Friday, May 18, 2007

Integral Design

In The Oxford Handbook of Science and Religion (Oxford University Press, 2006), edited by Philip Clayton and Zachary Simpson, there's an integral chapter written by Sean Hargens and Ken Wilber, called "Toward a Comprehensive Integration of Science and Religion: A Post-Metaphyhsical Approach". The chapter concludes the methodological Part IV of the book, which contains contributions by Owen Flanagan, David Ray Griffin and others.

In itself, this is a milestone. At least the integral view is on record in some of the major handbooks. But note, this handbook is part of the series Oxford Handbooks in Religion and Theology. In Part V of the tome, the major theoretical debates are listed, among others the controversy over Intelligent Design.

As to the chapter on the integral approach, one should further keep in mind that an integration of religion and science is not the same as an integration of the various scientific approaches of religion, let alone the mere classification of these approaches into 4, 8 or more categories. The chapter relies heavily on the eight primordial perspectives spelled out in Wilber's latest work. It would have been interesting to have Wilber contribute to the science and religion debate itself. After all, he authored a separate volume on precisely this topic: The Marriage of Sense and Soul: The Integration of Science and Religion (1998), which doesn't seem to have stirred a theological debate.

Intelligent Design, which seems to point to an overlap between the two fields, is a case in point. Are biological organisms too complex to have been evolved by natural selection, as Wilber and ID authors suggest? Yes or no? Unfortunately, Wilber has devoted very few comments to this topics, and then only in angry blog postings directed at his critics or hasty footnotes in a book. Someone of his stature should take the time to clarify his position on this hotly debated issue.

A further complication would be that Wilber has compromised himself by grossly misrepresenting the status of evolutionary biology, in his infamous statements about eyes and wings in A Brief History of Everything, when in the very same year that book came out Richard Dawkins spelled out the mechanisms by which eyes and wings could have evolved (in his Climbing Mount Improbable - both books were published in 1996).

That reiterates the point brought up by Geoffrey Falk several times in his critical contributions: what's the point of a supposed integration of religion and science if science is misrepresented in the process? Doesn't Wilber violate his own principles of Integral Methodological Pluralism, if the field in question, i.e. evolutionary biology, isn't done justice, but is crammed into a pre-conceived system of "integration"? Even the Intelligent Design folks are caricatured by him as Jehova believers, where leading ID authors have much more sophistication.

But still, it would be interesting to read about what "Integral Design" would look like.