Scientific American’s April fools’ joke

Scientific American ran a decently funny editorial in their April issue. But its tongue-in-cheek tone comes off as kind of arrogant. I don’t read SA myself, for many of the reasons cited in the editorial.

Here’s the editorial, which a quick googling shows has been picked up and copied all over the ‘net — mostly by bloggers.

As mentioned above, I don’t read SA, so I don’t know about charges that they have been too political in their presentation of science. But I’ve read some Creationist material that has called them to task for not publishing articles that speak positively about the Intelligent Design movement, not to mention Creationism proper. And apparently they get flak about it.

As I understand the debate about evolution vs. intelligent design or creationism, it really hinges on what you believe about foundational issues of science and philosophy. Evolutionary scientists don’t like intelligent design or Creationism as theories because at their core they don’t believe the theories are scientific.

If a scientist can reach for God as a solution to any particular problem that he is facing, then where is the incentive to find a real answer? When trying to understand tectonic activity, why look for an answer? God just made it that way. Why do the planets move the way they do? Because God decreed it so. And where did everything come from and how did it get that way? God made it all that way — case closed.

If this is what a Creationist believes, then yes, he isn’t really doing science. But I’m not convinced that that is the position of most Creationists. I think that most Creationists view science the same way as other scientists — a search for understanding of the way the world works and has worked.

One thing that is very different is the underlying philosophy. Creationists believe in the supernatural as a way to explain things that aren’t explainable otherwise. Evolutionists (if I understand their position correctly) cannot allow that. The underlying philosophy is one of Naturalism — the belief that everything must be explained without the supernatural.

That fundamental difference is really what fuels the rest of the differences between the two camps. Evolution cannot turn to a supernatural explanation for anything, by its very design. So there cannot be room for God at all in a “scientific” theory like evolution. So the simple, seemingly obvious approach of “find the best explanation that fits the evidence” is really interpreted to mean “find the best NATURALISTIC explanation that fits the evidence.” A Naturalistic explanation is assumed before looking at anything else.

Now as an individual, I have a choice in terms of what to believe. If I don’t believe that everything must be explained within the constraints of Naturalism, I don’t have to believe that evolution is the best explanation for the origin of the universe. And it turns out that I’m not really alone in this. Most people in the world don’t really believe Naturalism as a world-view. It flies in the face of nearly every experience we have as humans. Emotions, free will, concepts like numbers, consciousness, etc., don’t have much support when viewed from a Naturalistic point of view. Believing that such non-material things can sprout from within a Naturalistic universe is as much a religious belief as believing in God.

I do believe that God created everything in our universe. Other claims about how God did that are open for debate among Creationists, so I think that some of the assertions in the April Fools’ article are not essential to a Creationist position (like dating of dinosaurs, the cause of the Grand Canyon, etc.). And I do believe that my belief in Creationism is as tenable as a Naturalistic evolutionary belief. Both require a fundamentally religious faith step.