newsflash: intelligent design is not a scientific theory

i am just about at my wit’s end. the intelligent design (ID) ‘debate’ has reached the point where i can’t hold my tongue any more. it seems that every other day, i hear a new story in the news about some court case related to pulling evolution out of public schools. it’s not only sad…it’s frightening.

wired ran an article about intelligent design a few months back. all things considered, i’d say they were pretty fair to the people in the ID community (although the Wired writer was clearly pro–science). while i applaud their tolerance, i think it is undue: the people in the ID community are religious zealots with a clear political agenda. in the ideal scenario, their efforts would be politely ignored. unfortunately, that’s not going to happen. it’s going to take communication, education, and activism to make these people stop trying to push their agenda in America’s educational system.

intelligent design (ID) is defined (see Intelligent Design: The Scientific Alternative to Evolution) as follows:

ID is a scientific theory that intelligent causes may have played a crucial role in the origin of the universe and of life and its diversity. It holds that design is empirically detectable in nature, and particularly in living systems. ID is an intellectual movement that includes a scientific research program for investigating intelligent causes and that challenges naturalistic explanations of origins that currently drive science education and research.

i could not possibly deconstruct this "theory" any better than the analysis of intelligent design at the Skeptic’s Dictionary.

here’s my summary of their basic conclusions:

  • ID is not a scientific theory because it does not rely an objectively testable hypothesis. intelligent design is a perfectly valid philosophical (metaphysical) belief system. it can neither be proved nor disproved, and as such, it should not be taught as a scientific theory. it is not a plausible alternative to natural selection, and anyone who pits the two against each other is confusing the argument.
  • no matter how much ID proponents call their empirical observations ‘science,’ it doesn’t make them so
  • God and religious belief are completely compatible with the theory of Darwinian evolution; ID defenders have created a false dilemma by saying that the two are inconsistent

ID proponents are very careful to avoid the G-word in their arguments. it’s not about God, or creationism vs. natural selection, they say. it’s about the darwinian materialist paradigm and its shortcomings, and the need for a measure of objectivity and the presentation of alternative scientific theories that "ask the right questions."

nonsense. absolute nonsense. this is about politics; it’s about religion in the classroom; it’s about indoctrination; it’s about misinformation. anyone who pretends otherwise is lying.

and yet people fall for it.

if you don’t think it’s about religion, let’s do a little gedankenexperiment….imagine the situation where the ID proponents win their battle – they win the right for ID to be taught in schools. suppose i were a high school teacher, and i decided that right after talking about darwin and natural selection, i’d shift gears and talk about intelligent design, except i’d take it one step further. the first question out of student’s mouths would probably be, ‘so who or what was the designer?’ i’d say the following:

"that’s a great question…evidence actually shows that the Earth was seeded by an advanced alien species. easter island, the great pyramids, crop circles, landing strips for spaceships – they all point to a race of superbeings that set life loose on this planet. the thing we still can’t figure out is why our designers would make so many people so dumb."

snarky comments aside, i suspect the ID people, and anyone who would vote for them to be a part of your local school board, would be unhappy were i to make reference to alien creators. after all, everybody knows somebody just made all that stuff up about the pyramids and everything so that leonard nimoy would have something to talk about on ‘in search of….’

addendum 1: i would be the first to defend people’s right to religious expression (provided it doesn’t actively harm another person). as i stated above, creationism and religion are NOT a priori incompatible with darwinism (or science in general). if people want to promote their faith, it can be done in a church or synagogue or mosque. it should not be done in public schools, not in this country.

addendum 2: if people want to teach or discuss intelligent design in school, do it in a class about philosophy (e.g., metaphysics). there’s no reason the discussion can’t occur, provided it (1) doesn’t promote a single religious belief system, or (2) doesn’t claim to be a scientific theory that competes with the theory of evolution.

addendum 3: darwinian evolution is a theory (backed by a great body of hard, objective scientific evidence that is not strictly empirical). it’s not a perfect theory, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong in toto. newtonian mechanics can’t explain lots of things that quantum mechanics does, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong, either; the two are quite compatible, acutally. by a similar token, general relativity is a theory. quantum mechanics is a theory. the big bang is a theory. all realms of scientific endeavor are composed of theories, hypotheses, and experiments, with one exception: mathematics (the only science that could be said to represent objective truth). even then, gödel’s incompleteness theorems showed that there’s some fuzzy stuff going on in math.

my point is that no one in intelligent design is going after the big bang, claiming that textbooks should put it forward more clearly that this is "only a theory" and that someone might have actually designed the universe. why is that? why stop at evolution? why not take on every realm of scientific endeavor that could be conceived (however incorrectly) as incompatible with a creation myth?

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2 thoughts on “newsflash: intelligent design is not a scientific theory

  1. Tony

    What burns me up is the constant rebuttal from non-evolutionary thinkers – “It’s just a theory”. What do you mean it’s just a theory. Being a theory means a lot. Look at the definition – “A set of statements or principles devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena, especially one that has been repeatedly tested or is widely accepted and can be used to make predictions about natural phenomena.” I don’t know where the definition of theory got so corrupted that it now means an idea that hasn’t been tested.


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