Sunday, June 06, 2010

Ultimate Explanations of Design

Yesterday, I raised the possibility of seeing creation as a drama -- something that John Haught suggests.  Haught is a Catholic theologian who has a good grasp of the relationship of science and theology.  He suggests in his book Making Sense of Evolution that Charles Darwin's  Origin of the Species raises three subtexts with theological implications -- design, diversity, and descent.  He adds into that conversation other elements, the key being drama.  For a moment, however, I need to go back to the question of design.  One of the things that Haught suggests is that both the Evolutionary Naturalists and the Creationist/ID folks are arguing on the same plane -- dealing with the question of design.  Both sides seem to have the same definition of design -- that is, if God is the designer then everything should work perfectly (whatever that means).  Haught believes that if what requires is that divine design means "without flaws," then the theological proposal falls flat.  But, there are other ways of looking at this issue.  

What is important to note about Darwin is that he started his explorations with William Paley ideas of design in mind, ideas he came to reject as unworkable in practice, but there is no evidence that Darwin rejected the idea of a divine hand -- he just didn't know how it might work, which is the way it should be, at least from a scientific perspective.

The problem we face today is that there are some in the religious community that wish to answer scientific questions with religious answers.  At the same time, there are those, like Dawkins, who want to answer theological questions with science.  Haught suggests that when evolutionists want to use evolution as "an alternative to traditional theological understanding, they are not yet doing pure science." (Making Sense of Evolution, p. 17).  Evolution isn't an alternative to a theological explanation, it is a different kind of explanation all together.  He writes:

Even if they reject classic theological answers to the question of design, as they almost invariably do, they are still imprisoned by a kind of concern that is more theological than scientific.  The evidence for this confusion emerges clearly whenever evolutionists insist that it is natural selection rather than divine action that provides the ultimate explanation of design.  If they would stick to arguing that natural selection is an alternative to other proposed scientific explanations of design, biologists would remain outside the theological circle. (pp. 17-18).

Unfortunately they don't stick with scientific explanatioins -- they want to offer theological answers with natural selection serving as a theological answer.  And, as Haught notes, this simply doesn't work, because these are two different kinds of answers.  Thus, as Haught notes, even in their rejection of theology, the "evolutionary naturalists" such as Dawkins and Dennett end up talking theology, because they seem to want to offer an "ultimate" explanation that is found only in biology. 

So, the question I'd like to raise is this -- can we have a conversation in which both theology and science participate without one or the other trying to have the last word?

1 comment:

John said...

I think that it is the nature of theology to demand to have the final word. My Perception is that genuine science is not only content with provisional explanations but is typically skeptical of certainty.

Here human religion can learn a great lesson from science, to assume that all explanations are provisionally and incomplete. Moreover, it seems to me to be terrible theology to view science as hostile to religion. That is not to say that some scientists are not hostile to religion.

John