Bush On ‘Intelligent Design’

Bush approves of ‘Intelligent Design’, we hear, a theory that’s gaining popularity amongst some Christian groups as a competitive scientific approach to the theory of natural selection. It specifies that while evolution has occured, it was guided by an intelligent force.

But the thing that it’s fans repeatedly fail to notice is that it isn’t a demonstrable scientific theory. To be considered as a scientific theory, it has to be impirically demonstrable, at least in theory, to be false. Evolutionary Theory can be proven false, because theories of evolution state that they could be proven false by the discovery of any single species who’s history can not be explained by it’s own terms. Intelligent Design’s “fail” demand is that it is proven to be incorrect for every species. Just like theories that both “God exists” and “God does not exist”, Intelligent Design can not be proven false, and therefore is untestable and unscientific!

I have no problem with the existance of a theory of intelligent design: in fact, I’m honestly surprised it’s taken so long to get a foothold, as it is a great theological explanation for the way species have been (so far) proven to be while maintaining creationistic ideas… but it is not, by definition a ‘scientific theory’.

It’s been a long day.

On the up-side, Egg have stopped writing to me to tell me I am over my credit limit and instead, today, wrote to me to tell me they were bored of telling me I was over my credit limit and so they have increased said limit. Go Egg!

3 replies to Bush On ‘Intelligent Design’

  1. ID is such a joke, I’ve had arguments about it with Christians before who flat out refuse to acknowledge that’s rebranded Creationism even though they insist on referring to the Designer (with capital D) which is basically just like saying God. That complexity in nature is a sign of there being some cloud being, sorry Designer, at work is just such nonsense it beggars belief. Still this is America we are talking about where fundamentalist Christianity is rising on par with fundamentalist Islam in the Middle East.

  2. I enjoyed your post on ID. I’m still researching it and reading up on it. I think the debate is fascinating though.

    I respectfully take two issues with your assessment.

    1) ID is not a Christian belief. Labeling it so makes it easier to dismiss, although
    many non-believers embrace it too including atheist Oxford professor Antony Flew.

    2) I do believe it’s able to be proven or disproven on the grounds complexity or “irreducible complexity.”

    Irreducibly complex systems function only as a sum of their parts and fail individually if any of these parts are removed. IDer’s argue that these systems by definition could not have evolved into a functioning unit from non-functioning lesser systems.

    Strict evolutionists contend that everthing is able to be broken down into singular elements and conversely, built up over time through adaptation, survival of fittest, evolution, etc… into highly complex systems. Less design, more like billions and billions of beta tests resulting in systems that survive.

    It’s going to be an interesting debate. I think ID must pass thsi academic and scientific scrutiny of complexity before it belongs anywhere inside the classroom. However, if it does stand up, it should be considered as supplemental to evolutionary theory at least.

    cheers.

  3. 1. Absolutely correct. I never claimed that it was a Christian belief, of course (just that it seems to be gaining popularity fastest amongst Christians), but I can see how it could be implied, particularly with my friend Raz’s comment above, too.

    2. It is true that IDer argue that evolution could not occur entirely through the evolution of non-functioning biological subsystems, as you say, and this is a valid, testable scientific theory. It can be tested theoretically, using computer models and genetic algorithms, or experimentally, using species who’s genetic code adapts fast, such as the famous examples of the peppered moth and head lice. Taking these two examples: we have accounts of scientists from a hundred or so years ago that the peppered moth is a light-coloured animal that lives in forested areas. It has been demonstrated that in peppered moths who’s colour matches those of the trees surrounding them are less susceptible to being consumed by predators. It has been demonstrated that in areas where the trees are darker coloured by traffic fumes from nearby roads that a higher concentration of darker-coloured peppered moths are found than in other areas or, historically, in the same areas. This study lends evidence to the theory of evolution through natural selection: we have a hostile environment (light coloured moths die), means of adaption (moths are slightly unlike their parents, having – among other things – a marginally different colour), and sufficient time for the necessary evolutionary steps to be made (moths breed quickly: we can watch this kind of evolution occur within our lifetime). We see similar things in human headlice, which have in recent decades become more immune to the kinds of poison we use to neutralise them.

    Both of these studies lend theory towards evolution, and it’s thanks to work like this that in the classroom we can say “evolution through natural selection is a theory that is supported by scientific evidence: there is insufficient evidence to declare it a scientific fact”. Technically, the same thing is true of the theory of gravity, but it is a less-contested theory and therefore ends up taught as if it were scientific fact to young children, but explained as theory to older children (my favourite alternative theory of gravity is that, rather that matter being attracted to other matter, vacuum repels other vacuum – sounds crazy, but we have an equal amount of evidence for it because it’s an equal and opposite force).

    Okaydokey – now here’s where intelligent design comes in. It borders on mysticism, because it claims that all evolution not demonstrated to be occuring by another means (e.g. natural selection) must be the work of a Designer (which they insist of gracing with a capital ‘D’, as my friend Raz says). As natural selection is the major competing theory, this basically amounts to a conclusion like “everything is the work of a Designer, except for those few cases of microevolution (peppered moths, headlice, etc.) already demonstrated to be natural selection”. It’s an argument that can’t be lost – every new species that is studied can be covered by the “except for…”, and it would take the demonstration that *every* species evolved through natural selection – which is impossible – to disprove it.

    The other problem is that it is a “can’t” claim, which are inherently hard to prove even where they don’t touch on the metaphysical. In terms of logic, ID claims that “it is not possible to demonstrate adaption without the word of [God]”. But how can this be disproven? Well… what is this “God” capable of doing? Anything, you say. So in other words, anything that we do to demonstrate a counter-case can be shot down with “but that IS God’s doing; can’t you see?”

    Intelligent design is a fascinating and well-thought out metaphysical theory which I think can be used to help to bridge the gap between rational scientific ideas and religious faith, by allowing strict creationists a way to accept at least that evolution IS HAPPENING (how it is happening is what is disagreed upon), which is widely accepted now – but it is not a scientific theory as it cannot be tested as such.

    Thanks for your comment, bohemianlikeyou.

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