Recently, I have participated in many discussions regarding the current controversies surrounding "evolution vs. Intelligent design." As I have read, replied and stood back from the discussion to simply observe, I have noticed some interesting things.

Confusion of Terms

On both sides of the issue, there are severe misunderstandings about the terms and definitions which the other side employs. For example, many antagonists of intelligent design (ID) wrongly conflate the same with a rigid, literalistic 6-day, 24-hour interpretation of the Genesis creation accounts. While ID is championed by many who also affirm the literalistic interpretation of Genesis, ID itself cannot be reduced to this. Rather, ID merely states that the complexity of the physical universe which we inhabit is such that it must have been designed by an "intelligent" power, force, etc. However, the identity of this "intelligence" is not necessarily identified, and could range anywhere from an advanced alien intelligence from another universe to a supernatural sweet potato.

Equally, proponents of ID and creationism often make a similar mistake by equating big bang cosmology and biological evolutionary theory with atheism. This, of course, is not surprising, as many of those sympathetic to ID locate the identity of the intelligence in "God." Therefore, in their thinking, a description of origins that does not mention God is tantamount to an atheistic rejection of the very existence of God. While this belief is undoubtably quite popular, it is wholly unfounded. Big bang cosmology and evolutionary theory do not "deny" the existence of God. Rather, they attempt to provide a naturalistic explanation of the physical universe–an explanation which by default precludes discussion of the supernatural as a naturalistic mechanism for creation.


This leads to my next point. Many, in commenting on the "evolution v. ID" debate, make statements such as, "Well, they're both just theories anyway. Why not present both of them in science class?" However, such statements are actually quite unhelpful, as they merely reveal an ignorance about the function and role of "theory" within the domain of scientific methodology.

In the scientific method, "theory" does not simply refer to an abstract idea which one seeks to prove, as if any random person could suggest a "scientific theory," such as "all socks are purple because the moon is made of cheese." Rather, "theory" in the domain of science is much more precise–it is not an idea as much as it is an organizing principle. In another way, theory in science is based upon an examination of evidence. After observations, experiments, etc. are made, the material knowledge is gathered and the scientist attempts to organize it into a theory. The real test of a theory is quite simple: does it organize the material into a comprehensively measurable system? Does the theory provide prediction–based upon the evidence–of what one should and should not find in future observations and/or experiments? And, is there any way to verify/falsify said theory?

All of these criterion must be in place in order for a "theory" in science to be taken seriously. And because of this precise criterion, most scientific "theories" come to be accepted in a similar fashion as "fact," simply because they have been so rigorously subjected to scientific methodology.
This is one of the reasons why evolutionary theory is so widespread in the scientific community. After all, the theory provides very good predictions about what scientists should–and do–find in relation to the evidence. Furthermore, it provides very precise tests and measures for potential verifiability and falsification.

But what of ID? Can ID truly be considered a "scientific theory?" The answer must be, conclusively, no. After all, ID can move only to the extent of providing a description of origins. Saying that "this" or "that" bears the marks of ID does not provide any framework for prediction, confirmation or falsification. Furthermore, ID lacks any centralizing and organizing systems by which to truly categorize that which is purports to study. After all, if everything in the universe is intelligently designed, then there is no category by which to compare and contrast that which is supposed to be intelligently designed. Therefore, ID ultimately becomes a tautology, a self-justified observational hermeneutic through which to view the universe.

A Hermeneutic of Power

So if my claim that ID is not a legitimate scientific theory is accurate, what, then, is the basis for the groundswell in support of such a movement? As already noted, much of it is based upon ignorance of the issues involved. On the one hand, some believe that the teaching of evolution and big bang cosmology is tantamount to a denial of God, while others believe that evolutionary theory and ID are both legitimate scientific "theories" that should be given equal teaching weight in the classroom.
However, I think there is a deeper issue at play than simple ignorance. I truly think that the problem lies in the American Evangelical perception of the Scriptures. Because of the dual doctrines of infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture, millions are taught from the pulpit each Sunday that "if the Bible says it, it's true, hang whatever else the godless world tells you to the contrary." While I argue that there may be room for the Evangelical to fully affirm the infallibility and inerrancy of the texts, most are not fully introduced to the necessary nuances and qualifications which must accompanying interpretation of the Scriptures. For most American Evangelicals, the Scriptures are practically treated like a book of magic. Many truly believe that if they simply recite the words written on the page, the interpretation of the text will take care of itself. Moreover, because of this false impression of the Scriptures, many believe that the Bible is applicable to all potential situations and scenarios, as if each and every issue that could possibly be faced by the human person can be "proof-texted" with a verse or two. What is missed is the dynamic place which the Scriptures have played throughout the history of the people of God, a collection of writings of those faithful to God who struggled to make sense of the amazing revelation of the divine in Christ and the human place within the divine purpose for the cosmos.

While the Scriptures cannot be reduced, as many often do, to being nothing more than "primarily theological texts," it is also true that they cannot be treated as if they are a cross-disciplinary archive of knowledge waiting to be applied in science, business, engineering, etc. Unfortunately, however, this is exactly how many American Evangelicals view the Scriptures. I have heard it said many times that "science must never contradict the Bible." But what does this mean? What it means, for one, is that the person saying it believes that all possible knowledge about the cosmos has been communicated in the Scriptures and that if one only pursues science based upon the supposed scientific content of the Scriptures…well, then one will arrive at the right answer.

This example demarcates what I believe is the hermeneutic of power which operates in American Evangelicalism. This hermeneutic functions as follows: Whatever I interpret the Scriptures to say is truth (in an abstract, absolute sense, of course), no matter what. Therefore, if I interpret the Scriptures to say that God created the universe in 6 24-hour periods of time and rested on the 7th day, then of course it is impossible that it took billions and billions of years for everything to get to how it is today. Forget the fact that my eyes and every experience and observation tells me differently–the Bible says so (well, it s
what I've interpreted it to say…), so that's it, there it is.

I call this a hermeneutic of "power" because it is exactly that–a power. It consumes the individual to such an extent that all experiences, observations, evidence, etc. to the contrary will be blocked out in preservation of the interpretation. All the evidence to the contrary in all of the universe could be presented, so it goes, but the interpretation is the absolute. Moreover, the interpretation becomes so dominant to the paradigm of the individual that all other options are not only wrong, but it is they that lack the evidence, they that have a shoddy "scientific theory," they that are the atheists. It is the power that led one Kansan woman to exclaim something like, "Evolution has been completely disproved." But what evidence is offered in exchange?: an interpretation based upon a presupposition about the nature and function of an ancient text.

Ultimately, I believe this approach is a veiled, yet destructive gnosticism. It unconsciously bifurcates the "truth" of the interpretation from actual experience of the universe. Because the integrity of the interpretation must be maintained, the physical universe (as well as what we can learn through experience of it) is devalued and perceived to be either an insufficient repository of knowledge or, worse, an opponent to what one perceives to be the "truth of God." Just like the gnostics of old who believed that they had attained the "special knowledge" of God and despised the body in preference of the exclusivity of their esoterism, modern day creationism veiled in ID-language does exactly the same–separating what one must believe about the interpretation of Scriptures while necessarily denying the very creation of God and the knowledge which this wisdom imparts to the senses. True, senses can be deceiving. However, to sense is to be human. To deny that our experiences of the universe we occupy have a place and power to inform our understanding of this universe is to deny the very creation which we are attempting to understand. This, I believe, is a grave mistake and will only lead to much damage to the Church in America.