Thursday, December 01, 2005

A Muslim On ID

Article mainly concerns the idea that Islam's beef with the West is its atheism (I doubt it; witness the first 1200 years of Islamic history). Some pretty good prose:

When President Bush declared his support for the teaching of Intelligent Design (ID) theory in public schools along with Darwinian evolution, both he and the theory itself drew a lot of criticism. Among the many lines of attack the critics launch, one theme remains strikingly constant: the notion that ID is a Trojan Horse of Christian fundamentalists whose ultimate aim is to turn the U.S. into an theocracy.

In a furious New Republic cover story, "The Case Against Intelligent Design," Jerry Coyne joins in this hype and implies that all non-Christians, including Muslims, should be alarmed by this supposedly Christian theory of beginnings that "might offend those of other faiths." Little does he realize that if there is any view on the origin of life that might seriously offend other faiths — including mine, Islam — it is the materialist dogma: the assumptions that God, by definition, is a superstition, and that rationality is inherently atheistic.

That offense is no minor issue. In fact, in the last two centuries, it has been the major source of the Muslim contempt for the West. And it deserves careful consideration.


[W]hat exactly is materialism? Isn't it more obviously represented by the extravagance of pop stars than by the sophisticated theories of atheist scientists and scholars? Isn't the cultural materialism of, say, Madonna, quite different from the philosophical materialism of Richard Dawkins?

Well, it is self-evident that they look dissimilar, but the worldviews they represent are intertwined. Cultural materialism means living as if there were no God or moral absolutes, and all that matters is matter. Philosophical materialism means to argue that there is no God to establish any moral absolutes, and matter is all there is. The former worldview finds its justification in the latter. Actually, in the modern world, philosophical materialists act as the secular priesthood of a lifestyle based on hedonism and moral relativism. The priesthood convinces the masses that we are all accidental occurrences who are not under any Divine judgment; and the masses live, earn, spend, and have relationships according to this supposition. A popular MTV hit summarizes this presumption bluntly: "You and me baby ain't nuthin' but mammals; so let's do it like they do on the Discovery Channel."

The biological justification for promiscuity — that we are "nuthin' but mammals" — is no accident: The idea that we are all mere animals is at the heart of cultural materialism. And that idea is, of course, based on Darwinism. That's why Darwinism, in the words of Daniel Dennett, one of its hard-core proponents, acts as a "universal acid; it eats through just about every traditional concept and leaves in its wake a revolutionized worldview."

That "revolutionized worldview" — in which God is denied, attacked, and ridiculed — is the grand problem we Muslims have with the West. It is true that some fanatics among us hate the West's liberty and democracy, too. Yet for the sane and pious Muslim majority, those are welcome attributes. This majority's only problem is the materialism that encompasses the West. And they would welcome those who would save the West — and thus the whole world — from it.


Of course, ID — like any other scientific theory — stands or falls not according to its political and diplomatic utility, but according to the evidence. So: Is ID true?

There is a huge and growing body of ID literature produced by some of the world's finest minds, and I won't attempt even to summarize the overwhelming evidence it presents for design in nature. Yet I think an examination of the main premise behind the current opposition to ID might be helpful.

To see that premise, we first have to note how ID theorists criticize Darwin. They do this by applying his own criterion for falsification. "If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications," said Darwin, "my theory would break down." ID theorists, such as biochemist Michael J. Behe, apply this criterion to complex biochemical systems such as the bacterial flagellum or blood clotting and explain that they could not have been "formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications" — because they don't function at all unless they are complete.

What is the Darwinian response to this? Here's Jerry Coyne again, in The New Republic: "In view of our progress in understanding biochemical evolution, it is simply irrational to say that because we do not completely understand how biochemical pathways evolved, we should give up trying and invoke the intelligent designer." Note that Coyne is here denying the falsification criterion that Darwin himself acknowledged. According to Darwin, if you demonstrate "that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications," the theory will break down. According to Coyne, you will only be pointing to a system about which "we do not completely understand how [it] evolved."

In other words, Coyne leaves no way that the theory can break down. Whatever problem you find with the theory today will somehow be solved in the future. Actually Coyne, quite generously, does give a criterion to refute Darwinism: Should we "find human fossils co-existing with dinosaurs, or fossils of birds living alongside those of the earliest invertebrates," that would "sink neo-Darwinism for good." But ID proponents aren't questioning the fact that dinosaurs predated humans and invertebrates predated birds; our question, rather, is how they came to be. Coyne sounds like someone who would silence a serious critique of the theory of plate tectonics by saying, "Hey, show me that the Earth is flat and thus sink my theory for good, or shut up forever."

With his solid faith in Darwinism, Coyne also assures us that the gaps in the fossil record — which should have been filled by the 150-year-long desperate search for the fossilized remains of numerous, successive, slight modifications — "are certainly due to the imperfection of the fossil record." But why can't we consider the possibility that the gaps might be real — that forms of complex life might have appeared on Earth in the way they are, as the fossil record suggests? The standard reply to this question is the "god of the gaps" argument: that theists have imagined divine powers behind natural phenomena in the past, and science, in time, unveiled the natural processes behind those phenomena. But if we had seen a cumulative filling of gaps since Darwin, we would have agreed. What we have actually seen is the reverse: Ever since Darwin, and especially in recent decades, the problems with the theory of evolution have been deepening and widening. With the discovery of the unexpected complexity of biology, and the sudden leap forward in the history of life with the Cambrian explosion, the Darwinian theory turns out to be based on an atheism of the gaps, in which lack of knowledge about life led to the wrong assumption that it is simple enough to be explained by a non-design theory.

God & Muslims
There are many other attacks on ID in the media, and they are all useful in that they demonstrate the true intellectual force behind Darwinism: a commitment to materialism. The most common argument against ID, that it invokes God and so cannot be a part of science, is a crystal-clear expression of that commitment. Instead of asking, "What if there really were an intelligent designer active in the origin of life?" the Darwinists take it for granted that such a designer doesn't exist and limit the definition of science according to that unproven premise. Similarly, the evidence for the existence of a pre-Sumerian civilization would not be "a part of history" if you define history as "the discipline that examines the past of human societies starting from the Sumerians and never, ever, accepting the possibility of something else before." A saner approach would be to question the definition of the discipline that is challenged by evidence — not to ignore the evidence in order to save the definition of the discipline. The reason this saner approach is not the mainstream view in biology is the same old dogmatic belief: materialism.

Of course, Darwinians have the right to believe in whatever they wish, but it is crucial to unveil that theirs is a subjective faith, not an objective truth, as they have been claiming for more than a century. This unveiling would mark a turning point in the history of Western civilization, by reconciling science and religion and letting people become intellectually fulfilled theists. Moreover, it would mark a turning point in the history of the world, by changing the meaning of "the West" and "Westernization" in the eyes of Muslims. They have been resisting the influx of godlessness from the West for a long time; they would be much less alarmed in the face of a redeemed West.

Well...I kind of doubt it, but good article!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Congratulations: It is now official that monotheistic fundamentalists of all stripes prefer Intelligent Design. Perhaps al Qaeda and Hamas can raise money by selling translations of Dembski and Behe into Arabic.

When you quote a work that argues at such length against a strawman (that people oppose ID because it is specifically a Christian superstition), do you expect any rational person to take it seriously?

The fundamental distinction between evolution and ID is this: Evolution believes we can observe (today) any mechanisms of genetic change that are necessary for life's current diversity to arise, in its hypothesized time scales, from primitive single cells. ID claims that this is impossible.

What Akyol is really arguing against, by demanding the rejection of using repeatable observation to deduce facts, is not just evolution but science as a whole. It is a sad comment on the modern state of fundamentalists of both Islam and Christianity that they prefer this.

If there is a god in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic mold, I hope it sets aside a special punishment for people who demean its creation by demanding that the deity's world needs constant tweaking.