Friday, February 17, 2006 — It’s Friday and that means we’re interactive, starring your e-mails and a few responses from me.
A relatively slow news week allowed me to peddle two topics that rarely make the headlines, and certainly never together: love and evolution. Monday we tackled Valentine’s Day with the “Love Ain’t Sex in the City” entry. The blog received a great reader turnout, but to my surprise the tough love I proposed evoked zero critique — not even a little heckling or name calling. You know I like to post both laudatory and critical e-mails, but on this one you’ll have to cope with gooey praise alone. With such little outcry on that front, I was in danger of thinking that everybody thinks like me. But then came Wednesday, when I waded into the debate on intelligent design. Your e-mails in the THOUSANDS reassured me that you are at least alive, if not all well. You also taught me a great deal. Thank you.
Three simple clarifications about intelligent design that may be helpful, before delving into your e-mails:
• In my opinion, it is simplistic and unfair to talk about THE theory of evolution, because in reality there are all kinds of theories. One man’s evolution is another’s crackpot theory. What I called “Neo-Darwinism” (also known as the “modern synthesis”) has received withering criticism from renowned scientists like Stephen Jay Gould, but his own explanation is also rejected by many, if not most, scientists. That’s just for starters, because the most interesting plurality in evolution theories begins once we step out of the strictly scientific realm: the theistic and non-theistic categories. As I pointed out in the article, a non-theistic or atheistic neo-Darwinian approach is often what is pushed in the public classroom. It’s bad science, because it isn’t science. There are other theories, however, that do not exclude the possibility of God. In other words, when someone says they believe in evolution, they don’t necessarily deny the existence of God. Rest assured, I believe in God and love him a lot.
• Another example of the plurality in this field is the difference between “micro” and “macro” evolution. While microevolution involves the modification within a single species (a slow, but common occurrence), macroevolution is interspecies — one species becoming another species over time. Do you remember the “transitional fossils” at the natural history museum or the drawings that show the homo erectus becoming the homo sapiens? That’s what they call macroevolution. To believe in this theory, you need to take a real leap of faith, something that I, ironically, am not prepared to do. Let’s just say that we don’t understand all the necessary mechanisms yet. As it stands, there seem to be too many missing steps. The incomplete evidence is not proportional to the nature of the conclusions that are drawn, as most palaeontologists would admit.
• A lot of you misunderstood what I meant by “philosophy,” thinking that it is the same as “religion.” While we sometimes speak of a person’s philosophy of life in a similar way as we would a religion, technically they are very different. Philosophy seeks truth through natural reason. Religion is based on faith. Intelligent design best belongs in philosophy class, not in religion, because we don’t need faith to understand it. I’m optimistic: if we talk at a philosophical level, we can bridge an otherwise unbridgeable gap between religion and science. Natural reason is something we all share.
So, today I’ll put the selection of e-mails in reverse order. First, those dealing with the intelligent design issue, and then the ones on “Tips for Finding the Real Thing," referring to Love, of course. As always, don’t feel like you have to read all of them. While they are chosen because they add something to the discussion, there is no method to their order. No intelligent design here, I’m afraid.
We’ll talk again on Monday. And as always, the topic will depend on what’s going on in our world. If there isn’t any breaking news, we’ll try to break it ourselves, as the growing community that we are.
In essence, I quite agree with your blog on intelligent design. I say that as a Ph.D. biological scientist, who has taught evolution for over 30 years. I believe that no reasonable person can deny that biological evolution did and does occur, however, all that happens in this universe must follow a basic set of laws that guide all the existence of the universe. The majesty of God, seems to me, is all that much greater for the ability to, if you will, write the mathematical and physics laws (programs) to result in the world we know, rather than acting as mere puppeteer, who directly molded us and controls our existence.
In closing, I must say that I very much enjoy your articles.
Warm regards, Kenneth, Ph.D.
RESPONSE: Thanks, Kenneth, for your response, and for your genuine humility — it comes across in the tone of your note. I agree, God’s power is all the more apparent as he allows the laws of nature to run their course. The list of great scientists whose own religious faith was buoyed by their scientific work is endless: Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Lagrange, Maxwell, Pascal, Pasteur, Planck, Einstein. Some were even clergymen, like Copernicus, Mendel, and LeMaitre. These last two, of course, discovered genetics (one of the foundations of modern evolutionary theory). Go figure. Who says science and religion are incompatible?
I liked your approach in your article so much that I am responding, which I do not normally do. I was raised Christian, but logic and science made more sense to me, so I swung to atheism. As I grew older and wiser, I determined that atheism, just like Christianity or any other religion is a belief.
What bothers me terribly are these people who appear to be “fundamentalists,” with an agenda and force their beliefs on everyone else. They appear to be the ones behind ID. Their agenda, as far as I can tell, is jaded. They are not seeking the truth; they are seeking to place their version of the “truth” on everyone else. To me this is scary, very scary.
So I ask you, "would you surmise that I lean more liberal? Or conservative?"
Thank you for the article, Alex
RESPONSE: Thanks for writing, Alex. I’m not big on throwing around political labels, and on this blog everyone is welcome and respected. Regarding your point, among most any group of people, including ID proponents, you will find some with radical agendas. You will probably agree that certain Darwinists can be pretty “fundamentalist” about their beliefs as well. So don’t jump to conclusions. There is a lot more to ID than ideology.
I agree with your article. We need to stop thinking about evolution vs. ID, and start thinking about science vs. philosophy. I think the real problem is that the public has been led to believe that the theory of evolution is fact, but it's not. The neo-Darwinists can't prove the theory of evolution any more than I can prove the existence of God. It takes faith to believe in either one.
RESPONSE: Great point, Eric! I couldn’t agree with you more.
Intelligent design doesn't propose quite what you said it does. Instead, when looking at the complexity of the human eye, it says, "I don't know how it happened, but I do know from scientific observation that in other situations as complex as this one, there has been intelligence behind the design."
That's only a slight difference from what you wrote, but it's crucial. It's the difference between assuming one knows the answer to the question — which, as you point out is philosophy — and still attempting to apply scientific observation to the possible answers to the question.
You have, however, done a better job than most of explaining the situation. So much of the media portrays intelligent design as just repackaged creationism, meaning without any scientific content. And that's clearly an unfair lumping together of the two.
Thanks for an intelligent look at the subject, even if I don't completely agree with your conclusions. :-)
Kathy, Lakewood, CA
RESPONSE: Thanks, Kathy! You’re right, the observations themselves are scientific, and in this sense ID is not JUST philosophy. I should have mentioned that. I would add, though, that the conclusions that ID makes from those observations are not scientifically verifiable. That’s why it belongs down the hall in the philosophy department together with evolutionary theory.
I recently read your article about intelligent design in which you expressed doubt about the completeness of evolution and natural selection. I disagree, and believe those two processes are capable of creating very complex entities, including humans.
Let me illustrate with an example: NASA recently developed an evolved antenna that works just as well, if not better than, conventional antennas. They did this by randomly generating an antenna in a computer, then evaluating its effectiveness. Next, this first antenna was mutated several hundred times to produce children antenna. Of these, the top 10% were selected for survival. These were then mutated, and the top 10% of this third generation were selected, and so on.
This process can continue for months, and with the speeds at which computers operate, this translates into billions of years. In the end, the best antenna of thousands is chosen and actually built. And, like magic, it works better than anything a human being could have designed! As an engineer, I see evolutionary design as the future of product development. This example also shows that incredibly complex behaviours can be constructed using only random mutation and survival of the fittest.
Evolution has rightly been criticized as a theory and not a fact. But now we are using that theory to generate desirable results with good reliability. In engineering, that's how you prove whether a theory is right or wrong, and evolution is passing with flying colors.
RESPONSE: Thanks, Jack. That’s a very good point. Experts like you keep us all on our toes. Can evolution and natural selection be capable of creating very complex entities? Sure: evolved algorithms prove it. Is that where life came from? The answer is a big fat “MAYBE.” We probably can’t ever know for sure, since we can’t turn back the clock and watch it happen all over again. I just have one question for you: how do you know that “incredibly complex behaviours can be constructed using only random mutation and survival of the fittest?" Are you, an engineer, going to deny the possibility of engineering? I imagine you wouldn’t. Just something to think about.
"For reasons of method" — what a beautiful, precise explanation and it took all of four words. The distinction is so clear, yet has been clouded for years. A wonderful, articulate piece of writing that flowed from a pure understanding of science and one shared, unfortunately, by far too few of my scientific colleagues — and judges, lawyers, media analysts, etc. It is so crucial that students learn early on that there are different rooms and that the deliberations in both carry validity. I am reminded of Einstein's "I want to know what God is thinking — all the rest are details." Certainly he knew there are two rooms. Very nice article, Father.
Thomas, Ph.D., HCLD
Scientific Director and Embryologist
Thank you for your wonderful and concise summary of intelligent design and why Neo-Darwinism has us "conservative" Christians upset. I, myself, have a Ph.D. in chemistry and see God present in the awesome complexity of atoms and molecules, just as many of us see God in a beautiful sunset. For those without eyes to see, this deeper meaning is elusive and hidden. However, as you pointed out, this meaning is philosophical and not scientific.
I believe that given the science or discipline of statistics, it is EXTREMELY unlikely our surroundings evolved from nothing into the complex. I really liked what you said about teaching ID as a philosophy. It’s common sense. I think the modern obsession with evolution (neo-Darwinism) as science is our modern equivalent to the ancients’ flat-Earth theory. Some day they will look back at us and chuckle.
RESPONSE: Thanks for keeping it in perspective, Garrett. Who knows? Only time will tell. At any rate, you know what Shakespeare said: “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in our philosophy.”
Thank you for this wonderfully refreshing article. Although we differ in our fundamental beliefs (I am an atheist), your writing states very well the need for respect and open-mindedness toward philosophy, irrespective of any clash with our own personal beliefs.
Respectfully yours, Dan in Virginia
RESPONSE: Thanks, Dan; I appreciate that. Truth is for real, philosophy isn’t just empty talk. Very probably either ID or evolution is closer to the truth. It’s a matter of working towards it and helping each other out. We certainly can’t get there if our public debate is nothing more than calling each other names and blurring fine lines.
Real learning is integrated. We can't separate science from belief, and thus from origins. Heck, how did we even come up with the scientific method? The method alone has philosophical questions that are definitely in the classroom, such as the belief that there IS a method to even find scientific truth! That's pretty philosophical to me, and you can't separate this philosophical belief in the scientific method from the science classroom, in the name of fairness of your approach. True learning is integrated — we can't separate one aspect of reality from another aspect of reality, unless one really does not want to see the whole picture.
Hope I was helpful, Mary
RESPONSE: Absolutely, Mary. In a perfect world we would have no need for artificially departmentalized learning like we have today.
I enjoyed your article "Intelligent Design: Not Modern Science," where at the end you asked if it helped. I would have to say "no." You muddied the waters to establish ID and evolution as being on the same level. This is why science will never respect it as a theory.
I agree that evolution is more a philosophical statement than a mathematical law, but it still is a logical statement from which deductions are made and supported by empirical evidence. This is not the case with Creationism.
ID is a disguised religion for many reasons. Why did it take so long in the Earth's history before humans were present? According to evolution it's because mutations are rare (provable). According to ID, "it was God’s will" (unprovable).
Which "idea" is more logical to go with? The one supported by literally "mountains" of evidence or the one resting upon an untenable belief?
Honestly an Agnostic, Kurt (Physics Graduate, Arizona State University)
RESPONSE: Kurt, I agree with you 100% (surprise)! But only on one condition: you’re saying “ID” when you mean to say “seven-day Creationism.” Give ID its due: its claim that evolution didn’t happen by chance is on the same level as Darwinists’ claims that evolution did happen by chance. You’re right, of course, when you say that a blatant contradiction of authentic scientific evidence is off limits. That’s precisely why Creationism shouldn’t be evaluated on the same level as ID and Darwinism. Creationism is valid as an act of faith. ID is valid as a philosophical theory.
As a Jesuit priest with a doctorate in philosophy from Fordham University, I just wanted to say that your article is excellent. I think that there are valid arguments for the existence of God, but these arguments are philosophical and not subject to the principle of empirical verifiability/falsifiability as are the theories of the natural sciences.
God bless! Fr. Bernard, S.J.
Father Jonathan, I read your piece on intelligent design (ID). As an enthusiast of ID, I've read more than 30 books, all written by world-class scientists, dealing with this subject and the problems of Darwinian evolution. I'm afraid you have fallen for the false assumptions that the mass media has made about ID. That is, that ID is religious based and therefore not scientific. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact that the Dover case implied a religious connection is an erroneous implication on their part, not of ID.
Russell, Manhattan Beach, CA
RESPONSE: Hey, Russ, my guess is that you didn’t read the whole article through. My thesis is that ID is not religious based. And, yes, I criticized the Dover case for that very reason. Perhaps you were confusing what I say about philosophy with religion. They are two very different things. One is about reason and the other about faith.
And because we know that there is more to life than science and philosophy (thank God), here are a few of your responses to “Love Ain’t Sex in the City: How to Find the Real Thing:”
Your thoughts on intimacy and commitment are right on the mark. I am going to read your comments to my 13-year-old son and 16-year-old daughter. They feel such peer pressure to have a boyfriend or a girlfriend. It starts so early, 12-13 years of age. They are already seeing their friends devastated by break-ups because they were so emotionally involved in the relationship. There is naturally no thought of commitment at their young ages, yet they emotionally and physically jump right in. Thank you for helping me to further explain the absolute necessity for balance between intimacy and commitment to my teens.
All the best to you and God bless, Ann T. in California
P.S. Thanks also for your advice to us married folk!
Dear Fr. Jonathan,
Three years ago in February, my husband moved my mother into our home. She was struggling to live on her own, failing in health and isolating herself. Today, she is significantly healthier, active in church and the community and overflowing with friends. This man doesn't need to buy me a box of candy to show he loves me, or my mother. He does it every day.
Yeah, I know I'm lucky! Mary Kay
Dear Father Jonathan,
I think your Valentine's Day observations and advice are spot on, except you left out one category — engineers! I've been married to one for twenty-five years and his idea of being romantic is showing me a computer slide show of some project he's working on!
I love your blog and look forward to reading each new posting.
God Bless, Mary.
Thank you for this article. How I wished that I had read this many years ago. What you are saying really needs to be said and adhered to. People don’t even know what real relationships are anymore. We’re lost and wandering around. I am over 35 and have been single since my ex-husband left me six years ago. Don’t even really know why I’m writing to you, other than to say, "thank you." I enjoy all of your articles no matter what the subject.
Hi Father Jonathan,
My husband and I just celebrated 18 years of marriage this last week. I am 37 and he's 41. We couldn't be happier. Even at the young and naive age of 19, your tips are exactly what I used to find my man. It really doesn’t take Hollywood values to be successful in love. In fact, Hollywood has a horrid track record in that field. It takes all the old-fashion ideas like you proposed. If people are willing to pay the price, true love is possible. Our marriage is not perfect, but I never imagined my life could be so happy and full.
You just summed up what I have been doing wrong for so many years. It should have been obvious to me, but for some reason it wasn't. Somehow, I have always been able to have great relationships with intimacy on all levels only to have it come crashing down in the end when commitment becomes a serious issue. Thanks for your words of advice and wisdom.
Ginelle, New York
Last year for Valentine's Day, our 23-year-old daughter sent us a card. The front was funny stuff, but the inside stopped me in my tracks. It said, "From you two, I learned what love looks like."
That, to her parents, married for 28 years. You are absolutely dead on with your analysis. Marriage, good and bad, is learned behavior. So is commitment.
I wish you were around 30 years ago! I would not have made such bad decisions. Anyhow, I am sending it along to my sons. Maybe they can be helped.
Stephanie, Redwood City, CA
Your article was so fantastic! I couldn't stop laughing out loud about how true it was. You're really funny. It's nice to hear the purest values emphasized in today’s media. I particularly liked the part about complimentary personalities. Carlo and I are total opposites but our values
are exactly the same. Happy Valentines Day!
God bless, Valerie Vespe
God bless, until Monday, Father Jonathan
Write to Father Jonathan Morris at firstname.lastname@example.org.