In the ongoing trench war between the scientific vs. religious agendas, Intelligent Design represents the latest grenade lobbed.
Proponents of ID (William A. Dembski and Michael J. Behe chief among them) essentially state that ‘random evolution’ cannot account for the complexity and diversity of living things. Instead, they reason, this complexity indicates the hand of an intelligent creator. The basic idea goes back a long way, from the famous watchmaker analogy to St. Thomas Aquinas’s five proofs for the existence of God.
These are teleological arguments, and they’re compelling. However, they fall under the category of philosophy, not science, which is why the current debate over whether or not ID should be given equal time to evolution in science class is ludicrous.
Anything can be a competing idea to evolution, including a Flying Spaghetti Monster, but that doesn’t make it science. ID proponents argue that the best their pro-evolution counterparts can do is attack ID with absurd satire. John Calvert, the attorney who heads the Intelligent Design Network, stated, “If that’s all they can do to support evolutionary theory, they’ve got a big problem with their theory.”
That’s it right there. ID advocates go to great lengths to propagate the message that ID is a theory on equal scientific footing with evolution. It simply is not.
The scientific method is designed to prove or disprove hypotheses based on observation and valid, repeatable experimentation. One of the hallmarks of good science is the concept of falsifiability. The basic idea is that every theory should build in a condition which, if met, would disprove the theory. Popper’s swan analogy works well:
My theory, based on observation, is that all swans are white. However, if someone were to produce evidence of a black swan, I would have to revise my theory.
ID cannot be falsified. Any time one introduces a supernatural entity into the mix, evidence goes out the window.
“The universe is 6,000 years old.”
“What about fossils?”
“Well, the wizard who created the universe just made it look like that.”
That’s ID’s biggest problem. It explains everything, but illuminates nothing. Robert Todd Carroll has some great stuff on this.
Imagine taking this approach on a Biology test:
“Explain capillary action.”
“The Wizard did it.”
Boy, what a time saver…
Setting the whole validity question aside, I want to express an opinion about what I perceive to be the root of the problem. I am, admittedly, painting in broad strokes.
In modern, Western civilization, secularism holds sway as the dominant paradigm. Science has increasingly taken ground from Religion for over a century. Every time we see a news story about a judge putting a sculpture of the Ten Commandments in a courthouse or a school board debating whether or not ID should be taught in public schools, we are watching Religion try to regain lost ground.
I believe this perception to be based on a false dichotomy, e.g., if I believe in the Christian God, then I cannot believe in evolution, or vice versa.
I believe that Science and Religion are not mutually exclusive but, instead, deal with entirely different domains. One cannot prove (or disprove) that there is a God with Science, no more than the New Testament can tell you how to build an internal combustion engine.
Absolutes are the problem. Any time you try to explain everything exclusively using Science or Religion, you end up with things like Love being awkwardly reduced to a “complex set of chemical and neurological interactions,” or the origin of species as “The Wizard did it.”
Science does not deal with final causes, Religion does (teleology again). That is, Religion describes what things mean, Science investigates how things work. Science and Religion only threaten one another if people choose to perceive them as threats. If the broad perception were instead that each represents a unique toolset for dealing with different “problems”, the tension between the two would cease to exist.