At the DI’s official blog, DI associate director/vice-president John West asks Why Does National Center for Science Education (NCSE) Spokesman Think “Mocking Traditional Religion” is OK?
Set aside that the spokesman in question doesn’t defend the act of mocking traditional religion. He responded to the DI’s whining about the Noodly One by asking a very good question: “Why would mocking traditional religion be of concern to a purely scientific organization?” This can be readily taken as a response to Casey Luskin insistence (on Christmas Day) that “it’s … clear that the FSM images are intended to mock traditional religion.”
It’s true that Luskin, and apparently West, think that the FSM is a mockery of traditional religion. And that it is worth the time of two senior members of a supposedly scientific organization to use official resources to denounce this mockery at length. Glenn Branch’s question deserves an answer.
West and Luskin’s outrage is all very funny, because any argument you could make about Pastafarians mocking traditional religion applies equally well to IDC.
The central premise of IDC is that it is possible to scientifically test the existence of God supernatural design. The followers of the Spaghetti Monster agree, and are simply more willing than John West or Casey Luskin to identify who that supernatural designer is. They apply the DI’s arguments about academic openness, and demand that their beliefs about supernatural design via noodly appendages deserve the same access and respect in the classroom that West and Luskin’s anonymous designer does.
We will set aside, for the moment, the disrespect and mockery implicit in West and Luskin’s willingness to equivocate about the identity of their Designer. Everyone knows that it is the Christian God, a God not known for wanting followers to hide their lights under a bushel.
The idea that we can, through human and naturalistic mean, know what God does or doesn’t intend, or what God is or isn’t capable of, is deeply offensive to traditional religion. In the book of Job, Job’s friend Elihu tells him “The Almighty – we cannot find him; he is great in power and justice, and abundant righteousness he will not violate. Therefore men fear him; he does not regard any who are wise in their own conceit.”
Elihu thinks that saying this will chasten Job and make him understand that he deserved the ills that had befallen him. The reader, of course, knows that God allowed those ills on the basis of a bet reminiscent of the opening wager in Trading Places. The reader understands that it is Elihu that regards himself as wise in his own conceit. But that doesn’t suffice for the traditional God. Out of the whirlwind, God answers Job and his friends, saying:
Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Tell me if you have understanding.
And so forth. For three chapters, God points out the wonders and complexities of the world, and mocks Job and his friends for thinking that they can understand why or how God does what he does.
Job, finally repentant, replies “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. … therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”
That is traditional religion. It states that there are unknowable truths in the universe, that God’s will is beyond our human ken. You find the same sentiments in St. Augustine’s writing, in which he urges a figurative understanding of the creation in Genesis. In elucidating his reading of the Logos, which Bill Dembski claims his approach to ID replicates, Augustine does not insist on a literal creation by a spoken word. In The Literal Interpretation of Genesis, he asks:
what meaning other than the allegorical have the words: “In the beginning God created heaven and earth?” Were heaven and earth made in the beginning of time, or first of all in creation, or in the Beginning who is the Word, the only-begotten Son of God? And how can it be demonstrated that God, without any change in Himself, produces effects subject to change and measured by time?
And so forth. You’ll find that Augustine asks many questions in the chapters on the first few lines of Genesis, but offers few concrete assertions of its meaning.
He later explains why:
Let us suppose that in explaining the words, “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and light was made,” one man thinks that it was material light that was made, and another that it was spiritual. As to the actual existence of “spiritual light” in a spiritual creature, our faith leaves no doubt; as to the existence of material light, celestial or supercelestial, even existing before the heavens, a light which could have been followed by night, there will be nothing in such a supposition contrary to the faith until un-erring truth gives the lie to it. And if that should happen, this teaching was never in Holy Scripture but was an opinion pro-posed by man in his ignorance. On the other hand, if reason should prove that this opinion is unquestionably true, it will still be uncertain whether this sense was intended by the sacred writer when he used the words quoted above, or whether he meant something else no less true.
St. Augustine, then, is one of the dreaded Neville Chamberlain school of appeasers. Science tells true things about the material world, and scripture cannot overturn the clear evidence of the world. Scripture, as he and other bastions of traditional religion interpret it, does not address these material, scientific questions. It addresses issues of faith.
Religious scientists have traditionally seen their work in the same light, as elucidating how God had worked. Such statements can be found in Newton’s writing, and a related sentiment can even be found in Einstein’s comments, though his religion bore little resemblance to Newton’s.
Intelligent design makes a mockery of that long religious tradition, a tradition stretching squarely into the Jewish Bible. Inserting the Flying Spaghetti Monster, noodly appendages and all, into the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling is no more a mockery of traditional religion than ID’s approach, which places God into a comfortably small test tube.