To test the real difference that theodicy makes to ID, Timaeus posed a thought experiment (see post 33) involving a team of scientists of various religious persuasions who conclude that the malarial cell is a designed entity. However, the scientists’ ability to infer why a deity would have created such a malignant cell is impeded by their religious differences, which have no natural resolution. Moreover, Timaeus wonders, even if after much discussion these differences were somehow resolved into a common theodicy, to what extent would that theodicy have been based on their scientific work or, for that matter, the theodicy would be capable of justifying that work. The implied conclusion of this thought experiment is that theodicy is not a necessary feature of ID’s conceptual framework but a controversial add-on.
First, a technical point: One shouldn’t assume – as the thought experiment does — that each religion (or even each denomination) has its own unique theodicy. The same theodicies can be found across many religions. With that in mind, let me illustrate two ways in which the conduct of science and views of theodicy provide mutual support.
Sociologically speaking, in the case of malaria, a ‘folk theodicy’ is already built into the science, insofar as malaria is treated specifically as a problem of disease control and eradication (i.e. a problem in medicine) rather than itself a solution to a larger ecological problem (i.e. how to cull the surplus population of poorly adapted humans). Malaria is a challenge from which humanity may learn and ultimately overcome – say, through improved living conditions, vaccines, etc. While modern medicine rests on secular scientific foundations, its basic hostility to anything that threatens human life is a residue of an Abrahamic world-view.
In contrast, a strict Darwinian rooted in Malthus’ views of population control would find this ‘folk theodicy’ a bit sentimental and might even object to the very term ‘disease’ as displaying an anthropocentric prejudice against the effectiveness of malaria-carrying mosquitoes as vehicles of natural selection. Indeed, the ‘racial hygiene’ movement in German medical faculties in the half century leading up to Hitler decried the proliferation of vaccines as creating ‘counter-selective’ environments that threatened ecological instability in the long term. For them, mosquitoes should be allowed to do the job for which they were designed.
There are subtler distinctions to be drawn within both general paradigms, in terms of, say, whether (in the case of the first theodicy) some small level of malaria would be tolerable or (in the second theodicy) some high level of malaria would be intolerable. However, the implications of the theodicy for the science are clear: Medicine is not a branch of environmental science in the first case, but it is in the second. More generally, I believe that theodicy, even if only in an unreflective ‘folk’ form, is presumed in our understanding of how scientific disciplines relate to each other.