Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Intelligent Design Isn't Science

My wife brought home the most recent edition of Jewish Action (not available online yet) yesterday. In it there is a debate over the Orthodox position on evolution and intelligent design. Despite not being an area I'm especially knowledgeable about, I decided to take a look. The articles are pretty interesting, but I feel Nathan Aviezer's article explaining why ID is not a required Orthodox belief to have been the most compelling.

On the Shabbos before I got married I asked my cousin (who is a physics professor at NYU) whether he felt ID was science. His answer was simple: science is about explaining the world through natural means. ID presupposes (and actually bases itself on the idea) that certain organisms could not have evolved and therefore had to have been created by a designer, who designed (at the very least) those organisms though supernatural means. Moreover by assuming that those organisms originated via supernatural mechanisms, ID forecloses further scientific study into their origins.

Science cannot accept these conclusions. Supernatural explanations have no place in science; and proposing that certain areas no longer be open to study is anathema to the scientific enterprise. ID is a perfectly valid theological proposition, but it is no more science than the idea that demons cause disease.

Aviezer makes similar points, but adds to the argument. To assume that G-d can only be found in the "gaps," which are areas we cannot currently explain, pushes G-d to constantly retreat as science catches up. Every day we learn more and more about the world, and there's no reason to assume we won't figure out how every organism evolved. What happens then? Should we be limiting G-d to a tiny corner of science?

He supports the idea of guided evolution, based on the idea that the probability of the universe coming about as it did is almost nil. He posits that the anthropic principle supports the theory that something must have intervened to create the universe and that it's reasonable to believe that there was a designer who ensured everything fell into place in order that life could be sustained in our universe.

I don't find it surprising that a publication of the OU (whose head wrote a forward to Slifkin's new book) was willing to publish ideas that run contrary to contemporary charedi hashkafa. I commend them for doing so and allowing Aviezer to explain simply why evolution and Judaism are not in conflict.

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