With the recent debut of “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey,” intense discussion has emerged regarding science versus religion. While the show presents many compelling arguments, I find repeatedly that science and religion are presented as mutually exclusive ideologies. Much of this is based off the scientific misconstruing of religious arguments. This leads to the argument among some groups that religious people are inherently irrational science-deniers, when this is often not the case.
Being aware of rational arguments that reconcile science and religion is important when discussing either side. “Cosmos” host Neil deGrasse Tyson misconstrues several aspects of the intelligent design argument that may be far more compatible with evolution than one might have previously thought.
The design argument uses analogical reasoning to draw inferences that could support the notion that nature is produced by an intelligent being. Design proponents do not necessarily deny evolution or the Big Bang Theory, rather they argue that many parts of the universe resemble a machine, and in order to design a machine, one needs an intelligent designer.
There are many proponents of intelligent design who are also evolutionists. Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute wrote an elaborate response to Tyson condemning his exclusion of certain downfalls of evolution, along with his comparison of evolution to gravity. Tyson believes that like gravity, evolution is an unquestionable fact.
He also claims that “science reveals all life on earth is one,” using the tree of life illustration to convey all life as occurring from a common ancestor. Though genes in different organisms are similar, researcher Eric Bapteste criticizes the tree of life model in his “Networks: Expanding Evolutionary Thinking” paper published in Trends in Genetics in 2013. “The more we learn about genomes the less tree-like we find their evolutionary history to be,” Bapteste said. The picture of evolution painted by Tyson may not be as complete as he claims.
This is not to refute evolution so much as it is to show the absurdity of pretending to know everything about evolution. Science is not immune to being questioned.
Likewise, religion is not necessarily foolish, and furthermore, arguments for intelligent design are not necessarily theistic. Biochemist Michael Behe posits that natural selection may be inadequate to explain complex systems like the eye – which is, in a sense, like a machine – but advocates of intelligent design also acknowledge that there is no sufficient reason to think that natural selection does not exist.
Of course, the intelligent design argument has been met with criticism; just because some parts of the universe, like the eye, resemble a machine does not mean that the universe in its enormity resembles a machine. Likewise, the fact that precise circumstances were required to create our universe is also a problematic claim. If there were an intelligent designer, this universe may be far more imperfect than we realize, or contrarily, may have been the last in a series of big bangs.
Furthermore, intelligent design does not even succeed in proving a theistic god but rather provides rational grounds for the claim that some sort of supernatural being might have created some parts of our universe.
The assumption that all but hard-and-fast evolutionists are science-hating sheep is foolish, and so is the assumption that all evolutionists are god-hating heretics. Perhaps neither science nor religion can establish an irrefutable statement about the origin of existence, but ultimately, creating a false dichotomy is not going to bring the discussion any further.