Why God’s in a Class by Himself
Intelligent Design (ID) creationism has resurfaced in the news again after President George W. Bush’s remarks were (mis)taken by IDers to be a solid endorsement by the president for the teaching of ID in public school science classrooms. (Bush’s science adviser, John H. Marburger 3rd, said in a telephone interview that “evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology” and “intelligent design is not a scientific concept.”)
There was considerable media hype over the story, and I did a number of interviews, including a query from a reporter who asked for my opinion about whether one can believe in God and the theory of evolution. I replied that, empirically speaking, yes you can, the proof being that 40 percent of American scientists profess belief in God and also accept the theory of evolution, not to mention the fact that most of the world’s one billion Catholics believe in God and accept the theory of evolution. But then this reporter wanted to know is if it is logically consistent to believe in God and the theory of evolution. That is, does the theory of evolution — if carried out to its logical conclusion — preclude belief in God? This is a different question. Here is my answer.
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?
One could argue that God is the laws and forces of nature, which is logically acceptable, but this is pantheism and not the type of personal God to which most people profess belief. One could also argue that God created the universe and life using the laws and forces of nature as his creation tools, which is also logically fine, but it leaves us with additional scientific questions: which laws and forces were used to create specific natural phenomena, and in what manner were they used? how did God create the laws and forces of nature? A scientist would be curious to know God’s recipe for, say, gravity, or for a universe or a cell. For that matter, it is a legitimate scientific question to ask: what made God, and how was God created? How do you make an omniscient and omnipotent being? Finally, one could argue that God is outside of nature — super nature, or supernatural — and therefore needs no explanation. This is also logically consistent, but by definition it means that the God question is outside of science and therefore religion and science are separate and incompatible.
Bottom line: teach science in science classes, teach religion in religion classes.
This opinion editorial was originally published in the Los Angeles Times.