The debate about whether intelligent design (ID) can be science or not is still ongoing. In order to address this problem, a non-question begging account of science is required.
In some debates, I have seen science defined in terms of involving only naturalistic explanations. If this definition is accepted, then the usual suspects in the case of ID can be dismissed by definition. For example, if God is supposed to be the designer and God is supernatural, then this falls outside the realm of science. QED.
Of course this approach has two main weak points. First, the door is still open to natural designers. As such a form of ID involving a non-supernatural agency would still be (potentially) scientific. Second, to say that ID is not scientific based on this definition is not a substantial criticism of ID. It would, in fact, beg the question. It would be somewhat like saying that French literature is not literature, because literature must be written in English. If this were accepted, then French literature would not be literature-but only by definition and not on any substantial ground.
It could be replied that science is by its very nature concerned solely with natural phenomenon. This reply would, of course, ignore a substantial part of the history of science (such as Newton) but can be granted as a viable approach for the sake of argument. One might, for example argue that just as math deals with mathematical matter and literature deals with literary matters, science deals with natural matters. Supernatural matters belong to philosophy and religion.
In this case, most (but not all) forms of ID would be non-scientific. But, the obvious reply is that ID is being dismissed as non-scientific by fiat and (once again) by mere definition. It would, one might say, be more honest to say that supernatural ID theories are not part of the natural sciences. This is perfectly reasonable. So, one might ask, why not stop the discussion now and simply accept that ID is not scientific?
The obvious reply is that the classification of ID as non-scientific is more than just a matter of saying that supernatural theories do not fall under the natural sciences. Rather, to tar ID as unscientific is often an attack on such theories. The idea is not to say that they belong in a different field (as one might say that the matter of ethics belongs in philosophy and not chemistry) but that ID theories are somehow defective and perhaps even fundamentally irrational.
An obvious reply to this is to point out that some ID theories are irrational and unscientific in the most negative sense of the terms. This is true, but does not seem to warrant dismissing all ID theories as being unscientific in this highly negative sense.
Perhaps there is a more substantial way to assess whether ID can be considered scientific or not-without begging the question by simply relying on the fact that supernatural ID theories are, by definition, not natural theories.
One hallmark of scientific (and philosophical) reasoning is that a claim or theory is subject to rational evaluation and, most critically, testing. If a claim or theory cannot be tested, then it cannot be considered a scientific claim or hypothesis. Naturally, a claim might be beyond our means to test now (like a claim about the nature of the interior of a black hole or about the composition of Dark Matter) but as long as it is testable, then it can be considered scientific (to some degree-obviously I am cutting numerous corners here for the sake of brevity).
So, can ID theories and claims be tested? If a claim or theory is such that it cannot be tested, then the obvious answer is no. To use a rather absurd example, imagine that someone claimed God zapped the life, the universe and everything into existence 4,000 years ago. Further, God made it so that the universe seems much older to all possible tests-this is why scientists mistakenly think the universe is older. Obviously, this view cannot be tested in an meaningful sense (though it might be true). But this does not mean that no ID theory can be tested.
If someone claims that living creatures are the product of intelligent design, because of the evidence of complexity, then this can be tested. The test would be (to put it simply) to determine if the complexity of living creatures can result from something other than an intelligent designer. To the degree that such an alternative (or alternatives) is established, the hypothesis of the designer has been dis-proven. To the degree that the complexity can only be accounted for in terms of design, the hypothesis is supported. This certainly seems to be properly scientific.
At this time, the natural selection hypothesis seems to have the upper hand. It has been claimed that the complexity of living creatures can be explained in terms of a random process (one not guided by a designer) and a selection mechanism (natural and opposed to intelligent) selection. As such, by Occam’s razor, there is no reason to bring in an intelligent designer.
So, it could be reasonably held that ID can be scientific. It just so happens that the consensus in science today is that it is an implausible theory.
So, what about teaching ID in schools? That is a matter for another time.
I think you are right about the way the word “scientific” is being used in the debate over the intelligent design movement.
It seems unlikely that the intelligent design movement will overturn Darwin’s argument. It seemed unlikely in centuries past that the idea that natural selection accounts for the origin of the species would overturn the idea that so many naturalists held before Darwin that the earth had a short history and that the species were created and largely fixed, but I think that we are unlikely to overturn Darwin’s paradigm in the future. Darwin’s argument is seen as being so persuasive in science now that believing in its truthfulness is like believing the earth revolves around the sun – we no longer question the soundness of the view of Copernicus because the evidence for it seems overwhelming. That is why scientists don’t tend to question Darwin’s view. It may be tweaked and understood more completely, but is unlikely to be overturned by scientific investigations.
I don’t think Darwin’s argument puts a fatal strain on theology or means that theology must cease speaking of life as being created by God. And I don’t think that believing that God made us is necessarily incompatible with a belief that Darwin has explained the origin of the species or that life and the earth have a very long history. Are there philosophical problems with my thinking here?
BTW, it would certainly change theology if intelligent design were ever proven. And it would probably become much more lucrative.
Evolution has been observed in the fossil record and in nature. Natural selection can be observed by experiments on bacteria. Until god can be observed and prodded into creating some new form of life, intelligent design will remain nothing but a justification for belief in a myth.
Maybe “Intelligent Design” is always succeeded by “Natural Selection” and there is no conflict at all as long as one does not assume that The Designer We Know is at all meddlesome.
The Intelligent Designer as such can only specify “the rules which can not be violated” throughout all aspects of possibility. Everything else is mandatory at some time or other. Most of the time, almost everything is pretty unlikely. Everything that can happen, happens eventually.
Every universe blossoms alone, mostly isolated among countless others.
If you can accept all this, you can perceive how a scientist can experience awe and wonder at pure brilliance but remain convinced that prayer to an easily persuaded interventionist deity is patently pointless. Then again, if I’m wrong and God both “IS” and “is just winging it”, I think I’d like a lot more time to consider the consequences of things before invoking Divine Intervention.
ID has a number of problems when viewed from a theological perspective.
A. A designer is supernatural
If a designer is necessarily God, then the theory is Creationism and is dealt with as such.
If a designer is not necessarily God (and I believe this is how the Kansas case handled the matter), then it is possible that the designer is not God. At this point we have two supernatural entities, possible or necessary, with God-like properties. Therefore, we have Polytheism.
This clarification of ID will create severe problems in monotheistic societies.
B. A designer is non-supernatural
The first problem which presents itself is the Identity Problem: how many designers are there?
Their multiplicity is no longer a theological problem since the designers are non-supernatural. However, if we assert that (1) if X is a product of intelligent design, “because of the evidence of complexity”, then we are able to also assert more generally that any process sufficiently complex must have a designer.
A physicist may assert that quantum mechanics is sufficiently complex; hence, quantum mechanical phenomena must have a designer, and that designer is not necessarily identical with the designer of living creatures.
Upon reflection, we see that monotheism is based on Faith, a base we cannot use to establish a mono-designer theory in Science.
The second problem is the Capacity Problem: is God incapable of design? Further, why is God undesigned? (and God must be undesigned, else the designer designed Him.)
The designer’s own creation by God must at some point intrude into the Torah after the initial “beth” or “bereshit”, but where?
We ought to notice that we just said that God created the designer, and it would be reasonable at this point that God “designed” the designer in this process of creation. If God can design the designer, why does He not design anything else?
At this point, someone may object to the inclusion of God so often, saying that the designer is non-supernatural and came into being without any divine creation.
This viewpoint, however, is nonsense, being nothing else but Genesis II and is totally without merit.
Now, as to teaching ID in schools, once the problems in section A are made clear, I believe you would find no supporters for such instruction. Indeed, the reaction against idolatrous Polytheism in the form of ID should be sharp indeed.
Personally, I feel that if we amend (1) above to read: (1′) evidence of complexity is sufficient to assert that X has a designer, I find this statement to be very similar to Arthur Clarke’s (2) any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, adding the proviso that “magic” implies a “magician”.
Both statements would seem to be verified in a similar manner, and would be proven true within the heart and soul of narrative enchantment rather than the science lab.
“Evolution has been observed in the fossil record and in nature. Natural selection can be observed by experiments on bacteria. Until god can be observed and prodded into creating some new form of life, intelligent design will remain nothing but a justification for belief in a myth.”
Evolution has not been observed in the fossil record. Fossils only show that creatures that once existed, no longer exist. It is difficult to see a process in static forms, especially when those forms are supposedly separated by millions of years, and containing massive gaps that force scientists to assume what may lie between.
Natural Selection is not Darwinism. Natural Selection can occur within any given species–and it remains the same species. Things like strength, speed, intelligence etc. can be passed down in any animal, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s still the same species. You don’t need to do experiments on bacteria to see that Natural Selection takes place. Unfortunately, the fact that it takes place doesn’t mean much for Darwinists.
You say that for ID to be proven, “god” (lower case g), must be prodded to create new life. Why is it that Darwinism doesn’t have to create new life for IT to be considered scientific? Where are the new life forms? We should have seen some divergence, it seems, in all of the millions of species here. But it won’t happen, I don’t think, because even if a new species evolved–where would it find a mate?
But, ID is now essentially dead. It doesn’t mean if it could contain truth or not. People are considered stupid merely for suggesting it could be true. The scientific community has declared it unscientific and thus not worthy of further investigation. Apparently the scientific community have figured out every law of the existing universe. It took them long enough, I guess. The problem is, if it’s ever shown they got it wrong, they won’t be able to blame it on religion this time.
It doesn’t mean if it could contain truth or not.
Should say: It doesn’t matter if it could contain truth or not.
This is very interesting, including all of the comments.
In order for me to believe in ID I would have to believe that a God is…
Those are all human characteristics; thus, if a God is the embodiment of perfection how can there be so many flaws in a “perfect” system of existence?
The only real problem I have with intelligent design is that we can’t prove who or what the Intelligent Designer is. For all we know our planet could have been seeded and grown by Martians…
Moreover, why would an intelligent designer make a single planet hospitable to life?
These are just questions that I have, overall.
But to answer the question posed in this article…Until there is concrete proof…NO.