Sunday, February 26, 2006

An Intelligent Comment on Intelligent Design

The Doonesbury strip from this morning's paper makes one of the best ever comments on Intelligent Design. I'd cut it out and mulled it over before going to Mass this morning, intending to begin writing in earnest later on today. Good thing I waited, because the gospel gave me exactly the right perspective with which to view the subject of ID. It all has to do with wineskins. You can't put new wine into old wineskins, Jesus told his disciples. In fact, things just don't work when they're put in the wrong framework--because that's how I see the wineskin image, as a frame of reference within which to view certain ideas. Those Jesus spoke to were of a certain mindset, one which prevented them from hearing his message. His ideas needed a new mindset to be understood.

What kind of mindsets am I talking about with reference to ID? Faith and science come to mind, which is why this comic strip seemed so applicable. We've had a split between faith and science ever since the time of Galileo. Galileo himself was a man of deep faith, as were many of the scientists who followed him, right up to the present day. The Jesuits of his day took an interest in astronomy and followed his work with great interest, just as they have continued with their scientific endeavors down through recent centuries. Science doesn't exclude faith, nor does faith, science. They're just two separate modes through which to experience the world. They constitute different realms, but are no more contradictory than are, say, apples and oranges.

But, slice those oranges, dice the apples, add some coconut and a little Triple Sec, and you've got a tasty salad. Don't forget a few toasted almonds, and maybe a little chopped candied ginger. Mmmm! What I'm saying is, those apples and oranges can be very distinct realities, and yet when mixed, can offer something neither one had alone. In fact, I would say the world is more like a fruit salad than it is like either apples or oranges alone, and that includes the realm that both science and faith claim to explore.

However, let's back up to the list of ingredients once more.
Take science, a discipline that attempts to make a guess about how things work and to proceed by using experimentation, observation, and testing, to find out if that guess is right. Further testing can indicate whether the phenomenon observed can be repeated, whether it is consistent. Eventually this method yields an actual scientific theory, which can serve to predict further occurrences or to build on for future experimentation. It's a limited discipline. Scientists are not given to wild speculation and theoretical extravagance. Science proceeds step by step in an orderly fashion, adhering strictly to the Scientfic Method. It begins with the premise that only that which has been observed is known.
Faith, on the other hand, begins with the position that one can trust the unknowable, that the Unknowable reveals itself to us. The Unknowable Known is Law, yet cannot be governed by any other force. It is radically free of control, cannot be captured and tested and made to perform test-tube tricks.

To mix these two opposites might be like combining acid and base--explosive. Intelligent Design attempts to do exactly that, with results that ought not to surprise us. Many the scientist, confronted with the mere suggestion of ID, fulminates in outrage. On the other hand, fundamentalist persons of faith often react in a similar way to suggestions of a universe that developed without a Creator. This should not surprise us. What should, rather, astound us is the fact that there are scientists who calmly see themselves as creatures of that Creator, and that there are persons of faith who can readily accept evolution. This is where we get the salad.

How does this work in reality? When we recognize that the skins are but structures that enable human beings to follow certain trains of knowing. We live with a number of wineskins. As in the metaphor, you can't keep wine without the skin, nor can we have ideas apart from some kind of intellectual structure. But wisdom leads us to recognize that these are but containers, and that reality or truth is far more vast than what we can imprison in any limited vessel.


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