What Was God Thinking? Science Can't Tell.

2001 winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics, Eric Cornell, gave a speech at his induction into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The Time article is an adaptation of this speech.

Cornell claims that science isn’t about knowing the mind of God, but about understanding nature and the reasons for things. For science, Cornell claims, Intelligent Design is a dead-end idea because it claims that the scientific reason for things is that God wanted it that way. Cornell calls on scientists to keep Intelligent Design out of science classes, and to keep moral and religious judgments out of science.

Time; 11/14/2005, Vol. 166 Issue 20, p98-98, 1p, 1c

Remember Behe’s testimony?

Q Intelligent design says nothing about the intelligent designer’s motivations?

A The only statement it makes about that is that the designer had the motivation to make the structure that is designed.

Q How can intelligent design possibly make that statement, Professor Behe?

A I don’t understand your question.

Q How can it possibly say anything about the intelligent designer’s motives without knowing anything about who the intelligent designer is?

Back to Cornell

Cornell is quick to point out that from a theological perspective, Intelligent Design is an exciting concept. Even Dembski seems to be returning to his long lost love of ‘apologetics’. From a scientific perspective, Intelligent Design is ‘boring’ or as I refer to it ‘vacuous’.

But as exciting as intelligent design is in theology, it is a boring idea in science. Science isn’t about knowing the mind of God; it’s about understanding nature and the reasons for things. The thrill is that our ignorance exceeds our knowledge; the exciting part is what we don’t understand yet. If you want to recruit the future generation of scientists, you don’t draw a box around all our scientific understanding to date and say, “Everything outside this box we can explain only by invoking God’s will.” Back in 1855, no one told the future Lord Rayleigh that the scientific reason for the sky’s blueness is that God wants it that way. Or if someone did tell him that, we can all be happy that the youth was plucky enough to ignore them. For science, intelligent design is a dead-end idea.

Cornell calls to action scientists to oppose Intelligent Design being taught in science classes where its impact will be disastrous.

My call to action for scientists is, Work to ensure that the intelligent-design hypothesis is taught where it can contribute to the vitality of a field (as it could perhaps in theology class) and not taught in science class, where it would suck the excitement out of one of humankind’s great ongoing adventures.

Cornell however realizes that scientists are human too and may overstep the bounds of science.

Now for my call to inaction: most scientists will concede that as powerful as science is, it can teach us nothing about values, ethics, morals or, for that matter, God. Don’t go about pretending otherwise! For example, science can try to predict how human activity may change the climate, but science can’t tell us whether those changes would be good or bad.

Should scientists, as humans, make judgments on ethics, morals, values and religion? Absolutely. Should we act on these judgments, in an effort to do good? You bet. Should we make use of the goodwill we may have accumulated through our scientific achievements to help us do good? Why not? Just don’t claim that your science tells you “what is good”…or “what is God.”

This is an important reminder for scientists. Stay within the limits of what science can tell us.

Act: fight to keep intelligent design out of science classrooms! Don’t act: don’t say science disproves intelligent design. Stick with the plainest truth: science says nothing about intelligent design, and intelligent design brings nothing to science, and should be taught in theology, not science classes.