beware the sound of one hand clapping: intelligent design

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Friday, January 30th, 2009

beware the sound of one hand clapping: intelligent design

this will be the first of a 3 part series of posts titled, beware the sound of one hand clapping. the title comes from a line in the 2007 documentary, expelled: no intelligence allowed. what i’d like to do is offer a very quick intro to the series, present a brief review of the movie and then get into the brunt of the topic.

this series spawns from a quote by stephen c. meyer, director and senior fellow of the center for science and culture at the discovery institute in seattle. of all the intelligent design advocates interviewed in the movie, meyer, to me, was the most credible. his background is as a geophysicist and he received his ph.d. in the philosophy of science from cambridge university (if you don’t know, this means this guy is a freaking genius…). the quote—beware the sound of one hand clapping—was a warning from one of his professors at cambridge. the idea is that one hand clapping is an impossibility. it cannot occur. there must be two opposing forces to complete the task. there is an inherent complementarianism to clapping.
for me, the quote was the biggest thing that stood out from the movie. i thought it was so interesting and insightful and vastly applicable far beyond the intelligent design conversation. so, in this series, i want to explore areas in life—be it in culture, politics or religion—where this quote is apparent. this series is a call to dialogue, to conversation, to cordial investigation into another way.
now, onto the movie…
if you don’t know anything about the movie, expelled is a documentary that features ben stein. for several years, stein (who’s most notable for this) has been outspoken in his defense of intelligent design. so, in the movie, stein interviews a cast of scientists and professors who are advocates of intelligent design and because of their role as advocate, he claims, they have either lost their jobs, been rejected by their colleagues or faced industry shame. in addition, stein interviews leading evolutionary proponents in attempt to be “fair.” ultimately, stein claims, he simply wants to see intelligent design be accepted as a respected alternative to evolution-based principles of world origination.

the first thing about this documentary, like many others, is that it puts forth very little effort to not let you know what its fundamental beliefs and assumptions are. now, i’m not necessarily claiming that this is an inherently bad thing. obviously, the film makers believe that intelligent design is an acceptable worldview and they have set forth a series of interviews and investigations to back their claim. the only reason i point this out is that it isn’t a “fair and balanced” kind of documentary that investigates both sides and then allows the viewer to make their mind up. much like michael moore’s documentaries, the film makers have drawn their conclusion long before examining the evidence. again, i’m not necessarily saying that this is a bad thing, but it’s just the nature of the documentary.

the one beef i did have is, like, again, michael moore’s documentaries (of which i should pause and say that bowling for columbine and sicko are two of my favorite movies—not just documentaries—in the past several years…so this isn’t to dog out michael moore), expelled does the most basic of argumentation tactics: paints those who agree as heroes and “good guys” and those who disagree as crazy and silly and villainous. i would rather see a realistic and fair depiction of all sides and then make an informed decision. i certainly don’t think everyone of the “good guys” are completely credible and i don’t believe that all the “bad guys” are evil and out to destroy christianity.

alright, enough of the movie…onto the issue at hand…

i think it’s important to clarify a few things to let you know where i’m coming from and to align myself with certain viewpoints and disalign myself from others. i think this is important because there tends to be a lot of “theological and ideological lumping” with the issue of intelligent design. it seems that when someone is either for or against intelligent design acceptance, people automatically paint a very broad picture of a person, of which i would like to dispel before moving forward (which this could easily be a whole other blog post…).

1. i’m not one of these conservative fundamentalists who demand christianity be interjected into every facet of public life. examples:

a. i’m against prayer in school (in the teacher-led sense). i prayed about a million times growing up in public school. it was to myself and i didn’t demand that others be forced to engage in my expression of faith. the reason i’m against it is because i first want to know who decides the religion that will be featured in the prayer? i’m gonna go out on a limb and say that the fundamentalists who want students and teachers to get up and lead prayer wouldn’t be too happy if the teacher whipped out her prayer rug and started praying to allah in front of their frightened little sunday school susie. 🙂
b. i don’t get all bent out of shape about people wanting to take down the ten commandments or symbols of christianity from courts or public buildings. now, truth be told, i don’t have a problem with those things being displayed, but at the same time, if you’re going to display christian symbols, no one should get upset if every other religion wants equal representation. if we truly have a separation between church and state, then, at the very least, the government should be sensitive to not sanction one single religion (which is the true essence of separation of church and state).
2. the bible is my fundamental starting point for interpreting the world around me. now, what this doesn’t mean is that i wholly reject science or see science as the enemy. only when we lock ourselves into one single way of reading and interpreting scripture are we forced to do so. i think science works in harmony with the bible when we choose to engage in the story of god as seen in scripture and not just the fact book of god. that doesn’t mean i think the bible is a bunch of made-up stories or moralistic fairy tales—far from it. it simply means that i read scripture in a way that honors its poetic and beautiful and literary way of communicating the ongoing story of god throughout history, written to communicate to people in various cultures with various ways of interpreting and processing messages.
3. i am not a republican. (or a democrat.) the point i’m making here is that the issue of intelligent design—much like christianity, unfortunately—has become a republican platform plank. i don’t vote for parties, i vote for people. accordingly, i don’t vote straight down a party platform. i agree with republicans on some things and democrats on others. for some things, i agree with neither.
4. i’m not a scientist. in fact, i’m far from it. my argument here is not from the point-of-view of someone who has finely combed through the theory of evolution and all the impending scientific and theological implications. i’m a blogger, for crying out loud. i’m writing an opinion piece here, not a  research piece for a science journal. so, before you want to start telling me that i’ve botched my explanation of evolution or that i’m spouting off faulty information, just remember that i’m ryan byrd, the lowly blogger, not ryan byrd, the nerdy geeky biophysicist (i mean, i’m sure i even misused the word biophysicist…).
alright, now that the preface is out of the way, it seems very clear to me that the issue of the origination of life is the aforementioned and proverbial sound of one hand clapping. by this, i specifically mean the acceptance of evolution in its classic form (in regard to the origination of life). i won’t get into all the fine details of the theory of evolution, but, in essence, it spawns (no pun intended) from the idea that everything came, ultimately, from single cell organisms that mutated and over billions of years, became everything we see around us today. people came from monkeys, blah blah blah.
i think the complementary “clapping hand” to this widely accepted theory of origination is intelligent design. simply put, i believe that the origination of life is an almighty creator, as described in the story of genesis (which, if you didn’t know, actually means “origins”…how convenient…).
let me pause and clarify my view of the creation story in genesis. while i’ve been working through this for several years (literally), i now feel confident in saying that i don’t hold a “classic view” of the interpretation of the creation account. in other words, i don’t see the “6 days” as a literal six 24-hour time intervals. there are a number of reasons, spawning mainly from a somewhat basic-ish (but fascinating) language study of the account. (i would love to get into all the details here, but you don’t even want to know how long this post would be if i went into all of that…) there is nothing in the first couple chapters (which clearly tells the story in two different ways, which is also a very interesting study) that leads me to believe that it must have gone down in a literal 6 days. so, the point here is that, further, there is nothing that leads me to believe that there is a scientific conflict in the biblical creation account which “classicly” suggests that the earth cannot be millions or billions of years old. i believe, based on scripture, that the world could very well be compatible with scientific claims that the earth is billions of years old.
certainly, we don’t know how old the earth is. ultimately, scientists will have to tell you that the age of the earth is just a theory. we don’t have concrete evidence, but a large community is in general agreeance. further, scientists will ultimately tell you (as we saw in expelled) that the specific origins of the earth cannot be understood or fully known. there are plenty of theories, but, in the end, the deficiency of all of them is that something couldn’t have come from absolutely nothing. something must have been present prior to the originating moment or series of moments.
this is where i believe intelligent design comes into play. before there was anything, there was god. i can’t understand that. i can’t visualize that. but, the faith it takes to believe that is no more than what it takes to believe in some sort of big bang or deep sea vent theory or whatever other kind of dead end theory is accepted. the key here, though, is that i don’t know how god created. maybe he created through some sort of big bang? maybe he created with some sort of simple cell organisms? maybe he created through dirt and mud? we don’t know. many literalists would argue that it was from “the dust of the ground” and that that must be literal because people had to somehow get here. again, interpreting the creation account as a process that took, theoretically, much much longer than a mere 6 days, the possibilities for the origins of human life, specifically, are limitless. it could have been instantaneous human creation from a little mud, but i’m open to other possibilities.
to wrap up (you’re welcome…), the point i’m making is not to replace evolution with intelligent design, but to uphold intelligent design theories as probable and a respected alternative—not the red-headed stepchild of origin theory.
the sound of one clapping is deafening in regard to theories of origination and i think it’s time to offer the inherent opposing force that is intelligent design.
alright, i hope to be back soon with the 2nd post in this series called beware the sound of one hand clapping. (and i’m thinking it’s gonna be a wee bit shorter…). 🙂