Saturday, September 10, 2005

Untangling The Intelligent Design Mess.

Ever since GWB mentioned Intelligent Design, I've been meaning to write about it. So here it goes, a handful of posts about the topic. Hopefully no more than two or three.

The briefest of brief histories*: In the 19th century, American universities were small and mostly religious. Professors were multi-disciplinary; it was not uncommon for the same prof to teach New Testament theology and geology (then known as "natural history.") There is an important fact here: the decisive majority of these geologists were Christians. They also happened to believe in an old earth. These Christians - ministers and professors - considered it an obvious truth that the Earth was simply ancient. Young Earth Creationism (YEC) was, then and now, found only in non-specialists. When I say "YEC," I mean the belief in a literal Genesis, six days of creation, roughly 6000 years ago. So the idea of an ancient (ie, billions of years old) universe was firmly entrenched long before Darwin ever came along.

As the American population grew, so did universities. Professors had to begin to specialize; with this specialization, came a loyalty to one's field rather than one's institution. The revered and authoritative institutions of Europe were cutting edge at the time, and so American universities were heavily influenced by them. This influence included Darwin's work.

The same Christian professors and academics who accepted an old Earth also accepted Darwin's work - in part. They simply rejected a naturalistic metaphysics, and became what we would call Theistic Evolutionists. Remember that term, it is important.

For the next few decades, Evolution was entirely an ivory tower matter. The average American could live his life without coming into signifigant contact with the subject. In the first quarter of the 20th century, public schools started popping up everywhere. The curriculums were guided by universities; suddenly, every little straw-hat, denim over-all wearing kid in rural America was coming home to tell mommy and daddy that they were all descended from monkeys.

An old universe and Evolution were firmly planted in acadamia long before these ideas entered the public realm in any sigifigant way. But once children started being taught these subjects, the battle was joined.

The fight occured on two levels. First, the scientific level. "Scientific" YECers began to multiply. Anyone reading my blog is probably already aware of their arguments, so I won't go into detail. Suffice to say, all through the 20th and into the 21st centuries, there have been louded and insistant voices for scientific YEC.

The second and more important level, at least in my opinion, was in the legislatures and the school boards. In the early 1920s, various states began to ban the teaching of Evolution. You've all heard of the Scopes trial, but there have been several more, right up to 1987.

In the 1990s, something called "Intelligent Design" (ID) cropped up. Briefly, it is the idea that certain living organisms are irreducibly complex - that no known natural force could possibly have produced certain organs. Its chief proponants are Michael Behe and William Dembski. ID has added more grist for the mill; it is no longer Scientific YEC that opponents of Evolution want taught in school, it is ID. Because it is "scientific."

So that's the brief history. I wrote a paper on this in my last year of undergrad; it ran about 30 pages. Be glad you read the condensation. But hey, if you want more detail, just ask.

I'll give my opinions on this whole topic in the next post in this little series.

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