by Douglas L. Theobald
As many of you undoubtedly know, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor is the Discovery Institute’s latest garrulous creationist mouthpiece. In a recent blog entry responding to Michael Lemonick of Time Magazine, Egnor claims that the 19th century scientists Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell used “the inference to design” to study electricity:
“Let’s ask: what role did the inference to design play for scientists who gave us electricity? … The two scientific pioneers of classical electromagnetism, Faraday and Maxwell, were particularly devout Christians who inferred design everywhere in nature. They believed that God designed everything — including electricity. Their approach to science was pure design inference, undiluted by atheism or materialism. … They worked entirely from the design inference.”
Faraday and Maxwell were Christians who did indeed see design in nature. However, Egnor has it backwards.
Unlike modern “intelligent design theorists” at the Discovery Institute, Faraday and Maxwell did not concoct supernatural explanations for the phenomena they studied. Rather, they formulated naturalistic, testable scientific theories to explain electricity and magnetism. Similarly, the prominent evolutionary biologist, geneticist, and statistician Sir Ronald Fisher also was a devout Christian who saw design in the universe — for example, here is the intro to a sermon he delivered (one of several) at Caius chapel at Cambridge:
“A man of science is engaged professionally on a particular sort of task. This is by such means as are available, particularly by observation and experiment, to acquire a better understanding of the world in which we find ourselves. Stated simply in this way, such a profession would seem by no means incompatible with religious beliefs, such as that this world is the outcome of the creative activity of a personal God, or that the Creator has an affection for his creatures, or, more specifically, that a historical person, Jesus of Nazareth, exhibited and taught the perfect way of life, which God desires human beings to endeavour to follow in a spirit of gratitude and confidence. These are simple tenets, basic, so far as I can understand, to life as a Christian. They are certainly not incompatible with a life devoted to a better understanding of some aspect or other of the Creation of which we form a part. In my own case, it is the study of the mode of inheritance of the heritable characteristics of animals, plants and men which takes up my professional time. In itself it is no more an irreligious activity than fishing, or making tents.”
The evolutionist and Christian theist Fisher, like Faraday and Maxwell, developed naturalistic theories to explain natural phenomena. Egnor and the other creationists at the Discovery Institute would do well to emulate their examples.
- R.A. Fisher (1955) “Faith is not credulity.” Friend 113:995-996.