Thursday, November 10, 2005

The End of Science
There's a good essay in Time magazine about intelligent design, in the wake of its advance in Kansas and its seeming defeat in Pennsylvania. Eric Cornell suggests that as theology, intelligent design is actually an exciting idea: "If nature is the way it is because God wants it to be that way, then, by looking at nature, one can learn what it is that God wants! The microscope and the telescope are no longer merely scientific instruments; they are windows into the mind of God." But as science, intelligent design turns the exciting act of discovering how the world works into the mere reiteration of Sunday-school lessons.

To me, the single most marvelous and unlikely thing about the human species is the ever-rising curve of our knowledge about the world. In 11,000 years of human development, we've grown from superstitious explanations of everything to unlocking the atom and beyond. What we could do in the next 11,000 (if we manage not to destroy ourselves with the products of our knowledge) leads a person to conclude that the world 11,000 years from now will be as unrecognizable to us as today's world would be to a caveman of 11,000 years ago. But what intelligent design does, in effect, is to stop that growth dead. As Carroll says, it's like drawing a box around all our scientific understanding to date and saying "Everything outside this box is God's will."

Intelligent design's smug certitude about the way the world works would render scientific investigation pointless. Worse, it would also render such investigation blasphemous: "God did it and that settles it. Who are you, Mr. Scientist, to question his will?" So intelligent design is not just another scientific explanation--it's actually the end of science.

Recommended Reading: Samuel Alito is making the rounds with my senators. He met with Russ Feingold yesterday and will meet with Herb Kohl today. Senators are making a great deal about Alito's "assurances" on this or that matter--but over at AMERICABlog, they wonder if he can really be trusted, given some other assurances he's failed to follow through on during his time on the federal bench.

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