Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Michael Shermer on George Bush, Intelligent Design, and evolution

Michael Shermer, always a voice of reason, has responded, in the latest eSkeptic, to the controversy surrounding George Bush's seeming endorsement of intelligent design "theory" last week. Shermer addresses the question of whether it is possible to believe in God and evolution from an interesting perspective: he looks at the question both quantitatively and qualitatively. Empirically speaking, yes, it is possible to believe in evolution and God, given that 40% of scientists do such, but it is not logically consistent to do so. Shermer is here elucidating the principle of (methodological) naturalism, which is the foundation of the scientific method.
You can believe in God and evolution as long as you keep the two in separate logic-tight compartments. Belief in God depends on religious faith. Belief in evolution depends on empirical evidence. This is the fundamental difference between religion and science. If you attempt to reconcile religion and science on questions about nature and the universe, and if you push the science to its logical conclusion, you will end up naturalizing the deity because for any question about nature — the origins of the universe, life, humans, whatever — if your answer is “God did it,” a scientist will ask, “How did God do it?, What forces did God use? What forms of matter and energy were employed in the creation process?” and so forth. The end result of this inquiry can only be natural explanations for all natural phenomena. What place, then, for God?
Shermer's last question is most famously answered by Pierre Laplace's response when asked by Napoleon why he made no mention of God in his discourses on the planets: "Sire, I have no need for that hypothesis."

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