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Intelligent Design, Credibility, and the Lack Thereof

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On October 30, 2005, I posted “Intelligent Design is a Social Theory,” [1] and it has been up ever since. On March 23, 2013, I received a comment and made the following reply:

Did I inject my own interpretation of what ID is? I did paraphrase the definition of ID I used for clarity. Here is the passage:

However, is Intelligent Design a scientific theory? In order to discuss this question, one must be clear about what a scientific theory is. For this article, a scientific theory is defined as follows: a scientific theory is a model that describes accurately a large class of observations, and makes definite predictions about the results of future observations (Hawking 1988). The theory of evolution describes accurately a large class of observations, and makes definite predictions about the results of future observations, and has survived countless experiments. Intelligent Design, on the other hand, has not. Intelligent Design is the view that nature shows tangible signs of having been designed by a preexisting intelligence. It has been around, in one form or another, since the time of ancient Greece (What is Intelligent Design?). This is an interesting conjecture; but it is a long way from a scientific theory. The main postulate of Intelligent Design is a preexisting intelligence, which cannot be proved, nor disproved by observation or experiment. As such, any preexisting intelligence would be outside the hot big bang model of the universe, and any actions taken by such a preexisting intelligence would have been before the beginning of time. Therefore, according to the law of economy, a preexisting intelligence should be cut out of any model of the universe, for any actions taken by it cannot be observed. [2]

My definition accurately defines ID. What annoyed Jason more is my analysis of ID as an interesting conjecture, but nowhere near a scientific theory. The argument is made by comparison. First, scientific theory is defined. Then, the theory of evolution is compared to that definition. Next, ID is defined and compared to the definition of a scientific theory. Based on a comparison of the two definitions, it is explained why ID is not a scientific theory. If the argument failed, and it did not; then it was due to the lack of a “formal” definition of ID. The closest definition I could come to eight years ago was the one in the post, and that was unclear; aside from the fundamental postulate of a pre-existing intelligence.[3] Jason's criticism drove me to the dictionary (in other words dictionary.com):

intelligent design
the theory that the universe and living things were designed and created by the purposeful action of an intelligent agent. Abbreviation: ID.[4]

It seems that this definition conveys the same idea as mine. It is clear and concise, but is it accurate? I continued my search. I ended up at the website of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture the physical home of the ID movement. Their definition of ID is: “The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.”[5] That did not seem accurate enough, so my search continued. Finally, I turned to the book Of Pandas and People the ID biology textbook for a formal definition:

Intelligent design means that various forms of life began abruptly through an intelligent agency, with their distinctive features already intact — fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks, and wings, etc. Some scientists have arrived at this view since fossil forms first appear in the rock record with their distinctive features intact, rather than gradually developing. [6]

Intelligent cause, purposeful action of an intelligent agent, intelligent agency and pre-existing intelligence mean the same thing. ID provides an agent whose existence cannot be tested. The agent's actions can neither be verified nor disproved. Therefore, ID is not a scientific theory.

A Federal Court reached the same conclusion in December 2005. Judge John E. Jones concluded that ID fell short of a scientific theory on three levels:

We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980s; and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community. As we will discuss in more detail below, it is additionally important to note that ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community, it has not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor has it been the subject of testing and research. [7]

The fact that proponents of ID have not produced any peer-reviewed publications makes it difficult to find or generate a formal definition of ID. If ID were a robust scientific theory, then one would not have to go to a secondary ID biology textbook to find a formal definition.

Since ID's purpose is not to advance scientific investigation, it must have another. To determine IDs purpose the Wedge Strategy must be examined. Produced in 1998 by the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture the Wedge Strategy states:

The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God… came under wholesale attack by intellectuals drawing on the discoveries of modern science. Debunking the traditional conceptions of both God and man, thinkers such as Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud portrayed humans not as moral and spiritual beings, but as animals or machines who inhabited a universe ruled by purely impersonal forces and whose behavior and very thoughts were dictated by the unbending forces of biology, chemistry, and environment. This materialistic conception of reality eventually infected virtually every area of our culture, from politics and economics to literature and art. [8]

The conception of humans as animals or machines bound by natural laws can be traced to Thomas Hobbes in the Leviathan 1651 in which he gave a materialistic view of mankind. Hobbes stated, “Life without government—the state of nature is war… every man against every man… and the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”[9] Then, Newton explained how the universe worked in his Principia Mathematica published in 1687. Next, John Locke in his Essay on Toleration 1689 argued, “all religions are worthy of respect, none priority.”[10] That is the basis for the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The authors of the Wedge Strategy need to read more history, why pick on Darwin, Freud, and Marx when Hobbes, Newton, and Locke started the whole thing? One problem with the Wedge Strategy is the authors’ use of the concept of materialism, which they do not define. Materialism is the “belief that only physical things truly exist.”[11] Thus, one could say God is not physical; therefore, God does not exist; and some social theories may hold this view, but to say science is materialistic is to misrepresent the scientific and Socratic methods. But it is in line with the Wedge Strategy’s governing goals:[12]

  1. To defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural and political legacies.
  2. To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God.

The first goal assumes science is amoral, and requires change. Science is not amoral without standards and ethics they are, simply, not ones the authors of the Wedge Strategy would like science to have. The second goal assumes that a theistic (for theistic read Christian) understanding that nature and human beings are created by God is best for America. Science is, as it must to be of any use, asking questions, and making observations. Those questions and observations make some Christians uncomfortable, thus they allege their beliefs are under attack by science. This goal also discounts the pluralistic nature of the Constitution, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion. Additionally, the authors of the Wedge Strategy do not draw a distinction between the scientific theory of evolution and social Darwinism, which is confusing because they are two separate concepts. Social Darwinism is an “ideology using a competitive view of nature and Darwin's concept of the struggle for existence as a basis for social theory.”[13] Therefore, Darwin cannot be held responsible for the interpretations of natural selection made by social philosophers. “His theory of natural selection described a biological process not a social philosophy.”[14] The supporters of ID do not draw a distinction between the two because their only interest is to inject creationism into the science classroom. Where, by law, it does not belong.

The teaching of ID/Creationism violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….” As a result of the Kitzmiller decision, the supporters of ID/Creationism have been, with very little credibility, and some success trying to shift focus from ID to "teach the controversy." The only problem with that is there is not a controversy. It is a creation of the Discovery Institute and the supporters of ID/creationism, which leads to bad science and bad laws. These laws disguise the teaching of creationism by using certain code words such as academic freedom and critical thinking. A recent example of where that failed is in Montana. The Committee on Education held a hearing for House Bill 183 “Emphasizing Critical Thinking in Science Education.” The bill had one supporter, its sponsor Clayton Fiscus, and many opponents. In February 2013, the committee tabled the bill. It died in committee. [15] The Discovery Institute does not support proposed legislation that requires the teaching of ID. Casey Luskin argues that its primary goal is to see ID “develop as a scientific theory.”[16] If that were the case, then there would be no need for academic freedom and critical thinking legislation. The science that supports ID could stand on its own merits. But, there is no peer-reviewed research that supports ID, and the Discovery Institute knows that if the words “intelligent design “are used in legislation, then it will be challenged in the federal courts and the legislation will be struck down as unconstitutional. ID is a scientific cul-de-sac. Its very nature stops all inquiry. That is the last thing the science classroom needs.

Notes

1 John Keegan, “Intelligent Design is a Social Theory,” Opinion, http://jgkeegan.wordpress.com/2007/07/26/intelligent-design-is-a-social-theory/ (accessed March 24, 2013).

2 Keegan, “Intelligent Design is a Social Theory,” Opinion, http://jgkeegan.wordpress.com/2007/07/26/intelligent-design-is-a-social-theory/ (accessed March 24, 2013). In the post author date in text citation was used, and in the absence of an author; the title of the website was put in parentheses.

3“Called Intelligent design (ID), to distinguish it from earlier versions of design theory (as well as from the naturalistic use of the term design), this new approach is more modest than its predecessors. Rather than trying to infer God’s existence or character from the natural world, it simply claims `that intelligent causes are necessary to explain the complex, information-rich structures of biology and that these causes are empirically detectable.’ (What is Intelligent Design? http://bit.ly/Whatisintelligentdesign accessed March 24, 2013).

4 Intelligent Design, Dictionary.com http://bit.ly/2ngVcdJ (accessed March 24, 2013).

5 Questions About Intelligent Design, Discovery Institute http://bit.ly/QuestionsAboutIntelligentDesign (accessed March 24, 2013).

6 Dean Kenyon and Percival Davis, edited by Charles Thaxton, Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins (Dallas: Haughton, 1993): 99-100. "Those curious about the origin of Pandas itself might wonder why the book's copyright is held, not by the publisher, but by the Foundation for Thought and Ethics (FTE) of Richardson, Texas. “Haughton Publishing Co.” is the assumed name of Horticultural Printers, Inc., a large Dallas printing firm mainly serving the agricultural industry. Haughton has no other books in print, nor does it have in-house writers or science advisors. Pandas is entirely the creation of FTE." (National Center for Science Education, "The Foundation for Thought and Ethics," http://ncse.com/ncser/10/4/foundation-thought-ethics accessed March 25,2013)

7 Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, et al United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania (2005): 64. http://jgkeegan.com/id/kitzmiller.pdf (accessed March 24, 2013). (Hereinafter Kitzmiller). For analysis of the case see Keegan, "Intelligent Design is not Science," http://jgkeegan.com/id/id.htm (accessed March 24, 2013).

8 Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture “Wedge Strategy” (1998). http://bit.ly/TheWedgeStategy (accessed March 27, 2013). (Hereinafter Wedge Strategy) According to Barbara Forrest, established in 1996, the Center for Science and Culture was originally named the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture. It was posted on the Internet in February 1999, and for three years the discovery Institute denied ownership of it; which suggest that they never intended for it to become public. [Barbara Forrest Expert Witness Report (April 1, 2005), Kitzmiller, http://bit.ly/2nxBSoH (accessed March 27, 2013): 1]

9 Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (1651). Quoted in P.E. Johnson, et al, American Government (New Jersey: Houghton Mifflin, 1994): 4.

10 R.L. Greaves, et al, Civilizations of the West: The Human Adventure (New York: Harper Collins, 1992): 566.

11 Materialism, Philosophical Dictionary http://www.philosophypages.com/dy/m2.htm#mat (accessed March 27, 2013)

12 Wedge Strategy

13 Richard Weikart, “The Origins of Social Darwinism in Germany, 1859-1895,” Journal of the History of Ideas 54.3 (1993): 469.

14 James Allen Rogers, “Darwinism and Social Darwinism,” Journal of the History of Ideas 33.2 (1972): 268-269.

15 Committee on Education Hearing House Bill 183, Montana House of Representatives 63rd Legislature January 25, 2013 http://bit.ly/2mTjpFW (accessed April 18, 2013); Tabled February 5, 2013 http://bit.ly/2mF7tXQ (accessed April 18, 2013).

16 Casey Luskin, “Why Discovery Institute Opposes the Missouri `Equal Treatment’ Intelligent Design Bill,” Evolution News & Views http://bit.ly/2mD616w (accessed April 18, 2013).