Special Report

Deny the Designer, Save “Science”

Opponents of Intelligent Design appear to lack Einstein's humility.

By 1.22.06

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People who celebrated Judge John Jones's recent ruling that Intelligent Design is a "religious view" and "not science," so that it is "unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution," are satisfied because religion and science have been kept strictly apart, which suits their worldview. It amounts, though, to begging the question that is at stake, and "winning" the argument by sheer force.

Before explaining why, it's worth noting that science is being defined flexibly. If someone says -- "The fossil record does not actually indicate that species evolved into other species, and evidence of the necessary transitional species has not been found, but we assume that those species did exist because our theory requires it" -- this, of course, is science. And if someone says -- "We have no idea how the single bacterium from which all other species allegedly evolved could have emerged from inanimate matter, but we assume that it must have" -- this too is science, to be taught to children as established fact. It is, after all, a "naturalistic" explanation, hence true, hence science.

Most people who believe in God, however, believe that God created nature. If that were so, then it should be at least theoretically possible that scientists, who investigate nature, could come upon evidence of God while doing so. When you delve deeply into something, the goal is usually to discover its source. Einstein, like many titans of science before him, acknowledged this in a general way in many statements, such as: "everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe -- a spirit vastly superior to that of man," or his reference to "rapturous amazement at the harmony of natural law, which reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection."

Such statements, though, while interesting and important, are admittedly not science. ID scientists make a different claim -- that their rigorous investigation of natural phenomena like organisms and parts of organisms, or their rigorous application of mathematical laws of randomness and probability to the complexity of such organisms yields specific evidence that they were designed, and that evolution does not adequately explain their existence.

ID scientists have presented their evidence in peer-reviewed books published by major, prestigious publishers and in peer-reviewed articles published by major, prestigious journals. A statement circulated by the Discovery Institute -- "We are skeptical of the claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged" -- has already been signed by over four hundred scientists. They come from fields like biochemistry, bacteriology, astrophysics, mathematics, and computer science and from institutions like Princeton, Cornell, Cambridge, Columbia, and MIT.

Twenty years ago, you didn't hear about this sort of thing. Now you do -- because, as often happens, a scientific theory, in this case evolution, is coming under challenge, and a different paradigm, in this case ID, is arising in its place. Of course, not all the scientists who doubt evolution accept ID. But many of them do, and they do so on the basis of scientific research.

Why, then, the claim that ID is "not science"? Part of the reason, to repeat, is sheer prejudice. People who espouse a naturalistic, materialist view of reality, which Darwinism supposedly corroborated and did much to promote, realize that the posited designer of nature is a deity. A deity, as they see it, belongs to "religion" -- at best soft, sentimental stuff that may have a place in the church or synagogue but not in a serious domain like science.

The other claim against ID is that it is "not falsifiable." First of all, the term is, once more, flexible. The statement that "Even if we don't currently understand how evolution via random mutation and natural selection could have produced the species existing in the world, we will eventually" -- is also not falsifiable but, rather, an expression of faith. Second, two Discovery Institute fellows, while acknowledging "that there's no way to falsify the bare assertion that a cosmic designer exists," demonstrate here that "the specific design arguments currently in play are empirically testable, even falsifiable, and involve testable predictions."

And as for that "bare assertion," if it were true that nature had been designed, and if science has now grown sophisticated enough to detect evidence of the designer, then it could, logically and conceivably, also be the case that the assertion is not falsifiable because it is not false.

Interesting questions, calling for further research and open minds. So interesting we might even let children know about them.

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About the Author

P. David Hornik is a writer and translator in Beersheva, Israel, blogging at PDavidHornik.typepad.com.