Sunday, January 21, 2007


Thanks for those who sent notes to me following the Heaven and Earth show on BBC1 this morning. I did a 20-minute interview on the subject of what's wrong, theologically as well as scientifically, with 'intelligent design' creationism. Only a very brief snippet got used, and sadly many key points were overlooked in the feature as a whole. For example, the presenter kept referring to ID as "a theory" and the segment referred to it as "an alternative to Darwinism". It is neither of these things. It offers no testable hypotheses, as a scientist from the Wellcome Foundation (Professor Mark Walport, a leading expert on immunology and genetics) pointed out - but without being given time to explain why. ID accepts some features of evolutionary theory, but rejects others, on grounds which have been thoroughly taken apart by experts in the field as well as at the 2005 Dover trial. Incidentally, the main proponent of ID on the programme was not a scientist but Alistair Noble, an educationist who works for a Scottish Christian lobby group, CARE. His odd claim that ID is science because it starts by making claims about it could, of course, be said of many other dubious and discredited ideas - astrology, for example.

One of the things I had done (though you didn't get to see it) was explain why the so-called 'intelligent designer' of ID is a caricature of God as traditionally understood by Christians. God gifts the whole world process (not allegedly 'unexplainable' bits of it) ex-nihilo rather than through manufacture. What God 'creates' ('lets-into-being' is a better term these days) is potentiality and self-generativity. It is the resulting freedom of the world in relation to the essence of the divine that allows the possibility of truth, beauty and wisdom to develop uncoerced in the direction of relationship. Love requires contigency, in other words, not manipulation from without. ID also undermines the essential message of Genesis, which is not a hypothesis about life-mechanics, but rather a powerful, figurative, multi-layered affirmation that the world is good and fruitful, despite our marring of it - a notion directed against Ancient Near Eastern myths which said otherwise.

What ID does, as with creationism, is to create an inherent opposition between nature and the divine, so that the more you have of one, the less you have of the other (as if they were competing 'things') - exactly the kind of antithesis that the Jewish and Christian narrative is trying to overcome. It is also based on flawed metaphysics and the basic philosophical category error which takes absence of evidence to be an evidence of absence: viz "we're stuck with this limit, so an extra terrestial must have done it". This isn't science, and it's terrible god-of-the-gaps theology in spite of its (oft-refuted) claims to have found an end-point not a gap.

Nor did 'Heaven and Earth' point out that the UK Department for Education and Science has already rejected ID and creationism as inappropriate for inclusion in school biology lessons on scientific grounds; that the major Christian denominations have no problem with evolutionary biology and oppose creationism; and that many of those promoting ID, and claiming it as a scientific proposition, are actually Young Earth Creationists who don't even accept what they are putting forward. Rather, it is part of a political 'wedge' strategy. Get the distant cousin in and he'll bring all his relatives, essentially. In introducing Philip Johnson, an ID creationism advocate, the programme could also have mentioned that he denies the predominant scientific view that the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is causally central in giving rise to AIDS.

Altogether, less than satisfactory. But for many people, not least popular TV producers, the issues are dense and complex. So one simply has to go on communicating. My agenda includes a couple of popular pieces on the theological contradictions of ID, one for The Guardian CIF and one for my Ekklesia column. When I get the time, as I keep saying.

See also the excellent archives and NCSE's review of creationism around the world (including the UK) and the Vatican response to ID. Thoroughly recommended, for those who want to know more, are these titles; and Not In Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design is wrong in our schools. Theologian Ted Peters has also co-authored with scientist Martinez Hewlett a very good primer for local congregations, Can You Believe in God and Evolution? A Guide For the Perplexed (2006).

Also: Blair accused of complacency on classroom creationism; Christians and humanists call on government to rule out 'creationism' in science classes; Creationism distorts truth in science, says vicar; UK anti-evolutionists seek to lure parents with new website; US churches celebrate 'Evolution Sunday'; Churches urged to challenge Intelligent Design; Theologians and scientists welcome Intelligent Design ban; Schools minister says creationism has no place in classroom science; Exam Board rules out creationism in UK classrooms; Vatican astronomer says creationism is superstition; Archbishop of Canterbury criticises teaching of creationism; Creationists target schools and universities in Britain; Dawkins attacks creationist plans; Faith schools may allow extremists in, say critics; Creationists plan six more schools; Christians to explore values in science and technology; New Christian academy rejects creationism as 'rubbish'.

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