Saturday, February 09, 2008

From the Research Labs of Intelligent Design

Okay, I'm a little behind in my reading. So the article I'm about to discuss may stir a memory because it was mentioned (and probably reviewed) a couple years ago. It comes out of, not the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture, but from the Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute of the Biblical Theological Seminary. I'm referring to IBRI Research Report #56, presented online in 2005: Rumors of Angels: Using ID to Detect Malevolent Spiritual Agents, by Robert C. Newman.

The title evokes Peter L. Berger's A Rumor of Angels: Modern Society and the Rediscovery of the Supernatural. Berger contends that sociological arguments support the notion that "theological thinking" is possible in modern society. His small volume is not, Berger notes, a book about angels. He does suggest that our perception of reality may be improved by a "rediscovery of the supernatural"--and this rediscovery might allow for more meaningful relationships between people. He notes that existentialist ponderings need to be tempered with an occasional laugh.

Newman provides us with plenty of laughs and guffaws in his essay. Here is his abstract, in its entirety:
Most discussions of God's action in nature since about 1900 have ignored angelic activity, perhaps in reaction to White's History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom. Here we take another look at the biblical data on angels, and then consider what scientific data might be relevant in light of recent interest in intelligent design.

What does this abstract tell us appears in the paper? Very little, and absolutely nothing of what was concluded.

Angels are real, Newman tells us, and are capable of interacting with the material world. Yet they are immaterial beings. So how do they interact with a material world? No explanation is provided. But we know that angels are real because of the evidence--the Bible tells us so, just as it is evidence that there are such other spiritual beings as seraphim and cherubim. Oh, yes--and demons, too. Newman's research report goes on to tell us what it is that angels do, according to his laboratory research (i.e., reading the Bible). His "research" covers what demons do, as well.

Newman reasonably states that people live and act in a real world, a world that has objective existence. So why can't those "other intelligences" (by which he is not referring to chimpanzees or dolphins) live and act in the same world? How can they be detected? In posing these questions, he takes it for granted that angels exist--to doubt their existence, Newman says makes one a liberal--a modern Sadducee.

After presenting several hoary examples of how detection of design can be difficult, Newman proposes
...angelic activity is not like natural laws, which are operating continuously. Rather, they are more like human actions, which are sporadic. But here we have the additional complication that we cannot see the actors.

Then after admitting that science can, indeed, study unrepeatable events, he says
So the only way to find and study such phenomena would be if they leave traces that are detectable and (preferably) unmistakable.

At this point Newman introduces William Dembski's Explanatory Filter, suggesting that it can be used not only to detect God's designs, but
...such an approach could also be used to recognize an intermediate scale of intelligent design, between that of God and humans.

In other words, angels and demons.

And for examples, he cites the book of Job and offers the suggestion that they perform their actions by "influencing individuals and groups" (somehow) or by "doing genetic manipulation on individual organisms" (somehow).

One of the arguments used against Intelligent Design has been the existence of "designs" that are suboptimal or even injurious to humans and other organisms. These, Newman argues, are examples of malevolent design, springing from the drafting tables of Evil Spirits, or, alternatively, the misinterpreted work of God (and so not really malevolent) or space men (which, for some reason, is "consistent with a biblical theism"). "Designs" which are faulty, yet not injurious (such as the famous panda's thumb) are attributed not to evolution contingent upon existing material, but to design by "benevolent (but finite) spirit beings," namely, angels (Good angels, not bad angels). These designs are contingent upon existing material, but changes are not influenced by mutation and natural selection, only by the limited power and imperfect quality that we know is characteristic of angels. I guess angels don't have access to CAD software like God does.

Newman concludes that he doesn't know much about biology, yet he felt no embarrassment in attributing causes to biological observations and determining that his fantasies might seriously impact how science is done, specifically with respect to including the supernatural in scientific research.

Image from Wellcome Library.

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Blogger Ian said...

You have been awarded the highly prestigious "E for Excellence" award in blogging (otherwise known as the latest blogosphere meme). Seriously though - I thought your blog worthy of recognition.

2:21 AM  
Anonymous TB vaccine said...

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Blogger Mark said...

Just a reminder to TB and others--comments should have some relevance to the blog post or to the blog in general. This is not just an advertising board, and irrelevant comments may be deleted.

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