The real threat to religion

To use the powers of government to pass science off as religion, or religion as science, is wrongheaded.

The importance of the concept of evolution to science developed over many decades. It was only when its efficacy became important to a wide array of scientific pursuits (from genetics to paleontology, etc.) that there was an understanding that it needed to be presented to young people who might contribute to an advancing scientific and technological society. If, over time, intelligent design were to demonstrate a similar utility, it, too, would become common fare. However it has to first shed its non-scientific point of departure. It suffers from an a priori over posteriori outlook and pulls, from a vitalistic bag of apples-for-oranges assertions, a contention that places the “effect” before the “cause” and presented it as self-evident, failing the test of utility.

Intelligent design neither offers a foundation from which to conduct basic scientific research, nor suggests a technical application for solution. “Intelligent design” is one of those circular contentions that pretend to say something by repeating the same thing in a slightly different form. In demonstration of the tautological nature, one might be privy to a conversation about a child’s intelligence, Johnny’s: “Johnny is intelligent.” “Oh, how do you know?” “He did well on his intelligence test.” “Oh, why did he do well on his intelligence test?” “Because he is very intelligent.” “How do you know?” “Because Ö “

In the field of psychological testing, the effort to measure intelligence as some kind of innate global capacity has largely given way to a more utilitarian effort to predict future behavior from a test sample of current behavior, à la aptitude tests. This trend might encourage proponents of intelligent design to settle on God just having a great aptitude for creating universes. The words “aptitude” and “intelligent design” will not be found in the Bible. Thus, one has to interpret scripture in light of information obtained from non-Biblical sources.

If this is theologically acceptable to see a root for intelligent design in scripture, it should be Biblically sound (inerrant) to also find that evolution is outlined in scripture. To this purpose one might cite Genesis 1:20-24: “On the fourth day God filled the waters of earth with abundant life and then on the fifth day He had this life creepeth upon the land.” After all, some evolutionary biologists suggest that terrestrial creatures got their start in water.

But to use the powers of government to pass science off as religion, or religion off as science is wrongheaded. A free people do not need government suggesting to them that their faith in God is nothing more than a scientific theory, or that their scientific theories must conform to another person’s faith in God. 

Within his first encyclical since being elevated to the Chair of Peter, Pope Benedict XVI uses some words that echo the Constitution. In this moving epistle on the faithful leading lives within God’s gift of love, Deus Caritas Est, the supreme pontiff writes, “The State may not impose religion, yet it must guarantee religious freedom and harmony between followers of different religions.”

Counter to this, some religious zealots are bent on pressuring local public school boards. They are free to believe what they will. However, this attempt to use government to promote their religious ideology should be troubling to all people who prize freedom of conscience.

State-sponsored proselytization is a greater threat to our religious freedom than it is a mistaken sally into the domain of science. Science has and will continue to weather all sorts of misdirected and dead-ended efforts. However, our freedom of conscience may not fare so well. The override of this liberty would mark the entry of our nation into an intolerant period in which all sorts of intellectual and spiritual pursuits were subject to suppression.

Sam Osborne is a retired psychology professor. Please send comments to [email protected]