The errors of Intelligent Design – It is Poor Science (Guest Post)
In a recent conversation with the Head of Science about our planned Religion and Science conference we discussed the issue of Intelligent Design. This question arose: If ID were to become part of the national curriculum, where would it be taught? Within the science labs under the banner of a scientific theory, or with me in the Religious Studies department under the banner of metaphysical, philosophical theory?
The Claims of Intelligent Design
"ID is three things, a scientific research program that investigates the effect of intelligent causes, an intellectual movement that challenges Darwinism and its naturalistic legacy, and a way of understanding divine action—ID thus intersects science and theology." (Intelligent Design—The bridge between science and theology [Dembski 1999])ID proponents claim organisms such as the bacteria flagellum are 'Irreducibly Complex’. Behe defines this as:
"...a single system which is composed of several well-matched interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning."According to ID thinkers, Darwinian evolution, based on natural selection, fails to give an account of its origins, leaving only 'design inference'. If an organism displays design, then by implication an 'intelligent designer' gives an account for its origins.
ID is a reaction against a perceived threat from evolution on the existence of God. There are some Christians that argue evolution to be inherently materialistic and necessarily atheistic and therefore opposed to any science that supports it. I maintain however, science by its very nature, does not draw judgement on the question of God’s existence.
What does it mean to do science?
Karl Popper explained scientific progress is made when bold conjectures are attempted to be falsified rather than confirmed. A scientific conjecture is open to testing and possible refutation. Any theories which are immune to refutation are thereby NOT scientific.
Science deals with empirical observable data. All theories which claim to be scientific must be tested against observable data from the natural world. Any theory which exhibits metaphysical or supernatural premises falls out of the discipline of science. In the worldview of Dawkins any 'information' beyond the empirical is not ‘true’ whereas according to Küng, a broader multi-faceted approach to reality is held. Cf. here.
Is Intelligent Design science?
ID postulates a supernatural ‘intelligent designer’ (perhaps God) to explain 'irreducible complexity'. However, since science deals with empirical evidence it cannot falsify the existence of an ‘intelligent designer’ as the premise of intelligent design is supernatural and therefore beyond scientific enquiry. In the words of Michael Behe: “ …Hypotheses, careful testing, replicability—all these have served science well. How can an intelligent designer be tested? Can he be put in a test tube? No of course not?" (Behe, Darwins Black Box, 1996, p. 242). A true scientific theory cannot propose a supernatural element to the origins of life making ID non-scientific.
Denis Alexander takes this further, arguing that a foundational purpose of science is to explain the relationships between components comprising of living matter. He contends that ID adds nothing to our knowledge of these relationships. They are ‘designed’ and therefore closed to further scientific study. No experimental programs will be explored, no grants given for further exploration. In fact, the science ends. He cites this as the reason why there are so few scientific publications originating from ID thinkers.
Final Note - The scientific community
It has been ten years since Michael Behe published Darwin's Black Box where he first outlined the concept of 'Irreducibly Complex’ entities. In that time the scientific community have published a range of papers on evolutionary origins of the bacteria flagellum. In addition Nobel prize winners, school teachers and scientific organisations alike have raised serious concerns about ID and its growing popularity as an 'alternative scientific theory' amongst some evangelical Christian organisations.
Simon Hardwick of The Lost Message