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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Intelligent Design: Science and God, or Science vs. God?

Can a sense of hesitancy as reflected in the Hymn—“None knoweth whence creation has arisen;/And whether he has or has not produced it:/He who surveys it in the highest heaven, / He only knows, or haply he may know not.”—rule mankind?

Some time back, an American Judge dubbed “Intelligent Design” (ID) as “a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism and not a scientific theory”, and hence, not suitable for teaching in schools. This judgment resurrected, though unwittingly, people’s clamor for ID once again. People in Europe are, today, “seeking to have Intelligent Design and criticism of Darwinism taught in science lessons.”

ID is, of course, not a new concept for it goes back to Descartes and even beyond.  In 1802, William Paley—a well-known theologian—proposed an analogy: If a man while walking on a heath, finds a pocket watch, he, looking at the intricate and complex timepiece, is sure to infer that it was a product of a great designer. Taking the lead from it, some have argued that the natural world being more irreducibly complex than the watch, is a product of a designer—God.

However with Charles Darwin publishing his book—Origin of Species—people started believing that evolution by natural selection is the force behind nature’s complexity and diversity. All have, of course, not accepted Darwin’s theory of evolution, for some scientists have averred that “natural selection can only choose among systems that are already working” and, hence, believe that Darwinian mechanisms in no way could have shaped the complex systems found in the living cells.  Biologists, as usual, have countered it by accusing the protagonists of ID that they are deliberately attempting to misrepresent evolutionary science.

Small wonder that this chasm has only further widened, as could be gauged from a recent debate between Richard Dawkins, Charles Simonyi Professor at Oxford University and Francis Collins, the Genome Pioneer of the US that the Time magazine organized. In the course of the debate, Richard Dawkins wondered: “If god wanted to create life and create humans, why should he choose the extraordinarily round about way of waiting for 10 billion years before life got started and then waiting for another 4 billion years to get human beings…”

In reply, Francis Collins, being what he is—a strong believer in God—questioned: Who are we to say that that was an odd way to do it? … If it suits him to be a deity that we must seek without being forced to, would it not have been sensible for him to use the mechanism of evolution without posting obvious road signs to reveal his role in creation? That aside, Collins argued that faith is not the opposite of reason. For him faith rests squarely upon reason, but with the added component of revelation. He also asserted: “Over more than a quarter-century as a scientist and a believer … I am still able to accept and embrace the possibility that there are answers that science isn’t able to provide about the natural world—the questions about why … I find many of those answers in the spiritual realm. That, in no way, compromises my ability to think rigorously as a scientist”. This assertion of Collins raises a question: Why then this age-old conflict between science and religion?

The answer is simple: the God hypothesis that emerged out of mythical thinking is not able to reconcile with the naturalistic hypothesis emerging from the scientific thought process and/or vice versa. God being what he is—a “personalized representation of the human mind”—there arises a question: Why restrict oneself to one area? As Lancelot Law Whyte argued ages back, “If the whole of nature is one system in perpetual transformation and development” truth, which claims to be universal, requires to be continually re-created; otherwise it may become dogma inducing complacency among men stymieing progress. It is only by the use of reason and experience that we can appropriate truth and keep tradition in a continuous process of evolution. According to Indian philosophy, if a belief is to be valid, it must stand trial in the court of experience, which means, that it is only the fusion of one’s objective knowledge that is gained by observing the “whole of organic nature” with that of subjective knowledge of one’s experience that one can understand oneself fully. Such fusion simply brings “a new ease and self-acceptance, an innocence based on knowledge”. Such ease obviously generates “tolerance” for “multitudes” of opinions, which in turn nurtures “systematization of scientific knowledge and moral, aesthetic, and religious experiences”.

As Whitman sang of himself—“I am not the poet of goodness only, I do not decline to be the poet of wickedness also”— one can as well be a scientist and at the same time a believer in God. Otherwise, man, whom Shakespeare proclaimed as “the paragon of animals”, “the quintessence of dust”, as though he had a fore-view of what Darwin was going to say about man’s origin, is certain to remain a disillusion to himself, as felt by  Shakespeare—“man delights me not, no, nor women either”. If one has to come out of one’s insensitivity towards fellow beings either by virtue of his stupidity or cruelty that made Shakespeare get disillusioned of the “paragon of animals”, one has to necessarily endeavor to have the synoptic vision of “whole”. If that were true, wouldn’t man need both God and science to remain in samanvaya—equanimity?



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