[Originally published in Hürriyet Daily News]
After my latest piece in these pages, titled “Inherit The Turkish Wind,” I received quite a few emails from readers who seemed to passionately disagree with what I said. What I said, in summary, was that evolution can be interpreted in both theistic and atheistic ways, and that Turkey’s official science institution, TÜBİTAK, and its publications, should be open to both. “Are you seriously proposing,” a reader was asking me in the face of that suggestion, “that Creationism be presented in the pages of a magazine devoted to science?”
I think that reader, along with many other “mainstream” commentators on science, get creationism wrong. So, let me tell you how I understand it, and how I think it should be responded.
Intelligent Design, etc.
Creationism, in a nutshell, is to try to insert some religious idea into science. This has especially been the case with the issue of biological origins. When evolutionary biologists say, “scientific data indicates that life on Earth evolved gradually over a period of four billions years,” the creationist would say something like this: “This can’t be true, because my Scripture gives me a different account.” Of course that account comes from not plain Scripture, but the way it is understood by that particular believer. But anyhow, the mistake is simple: If you try to counter scientific facts with religious texts, you are a creationist, and that is a bad idea.
Why a bad idea? Because science, as a universal human endeavor, has to be neutral. If every creed had its own creationism, then we would have Christian science, Muslim science, Hindu science and many other versions according to the world’s numerous creeds. Science, then, would not be the search for objective facts, but the manipulation of them according to subjective beliefs. It would not be science at all.
So, I am no fan of creationism. But I also know that creationism is not the only bias which threatens the neutrality of science. As I explained in my previous column, presenting philosophical naturalism (or, say, atheism) in the cloak of science is another attack on the latter’s objectivity. When the atheist evangelist Richard Dawkins defines himself as “A Devil’s Chaplain,” in other words, he is no less biased than a creationist who would see himself as a God’s warrior.
Moreover, not every God-friendly idea that comes out of science is creationism. A scientist, or a commentator on science, can well look at evidence and can say: “This points to the existence of a Creator.” One famous name who recently made that inference is British philosopher Anthony Flew, who used to be one of the world’s most prominent atheists. In 2004, he changed his mind, because he felt convinced, “A deity or a ‘super-intelligence’ [is] the only good explanation for the origin of life and the complexity of nature.” He even wrote a book titled “There Is A God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind.”
So, is Flew a creationist now? No, not at all. Because he does not take a religious idea and insert into science. What he rather does is to reason on the findings of science and come to a conclusion which sounds like a religious idea.
What about Intelligent Design (ID) then, which is a new and controversial theory that claims to find evidence for design in the complex structures of nature? It is another form of creationism? I know many people think that way, but I beg to differ. You might find ID convincing or unconvincing, but you have to see that it is an inference from scientific evidence, not religious texts.
The real controversial point about ID is that it challenges the way modern science works: methodological naturalism, i.e., the effort to find only natural causes for natural phenomena. In that sense, it is a very unorthodox theory. And I don’t think that it will triumph over the orthodox naturalist paradigm in a foreseeable future. That’s why I don’t think textbooks or science magazines like the one TÜBİTAK publishes, “Bilim ve Teknik,” should be expected to open their pages to ID theorists.
But there is another issue, which is crucial: Methodological naturalism (i.e., finding natural causes for natural phenomena) does not equal philosophical naturalism (i.e., the belief that nature is all there is). In other words, explaining the mechanisms of the universe does not refute the idea that it must have been designed in the very beginning to function that way. In fact, discoveries about the “fine-tuning” of the universe has led some scientists to think that the cosmos was indeed designed in the very beginning to nurture intelligent life.
That is the same reason why biological evolution does not have to be seen in the way that people like Richard Dawkins present: a purposeless, accidental process devoid of meaning. Other scientists, such as Cambridge palaeobiologist Simon Conway Morris, rather think that evolution has followed a pre-destined pattern.
The latter view is neither creationism nor a violation of methodological naturalism. Depicting it that way, which is very often done, would be not just naive but also unfair. And we have the right to expect from TÜBİTAK, which has translated the books of Dawkins into Turkish, to show this side of the debate, too, to the Turkish public.