The Corner

Third Rail

A very good (but long) piece in TNR about Intelligent Design. Jerry Coyne (he’s professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago) makes all the essential points.

I sometimes use the following argument with people who ask about ID.

You are walking in your home town when you see a building on fire. You call the fire house. They ask the location of the fire. You tell them. They

say: “Oh, we don’t go out to fires there. The city has decided that block is to be left in God’s hands. God has His own plan for the block, and whatever happens there is good, far as we are concerned. The fire is God’s will. We can’t interfere.”

What can be said about the fire house’s point of view? Well you can say

this: It might be based in truth. God certainly behaves in mysterious ways, and it’s not inconceivable that He might take into his charge a particular city block, and be angry at attempts to interfere with His will there, and code all that into scripture so that it can be reasonably deduced by those who take the scripture as His word. So our fire house, and the city council, might be on metaphysically firm ground.

I think you can also say this, though: The fire house’s attitude IS NOT A PROPER ATTITUDE FOR FIREFIGHTERS TO HAVE. Firefighters ought to fight fires, and leave theology — theirs, yours, and mine — out of their work.

So with science. The work-a-day business of scientists is to investigate the natural world, and come up with naturalistic explanations for observed phenomena. A scientist who says: “There isn’t a naturalistic explanation for this. Can’t possibly be. Must be God’s will,” is just not being a good scientist. [Though an ID-er, for reasons to do with US law and the Constitution, and with the fundamental dishonesty of the ID project, would say “the designer” rather than “God.”]

Even if, in some hypothetical long haul, it turned out that there actually

*is* no naturalistic explanation for the observed phenomenon, that scientist would still have been behaving in a way that scientists ought not behave.

He would have been in breach of professional ethics, just as much as a firefighter refusing to fight a fire. This accounts for much of the contempt and ill-will that working scientists feel towards the ID folk…

though in his article, Jerry Coyne keeps those things pretty well under control.

John Derbyshire — Mr. Derbyshire is a former contributing editor of National Review.

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