Thursday, November 03, 2005

From the Maclaurin Institute: Intelligent Design vs. Darwinism

A researcher at the Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico and a graduate of the University of Minnesota's famed department of chemical engineering where earned his PhD, Michael Kent introduced a new element into conversations about intelligent design on Thursday evening, October 27: the role of ideology in shaping the assumptions of many, not all, scientists whose allegiance to some form of Darwinism seems beyond question.

His argument was built around the concept of "methodological naturalism," which is that scientists do science as if, in reality, there is nothing outside of the material world. According to Kent, the concept has taken on overarching philosophical implications, with numerous famed scientists, like Richard Lewontin, John Searle, R. Shapiro, and many others, declaring any science outside of their naturalistic assumptions to be unthinkable.

Evidence for the philosophical drive behind much of science is the intolerance of debate and the appearance that much of science done in the name of public education seems geared to getting people to a particular answer (indoctrination), rather than learning to think critically.

While he realizes that methodological naturalists have some legitimate arguments in their support, Kent suggests that: 1) Scientists must begin to acknowledge that modern science had its founding in theism; 2) Rationality was founded on a theistic worldview; and 3) The challenges to naturalism have increased as science has progressed.

Because of the insistence on methodological naturalism: 1) Conclusions are presented conclusively, when, in fact, scientific evidence is weak; 2) Because of the pre-existing philosophical commitment to naturalism, scientists feel no pressure to present plausible mechanisms for evolution; 3) Conceivability replaces plausibility as the standard for reaching scientific conclusions; and 4) Wild extrapolations are often made, going way beyond the evidence. Thus, R. Shapiro admits Darwinists have "enshrined it (Darwinism) as mythology." Similarly, the Albuquerque Museum of Natural History has a statement next to an exhibit: "Gas plus energy = DNA."

Ultimately, says Dr. Kent, science benefits when intelligent design is presented as a competing hypothesis, if only because it forces naturalistic scientists to face up to the risk of their ideology trumping the empirical data. In other words, intelligent design, at minimum, serves the necessary function of keeping scientists honest. Beyond that, by putting intelligent design on the table for legitimate debate: 1) Data is forced to arbitrate between competing theories; 2) There is greater pressure to demonstrate a plausible mechanism; 3) This motivates new, previously unexplored questions; and 4) Nothing need be taken away from the scientific toolkit (if ID is introduced).

Dr. Kent noted throughout his lecture before an overflow crowd of 80 in the Nolte Center that he has found, through teaching an honors course on intelligent design at the University of New Mexico, that the idea is intellectually stimulating for students.

"Stimulating students' intellects, challenging them to become critical thinkers, ought to be one of the highest of callings in the academy," said Bob Osburn, Institute executive director in his summary of the lecture. "For this contribution alone, educators should be thanking the ID movement."

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