Irrational Faculties by Thomas S. Buchanan

Irrational Faculties

That Someone Will Be Jailed for Teaching Darwin & Other Unscientific Beliefs

In early August, the chairman of a large department at a major university in the Midwest told me that faculty members were going to be put in jail if they mentioned the word evolution in the classroom. “You see,” he said, “fundamentalist Christians have pushed through bills that require the teaching of Intelligent Design and outlaw the teaching of evolution. We are going to have to start teaching that the world was made in six literal days and won’t be allowed even to mention evolution.”

I tried to assure him that his understanding of any legislation regarding Intelligent Design was somewhat amiss, but he would have none of it. “I know,” he said. “You can’t tell me.”

Fearful of ID

I wish I could say that this conversation was an isolated incident, but it was not. Recently, I have had many conversations with people in positions of academic leadership who expressed similar fears.

These scientists do not understand Intelligent Design because the notion that naturalistic processes may not account for all historical events in physics, chemistry, and biology is anathema to them. They automatically reject any other principle introduced to account for scientific events, no matter how sound the evidence or logical the argument.

Why would they do this, if the purpose of science is to search for the truth of things? For this kind of scientist, to concede that even one small event in history is beyond naturalistic explanation is to admit failure, or worse, to admit that modern science has failed. “One of the rules of science is, no miracles allowed,” said Douglas H. Erwin, a paleobiologist at the Smithsonian Institution, writing in The New York Times last August.

Scientists express themselves in a language that logically excludes any postulations not based upon naturalistic explanations. As a result, to admit that any miraculous event (i.e., any event that cannot be explained by naturalistic causes) ever occurred is to cease to be scientific. Thus, any other explanation of the history of the universe is unscientific and cannot be taught in science classes, though it might be taught in classes of religion or philosophy.

The circular logic of modern science is designed to provide an explanation for how all the processes understood in biology, chemistry, and physics could have developed without God, not to seek the truth about how they actually happened. To its devotees, modern science is a systematic theology, the first principle of which is that there is no God.

The simple idea behind Intelligent Design, in contrast, is that while in many or possibly most cases the difference between these two (i.e., explanations involving God and not) are nil, that does not mean that there is no God and that he never played a role in events scientists study. That is, the circular logic of science may not explain everything that has ever occurred, because it begins by assuming an answer.

I do not think that this should be a threat to most logically minded people, but that has not been my experience. Rather, scientists who are normally logical and principled become hysterical and paranoid when faced with such arguments.


Thomas S. Buchanan is the George W. Laird Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Delaware. He has studied at UCSD, Northwestern University, and MIT, and has held visiting professorships at the University of Western Australia and the University of Aix-Marseille. He has served as department chairman, deputy dean, and institute director, president of the American Society of Biomechanics, and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Applied Biomechanics. He is on the Board of Trustees of Saint Katherine College, the editorial board of Touchstone, and the board of The Fellowship of St. James.

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