Sunday, December 30, 2007

What is Intelligent Design?

I am probably not the right person to ask this question, but since it was put to me, I'll lay out my thinking about Intelligent Design. I will not ask the obvious experts, the Discovery Institute, because their point of view isn't mine. If you want to hear their point of view read Ann Coulter's book "Godless". She asked the question of the Discovery Institute and three of its 'fellows' filled her mind with all their arguments and she spat them back out like a good little unthinking convert. She didn't ask anyone else about it, nor did she attempt to learn anything about Evolution or science. She just used her bombastic style to regurgitate whatever pap the Discovery Institute told her. I refuse to make that mistake.

My description of Intelligent Design is simple: "It is an attempt to explain the unexplained by invoking the inexplicable. " You can quote me on that one! Now let me explain my viewpoint. By the way where I got inspiration for this line was an old joke defining Physics as "explaining the unexplainable by observing the unobservable."

"Explain the unexplained" -- So far almost all I have been able to actually learn about Intelligent Design are attacks on evolution. Some of it are valid points about evolution that science hasn't fully explained to date. Much of it are outdated arguments that science has explained, but they just don't like the explanations. So the only parts of Intelligent Design that makes any sense are their identifying already known gaps in scientific knowledge. Now this does little to advance the cause because any weakness in evolution they point to is already a known weakness and scientists are working to fill in those gaps (just ask Michael Behe how well his examples stood up). Any information supporting Intelligent Design seems to have been developed by William Dembski and Michael Behe. but their efforts are mostly marketing to sell the idea of Intelligent Design rather than any details of how it was accomplished.

"Invoke the inexplicable" -- Here is the real fun part of Intelligent Design and the reason they will never successfully divorce themselves from Creationism. Rather than offer any real explanations of how things happened, they state that an Intelligent Designer did it! What chafes my shorts is that is where their explanations stop. "What Intelligent Designer did it? Who is the designer? Are their more than one?" are questions religiously (pun intended) avoided by Intelligent Design proponents. They refuse to formally name "God", and the Christian God at that, because they think they will get more acceptance by not naming who they believe the designer is. I love the fact in voice they name the designer, but in print they never do! But they also refuse to address other questions, like "How did the Intelligent Designer do it?" They have offered no explanations on how the designer did anything, what they like to do is co-opt evolutionary explanations. Do you realize they accept the fact that evolution happened, but when pressed for details they hold up their designer and stop answering questions. They have no clue the "How" and have offer nothing in the way of answers. They love to point to the Cambrian explosion as a sticking point for evolution, but isn't it also a sticking point for Intelligent Design? Did "the designer" just decide to erase the canvas and kill off all the earlier life and start with new models? Doesn't sound terrible omnipotent to me.

So trying to explain the unexplainable by invoking the inexplicable is the primary reason Intelligent Design does not belong in a science class! It cannot be taught except through faith, it cannot be tested, except through faith, and it cannot be taken seriously, except by faith. I have nothing against faith, I think it is a needed part of what makes us human, but it isn't something that belongs in a science class.

Just for fun let's take a brief comparison with what is Evolution? By definition evolution is "change over time", something I think we can agree has happened, even the Discovery Institute agrees it happened. When I usually use the word 'evolution' I am really talking about Biological Evolution which is best defined as "Descent with modification". The Modern Synthesis Theory of Evolution is an explanation of how descent with modification happened in the past, happens in the present, and will happen in the future. The theory offers many detailed explanations supported by large volumes of evidence, experimentation, and proof. Like any scientific theory it will never reach the absolute certainty of a religious faith, but then science doesn't work that way and never will.

So one is an idea that leaves it all in the hands of an intelligent agent and offers no explanations of what and how it happened. The other is a scientific theory that offers a great deal of detail all backed up by proof, is testable, and can be witnessed today. I know which belongs in science class to me!

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