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March 21, 2006

The Bible as a Theory?

This recent comment by the archbishop of Canterbury points to some of the jagged edges in the intelligent-design debate. His name is Rowan Williams:


"I think creationism is ... a kind of category mistake, as if the Bible were a theory like other theories ... if creationism is presented as a stark alternative theory alongside other theories I think there's just been a jarring of categories ... My worry is creationism can end up reducing the doctrine of creation rather than enhancing it."

Isn't the liberal, pluralistic perspective on intelligent design similar to that of the archbishop: Religion is fine; it just doesn't belong in science classes? (And, by this argument, John Barrow ought to decide if he's a physicist or a theologian, because they are two entirely different professions.)

Wouldn't a proselytizing nonbeliever argue, however, that, when it comes to the creation of the universe, the Bible does put forward a "theory"? Wouldn't this nonbeliever resist the idea that religion should be placed in a special reason-proof, science-proof "category" and, in fact, want intelligent design discussed in school so that it -- along with the notion that the universe was created in six days -- can be analyzed and, presumably, refuted, as the notion that the sun revolves around the earth has been refuted?

Posted by Mitchell Stephens at March 21, 2006 11:22 AM


I'm all in favor of having side-by-side examination of evolution and religion provided it's done in a fair and objective manner. There's no doubt which one will end up being laughed out of the classroom.

The problem is that the games cretinists (my term for creationists) play with warning stickers, "equal time", "critical scrutiny", "teach the controversy" etc. are deeply dishonest and disingenuous. Basically they are trying to poison the well and smear evolution as especially dubious and unsupported by evidence, compared to the rest of science. I expand on this point at greater length here.

Posted by: No More Mr. Nice Guy! at March 22, 2006 12:54 AM

"...the idea that religion should be placed in a special reason-proof, science-proof 'category'"

I don't have any problem with that, any more than with the idea that ethics or aesthetics belongs in such a category; in fact, most aestheticians and ethicists are happy to stay in that category, and the few that occasionally and crazily resort to science to "prove" their ideas are, in fact, few enough and obviously crazy enough to be safely ignored. The problem is that religionists won't stay put; they insist upon coming up with notions like ID, which is not religion at all but science. As science, it is clearly, demonstrably, aggressively wrong. It belongs in the biology classroom just as Ptolemaic theory belongs in the physics classroom or as phlogiston belongs in chemistry. If there's time, then consideration of such mistaken notions can give students some idea about how and why people can be misled regarding causal explanations.

As religion, ID makes no sense at all and has no relevance, but if scientists can deal with ID in their realm, then religionists should have no trouble dismissing it in theirs.

Perhaps that's what the good archbishop was getting to.

Posted by: Richard Blumberg at March 22, 2006 6:58 AM

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