Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Big Fat Face of Intelligent Design

“The fundies want it all taught in a science class, but this will be a nice slap in their big fat face by teaching it as a religious studies class under the category ‘mythology.’”
- Professor Paul Mirecki
Chairperson, Department of Religious Studies, University of Kansas

“I have assured the provost of the university that I will teach the course … as a serious academic subject and in a manner that respects all points of view.”
- Professor Mirecki, in his subsequent apology for the remarks above

“…it is especially appropriate that intelligent design and creationism be treated as academic subjects in a university-level religious studies class.”
- David Shulenburger
Provost, University of Kansas

Just the latest from the state of Kansas, sports fans! (A reminder: I live in Missouri.) Kansas’s new slogan is, “As big as you think.” And if this is an example of how big they think, it must be a very small state, indeed. ;) The story in the Kansas City Star this morning was accompanied by a kick-butt column by Mike Hendricks, who gets the award for the quip of the day:
“But as everyone knows, spite is never an accepted rationale for offering a college course, except those math courses that English majors are required to take.” Nice one!

As far as I can tell, at first Mirecki wanted to teach ID as a “special topic in religion” in the realm of mythology out of spite, in order to make a political statement and make a jab, er…I mean “slap” at religious fundamentalists in his state. Specifically, a “slap in their big fat face.” (Sidebar: Who says things like “big fat face” and they’re not in junior high school?) But now that his email got into the public discourse, he is back-tracking as fast as possible.

Now he and the provost are rushing to claim that intelligent design is actually a serious academic subject, something it most definitely is not. It is an article of faith, and a weak one, at that. Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t intelligent design based on being UNable to explain what you see? As in, “Golly, that amoeba is complicated; I’ll never be able to explain that; someone smarter than me must have designed it; I know – let’s call it an ‘intelligent designer.’” Then we decide if this intelligent designer exists and who s/he is based on our faith experience. That’s pretty much it, isn’t it?

And aren’t academic subjects, on the other hand, based on being ABLE to explain what you see? As in, “Golly, that amoeba is complicated; let’s figure out a way we might be able to explain how it works.” Then you look at it closely and over time, learning more and more about it by observing it. What is “academic” about shrugging your shoulders and saying, “I dunno” when confronted by life’s most difficult questions?

And think about it, what is even “faithful” about such an approach? Should we really, created in the image of God as we are, think that anything too complex for our minds to grasp is an unexplainable phenomenon that only God can know? Another option might be to put our God-given intellectual capacity to good use by diving deeply into the questions of life, death, and the natural world. Quoting someone famous whose name I can't remember, “I can’t believe that God designed a human being with a mind we’re not supposed to use.”

Contemplating the idea that God created the world is a serious academic endeavor; and at the same time it is a rigorous discipline of faith. But Intelligent Design Theory seems to me to reduce the holy power of the Creator of the cosmos to a watered down, “children’s sermon” answer to a profound and challenging question. Intelligent Design is bad theology, because it minimizes the human capacity for curiosity and neglects the profound drive to discover meaning in the midst of the milieu of life.

Clearly, there are things about life that are outside of Darwin’s realm – like sunsets, Mozart, or being ticklish. And also, there are things about life Intelligent Design cannot explain – think of the appendix, racism, or phlegm. I guess I’m trying to say that life is complicated, and neither science nor religion can answer all of our questions. So why do we waste so much energy and time trying to keep them separate?

Anyone who tries ought to be slapped in their big fat face!


Ksqurred said...

This reminds me of when I was in my mythology class. The faith side of it tells us why, the science can only tell us how things happen... And I think that too many of schools today are trying to teach science as the why and it doesn't work...
But I love the topic!!!

Adam Caldwell said...

I'm a little confused on your stance. Do you want Intelligent design to be taught or not? If no, I think that your understanding of Intelligent Design is deffinately different than mine.

From my understanding, it isn't about "dumbing" down the science simply because we don't know, but rather it's about finding answers to previous questions. All of the arguments that I have heard and read on intelligent design have been very well researched, thought out, and as far as I can tell, scientific.

I think that one of the misconceptions that people make in America is the assumption that Inteligent Design points to the Judeo-Christian God. It doesn't. It simply states that this world has a designer. That it did not come to be on it's own.

To me it's all kind of funny to watch the pendulum swing. Inherit the Wind was mainly seperated between Christians and Non-believers. With these arguments, you will find Scientists who are not Christians arguing for Intelligent Design and scientists who are Christians arguing against it. That's deffinately flipped around a bit.

Personally, I think that they should both be taught. The trouble you run into is that not one teacher teaches it all the same anyway. My understanding of Darwinism may be differnt than your understanding. Same with Intelligent Design.

Andy...Kansas slogan reminds me of another slogan that gets thrown around a lot but doesn't seemed to be adhered to. Can you guess what that might be? (Hint: It makes me gag!)

DogBlogger said...

I'm hoping y'all already know about this site, but if you don't, here's the URL:

Andy B. said...

Dear Dog,
Check out this previous post-
In fact, you commented on that post!

My limited understanding of Intelligent Design leads me to believe it is both bad theology and bad scholarship, because of a flawed epistemology and weak anthropology that I percieve in the theory. Pondering the origin of life and the power of our Creator God is something I affirm, ID is not.
- Andy B.

Anonymous said...

While I think I understand ID, I haven't really followed it, preferring to let science be science and faith/religion be faith/religion. I think while science sticks to science and religion sticks to religion, everything works. The problems happen when scientist voice atheism/agnosticism arguing from science and theologians attempt to explain science from a theistic (or some other theological) world view. They really should be separate, by definition (natural verses supernatural).

That said, Professor Paul Mirecki remarks are terribly offensive. I'm no fundamentalist but I can't imagine ever taking (unless I was required to) a class under him. His remarks are a bit revealing. And it is remarks like his that causes people to question the credibility of academics. Why would a professor of religion believe it is okay to openly mock and deride fundamentalist Christians?

I realize that there are ID'ers that are trying in some areas of the country to force colleges and public schools to teach ID as a legitamate science. But we can be respectful and say, "No. ID isn't science." And vote down (and out those promoting the policies) policies that would inappropriately put ID in scientific curriculm.

Adam Caldwell said...


The only thing that I would argue to that is that I believe there is no supernatural. All fits into the natural realm. We may not be able to explain it, but that doesn't mean it isn't a natural occurance.

Otherwise miracles are a little problematic.

Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

When I say supernatural, I'm talking "God" or "faith" or "miracles" etc. and I mean supernatural in its original sense that is those things outside the natural (observable) order. Science can only constrain itself to the study of the natural world. It cannot by definition study, observe, hypothosize, etc. those "beyond" the natural world.

For every fundamentalist pastor looking to put ID (or worse, creationism) into science textbooks, there is a ridiculous college prof arguing from a scientifc point of view that there is no God (or god). I like my science to be science and my religion to be my religion.

Brad said...

You wanna know my best argument for intelligent design....Angelina Jolie.

I think we're taking this too seriously. This is a fight that's been going on since Darwin (1860 or so) and will go on until science finds definate evidence. See Newsweek's latest cover story on the man himself, Charles Darwin, who was studying for the clergy before his trip to the island with the turtles and the birds and such.

The question is, is getting into the debate really important for us as ministers of the Gospel and love of Jesus Christ?

But, as I said, there must be something intelligent behind the workings of Angelina, it can't all be John Voight.


Adam Caldwell said...

Sure Brad, take the high road. What better forum is there to talk about such topics? That's why we discuss these things, it makes us feel like we are actually having an impact on the world even though we are held up in our cubby holes staring at a computer screen.

I Kid, I Kid!

John said...

As DogBlogger has pointed out, you are very offensive to those of us who are more open-minded.

I pray that you will be touched by His noodly appendage.

Randy said...

Intelligent Design has significant scientific merit. It is a theory that states that life is so incredibly complex that it could not possibly have been the result of random events and must therefore have an intelligent cause. This theory is supported by a great deal of evidence. Not speculation, but solid evidence. Because of this evidence, a very good friend of mine with a Ph.D. in biochemistry was lead first from athiesm to theism, and from there to becomming one of the most loyal disciples of Jesus Christ I know. If you want to find athiests among college faculty, you are more likely to find them in a philosophy department than in the physical sciences. Physicists, biochemists, astronomers and mathmeticians are finding God's fingerprints all over this universe.