In the nineties and early 2000s, ID seemed to be producing one novel argument after another... it was [then] possible to wonder seriously if ID was a serious intellectual movement, or just another fad that would die out on its own. That verdict is now in. ID is dead.
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But there are other perspectives from which the folly of ID is evident. One of them takes us back to a Christian astronomer who worked at the dawn of the scientific revolution.
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He began to consider special creation: a deliberate, separate act of God unconnected with any other natural event, direct and special tinkering by the divine hand. But in the end he withdrew from that conclusion, writing "before we come to [special] creation, which puts an end to all discussion, I think we should try everything else." Over 400 years ago, Kepler understood that to claim special creation is to put an end to scientific inquiry.
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Kepler's fundamental axiom may be stated:
The universe has been designed; therefore it must be comprehensible.
Jump forward now to 1996, arguably the heyday of ID. That is the year Michael Behe came face-to-face with his own difficult scientific problem: the evolution of the bacterial flagellum, a tail-like rotor that aids in cellular locomotion. The complexity of the flagellum led Behe to conclude that it could not have evolved through any of the standard mechanisms of evolution.
Whether or not this is true is not important for my purpose. What is important is that, unlike Kepler, Behe went on to claim special creation. He had the flagellum in mind when he wrote in Darwin's Black Box, "It is a shock to us... to discover, from observations science has made, that the fundamental mechanisms of life cannot be ascribed to natural selection, and therefore were designed." Behe has led us to the fundamental axiom of ID, a sharp contrast to that of Kepler:
The universe is incomprehensible; therefore it must have been designed.
Although ID supporters do not name God as the designer in their official work, they are no less cagey about their Christian commitments than Kepler was about his. Yet they have opted for the path Kepler rejected, and, in so doing, "put an end to all discussion." That Kepler refused that road out of reverence for God is a tremendous irony.
Kepler reminds us that religious people do not need to shrink from science and its naturalistic methods, because they more than others have a rich tradition in which to locate these things, a context that allows them to take science seriously but not too seriously, and a strong bulwark against the lull of materialism.
For a person of faith, ID is not just an unnecessary choice; it is a harmful one. It reduces God to a kind of holy tinkerer. It locates the divine in places of ignorance and obscurity. And this gives it a defensive and fearful spirit that is out of place in Christian faith and theology.
Looking upon the new star in September 1604, could Kepler have envisioned stellar evolution, mass-transfer binary stars, and explosive carbon fusion? No, and so he remained silent. His humility, his belief in the richness of creation, and his expansive faith allowed him to admit ignorance while leaving the door of causal science wide open.
ID denies its proponents that freedom. Having opted to close the door on science, they steal from themselves the opportunity to see nature more deeply. In so doing they dig in their heels, refusing to be drawn, Kepler-style, closer to the creator God they all believe in. This is the great irony of ID.
Because ID is established in scientific ignorance, it cannot last. It is passing even now. And its religiously-motivated rejection by Kepler 400 years ago suggests that the seeds of its demise were planted even then. In this long view, it may be that ID never even managed to arrive.