Paul P. Mealing

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Saturday, 25 August 2007

Intelligent Design

Evolution is nature’s design methodology, so replacing evolution with something else called 'design' is a non sequitur if it includes evolution and is meaningless if it doesn’t.

What does one mean by intelligent design? Its proponents say it’s the only explanation for the inherent complexity one sees in evolution. In fact, there are 3 possible interpretations of intelligent design; all of them inconsequential to science.

Firstly, the official interpretation, given above, effectively says there are aspects of evolution we don’t understand, therefore we can only explain it by invoking a ‘Designer’, otherwise known as God. But any lack of understanding of evolution, is a clear result of our ignorance rather than a need to invoke Divine intervention. History shows that many of the gaps in our knowledge in the past were successfully uncovered in that past’s future. What’s more, history would suggest that there will always be gaps in our knowledge, so we should not be alarmed, nor afraid, to admit our ignorance of nature’s mysteries in the present, of which there are countless many. One of my favourite aphorisms is that only future generations can tell us how ignorant the current generation is. We always think, or claim, to know more than we do.

The second interpretation is that we acknowledge evolutionary design as hugely successful, albeit imperfect, and that it was designed from the outset by God. Another way of looking at this, is that we acknowledge evolution as nature’s design methodology, and the only remaining argument is whether it’s blind or teleological. From a theological perspective, it can be argued to be part of God’s plan. But from a scientific perspective, bringing God into the picture explains nothing (see below). And this is why I always contend that science and religion are separate: they can’t answer each other’s questions.

The third interpretation is that intelligent design is really a case of ‘wedge politics’: to introduce ‘creationism’ into American schools. Creationism is another argument altogether, which replaces evolution with a fairy tale scenario of spontaneous creation. Not only is this completely, and obviously, unscientific, but all evidence suggests that the universe is a dynamic entity that has never stopped creating. In other words, in nature, creation is a continuous process.

In reference to the last paragraph, I would like to provide a further commentary based on an ABC radio interview I heard online in 2006.

I would like to add an insight provided by Margaret Wertheim (author of Pythagoras’s Trousers and The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace) in an interview on ABC Radio National (Australia). Wertheim made the pertinent point that both ID and ‘Creationism’ are the result of wedge politics to overcome the American Constitution’s requirement that religious teachings can’t be taught in State Schools. Therefore ‘believers’ attempt to introduce religion as science as an explicit Trojan horse. Her implied point is that, if the Constitution allowed religion to be discussed in State schools, the strategy and the controversy wouldn’t exist.

This view is concordant with a quote in New Scientist, 9 September 2006, p.13 by Joseph Fessio, provost of Ave Maria University in Florida: ‘There’s a controversy in the United States because there is a lack of awareness of a thing called philosophy.’ This has been an argument I have used against proponents of ID ever since it raised its head. If people want to discuss this issue in an educational forum then it should be in a philosophy class, not a science class. People engage in this debate without being aware that they are discussing philosophy and not science. (See my March 08 posting, What is Philosophy?)

A belief in God neither hinders nor supports science, unless you're a fundamentalist. Bringing God into science to explain natural phenomena is a 'science-stopper'. You've stopped doing science, because you are effectively saying: I don't understand this, so I will invoke God and stop any further scientific investigation.

On the other side of the same coin, you cannot use science to prove or disprove the existence of God (though Richard Dawkins argues otherwise). There is no physical evidence of God; the only evidence is what people feel and experience internally, so it's outside the realms of science which studies natural phenomena only. (See my later posting on Religion.)

See also my postings on Evolution and Does the Universe have a Purpose?

For a more detailed argument on this same topic, see my later posting in Nov.07: Is evolution fact? Is creationism myth?

On the question of 'complexity' and its role in describing life, Paul Davies provides an excellent exposition in his book, The Origin of Life.

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