the very model of scientific efficiency and so don a very large white coat. ID is surely the deist’s option, and one that turns its back not only on the richness and beauty of creation, but as importantly its limitless possibilities. It is a theology for control freaks.

As one of my colleagues puts it in response:

Conway Morris’s remark is another of the slapdash pseudo-theological criticisms of ID, which uses words like “Gnosticism” and “deism” in utterly eccentric senses. Their primary rhetorical function is to prevent readers from considering ID on its own terms.

Let’s take the objection that ID is deistic. Conway Morris recognizes correctly that ID theorists argue that the acts of intelligent agency are detectible at certain places within the created order. He takes that to mean, without logical justification, that ID theorists argue that only at those locations does design take place, and no where else. That’s the non sequitur. (Design could be everywhere, but only be apparent within a certain framework at certain places.) Then comes the theological objection: “Surely it’s objectionable to say that God only acts here and there in the created order, and not everywhere. He’s the Lord of creation after all! That’s almost as bad as saying God only acts at the beginning, as the deists contend. Therefore, ID arguments are (basically) deistic.”

Never mind that anyone who says that God acts even once within the created order has already ceased to be a deist. And never mind the fact that ID theorists don’t argue that design takes place, say, only to make the bacterial flagellum and to get life started, and nowhere else. Who has claimed that? The ID argument is that there are certain loci within the created order in which design is apparent against the backdrop of natural, law-like order. That’s a claim about detection that is fully compatible with God (I’m assuming God is the designer) being active in secondary causes as well. Moreover, many ID advocates also argue that design is detectible at the level of natural laws and constants. That’s the point of most fine-tuning arguments.

Too many criticisms of ID take place in a sealed glass jar, with misrepresentations of ID being proposed, and then critiqued. Good criticisms address the real argument, not a distortion of it.

10 Replies to “ID’s Cultured Theological Despisers — Simon Conway Morris’s Boyle Lecture 2005 (#1)

  1. 1
    mmadigan says:

    As Ann Coulter puts it, in their obvious attempt to avoid religion, they talk about it all the time.

  2. 2

    I am finding it difficult to walk away from this blog.

    In previous postings, I began to develop a critique of ID that is based on the “Altar of the Unknown God”, since it recognizes Creation, but does not require knowledge of Gthe Creator. The Greek word “unknown” is agnostos. Rather than characterizing ID as gnostic, rather I believe it to be agnostic.

    From http://www.allaboutphilosophy......ic-faq.htm

    “Thomas H. Huxley, 19th century biologist, philosopher, speaker, and one of the first and foremost defenders of Charles Darwin’s “Origin of the Species.” Huxley clarified the philosophy of agnosticism in a series of essays published in 1889. He wrote, “Positively, (agnosticism) may be expressed: In matters of the intellect, follow your reason as far as it will take you, without regard to any other consideration. And negatively: In matters of the intellect do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable. That I take to be the agnostic faith, which if a man keep whole and undefiled, he shall not be ashamed to look the universe in the face, whatever the future may have in store for him.”

    The apostle Paul’s speech on Mars’ Hill in Athens (Acts 17:23-33) to the agnostics of his day was a plea to not ignore the Creator. They did not reject him, and in fact would have had him stay, but he knew he was not going to get anywhere against religion based soley on intellectual phliosophies.

    The first couple paragraphs of what is an agnostic were okay but the rest of it really sucked and revealed the author’s theistic agenda and disrespect for agnostics. Just because someone says they don’t know if there is or is not a higher power of some sort doesn’t mean they don’t care. That is totally non sequitur and the author is either stupid or dishonest for going there. -ds

  3. 3

    “The first couple paragraphs of what is an agnostic were okay but the rest of it really sucked and revealed the author’s theistic agenda and disrespect for agnostics.”
    – I have no agenda on this blog, other than to be representing for the Lord. Fair?
    – I certainly meant no disrespect to agnostics.
    – Find me a proven agnostic, and I will apologize.
    – Even Huxley realized agnosticism requires faith.

    “Just because someone says they don’t know if there is or is not a higher power of some sort doesn’t mean they don’t care.”
    – Practical concern about the existence of a higher power would involve seeking same.
    – Belief in a ‘higher power’ without knowledge of same is worship in ignorance.

    “That is totally non sequitur and the author is either stupid or dishonest for going there”
    – It is neither illogical nor absurd that the ‘higher power’ can be known personally.
    – He has been known by billions of people for thousands of years.

    I am surprised to discover just how much ID and Darwinism have in common. Is this debate to be just an internal dispute amongst agnostics? Are theists despised here?

    He has been known by billions of people for thousands of years

    A billion people today worship cows. What’s up with that? There have been more Gods and Goddesses worshipped throughout history than Carter has little liver pills. I’m in no position to pick out any particular deity and cast out all the others as false.

    I’m an agnostic. I don’t know if there is a God or not. If there is He needs My forgiveness for letting evil exist when He can ostensibly do something to stop it. I need no forgiveness because I wouldn’t have let my creation deteriorate into such a sorry state. But I do care what’s true and what isn’t including whether or not the universe was created and whether or not its creator still plays a role in it. My tendency is towards deism (but I don’t know for sure) because of the overwhelming evidence of design everywhere we look and the overwhelming evidence that God is no longer taking an active role in it. I expect your apology to be forthcoming. -ds

  4. 4
    bFast says:

    This statement by Simon Conway Morris is sorrowful. I listened to a radio interview with him. He is clearly Christian. I have met other thiestic evolutionists who suggest that ID is in opposition to Christianity but theistic evolution is in perfect unity with Christianity. This is a tension that I fail to understand.

    Dr. Morris, if you are going to present evolution as “truth” please do so from science, and not from Christian doctrine.

    What I find particularly sorrowful is that Simon Conway Morris does not accept contingency. He makes a fantastic case for an non-contingent (or at least minimally contingent) evolution based upon the study of convergence. In the post “Thinking about ID as causation…” I debate JohnnyB’s view that ID requires agency. I suggest that either law or agency are ID positions, and that “chance alone” is the only non-ID position. It would seem that Dr. Morris has concluded that God did it — by law. He seems to brissle at any concept of agency. (Though he would accept the agency of Christ’s carnation.) Yet he seems also determined not to seek out improved law, some law that would obligate the convergence that he sees. Rather he seems content to conclude that RM+NS is law enough to obligate the convergence that he sees. Though I would be quite content to discover that law, without agency, is adequate to explain life as we know it, I personally do not by any means believe that RM+NS is in any way sufficient law to obligate the contingency that we see. If law did it, we need to discover more natural laws.

    Colin DuCrane:

    Is this debate to be just an internal dispute amongst agnostics? Are theists despised here?

    Colin, many of us are thiests, Christians. I, and I think others, however, contend that science must be agnostic. We brissle against a science that has become athiestic, but also brissle at the thought of science taking on a religion — ops, scratch that, athiesm is a religion as far as I am concerned — but also brissle at the thought of science taking on any other religion.

    Its kinda like government. It is not good for society when government declares its alegience to a religion. The result of such a declaration of alegience, as we have seen in the “holy” Roman Empire, is the degredation of the religion. By the same token, I suspect that both science and Christianity would be harmed terribly if science adopted Christianity as its creed.

  5. 5
    apollo230 says:

    The posture of scientists in general should be agnostic – an “I do not know” posture. They should not be leaping ahead of the evidence and saying, “yes, there is a god” (theistic) OR saying “yes, there is definitely no creator” (atheist). Since human knowledge is clearly limited and senses grossly confined, who has the right to make statements of metaphysical certainty? An agnostic position is the only one that promotes the intellectual honesty so critical to science.

    Therefore, bfast, if I understand you correctly, I agree that science should take on no religion – theist or atheist!

  6. 6
    bFast says:

    You understand me correctly.

  7. 7
    bFast says:

    Let me just add, just because science, as with government, must remain agnostic, that doesn’t by any means mean that the individuals involved in either field must remain so. We debate within an agnostic framework, but as individuals we may chose a strong committment to our religious perspective. This, alas, gets to the point of concern expressed by Colin DuCrane.

  8. 8
    tinabrewer says:

    DaveScot: I know I have managed, inadvertantly, to get on the wrong side of your sword, (it cuts deep), but might I ask what the “overwhelming evidence” that God no longer acts in creation is? Is it based upon your idea of what that agency should look like? Do you wonder if maybe your image of what it should look like is perhaps incorrect?

  9. 9
    Doug says:

    He’s probably trying to get a favorable light cast on him from academic circles, since the conclusion of ‘Life’s Solution’ supports ideas such as front-loading.

  10. 10
    bFast says:

    Doug, “He’s probably trying to get a favorable light cast on him from academic circles…”
    Doug, I think you are fully correct. We seem to live in a world where ID is often misspelled “evil”. Conway has moved very close to the ID position. I think he is quite actively distancing himself. Alas, I think his integrity is suffering for it. He has become a condemner of the saints.

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