Yes, it’s about religion

There, I said it. The Intelligent Design debate is about religion. The stickers that used to be in Cobb County textbooks? They’re about religion. What about the Discovery Institute? Religious as well. Any attempt to tell anyone that to posit a Designer is not a religious argument is a lie at worst, at best merely disingenuous. I suppose the only way to get around that is to say that aliens are the designers, but where’d we get them? It only pushes the time scale back a bit. Let’s be honest, then, and say that the debate raging over what to teach in science classrooms is really about one thing, and one thing only: God. And if ID proponents want to get religion admitted into the science classroom, they should rightly be excluded. In this day of strict separation between church and state, there is no way around that.

However, there is another side to this issue that isn’t often discussed. Materialism is every bit as religious as Intelligent Design. So, there are a lot of other things that need to be excluded from science classrooms–namely, a whole lot of works by Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins, E.O. Wilson, and numerous other popularizers of science, and even parts of any number of biology textbooks. A few quotes will suffice, from books I suspect are found in quite a few science classrooms:

In many cultures it is customary to answer that God created the universe out of nothing. But this is mere temporizing. If we wish courageously to pursue the question, we must, of course ask next where God comes from? And if we decide this to be unanswerable, why not save a step and conclude that the universe has always existed?
– Carl Sagan, Cosmos

Evolution has no long-term goal. There is no long-distance target, no final perfection to serve as a criterion for selection, although human vanity cherishes the absurd notion that our species is the final goal of evolution.
– Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker

The entire tradition of philosophical explanation by the purposes of things, with its theological foundation, was made completely superfluous by Darwin’s theory of natural selection.

The steady expansion of the sciences, to be sure, has left less and less to be explained by a supernatural Creator, but science neither can deny, nor affirm, such a being.
– Douglas Futuyma, Evolutionary Biology, 3rd edition.

These quotes all end up making metaphysical conclusions–they draw more from the data than can be justified scientifically. Sagan doesn’t understand the nature of God, and decides to propose an alternative–that the universe has always existed–that is utterly wrong based on what we know about the “Big Bang.” Dawkins, as is his want, misses the point entirely. Evolution does not rule out purpose, because while it is constrained to “random” selection, survival is not a random outcome, and in our finite minds we may be missing an overarching purpose placed into the mix by God. The two quotes from Futuyma’s influential textbook are simply examples of philosophical ignorance. I may not be an expert on Thomism, but I have a hard time seeing how any of St. Thomas’ arguments are done away with simply because we have a new way of explaining how species came into being. And, just because something can be explained by material causes does not explain how that material came to be in the first place. Yes, science can neither confirm nor deny the existence of God from experiments on nature, but statements such as these seem calculated to inculcate doubt about God’s existence. I often wonder why such scientists feel the need to place a spin on the data. Just lay it out there and let students, many of whom aren’t all that dumb, figure out the implications.

But, getting back to my main point, what exactly is religion? The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as follows:

1. a. A state of life bound by monastic vows; the condition of one who is a member of a religious order, esp. in the Roman Catholic Church.

b. man, etc. of religion, one bound by monastic vows or in holy orders. Obs.

c. house, etc. of religion, a religious house, a monastery or nunnery. Obs.

2. a. A particular monastic or religious order or rule; a religious house. Now rare.

b. collect. People of religion. Obs.

c. A member of a religious order. Obs.

3. a. Action or conduct indicating a belief in, reverence for, and desire to please, a divine ruling power; the exercise or practice of rites or observances implying this. Also pl., religious rites. Now rare, exc. as implied in 5.

b. A religious duty or obligation. Obs.

4. a. A particular system of faith and worship.

b. the Religion [after F.]: the Reformed Religion, Protestantism. Obs.

c. religion of nature: the worship of Nature in place of a more formal system of religious belief.

5. a. Recognition on the part of man of some higher unseen power as having control of his destiny, and as being entitled to obedience, reverence, and worship; the general mental and moral attitude resulting from this belief, with reference to its effect upon the individual or the community; personal or general acceptance of this feeling as a standard of spiritual and practical life.

b. to get religion: see GET v. 12d.

c. Awe, dread. Obs. rare

While materialism explicitly rejects any idea of divinity or a higher power, it still fits definitions 4a and 4c quite well. To reject divinity is itself an act of faith: as Dr. Futuyma clearly states above, science cannot disprove God. It’s impossible, so to reject Him is every bit as much an act of faith as to believe in Him. What about worship? The reverence given to “science,” the “scientific method,” and “Nature” borders upon it. The old term “religion of Nature” that the OED cites in 4c still fits. So, let’s leave it out of the schools. The Church of Materialism must be separated from the State if we are to remain consistent in our law.

But I have to wonder: what would be left if we did so?

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