Science, Just Science

The “Theory” Of Intelligent Design

Intelligent Design (ID) is the “theory” that some aspects of the observable universe are better explained by intelligent directed cause rather than natural undirected cause. Specifically Intelligent Design is presented as an alternative origins “theory” to the scientifically accepted theory of evolution. The acknowledged father of the ID movement is Philip Johnson who, with Stephen C. Meyer, co-founded the “secular” think tank organisation The Discovery Institute and other leading lights in the movement are William Dembski (originator of the idea of specified complexity) and Michael Behe (irreducible complexity). You’ll notice that I put the word “theory” and “secular” in quotes when using them in reference to Intelligent Design and the reason for this is simple … despite claiming to be both, Intelligent Design is neither.

“Theory,” like many other common English words, has more than one meaning; it has a common usage meaning where it more-or-less equates to a guess, a “good idea” or a “wizard wheeze” and a scientific meaning where it effectively confers upon a given scientific explanation the highest status it can. In other words, to paraphrase G. K. Chesterton, a scientific theory is considered to be confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent. A scientific theory is not a guess or an approximation but an extensive explanation developed from well-documented and reproducible sets of data based on repeated observations of natural processes (Stephen J. Gould, 1994).

Without going into a great deal of detail (there are other posts and articles on this blog with considerably more information) scientific explanations must be guided by natural law and explanatory by reference to those natural laws; testable against the empirical world; tentative and falsifiable. Both Creationism and Intelligent Design have been challenged in the US courts with reference to these criteria and, in both cases, failed to qualify as science. This should not be surprising since the ID movement don’t tend to carry out scientific research preferring to concentrate on reinterpreting existing data to suit their own purpose.

All science is subject to peer-review. Peer-review is essentially a formalised method by which all of science is made available to all scientists all of the time (by publishing papers in reputable journals of science) and acts as a series of checks and balances on the work of individual scientists and groups; helping to weed out bad & fraudulent science whilst aiding alternative interpretation of data and the introduction of new and modified theories. If it isn’t published in such a journal that is open to ALL of science then it doesn’t gain entry into the database of accepted scientific explanations. ID is claimed to be a scientific theory yet, to date, the Intelligent Design movement has not been able to publish an article in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. The peer-review process isn’t infallible but it makes it much harder to allow non-scientific and fraudulent claims to pass muster and allows for others to ensure that those things that do somehow get in are thrown out again as soon as their true nature is revealed.

Based on the above, that ID is not based on scientific evidence and has repeatedly failed to gain access to to reputable scientific journals, one is forced to conclude that the “theory” of Intelligent Design cannot reasonably qualify as a scientific theory.

Intelligent Design claims are specifically phrased in secular language and at no point is the designer (or designers) specified to be God or other gods; it could well be that the designer could be an advanced alien culture of some description. The latter, however, cannot be realistically accepted as “the designer” because an alien race would likewise be subject to the same specifications as the things they designed and would have to themselves be designed therefore the ultimate designer must be a god of some description. Indeed, since the universe itself is claimed to display features of design that designer cannot be a physical part of the universe and must exist outside of it. If that is so, then that designer is inherently non-testable by science and its existence must be taken on faith. Furthermore the founders of the Intelligent Design Movement and the vast majority of its members tend to strongly Christian, many of the exact same fundamentalist persuasion as would have latterly considered themselves creationist. A school level textbook, “Of Pandas and People”, was published during the strongest days of creationism to support the religious home schooling market and the same book has been reissued with all references to “God” replaced by variants of “Intelligent Designer” … it is not the only text that has been modified in this way. One can hardly fail to conclude from the above that Intelligent Design is a repackaged version of creationism and is an inherently religious concept. For something to be “secular” it must, quite simply, be free from religious or spiritual quality … Intelligent design is a religion and therefore cannot be considered to be secular.

So the IDC’s have a problem; ID (despite claims to the contrary) is not science so it should not be taught in a science class, it is not an alternative to the theory of evolution because that is science, it has no validatable supporting evidence whereas every scientific theory (including the theory of evolution) has shed loads and (the final major claim of the IDC’s) science and evolution are not in crisis over Intelligent Design. There is no controversy so why should we teach it? The ONLY thing that is a problem for science is that the way ID is being promoted (“marketed” would be a better description since it is “sold” direct to the public rather than through the recongnised channel of peer-review and scientific journals) and it is at this level that the IDC’s are having their greatest successes, it is at this level (the level of public [mis]understanding) that science is failing to explain why it and it alone is able to explain the observable universe.

Hopefully I’ve managed to convince you why it is that Intelligent Design is important (in the sense that it is bad science, a pseudoscience) but it’s also worth pointing out that it’s bad religion on several counts. Firstly it’s aggressively marketed (we’ve seen that in the way they spread their crud across the public sector popular science arena and assiduously avoid the proper channels for science), secondly because it has a certain slickness and believability to it (visit their websites, their forums, read their magazines, go to a one of their sales pitches, sadly at a church near you), thirdly because they are after your children (and that isn’t scare-mongering, why else would they strike at the school system?). If you are not a Christian you should be very wary of these people … they are trying to present this as a two horse race i.e. science versus their peculiarly warped version of Christianity, if you are a Christian you need to be sure you agree with what they are saying, what they want to teach your children because they are an extremely vocal minority in the UK and you can be fairly sure they won’t be teaching them your religious beliefs, they’ll be teaching them theirs.

So what can you do about these people? What can you do to stop them affecting your children? What can you do to stop them infiltrating the education system?

  1. Write to your MP. Demand greater say on the faith-based school initiative … it’s sad to say but that is the way cult religious group like the IDC’s are gaining control of schools such as Creationist businessman Reg Vardy’s “Emmanuel College” in Gateshead. Demand to know what his or her party’s policy on education is. Demand reassurance that he or she will not at any point consider allowing such people to gain control of any local schools. Demand that he or she raise the issue in Parliament.
  2. Raise Awareness. Raise your own awareness of this issue (there’s some stuff on this blog but more to the point we have links to other sites that go into great detail about what the threat is. Tell others. Write to your children’s school/s and demand reassurance that their policy on science remains to teach science and only science in the science classroom. If you notice any funny stuff from the IDC’s let us know.
  3. Sign our petition. Sign up, we don’t bite and we’ll only send this newsletter if you want us to … unlike the IDC’s we’re proud to be ethical.
  4. Show your support.  Comment on articles, tell us what you think, make yourself known. If you notice any funny stuff, let us know, ask, we may be able to help!
  5. If you know a school or college in your area that already is in the control of the IDC’s then again, let us know, raise awareness, use our resources (they’re not quite ready yet but should be very soon), we plan to have fliers, documents, presentations and so on the site any of which could help you.
  6. Tell people about this campaign.

That’s it.

Thank you for reading.

James Rocks
Science, Just Science

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