Response to intelligent design
January 23, 2002
The recent attack on GSA for not including "Intelligent Design" [Bennett] as an alternative scientific approach to evolution is part of the continuing political fight to impose religious-based beliefs in the science curricula of our public schools.
Intelligent Design (ID) is a descendent of theologian William Paley's 1803 argument that, since biological organisms resemble finely crafted machines, they must have been created by an extraordinary craftsman identified as God by Paley and now referred to euphemistically as the "Intelligent Designer."
ID claims that natural causes are insufficient to explain the complexity of life. Furthermore, many ID proponents claim that science, by limiting itself to "natural" explanations, inherently embraces philosophical Naturalism, the atheistic belief that all phenomena result only from natural causes. Therefore, they see a theory of evolution that does not specifically include the "intelligent design" of God as not only incomplete, but in fact the source of a philosophy of godless materialism.
ID is wrong about this; science neither embraces nor endorses philosophical naturalism. Science is purposely limited to seeking natural explanations for observable phenomena, but science does not attempt to offer theological or supernatural explanations for such phenomena. Neither does science attempt to explain our moral, aesthetic, or spiritual experience; these fall outside the realm of science.
Seeking natural explanations has proven to be highly successful in building a universally accessible body of knowledge about how the natural world works. Explanations involving non-natural causes cannot be investigated empirically with the tools of science, and have not successfully contributed to science. ID has neither produced nor even proposed any contributions to science, except to redefine science to encompass the supernatural.
Nowhere in the practice or teaching of science is there a commitment to the belief that what science studies is all that exists, or that the methods of science are the only valid human ways of seeking knowledge. Science is not a dogmatic philosophy about either the ultimate nature of the world or the full nature of human beings.
Politically, ID is rapidly supplanting "creation science" as the leader in the assault on science. The clearly religious (and totally unsupported) beliefs of "young-earth creationism" have been repudiated by the courts as valid science. ID is a new tactic, claiming that it can offer a truly scientific alternative to the theory of evolution.
But, there is no theory of intelligent design. ID proposes no testable hypotheses to explain how the alleged design happens. ID does not explain how to determine precisely when design has taken place, or how to distinguish between what has been designed and what has evolved. ID writers have proposed vague philosophical concepts for use in detecting design ("irreducible complexity" and "complex specified information"), but they offer no empirical means for applying these concepts to actual reality.
There is no ID research. There are no published scientific papers on ID-based experiments that test any specific aspect of the theory of ID, nor produce any new, usable knowledge. There just isn't any "theory of ID."
ID is scientifically bankrupt. It is not just bad science; it is non-science. A colleague calls it "creationism in a cheap tuxedo."
ID is also bad for religion. Acceptance of ID in the science classroom means we would be applying scientific methodology and investigation into the nature and identify of God. Science, however, has no business and no interest in answering such questions of faith. Many Christians have objected to ID on the grounds that it posits a God who has designed only some parts of the world, implying that there are many parts that God did not design. Such a theory of ID, they maintain, guarantees a diminishing sphere for religion as new scientific explanations are found.
A publicly acknowledged strategy of the ID movement is to create a "wedge" between science and religion by purporting that if you believe in one, you cannot believe in the other. This cynical ploy hopes to convince the greater lay public to turn their backs on science and supplant it with ID philosophy. The recent letter to GSA Today indicates they hope to turn scientists against science as well.
The scientific community, geology included, must forcefully disown claims of scientific legitimacy by the ID movement.