Exploring the Conflict Between Science and Religion

On December 11, 2006, the Committee on Government Reform of the United States House of Representatives published a 29-page document titled, “Intolerance and the Politicization of Science at the Smithsonian: Smithsonian’s Top Officials Permit the Demotion and Harassment of Scientist Skeptical of Darwinian Evolution.” The skeptical scientist was Richard Sternberg, who authorized the publication of an article (“The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories”) advocating the theory of intelligent design (ID) by Stephen Meyer in The Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. The article is mostly a review of the existing attempts to understand the evolution of the organization of proteins into cells, cells into tissues, tissues into organs, and organs into organisms. At the end of the article, Dr. Meyer suggested ID was a better theory than Darwinism.

This was the first time a peer-reviewed journal published a paper supporting ID. The behavior of scientists and administrators at the Smithsonian towards Dr. Sternberg was deplorable and justifies the subtitle of the congressional report. Dr. Sternberg and the three peer-reviewers probably thought that Meyer’s mention of ID was an unimportant philosophical addendum that did not adversely affect the scientific value of the paper.

In the article, Dr. Meyer offers no evidence that an intelligent designer exists. His only argument is that existing “materialistic” explanations were deficient. He did not mention that the existing theories might get better as more data is gathered and as the paradigm of natural selection acting upon random mutations is improved upon. Indeed, James Shapiro, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago, has already argued that “natural genetic engineering” will replace the paradigm of random mutations in the 21st century.[1]

Dr. Meyer probably knew better than Dr. Sternberg and the three anonymous peer-reviewers that there would be consternation if the article were to be published. So far as I know, he did not warn Dr. Sternberg about this because such a disclosure would not have been in his own interests.

What this scandal proves is that there is an emotional conflict about ID, not a rational disagreement. Conflict between people causes anxiety, and anxiety inhibits people from thinking rationally and intelligently and behaving with integrity. Intelligence is usually a measure of how fast or slow it takes someone to grasp a theory. People have difficulty understanding a theory that threatens their cherished beliefs. When the conflict is about religion, people have blind spots and exercise bad judgment.

The conflict about ID is most certainly a conflict about religion. Most advocates of ID believe in life after death, and many Darwinists, especially biologists, think this belief is irrational. One of the causes of the conflict about ID is that both sides don’t understand the cosmological argument for God’s existence, which is the first of the five proofs by Thomas Aquinas. The prime mover or unmoved mover concept was started by Aristotle, but was improved upon by Ètienne Gilson in the early 1920s. My metaphysics teacher in college was the author of The One and the Many: A Contemporary Thomistic Metaphysics. [2] Fr. Clarke said to his metaphysics class in 1963 that St. Thomas did a better job of proving God exists when he was not trying to.

The contemporary cosmological argument is based on the observation that humans have free will and are finite beings. A finite being is a composition of two metaphysical principles: essence and existence. A finite being’s essence limits its existence, and an infinite being is a pure act of existence. An infinite being exists because a finite being needs a cause. In Western religions, the infinite being is called God.

This argument assumes or hopes that the universe is intelligible, something ID advocates and Darwinists never even consider. It also raises the question of what motivated God to create finite beings. The only thing that could motivate God to do anything is self-love. Finite beings exist because God loved Himself as giving. But God could just as well love Himself without giving. This means we don’t understand why finite beings exist. God exists because a universe with only finite beings would be less intelligible than a universe with an infinite being. To me, this means that the Big Bang, the origin of life, and evolution is evidence that God does not exist because it is evidence that the universe is not intelligible. I also consider it evidence that God inspired the human authors of the Bible because the Bible says God created the universe out of nothing.

In a criminal trial, jurors come to different conclusions because jurors differ in their intelligence and judgment. It is usually clear whether a bit of evidence helps or hurts a defendant, but this is not necessarily the case. A particular exhibit in the mind of one juror might help the defendant, but hurt the defendant in the mind of another. In the minds of ID advocates and Darwinists, the Big Bang is evidence of God’s existence. This means that both sides don’t understand the cosmological argument. Neither does Wikipedia and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, for that matter[3]. This also means that ID advocates think Darwinists have bad judgment and vice versa.

Thinking someone who disagrees with you has bad judgment can be a source of anxiety because it may be you that has bad judgment. This is a hypothetical conversation about the cosmological argument:

ID advocate: The Big Bang proves that God exists.
Darwinist: I am not persuaded.
ID advocate: You have bad judgment.
Darwinist: No, you have bad judgment.

The ID advocate started the self-serving abuse, but the Darwinist should have admitted that he agreed the Big Bang is evidence of God’s existence. ID advocates feel a need to persuade themselves that God exists. Darwinists are just as anxious about justifying their own thoughts in the face of all the educated, intelligent, and rational people who believe in life after death. This neurotic conflict surfaces in the question of what caused microscopic organisms to evolve into whales in a time span of about a billion years. This is the above conversation with evolution instead of the Big Bang being the bone of contention:

ID advocate: ID is a better theory than Darwinism.
Darwinist: Darwinism is a better theory than ID.

Since both statements are correct, this is not a rational exchange of opinions. ID is a better theory than Darwinism because Darwinism only explains the adaptation of species to the environment, not common descent.[4] On the other hand, Darwinism is a better theory than ID because the evidence supports it. If ID advocates understood the contemporary cosmological argument for God’s existence, they might abandon ID. If this happens, Darwinists might be more forthcoming than they presently are about the limitations of Darwinism.

This conflict about ID is analogous to a conflict about a branch of physics concerning the temperature and other observables of real objects:[5]

Creationist: Evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics.
Darwinist: Evolution does not violate the second law of thermodynamics.

According to the second law of thermodynamics, a gas will fill up the entire container it is in because nature tends towards a disorderly arrangement of molecules. An orderly arrangement would occur if the molecules remained huddled in a small section of the container. This law does not apply to gases in outer space. Stars are formed when there are so many hydrogen atoms that the gravitational force between the atoms is not negligible and causes the atoms to move closer together. This law also does not apply to living organisms. A living organism is a complex piece of machinery, like a jet airplane in flight. For this reason, it is incorrect to say evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics.[6]

This is not the reason Darwinists give. “Entropy and evolution,” the reference in footnote 5, for example, argues evolution does not violate the second law of thermodynamics because the sun somehow pumps order into the biosphere. This reasoning is literally unintelligible.[7] The “Entropy and evolution” article goes further than this, however. It actually performs a calculation in thermodynamics proving that the second law of thermodynamics is not violated. This calculation was probably performed in good faith since it is so widely believed that the sun generates the order found in living organisms. However, since the error in the calculation has been pointed out, it is fair to call the AJP article a hoax promoted by Darwinists to squelch ID and creationism.[8]


[1] Shapiro, James A. 2011. Evolution: A View from the 21st Century, FT Press Science, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey.

[2] Clarke, W. Norris. 2001. The One and the Many: A Contemporary Thomistic Metaphysics, University of Notre Dame Press.

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmological_argument.

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/cosmological-argument/

[4] “The history of life presents three great sources of wonder. One is adaptation, the marvelous fit between organism and environment. The other two are diversity and complexity, the huge variety of living forms today and the enormous complexity of their internal structure. Natural selection explains adaptation. But what explains diversity and complexity?” (location 78 Kindle edition, McShae, Daniel and Brandon, Michael. 2010. Biology’s First Law :The Tendency for Diversity and Complexity to Increase in Evolutionary Systems, University of Chicago Press)

[5] “Does the second law of thermodynamics prohibit biological evolution? The erroneous answer ‘yes’ is sometimes presented in the creationist literature…” (Styer, Daniel. 2008. “Entropy and evolution.” Am. J. Phys., Vol. 76, No. 11)

[6] “Based on what we have said so far, some will be poised and ready to make a leap, from the notion of accumulation of accidents to the second law of thermodynamics…. We advise readers against this, for their own safety. We are concerned that on the other side of that leap there may be no firm footing. Indeed, there may be an abyss. First, we think the foundation of the ZFEL [zero-force evolutionary law] lies in probability theory, not in the second law or any other law of physics. And second, our notions of diversity and complexity differ fundamentally from entropy, in that entropy, unlike diversity and complexity is not a level-related concept.”  (location 220, op. cit.)

[7] McIntosh, Andrew C. 2009. “Information and entropy—top-down or bottom-up development in living systems?” Int. J. of Design & Nature and Ecodynamics Vol. 4, No. 4 351–385.

[8] http://creationwiki.org/Pseudoscience_in_the_American_Journal_of_Physics
http://www.evolutionnews.org/2011/10/more_philosophical_than_scient052441.html.



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