Sunday, 22 February 2009

Two Questions for Intelligent Design

Like it or not, despite the complete lack of scientific support, the attacks on evolution will not go away. Even though the political movement has changed from Intelligent Design to teach the controversy, the social force behind intelligent design is still strong. Scientists have really failed to get the message out there, though that's symptomatic of science. It not only needs some public advocates, but public advocates that can reach the audience who would otherwise fuel any grass roots movement. But this is not about that, it's about ID itself. Though widely discredited in scientific circles, here's a chance for proponents of the concept to address two problems that any science needs to answer: just what did the designer do, and how do we test for that?

Question 1: What role has the Designer played in the history of nature?
This seems an important question but one that has been largely neglected by ID advocates. Just what did the designer do? It's all well and good to say "It looks designed" but it's a systematically useless statement given that evolution not only can be demonstrated to give the apparent feel of design but the process is used in engineering in order to get good design. So when design can appear through selection on variation through subsequent generations, it intuitively looking designed is not enough in order to conclude it's designed.

Between the fossil record, the genetic code, geographic distribution, and morphological commonalities among similar species, we have a pretty good picture of how life diverged and when. Through the genetic code and morphological features, we can see some key divergence points. Currently those are able to be explained through mutation and selection, as both those mechanisms can be accounted for and have been observed countless times. So where did the Intelligent Designer come into play?

That's such an important question to ask because of the nebulous statements that often come alongside intelligent design. "It's all too improbable," "It looks designed," etc. One's own personal incredulity is not evidence against the ability of evolution to account for life, nor does it necessitate a designer. Positing that the Designer made a bacterial flagellum is a specific claim, that the designer made the immune system is again a specific claim. Though evolution has the means to build irreducibly complex systems, see here for details. But claiming irreducible complexity is at least a step in the right direction, even if it is wrong and has had an answer for over 90 years.


Question 2: How can we test for an Intelligent Designer in nature?
Over the last 150 years, serious testing has been done in order to understand how life changes. Through a variety of methods, testing criteria and a look at how it all works on a genetic level, scientists have been able to work out in great detail the mechanisms that are involved with changes from generation to generation. Combine that knowledge with details known about the role of separation to stop interbreeding and thus bring about new species, and evolution has the ability to explain life as it is and the means by which it came about.

And in that is the core of science. It's not enough to propose a force under which nature is subjected to, science at the whole is about subjecting it to rigorous testing. Without testing, without potential falsification, it's not science. For intelligent design to be valid there must be some empirical and experimental validity to the concept. Without doing such, ID is at best an untested hypothesis and has no grounds on which to challenge current evolutionary theory.

Irreducible complexity is again at least a step in the right direction. And there are certain pathways in nature that are irreducibly complex. By raising the objection, it has actually progressed knowledge on the matter in that research to answer these unanswerable questions is being done. But when there is a scientific explanation that fits in with current framework, it's intellectually dishonest to keep using the example as impossible when evidentially it isn't.


Why answer?
Out of the persistent attacks I have seen from ID advocates on science, they seem to revolve around academia not giving intelligent design a fair hearing. that scientists and the scientific establishment are ignoring what ID advocates are working on. Yet it's these same people who won't put up evidence when challenged, and the questions raised above are not only left unanswered but ignored to keep that same sense of outrage that their views are being marginalised. Science is largely evidence-based and when one refuses to produce evidence that not only supports their view but is consistent with all other evidence, it's not going to be taken seriously. So while the Discovery Institute and other persons are publicly advocating ID, the actual evidential basis behind the concept is being ignored.

If one wants to believe that throughout the evolutionary process a designer (namely God) played a role in nature, then they are welcome to do so. Western society is founded on free speech and freedom of religion. But to say that a designer (namely God) played a part in nature is an unscientific statement without any evidential basis to back it up, and thus Intelligent Design is not science. So until those questions have been answered and has been experimentally verified, there simply is no basis by which to put Intelligent Design in the scientific classroom or in academia. So please stop feigning outrage that scientists won't debate ID when there is nothing scientifically to debate about and actually do research!

3 comments:

Ed said...

I am a Christian and I agree with you. ID is not science and has no place in a science classroom. Christianity is based on faith not evidence. Not all Christians are morons and some of us understand a lot of your arguments. Indeed some of us even base our working lives on the theory of evolution working and being testable.

Kel said...

Not all Christians are morons
Completely agree. And I agree that the theory of evolution doesn't disprove the existence of any god.

Anonymous said...

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