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False assumptions in the Dover debate necessitate a third perspective

In Dover, Pennsylvania, the question of evolution versus intelligent design has hit the front page. At issue is the nature of science. Is intelligent design science, or is it religion?

In truth, it is neither. Design is a philosophical issue.

Science seeks to discover how nature works, not whether there is a designer behind it—-although assumptions made about design might indeed lead to altered expectations during an investigation.

Religion, on the other hand, seeks to experience ultimate reality–and if believers find that reality to be rational, they will expect the world to have a rational order.

But so did Platonism, which was clearly a philosophy–neither science nor religion. In fact, science itself must assume a rational order to the cosmos, but that does not make science a religion.

On the other hand, evolutionary theory is science–a tested explanation of how nature works.

The framing of the debate in Dover seems to make a fundamental error of logic.

Questions of “ultimate design” and “how nature works” are independent issues. A conviction that the cosmos is designed does not logically lead to an expectation that nature has causal holes (breaks in cause & effect chains), and thus to the idea that the explanations of science must have defects.

Evolutionary explanations of the structure of nature, therefore, are unable to exclude the possibility of rational design or of an active designer. Rather, evolution is a theory of the method of divine providence (Providence, you may recall, is the Biblical perspective that God is at work in the world within normal cause and effect.).

It follows that one has not somehow advocated design when one points out problems in evolutionary explanations. God does not live in the gaps.

The question, then, is: should we or should we not discuss design in the public science classroom?

I see no reason not to bring it up.

Design questions do not establish religion. But, they are also not part of science.

Sometimes, a statement is made in the classroom to the effect that “apparent complex design can arise without a designer.” It needs to be recognized, however, that by making such a statement, the speaker has brought up the design question.

In fairness, the possibility of intelligent design should be given equal time with the possibility of random “design.”

But again, such a discussion of design in nature should not be linked to a discussion of the adequacy of evolutionary explanation.

Don’t look for God in the gaps. A doctrine of God’s occasional presence is a doctrine of his usual absence.

Dr. Wilcox is a professor of biology at Eastern.

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