I’m going to take a public stand on two questions. Here are the questions and answers, so that you don’t have to read any further if you don’t want to.
1) Is intelligent design a scientific theory? No. 2) Should intelligent design be taught in state-funded science classrooms? Maybe, but probably not. It shouldn’t be required.
I need to be clear about a few things. First, I’m not Christian, I’m at best agnostic and at worst atheist. (I’ve wondered if I’m actually an infidel.) This should be enough for some people to ignore my opinion, because their interest in these questions is religious, not scientific or educational. However, the questions are not religious, nor should religion be an issue in answering them. If something is mathematics, it’s taught in math. If it’s musical, it’s taught in music, and if it’s theological it may be taught in some other course as long as such teaching doesn’t give preference to one religion over another nor teach that religion is truth. Not in a state funded school. Private schools are another matter.
If it’s science, it’s taught in a science class.
Second, I’m not an expert on this subject. I’ve tried to get good coverage on the material, but I can only somewhat consider myself informed. I don’t even think I explain my reasoning very well. Other writers have done a better job, and you’ll find some of their work in the References. The article from Natural History Magazine is very good, as is the recent New York Times series.
Third, I’m unlikely to change my view at this point. There’s a simple reason for this, and it’s part of my argument for why intelligent design isn’t a scientific theory: the majority of scientists say it isn’t. This may upset some people, but it’s safe to say that the people in a field know more than the people outside of it, and the majority rule. In science, the majority can certainly turn out to be wrong. If that happens, then I’ll change my views. (If scholars prove that Marlow actually wrote Shakespeare’s plays, I’ll change my mind about that, too.)
Finally, this will be my last major “serious” posting for a while, unless I feel compelled to sit atop my soapbox. I want this web log to be a place for my thoughts, yes. But I really want it to be fun, and, frankly, this posting isn’t any fun.
So, let’s get to it:
1) Is intelligent design a scientific theory?
- A theory is framework for explaining certain natural phenomena and behaviors. It is built from tested hypotheses. A theory has, historically, been natural explanations for natural phenomena. It also is predictive.
- A hypothesis is a testable explanation for an observed event, phenomenon or behavior.
- A hypothesis is testable when it can be proven or disproven. Generally, a hypothesis must be falsifiable; that is, able to be disproven.
The scientific method is the accepted procedure for proving or disproving hypotheses and constructing theories.
I know there are questions among science philosophers about the validity of falsifiability, and other questions about what science is. The above definitions are generally accepted.
My arguments against intelligent design being a scientific theory proceed from the above definitions.
- There appear to be no research papers regarding intelligent design in respected journals. In the last decade, there appear to be no intelligent design studies or tests that can be taken seriously in the scientific community. Despite statements that intelligent design is a scientific theory, there appears to be no hard science to support that statement. Proponents have stated, about some phenomena that “it can only be explained by saying it’s designed.” However, these arguments have been refuted on both the grounds of logic and of research.
- Intelligent design seems fundamentally untestable, because the central explanation, “an intelligent cause”, can neither be falsified nor proven. What are the features of this intelligence? What is the criteria that a natural feature has been designed? Likewise, the assertion that complexity cannot be explained with existing theories also seems untestable. How complex is too complex? If a complex phenomenon deemed “too complex” is later found to be explained by natural causes, does that simply raise the bar of complexity?
- Without tested hypotheses, there is no scientific theory. Intelligent design is an explanation for complexity, but not a scientific one, and doesn’t rise to the standard of scientific theory.
2) Should intelligent design be taught in state-funded science classrooms?
Intelligent design shouldn’t be taught in science classrooms as an equivalent theory to evolution, or as a scientific theory at all, for the reasons stated above. Should it be discussed? Possibly. The Discovery Institute claim on their website that they don’t believe intelligent design should be taught in science classrooms (though their actions may reveal the opposite), but instead want challenges to evolution included . I admit, I haven’t researched the following question: “Is this really not happening today?” Are science teachers really not bringing up the unanswered questions? Maybe not. If they had to teach what is unknown about each area of science (after all, it wouldn’t be fair to only teach the arguments against evolution, right?), then that might seriously hinder how much students learn. Regardless, from what I’ve read, supporters of intelligent design come up short in their argument for “teach the controversy” because the examples of serious flaws in evolution have been asked and answered many times over the last several decades. In other words, there is no scientific controversy with regards to their objections.
But should any time be given to intelligent design? Maybe, but I think it would be difficult because the basic question would have to be asked “Is there anything to this, scientifically?” If the students are required to answer that question based on scientific method rather than personal (or parental or clerical) belief, the answer is going to be “No.” However, this might be a very good way of challenging students to understand and explain “what is science”, which is a difficult question, and worthy of consideration in high school courses.
Another important requirement for whether an idea should be included in public school curriculae is, “is it generally accepted by those working in the field?” Grade school students are not doctoral candidates involved in major research organizations. They should be taught what is generally accepted, and taught that it is the most correct truth we have. They should learn, in all their studies, that research is continuous and that new discoveries can alter any field. This is fundamental to education, and central to science. Evolutionary theory has stood up to thousands of tests for over a hundred years. Any competing scientific theory must take the same hard road to acceptance.
Finally, I’m concerned that organizations like the Discovery Institute, while claiming that they are pursuing a gentle course, in fact have a documented, strongly faith-based ideological agenda that they are attempting to enact through political pressure and propaganda. If intelligent design is science, let them pursuade scientists through science. It will then become part of student’s coursework. If, however, their goal is to force state run science classes to teach supernatural causes for natural events, as it appears they do, then I cannot, as a good citizen, support their behaviors.
In this posting, I’ve given my opinion on two questions: 1) Is intelligent design a scientific theory, and 2) should it be taught in state-funded science classrooms. This posting is not an attack on religion, on faith in God, or what is “true” in the personal or philosophical sense. These are important questions, but not questions that science is intended to answer.
References (Pseudo Bibliography)
This is by no means a scholarly work, or a correct bibliography. These are all web resources, and many of them will be suspect. Friends of mine will chuckle over the number of Wikipedia listings.
In other words, do your own research.
Discovery Institute FAQ NCSE Resource Intelligent Design? A Special Report from Natural History Magazine In Explaining Life’s Complexiy, Darwinists and Doubters Clash - New York Times (registration required) Editor attacked over ‘intelligent design’ article What is Science? HOS: 1. What is Science Re: What is Science Philosophy of Science: What is Science A9.com Search: “is intelligent design science” The Panda’s Thumb: Icons of ID: Is intelligent design science or creationism 2.0? Wired 12.10: The Crusade Against Evolution Pentagon’s new goal: Put science into scripts Scientists’ belief in God varies by discipline Metaphysics - Wikipedia Philosophy - Wikipedia Logic - Wikipedia Non-monotonic logic - Wikipedia Scientific method - Wikipedia Problem of induction - Wikipedia Falsifiability - Wikipedia Falsificationism Dictionary.com/philosophy Dictionary.com/metaphysics Dictionary.com/supernatural