Creationist Wisdom #108: Isaac Newton

WE present to you, dear reader, a brief letter-to-the-editor titled Centuries-old concept of Intelligent Design deserves respect, which appears in the Mansfield News Journal, a daily newspaper in Mansfield, Ohio.

We’ll copy most of today’s letter, omitting the writer’s name and city, adding some bold for emphasis and our Curmudgeonly commentary between the paragraphs. Here we go:

A college professor whose friends thought he was a bit crazy imagined that a huge invisible force tied together all objects in the entire universe. His scientific critics complained he was trying to introduce occult agencies, or intelligent design, into scientific research.

True, Newton had critics because of the unexplained cause of his proposed force of gravity. But as the Wikipedia article on Isaac Newton informs us:

[I]n the second edition of the Principia (1713), Newton firmly rejected such criticisms … writing that it was enough that the phenomena implied a gravitational attraction, as they did; but they did not so far indicate its cause, and it was both unnecessary and improper to frame hypotheses of things that were not implied by the phenomena. (Here Newton used what became his famous expression Hypotheses non fingo).

In any event, such criticisms dissipated, and Newton’s work on gravity was universally esteemed in his own lifetime. Let’s read on from today’s letter:

It was about 1710, and Isaac Newton had published his “Principia Mathematica.” (It might appear that if your kids take physics in high school or college they’re being indoctrinated into religion.)

It might appear so to the letter-writer. But to anyone who knows the difference between science and religion, such a thought is ridiculous. We continue:

But physics is different from biology or, say, paleontology, which involves life.

They’re different branches of science, but … well, they’re all science. Does today’s letter-writer understand that? It would seem not:

What if some nutty professor today would theorize that a huge living force ties all living matter together in a way that guides evolution into paths destined toward certain predetermined goals, unknown to us? Possible? I have no clue. But it seems a pretty safe bet that nobody else does, either.

There are a few such nutty professors — very few of them in the biological sciences, and none of them is an unappreciated Isaac Newton. Neither they nor the letter-writer has any scientific reason to propose that such a “huge living force” even exists. The theory of evolution handily explains the origin of species, and there is no evidence that an imaginary “huge living force” interferes in terrestrial biology.

Intelligent design “theory” has no data, no research, and no possibility of being tested. Nor does it serve any scientific purpose. The situation was, shall we say, a wee bit different in the case of Newton and his law of gravitation.

Here’s the end of the letter:

Today, knowledgeable people sneer that Intelligent Design is just a new-fangled term for “Creationism.” But the concept has been around for three hundred years, and perhaps deserves respect.

[Writer’s name and city can be seen in the original.]

Intelligent design gets all the respect it deserves. Zero.

For a better analogy involving gravity and creationism, you might want to see When Gravity was a Theory in Crisis.

Copyright © 2010. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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3 responses to “Creationist Wisdom #108: Isaac Newton

  1. May The Force be with you.

  2. The Gadfly says: “May The Force be with you.”

    I needed him. I’ve tweaked the thing about five times since I posted it. Sometimes the short letters are so riddled with unspoken errors that it’s difficult to figure them out and explain what’s wrong with them.

  3. From the letter: “What if some nutty professor today would theorize that a huge living force ties all living matter together in a way that guides evolution into paths destined toward certain predetermined goals, unknown to us?”

    The DI would probably not mind, but they are confident for every one professor like that there are 100s of high school teachers who, with the “freedom” (“anarchy” is more accurate) to teach the liberal version of science that the DI demands, will not teach that “a living force guides evolution” but rather uncritically teach many long-refuted arguments “designed” to promote unreasonable doubt of evolution. And many of them will not just let the average student infer one of the mutually contradictory literal Genesis accounts, but teach it outright.