More on Faith and Science

Thomas Dixon in the TLS:

In the heyday of natural theology, the human eye was the great example of divine design – a wonderful symbol of vision and insight, as well as a marvel of optical engineering. God’s intelligence is apparently discerned these days in the E. coli bacterium – a wonderful symbol of diseases of the gut, propelled by an ingenious rotating tail. It is this “flagellum”, a bacterial outboard motor, that is used by proponents of so-called Intelligent Design as an example of the sort of “irreducible complexity” that they claim cannot be explained by Darwinism. It was recently reported that teaching materials promoting Intelligent Design had been sent to all heads of science at British secondary schools, but it is unlikely that they will have much impact here. Intelligent Design is a quintessentially American movement responding to a set of constitutional, cultural and religious dilemmas peculiar to the United States.

Opinion polls today consistently find that, when asked to say whether human beings were created by God within the past 10,000 years, or by a process of evolution guided by God, or by an entirely natural process of evolution, about half the population of the US choose the first option, and most of the rest choose the second. In a country where the question of whether Intelligent Design should be taught in schools on equal terms with Darwinism is regularly debated, it is understandable that books about science and religion sell well and that they have a more tangible political impact than they do in Britain. In this American context, Richard Dawkins’s recent atheistic broadside, The God Delusion, also makes a little more sense. It is really a book to keep up the morale of that embattled 10 per cent of Americans who think God has nothing to do with evolution.

Although Dawkins of course has no truck with “irreducible complexity”, one thing that he and his Intelligent Design antagonists agree about is that God’s existence or non-existence is, in Dawkins’s phrase, “a scientific fact about the universe”. Most theologians would want to reject Intelligent Design, along with the theology of The God Delusion, for exactly that reason. For them it is axiomatic that if we are going to talk about God at all, then God is not part of the natural order and should not be expected either to conform to the laws of physics or to feature as another entity in scientific accounts of life or the cosmos.